To be conducted every 6 months or so in order to help you lock in and remove unwanted distractions…
Pareto Spring Cleaning
- What 20% of sources are causing 80% of my problems?
- What 20% of sources are resulting in 80% of my desired outcomes?
- If I had a heart attack and had to work 2 hour per day, what would I do?
- If I had a gun to my head and had to stop doing 3 time consuming activities, what would I remove?
- What are the top 2 activities that I engage in “for activity’s sake”? – to feel productive?
In June 2017, I went on a 10-day silent Vipassana meditation retreat in Kathmandu, Nepal. This kind of retreat has been on my bucket list for some time and I finally had enough space and time to make it a reality. It was one of the more difficult, inspiring, impactful and enlightening experiences of my life. My aim is to learn and do things which I think have a good chance of being helpful throughout my life (nothing short-term or ephemeral) and across boundaries (nothing siloed) – be it work, building great relationships, athletics or any other piece of the “well-balanced life mosaic.” I think this challenge perfectly suits this criteria and while 10 days is a very short stint to dive into your consciousness and work on self-discovery and self-mastery, it has served as an incredible impetus to make meditation a more regular and focused part of my every day life. Below are some of my takeaways and thoughts on my 10-day retreat…
Vipassana: Its Goals and Theory (as I understand it)
- Vipassana means understanding reality as it truly is and not as you want it to be, through the framework of the body.
- It is a totally non-secular, universal approach as there are no images of dieties tied in, chanting, mantras or other typically religious aspects involved which can isolate or polarize people from different backgrounds. It is simply non-judgmental, non-reactive, equanimious observation and awareness of ever subtler bodily sensations, breath and thoughts with the understanding that all of it is impermanent – Anitya. True understanding of this impermanence, whether the sensation is typically considered desirable or not desirable helps develop a balanced mind as one gradually gets less attached to pleasurable sensations and slowly starts despising less the pain or tension or wandering mind or misery which accompanies long sits and of course life in general. However, if and when misery does occur, its magnitude and duration is considerably less.
- By simply observing your bodily sensations and thoughts without judgment or reaction, you will slowly retrain your thought and habit patterns to one of observation and action rather than of judgment and impulsive reaction. One begins to notice the changing nature of body and mind which leads to the understanding of the universal truths of impermanence, suffering and egolessness. This truth realization by direct experience is the beginning of the path towards liberation from suffering. Thus, staying equanimious for long periods of time allows old sankharas (deep rooted “5 big enemies” of craving, aversion, drowsiness, hesitation and doubt) to arise in body or thought and if you can simply observe rather than judge and react, they will slowly weaken and eventually disappear. Your non-emotional observation takes away the fuel they rely on and is why they gradually burn out. You will remember them but from a detached and non-reacting place
- Days 1-3
- These days are to focus on Sila or proper morality and include: abstaining from killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, wrong speech and all intoxicants
- On the afternoon before the retreat officially begins, Noble Silence is put in place. This means silence of speech, body and mind – no talking, gestures, reading, writing or any other form of communication. This may seem strange or difficult but it really helps you be able to focus on your own path without worrying or comparing yourself to others. Questions and requests can be made to the teachers and volunteers if need be
- You start with focusing solely on the breath, specifically on your nose, nostrils and upper lip. This meditation where one only focuses on the breath in this area is called anapana meditation. If one has trouble feeling any sensations at first, take a couple hard breaths. Your mind will soon still, adjust and be able to feel the subtlest of breaths
- On days 2 and 3 you narrow down the focus even further to even smaller areas of the nose such as the outer nostrils. The purpose of these 3 days is to focus, calm and still the mind, improving one’s concentration and subtlety of awareness. Without this time, the mind is not focused or prepared to be able to notice the incredibly subtle sensations in the rest of the body which starts with full body scans in the afternoon of day 3
- Other rules: Segregation of men and women, exercise is limited to walking and stretching, religious rituals or objects should be done away with during these 10 days, food is simple and vegetarian with only a light meal of fruit for dinner, clothing should be modest and comfortable, reading and writing and music are prohibited
- Day 4
- Today we did our first full day body scans instead of just focusing on the sensation around the nostrils while breathing. Start at the top of the head with a 1 inch diameter circle, scan the scalp, then each part of the face, the throat, the arms, the chest and abdomen, the back and the legs and then repeat. Simply observe your sensations the whole time and if you can’t feel a particular area, stop for a minute and focus on it intently. If you feel something or not, move on after this minute has passed and over time you will build your subtlety of awareness so that you have no blind spots. Regardless, understand these sensations are ever changing phenomena, not to be tied to, excited by or upset by
