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On Habit Formation Experiments (and an Explanation of My Public Goal Accountability Experiment)

It’s been a whopping two months since I last wrote! My brain can’t quite comprehend how that much time flew by so quickly, but it has. The great news about this is that I have some interesting data to share!

My goal for 2016 was to look at the mistakes I made in regards to habit formation in 2015 and use that information to change my approach for goal setting this year. A large part of my problem has always been trying to make too many changes at one time. This year, I made a monthly chart and wrote 1-2 things I’d like to add to my routine or change for each month. I then decided which habit formation methods I was going to try in 2016 and decided on the following:  MOTI, a Public Goal Accountability Spreadsheet, a Facebook Accountability group, Coach.Me app/site, and Way of Life app. Some of these I’ve already stopped using, others are going strong! Details ahead…

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On Realizing I’m Going to Fail (and Being Okay With It)

I haven’t done my monthly check in for a while. I usually touch on a bunch of topics at once but this is a more specific check in on my walking goal for 2015.

As of right now this is where my progress for my yearly mile goal stands:


Spoiler Alert: At this point it is very unlikely that I am going to achieve my goal.

I noticed that I do a lot of writing about goals I have and then subsequent failures revolving around these goals (I briefly talk a little bit more about why this is later in the entry). I was wondering if I needed to change this and even debated deleting all of the more negative posts but I decided that it’s important to talk about failures because they’re a huge part of the process. I feel that it’s important to show that not everything always goes as planned; Shit happens, things fall apart: AND IT’S OKAY.

At the beginning of this year I decided that I wanted to walk 3000 miles in 2015. I made a very specific chart tallying required miles per month and I tapered the amount of miles by season, knowing it would be harder to do more miles in months that had more severe weather. I kept a detailed excel sheet that had data on my expected vs actual miles and any discrepancies between the numbers. As the months went on I edited the ideal monthly mile goals and at one point it even looked like I would do MORE than 3000 miles in 2015. Before I get into details, here is a monthly chart of my Expected vs. Actual miles per month so far in 2015:


As you can see, I was doing really well up until May. There are a lot of reasons things took a turn for the worst this May. The first was that I ripped my foot open on May 3rd. I can’t actually remember if I wrote about this before (and I’m writing this offline so I can’t check). This happened while my friend Phil was visiting from California and fortunately he had just finished a first aid course and was able to help take care of me until we went to the ER (I tried to avoid this but when we went to change the bandages and the blood literally started spraying everywhere I gave up on being stubborn and agreed to go get stitches). I actually was a stubborn jerk and walked a lot even with my stitches in, not as much as I normally would but more than the average person walks in a day. This helped keep me a little ahead of the game but didn’t help me in the long run.

Then I left my job May 31st. This was actually a good thing because I was miserable there. As far as activity goes this change was REALLY good, I started doing 12-15 miles a day and kicking ass. But then I went on vacation for two weeks starting in mid-June. My anticipated activity on vacation did not go as planned AT ALL. Part of this was being too exhausted by the conference I was at in San Francisco to squeeze in an extra ten miles a day, the other part was the extreme heat and humidity in Mexico making it impossible to hit my daily miles safely.

I anticipated making up for June’s lost miles in July and August and worked it into my goal spreadsheet. But then July in Philadelphia ended up being brutally hot (in fact, the hottest month ever recorded). After Mexico I thought I would be able to withstand any heat summer had to throw at me but the heat hit me harder than I ever remember it doing so in the past. I was doing way more miles than previous months but still not consistently hitting my target. As I updated my spreadsheets and saw the “Required daily miles to reach goal” go from 8 miles a day to 11 miles a day I started realizing that there was a real possibility I was not going to hit this goal. I decided to really start pushing to keep up with my goal but then the last problem hit: depression. Getting hit with a bout of depression was the final blow this summer that has made it almost certain that I will not be hitting 3000 miles in 2015.

I’ve written about depression before and some things I’ve tried to cope with it. I have a problem where I always have grandiose and unrealistic expectations. One of these was that I thought that when I left my animal research job everything would get magically better and I’d be super happy all the time. But what I found was that while some things are AMAZING, it didn’t fix everything. It took me a while to recover from my old job and to get used to making a routine for myself without the structure of a job to go to every day. Now that I have adjusted, I often spend 6-8 hours a day painting or writing. I also work out almost every single day and recently added daily yoga to my schedule. All of this is really, really great. I spent a lot of time in the lab wishing I had more time to be home doing all of these things and now I do and I am so appreciative of it. But there are still a lot of stressors looming around that I’m spending a lot of energy working on (family, interpersonal relationships, and most of all finding a new job that doesn’t make me unhappy every day). While I’m still active, these stressors (and the energy required to work on them) have taken a huge toll on my daily activity goals, and this was the final nail in the 3000 mile coffin.

So, that sucks. And it was really sad to realize. But with that said, I’m still very likely going to hit more than my usual ~2,200 miles per year. If I keep up with my current pace I’ll hit around 2,650 miles for 2015. So that’s something. And while I’m disappointed I am learning to be okay with that because I gave myself a pretty intense goal and I still have accomplished a lot so far this year.

I guess the lesson here is that I either have to make more realistic goals OR strive for bigger goals, but be aware that sometimes I’ll get close but I won’t hit them or maybe I won’t even get close and that’s okay too.

Links from post:

  1. July Was the Hottest Month Ever Recorded
  2. On My Current Job Search (and Why I’m Leaving Science)
  3. On Traveling to Mexico (ALONE!) for 8 Days – Part 1
  4. On Past and Present Struggles with Depression (and Using Meditation to Cope)

Monthly Progress Report: March 2015

The last month FLEW by! I can’t believe it’s time for another one of these already. I should note: A friend keeps teasing me for using Excel, so I am trying to learn to make my data more readily available publicly, but so far I have not done very well with teaching myself. I’ll get there, just be patient with me. I am also looking into some data visualization classes so I can make the data I show here more visually appealing and interesting (IE Throw in some charts instead of raw data, derp).

Before I get into my progress report, I have some exciting news! I will be attending this year’s Global Quantified Self Conference in San Francisco from June 18-20th. Even more exciting: I will be doing a Show and Tell presentation at the conference! I will be making a handful of QS related blog posts leading up to the conference (and obviously after).

And now onto March’s stats…

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