- Days 5-6
- Starting today, in the three one-hour group sittings we try not to move at all in order to practice strong self-discipline or adhitthana and improve our experiential understanding of impermanence or anitya
- Day 7
- Today we started scanning the body in bigger chunks as our awareness and subtlety of attention have improved (i.e. doing both limbs simultaneously rather than one at a time)
- Day 8
- As much as possible maintain meditation in all that you do. When you eat, eat but must also always be aware of respiration and bodily sensations
- Working with and observing of sensations puts you in touch with the deepest parts of the mind, the root, where real and lasting changes can be made
- Day 9
- Once start feeling really subtle uniform sensations throughout the body, can do 2-3 free flow body scans before going back to 1-2 part-by-part scans. These free flow scans should feel as if someone poured water over your head and it’s running down your body. Once this practice becomes regular, you can start doing front to back and side to side ‘penetrating’ scans to start feeling the internal parts of the body. The teacher said that once you get this subtle form, the body may start to feel like it dissolves as you feel like there’s nothing solid
- Then can scan the spinal cord for flow as well as trying to feel inside it as well
- Day 10
- Today is Metta Day. Noble Silence turned to ‘Noble Chatter’ after the 8-9am sit as we learned the Metta meditation technique or loving kindness meditation.
- After finishing the regular meditation, first see if you have peace in body and mind. If not, do not do this meditation. Simply recognize your racing mind or whatever the case may be and wrap up. If you do feel quiet and peaceful, wish your self to find happiness, peacefulness, compassionate love and to be liberated from your own impurities. Then wish the same for all living beings. Then ask for forgiveness for what you have done, intentionally and unintentionally, knowingly and unknowingly. Then forgive others for doing the same. Finish by saying “I have no enemies, all are my friend.” Lastly, feel the flow of energy up and down the spinal cord.
- Emanate this love and happiness from the heart to expand and fill the room and over time greater and greater spaces.
- Do this at the end of every meditation but only if you really feel it
- Additional info
- They really emphasized the importance of doing a one hour sit in the morning and at night
- Recommended meditating in the same place and time to build habits and good vibes in that spot
- Join a meditation group as often as once per week
- Simply observe every sensation without judging or reacting
- Do 5 minutes of observing sensations and understanding Anitya upon rising and before falling asleep
The Timetable (minor changes on certain days)
- 4am – wake up
- 4:30-6:30am – meditate in the hall
- 6:30-8:00am – breakfast and rest
- 8:00-9:00 – group sit in hall
- 9:00-11:00 – meditate in hall
- 11:00am-1:00pm – lunch and rest
- 1:00-2:30pm – meditate in hall
- 2:30-3:30pm – group sit in hall
- 3:30-5:00pm – meditate in hall
- 5:00-6:00pm – light meal and rest
- 6:00-7:00pm – group sit in hall
- 7:00-8:30pm – Dharma Discourse
- 8:30-9:00pm – group sit in hall
- 9:00-9:30pm – Q&A with teachers if needed
My Learnings and Experience
- Day 1
- Extremely tough first day. Body is in a ton of pain and can’t get into a flow, mind is wandering and am asking myself “why am I here?” The pain comes from inflexibility and not being used to sitting cross legged for such extended periods of time. I feel it in my knees, hips and back more than anywhere else
- The Dharma discourse at the end of the day saved me and was very reassuring. I’m doing this to see things as they are, to better understand myself, to make the mind an amazing tool rather than a terrible master, to eliminate misery as much as possible as well as other mental impurities
- Day 2
- Much better day and I got into a great flow for the 4:30-6:30 meditation
- Have some different postures for when body hurts and when pain arises I say, “I see you, I accept you and I thank you for being an obstacle for me to overcome.” Helps deal with the pain for some time and makes it clear that this is something that must be faced and dealt with rather than “pushed away”
- Afternoon was tough physically but fought through
- Dharma Discourse – narrow down focus on nose to become more aware of the smallest subtleties. Simply observe and do not wish to change or feel any particular sensation
- Trying to develop: Quiet mind. Slow mind. Aware mind. Non-reacting mind. Observing mind. Equanimious mind. Subtle mind. Focused mind
- Being aware and focused on such subtleties as the breath passing the nostrils really quiets the mind and sharpens focus
- Day 3
- This is the best mental training possible. Focus, awareness, sharpness, disregard the noise, see things as they truly are and not what you want them to be
- One’s mind really gets so sharp, still and focused over these days. The little voice in your head quiets down and you go from a couple minutes of flow and quiet and deep focus to much longer stretches. While your mind invariably wanders, you are quicker to catch it and bring it back to center and the present moment
- When get into flow I start feeling my mind slow, with few thoughts and every breath, thought or movement is thoughtful and slow and mindful. Calmness and slowing down is vital for me as I love thinking, doing, reading, being productive, having ideas. Paradoxically, slowing down ends up speeding things up in the end as my motor is supercharged and ready, I avoid noise and distractions and my wells of creativity are filled. Combine slow and fast!
- Focus on Anitya (impermanence), narrow down focus to just outer nostril and upper lip
- These first three days we focused only on breathing and the sensations in and around the nose and upper lip (anapana meditation) to sharpen our focus and improve the minds’s ability to sense subtle sensations
- Sila or proper moral conduct is the foundation of Vipassana and these first three days set the foundation
- Day 4
- We did some group chanting but mostly it is a recording of SN Goenka’s chanting that we listen to. Find chanting music and/or the Goenka recordings. There’s something to this chanting which is very powerful, bonding, healing and soothing
- Subtlety of focus and awareness definitely increased, especially around nostrils
- Physical discomfort pretty high but have my different positions I can rotate through
- Vipassana = to observe things as they truly are, the truth from moment to moment while understanding the impermanence or anitya of everything.
- 3 tenets introduced today – 1 hour adhitthana or strong self-discipline where you try not to move whatsoever, eyes closed at all times and sit with a straight back
- I really want to abide but working through this pain will be difficult. Curious, scared and excited to find out
- Sankhara = craving or aversion or reaction which arises in the body through blind spots, pain, etc
- Simply staying equanimious for long periods of time allows old sankharas to arise and if you can simply observe rather than judge and react to them, these suppressed cravings, aversions, grudges, etc. will slowly weaken and disappear
- Every day napping less and at night sleeping like a baby
- Today flew by as I got into a nice flow
- Vipassana allows one to objectively experience bodily sensations, not wanting or wishing for any particular feelings or to not feel others
- One’s mental base or volition is most important. What one intends always comes to fruition or is manifested in some fashion. Intention. Intention. Intention.
- Vipassana teaches one how to die as it teaches one how to truly live
- Subtlety, impermanence, mental stillness and discipline are increasing every day
- Amazing how blind spots open up and you can really feel a broad array of sensations like tingling, heat, cold, shots of electricity, numbness, etc. in parts of your body where you didn’t feel a thing just a couple days before
- Day 5 (my 27th birthday…)
- Starting today the three one-hour group sittings we try not to move at all in order to practice strong self-discipline or adhitthana, impermanence or anitya
- By viewing sensations objectively we can change our habits of mind and eliminate the good/bad dichotomy, clinging, suffering, preferences, craving, etc.
- My routine – wake up at 4, breathing and exercise for 10 minutes, meditate, slow breakfast, meditate until 11, slow lunch and nap, meditate until 5, snack and lie down, meditate until 7, Dharma Discourse until 8:30, meditate until 9 and pass out
- Got through no move session with only one move which was a big breakthrough
- Breath and sensations getting so slow, subtle, refined
- Working through objectivity where I can push through the pain and tension a little more every day where it is just another sensation, as is every blissful sensation
- The afternoon session absolutely broke me. Incredible pain, mind wandering, impatience. Like Chinese water torture. Just you and your thoughts for 100+ hours. Nowhere to go, nowhere to hide. Mentally and physically just lost it. So hard to just observe sensations without reacting, body is in pain and couldn’t sit still and get into any sort of flow
- The most important and meaningful things in life you have to do yourself. Nobody can walk the path for you
- Day 6
- You are training your mind to be equanimious, to observe all sensations, even pain and tension, as equal and merely observe and not react to them.
- More than understanding intellectually, Vipassana helps you understand experientially how to observe and be aware and not simply react
- Goenka has a lot of wisdom – find readings and discourses
- Anitya, Anitya, Anitya – understand impermanence
- What would the best version of Blas do? You know immediately and intuitively. Just follow through and do it
- Laws of nature such that if can maintain equanimious mind for long periods, sankharas (cravings, reactions, aversions) will arise from unconscious and be eliminated at the root level by simply observing them
- Had to be broken yesterday to deeper understand experientially the concepts of equanimious mind and Anitya
- Finishing chant by Goenka – Bhavatu Sabba Mangalam (may all beings be happy)
- Day 7
- Wisdom is not learning new things, it is coming to understand, through experience, universal truths at ever deeper levels
- 5 big enemies which keep from meditating – craving, aversion, drowsiness, doubt, hesitation
- Today we started scanning the body in bigger chunks as our awareness and subtlety of attention have improved (i.e. doing both limbs simultaneously rather than one at a time)
- I am “patiently and persistently, ardently and diligently” developing my equanimious mind which to me is a balanced, calm, slow, non-reacting, observing, curious mind with no aversions or cravings, recognizing all sensations, whether typically considered pleasurable or unpleasurable, as impermanent and the equanimious mind sees good and bad as false human constructs which bring misery. All sensations are changing phenomena – Anitya, Anitya, Anitya
- Can ‘re-brand’ pain as throbbing, heat, inflammation, etc. By being equanimious to it, one can dive into pain, embrace it, observe it and you’ll find it isn’t nearly that bad and disappears occasionally. Was only able to take first steps into this but I now see and have experienced the path
- I have realized I’m more tied to my body and health than I realized. How I feel, what I eat, etc. Be aware of this when overly concerned or when it brings misery.
- When my mind drifts it tends to be towards the future and to things I’m excited about more than the past or mistakes. Natural I think but want to be even more present and perhaps crave things a little less. Being aware of this is first step
- These 10 days are like a cleanse, a therapy, a mental training, a self-discovery, a self-discipline training, a mirror into oneself and more all in one. Attracts a fascinating group of people
- I am discovering the value of knowing things at the experiential level vs. solely or at least mostly at the intellectual level. Of course I still want to combine learning from other’s major mistakes and successes as much as possible but experience so drives it home
- When I get stressed and lose equanimity I rush things and don’t take enough time to think. I have seen this in sports, investing, making difficult decisions, eating, while meditating and more. It manifests itself in every area of life so set up hindrances, alerts and reminders to combat this
- Day 8
- As much as possible maintain meditation in all that you do. When you eat, eat but also always be aware of respiration and bodily sensations
- Can slowly feel the habit patterns, the neural pathways, starting to change as I notice I can more quickly and nonjudgmentally and equanimiously observe my thoughts, cravings and aversions which lessens their power and slowly will reduce their frequency and magnitude as I come to deeper understand their impermanence
- Level of equanimity is a good measuring stick for how far along the Dharma path you are
- I can see the light at the end of the tunnel and am getting excited about the rest of my summer but am trying to balance it with being present and lessening cravings
- Noble silence, no connectivity has been refreshing but ready to get back to real world soon
- Definite burst of creativity though and energy increasing every day
- Awareness and equanimity are the two wheels of Dhamma and they must be equally strong
- Working with and observing sensations puts you in touch with the deepest parts of the mind, the root, where real and lasting changes can be made
- Day 9
- Find project to do with loved ones. Publish books, build things, learn things. This deepens and solidifies relationships and creates lasting memories and bonds. Will publish a cookbook with mamma, work on some investing and other business projects with papi, learn or do things with siblings…
- I got to a really deep, peaceful, weird place with the internal penetration scan. Feeling buzzing energy inside very small internal parts of my body and feel like I can outline or 3D scan inside
- The Dharma workers or volunteers are all incredible and have made this retreat special
- Living in a community of strangers for 10 days with total trust and love is so unique
- If I was worried or curious whether I had gotten soft post tennis I proved myself wrong throughout these 10 days but especially today. I got through one of the one-hour Adhittana self-discipline sittings without moving at all. Wouldn’t have thought this possible earlier on because of the pain in my hips, knees and back. Very proud and will have that accomplishment for life and can keep building off this base for longer and deeper sits. Nobody can walk the walk for you
- Every day before bed or meals I would ask that it nourish my mind, body and soul and help me adapt and flourish. Sure enough it did. Keep up this short practice in day to day life
- Vipassana is an art of life, helping to live a peaceful, harmonious, happy life. Positive or negative sensations are irrelevant. Simply observe and be aware of and act rather than judge and react. This mindset will help lessen the number of times when one is miserable and, if one does get worked up, it reduces the duration and magnitude
- Vipassana gives us an internal lens which is so much more important than the external view nearly everyone employs. So important yet so neglected. The external view offers only a sliver of the whole truth but developing and being aware of one’s internal lens or feelings gives you a fuller, more complete and accurate view of truth. This vastly more important second angle helps us align with nature and make better decisions, be happier, more equanimious and more resilient.
- Day 10
- Today was Metta Day. This loving kindness meditation was really powerful. The ambiance of the hall totally changed and everyone left the hall with a big smile and a sense of peace. May be totally in my head but that was what I observed and experienced
- Additional info at Dhamma.org
Learning How to Learn – Coursera put together a great course on the different techniques to become a better learner, covering topics such as memory, chunking, how to avoid procrastinating, how to study, productivity, test taking skills, etc.
In October 2013, I watched a brilliant and inspiring TED talk by Matt Cutts. He posits that anything you want to add to your life, learn, do or even not do can become a habit with a 30 Day Challenge. I loved this concept and decided to implement it into my life.
My monthly challenges have evolved since I began but generally are either physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, skills, etc. and are grouped into one of three categories – “Do,” “Don’t” and “Learn.”
- Daily tweet – hardly did anything on Twitter before but it was fun to try to come up with a quick daily blurb that wasn’t totally worthless
- No caffeine – I usually only drink 1-2 cups per day but this was surprisingly easy after the first 2 days. Definitely slept better but miss coffee and will go back to it
- Run a 6-minute mile – it had been a while since I was able to do this and it took some time to get it back but I’m happy I did it. Probably won’t keep it up though…
- Read Sam Altman’s blog – not quite Paul Graham-level but had some worthwhile insights
- Comprehensive blood test – learned a lot from these results and will be tweaking my diet, certain supplements and some behaviors on the margin
- Read past quarter’s journal entries to see patterns and trends, where I spent my time (both positively and negatively), always looking to refine and improve where and how I spend my time
- 3-day fast
- Diet tweaks after blood work – probiotics, magnesium and no eggs for one month
- Tough month with a lot of travel. Will shift how to shoot a bow and arrow and learning how to ride a horse to June
- Write down one thing per day that you love about someone and give it to them at the end – great thing to do for anyone important in your life
- Semi-annual Pareto Spring CleaningWhat 20% of sources are causing 80% of my problems?
What 20% of sources are resulting in 80% of my desired outcomes?
If I had a heart attack and had to work 2 hour per day, what would I do?
If I had a gun to my head and had to stop doing 3 time consuming activities, what would I remove?
What are the top 2 activities that I engage in “for activity’s sake”? – to feel productive?
- Review journal entries – helps me see where I spent my time, what was useful/useless, what brought me stress/joy, what I’ve learned, what I’ve done, etc. Broadly, this process helps me more clearly see what I should be doing more and less of
- How to shoot a bow and arrow – not a ton of progress but learned the basics
- Learn how to do a bridge – with the hope of learning how to do a kip up next month…
- Continued learning the basics of drawing (You Can Draw in 30 Days, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain) – been a ton of fun learning some basics such as depth, perspective, shading and has helped me become more perceptive
- 30 Day Minimalism Challenge (inspired by a great documentary called Minimalism) – fun challenge to help you physically, mentally, emotionally, electronically declutter your life
- Don’t mix alcohols – failed one time but it became abundantly clear that I feel much better when sticking to one kind
- Quarterly 3 day fast – boring but getting surprisingly easy the more I do it
- Psyllium Husk – 1 tablespoon with water after dinner. Has immediate results for some but I didn’t notice much of a difference
- Don’t eat within 2 hours of bed – failed a decent amount but definitely felt lighter the mornings after when I did follow through
- Kip up – failed miserably. No consistent place to practice and feel like I need to enlist the help of a coach
- Learning some basic dance moves – painful but making progress
- Lunch time meditation – didn’t get to occasionally but even 10 minutes makes a world of difference
- Dancing – the final performance was this month and it turned out pretty much as good as I could have hoped for. Happy and honored to have helped such a great organization as The South Bend Center for the Homeless and to have challenged myself by stepping out of my comfort zone.
- Going through last quarter’s entries in my BestSelf journal – the goal is to see broader patterns over longer periods of time that I might otherwise miss in the moment, to relive good experiences, to learn from difficulties or failures and to see where the most productive and useful time is spent (amazing how much time is wasted in non-useful articles, meetings, books, etc. but I think that’s the price of admission to occasionally stumble upon the few gems which do have lasting impact).
- Learning how to Learn – Coursera put together a great course on the different techniques to become a better learner, covering topics such as memory, chunking, how to deal with procrastination, how to study, improving productivity, test taking skills, etc. My Summary Notes
- None this month as it was a planning, packing, moving, traveling and transition month
June – August
- Pareto Spring Cleaning
- 10-Day Silent Vipassana Retreat
- Learn to whistle loudly with my fingers – not quite there yet…
- Train with the STAmina App – a shorthand version of the Wim Hof training
- Review my quarterly journal entries to see where time was well spent, where it was wasted, what I learned, what surprised me, and how these things are helping or hindering me in reaching my goals
- 3 day fast
- Jerzy Gregorek’s “Happy Body” Program – wasn’t too committed to it but liked the routine when I got to it
- At the end of the day, reflect on my day – what surprised me, what I could have done better, how did I feel, etc. Also, review my schedule and goals for the next day
- Pareto Spring Cleaning checklist
- Host Defense immune support – hard to know but didn’t get sick this winter and was traveling a lot
- Clarify intentions / goals for the week first thing Monday morning – a simple 5-10 minute exercise which has helped me prioritize my focus and time spend for the week
- Wim Hof Method – a series of breathing exercises, stretching and cold exposure which leave you feeling energized, calm and focused. Can’t recommend highly enough. His book, outline found here, gives a broad overview but the course you buy goes much more in depth
- Huperzine A before bed (200-400 mcg) – read that this helps with lucid dreaming but I ended up sleeping so terribly on it that I stopped after 2 weeks
- Eat red meat – no particular reason but to deprive myself of something I enjoy
- Wim Hof – continued with the yoga, meditation, exercise, cold exposure all rolled into one. Finish the exercise feeling, calm, center yet energized and focused. Do it!
- Foodist – a recent sponsor of Ferriss’ podcasts so thought I’d try it out. Great resource and learning guide for people who are nervous about cooking and want to improve
- Roast an entire chicken – had never done this and thought it would be fun to try. Surprisingly easy, delicious and fun. Also, fed me for a week
- N/A – will be focusing more on my “Dos” and “Learning”
- Tai chi – have been wanting to learn more about tai chi for some time now. Only got through one book and excited to learn more about it and practice over the next several months. Exciting avenue to learn more about yourself, get some good exercise and gain mental clarity/calmness
- Use social media – jumped off Facebook and Snapchat and never really use Twitter or anything else. It was really nice to disconnect for a while. Might download the Facebook messenger app on my phone but don’t think I’ll be using much of anything else…
- Tai Chi – got through some more books which were helpful but you definitely need a teacher/class/mentor to get anywhere with
- Create a list of people I’d love to meet one day so that it is concrete in my head and I can take action (whether consciously or not) to try to make it happen
- Balance on an indo-board – took me a bit to get the hang of it but by the end of the month could do it easily and am working on juggling while balancing. Great to get into flow quickly
- Gymastics exercises – inspired by Ferriss’ podcast with Chris Sommer, I looked into their website and started doing some should/hip flexibility work and other strenght/balance exercises
- Top 1,000 most common words in Spanish using vis-ed flash cards – great refresher and there were more words than I would have guessed that I didn’t know. Vis-ed has a ton of different languages and is a really useful tool when trying to learn languages
- Took a break this month and loved it
- Best Self Journaling – automatic game changer. Got me to do a couple things which I’ve been putting off for literally months, gets me to sit down and focus on what I want to accomplish that day, what my larger goals are, what I’m grateful for and more
- Brain HQ – brain games which help you improve your memory, reactions, recall, focus and more. Fun and supposedly help reduce dementia by up to 50%. Fun and only takes 5-10 minutes per day
- Learn about complexity and chaos theory (see Sync, Complexity, How Nature Works and Thinking in Systems)
- Gymnastics Strength Training is a new mainstay into my morning routine. Great mobility, flexibility and strength results in just 10-15 minutes per day
- Mini trampoline – got the inspiration after watching Tony Robbin’s new documentary on Netflix. Jumping for 10 minutes per day is supposed to have great circulatory and digestive benefits – no idea if that’s true but at the very least, it’s fun…
- Three-day fast – third time I’ve done this now and it keeps surprising me how easy it is. Had a bit of a headache the first day but the second and third days I felt sharp although I missed the “process” of cooking and eating with close friends. I used ketoforce this time around (3 cap fulls in the morning with juice from half a lemon) which is supposed to help you get into ketosis faster. I didn’t notice a huge difference in how I felt compared to the last couple fasts but will keep it up.
- On Complexity – finished up my teacher’s reference guide on complexity. I got so much out of this deep, deliberate dive and hope you find it somewhat useful too.
- Silent retreat – it was really nice to get some space and feel like it was alright to do nothing, to walk slowly, to eat slowly, to meditate, to think deeply and escape technology and time for just two days. Would highly recommend and will definitely do it again at some point
- On Disney – finished compiling my learnings and takeaways from reading up on Disney and Pixar which has been an awesome project
- 3 day fast – last one of the year and each time seems to get a little easier, although still challenging. You start feeling really sharp towards the end of the second day and it has been a great experience learning that I can go days without eating if need be
- Decaf tea with apple cider vinegar and honey before bed – definitely helped me sleep a bit deeper but not to the point where I’ll be doing this every day
- Bruce Lee – learning about his life and philosophy has been fascinating and look forward to digging in more next month
- Learn the basics of drawing – this has been one of my favorite challenges this year. I have zero artistic talent but this book walks you through fundamentals in a fun and engaging way. Will definitely keep up moving forward
- Get creative and experiment with Joule, a sous vide made by ChefSteps
- Year-End Challenges:
- Napoleon Hill’s 28 questions – personal check to see where I stand on things important to me. I have done this the last couple years and find it an easy yet powerful way to reflect on the past year
- Revisit my 1, 5 and 10 year goals – I put no pressure on myself to live and die by these goals but I find it helpful to have some ‘roadmap’ in mind. Helps me see how I stack up to what I set out to do this year vs. what I actually did and see how the game plan for longer term goals are playing out.
- Pareto Spring Cleaning – something I do every 6 months or so and it helps me think about what has caused the majority of my problems, successes, joys and stresses. Weeding out the bad and doing more of the good.
- Read BestSelf journal entries to see how I spent my time these past 3 months, what I’ve been grateful for and possibly pick up any patterns or themes that were lost on me while in the moment. I have loved this quarterly practice as it helps extend your time horizon and in some ways become an observer of your own life
- Ido Portal hanging protocol – wasn’t too serious about it but hung from my pull up bar a couple minutes per day. Like it enough to keep doing it but didn’t find any huge benefits
- Wim Hof Method – started mid-month but am loving it. It is a 10 week breathing and cold exposure protocol which I’m really excited about
- Determine 2016 goals – a lot of it is keeping up with good habits and routines I’ve set up but always looking for more. Any recommendations would be much appreciated
- Ask family and close friends for areas of improvement – definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone but I got some really valuable feedback from people who know me very well and I trust. Highly recommend
- Don’t crack my knuckles – made some progress but still a bad habit
- More about wine – got some books on what influences the smell and taste of wine and how to better describe it. Interesting and pretty useful
- Have more than 3 drinks any given night – failed a couple times but not too often.
- Ice on neck before bed / cold showers – amazing how deeply I slept after this (Tim Ferriss hack)
- Get impatient with my family. Hate to think I treat complete strangers better than family
- Ask for 1-3 areas of improvement – really difficult but interesting to ask close friends / family for this input
- 30 Day Pull up Challenge – I am pretty terrible at pull ups but was amazed at the progress over 30 days. Managed to get to 30 pull ups in a row, from a base of 10
- Text while around other people – not very difficult but made me aware how much people in general do this
- Took a break with moving and traveling to Sweden / Istanbul
- Archery class – fun to do something I’ve never done before
- Watch more than 60 minutes of TV any given day
- Be grateful before every meal – not a prayer but just recognizing how lucky I am to have a meal in front of me is very humbling
- Big History Project – glad I took these courses. Maybe not too much new information but it was interesting to see the progression from our universe forming billions of years ago to the future of humanity
- Godin Freelancing Workshop – really good workshop and glad I took it
- Bitcoin Basics – really good, free course on Udemy and a bit goofy but gave me a good understanding about the basics of Bitcoin
- Ask people to describe you in 3 words – bit of a difficult challenge in the sense that you open yourself up in a new way to people. I really enjoyed this challenge and would recommend giving it a try. It was interesting to see what different groups (friends, family, teammates, colleagues) came up with.
- Say “yes” unless it’s a “hell yes!” – got this idea from McKeown’s Essentialism and while I wasn’t able to put it into practice too often, I did say no a couple times to certain requests because I was overloaded. It was somewhat difficult but my colleagues understood and respected me being open about my inability to do quality work if I took on their requests.
- Day of silence once per week – was only able to get 2 “Silent Sundays” in out of 4 but really enjoyed this practice. I didn’t listen to any music, watch TV, or talk at all – just read a lot and tried to be aware of the noises around me. Definitely out there but it was fun to try
- Give away 30 things in 30 days – this was fantastic and while I struggled deciding on exaclty what to give away, it felt great doing so. Mostly clothes but also some accessories and random stuff
- Location of all countries – Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America
- Languages (Italian, Portuguese, Danish, German) with Duolingo and Vis-Ed – great progress and feel like I’m learning a lot. This is a yearly goal and will need to keep working diligently.
- Memorize William Blake’s Auguries of Innocence – “To see the World in a grain of sand/And a Heaven in a Wild Flower/To hold Infinity in the palm of your hand/And Eternity in an hour”
- Reach out to one new person every day – this was a challenge I really enjoyed doing and will incorporate it into my daily habits. People often want to hear from you and keep in touch, it is just difficult to find the time and keep on top of it. I got in touch with 30 people in 30 days – often people I haven’t spoken to in years. Creating a reason, even a silly reason like a monthly challenge, to reach out to someone makes it easier
- No white lies – I failed at this but it was a great exercise to notice what I would want to avoid telling the truth about. For me, it was often trying to get out of social events I didn’t want to attend.
- Memorize the Gettysburg Address – not sure how useful this will ever be but it was a fun challenge
- Main streets and general layout of Chicago – I’m pretty awful with directions and thought this challenge would help me. It’s hard to put the time into memorizing something like this when Google Maps is so great…
- Languages – keep working on German, Italian, Portuguese and Danish on Duolingo and Vis-Ed. Think I’m able to keep the languages separate and there is a lot of overlap
- Pay everything in cash – this challenge wasn’t that effective as most of my bills are automated and paid directly through my bank but it did make spending money on small ticket items like coffee and nights out more difficult. Moving forward, I’ll keep more cash on hand to pay for these types of items and hopefully make it that much harder to spend frivolously
- Drink alcohol – I did a sober January and absolutely loved it. Super productive and great energy that only increased as the month went on. Not going to say it wasn’t difficult, but it made me aware how much alcohol brings me down and will definitely reduce my intake moving forward. I missed the social aspect at times and people were very understanding, and often jealous, that I was doing this challenge. People won’t judge you as much as you think.
- Finish memorizing German Vis-Ed flashcards – These flashcards are great if you haven’t heard of them before. For a good number of languages they offer flashcards of the 1,000 most commonly used words. I have slowly been making my way through the German words and have memorized the vast majority.
- Start Italian, Portuguese and Danish on Duolingo and Vis-Ed – Already speaking Spanish and Swedish, I decided Italian, Portuguese and Danish would be my next languages to focus on. Again, my approach is to do one lesson on Duolingo and make my way through the Vis-Ed flashcards. Good progress and we’ll see if I’m able to keep the often similar words in these various languages distinct.
My Do/Don’t/Learn breakdown didn’t start until 2015 but still took on a number of challenges throughout 2014
- At the beginning of the year I read Joel Greenblatt’s “The Little Book that Still Beats the Market” and decided to invest some money into his Magic Formula Investing. While it did not beat the market (and Buffett and Graham would not be surprised…), it had modest returns and was interesting to follow. So, I sold the losing stocks 1 day before the 1 year holding period and sold the winning stocks 1 day after the holding period (for tax purposes)
- Determine my 2015 year-long goals as well as some potential monthly challenges
- Meditate twice a day using the Headspace app – Finding the time to meditate became somewhat arduous at times but overall I really liked this challenge. I will change my routine so that I now meditate in the mornings instead of at night as I found that it really helps set you up for a great day. Headspace is a great app which is easy to use and gets rid of a lot of the “fluff” which is often associated with meditation. Highly recommend at least trying it out.
- Movember – Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately for those who actually had to look at me…) I had to keep looking somewhat professional so I kept the beard until the last day when I rocked the mustache. I took a picture every day to see the progress…
- Read all Berkshire shareholder letters – For anybody even remotely interested in finance and investing this is a no-brainer. Buffett does such a great job of laying out his investment principles in layman’s terms that anybody can grasp it. The difficult part is keeping emotionally stable enough to weather the good times and the bad. Be fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful
- Know all 1,000 German Vis-ed flashcards – Made huge progress and knew the vast majority of the words but still need to get through those last 20 or so words which are giving me trouble. If you don’t know Vis-ed, check them out. They have a large array of flashcards from languages to mathematics and I have found them to be extremely helpful when trying to learn some new topics (especially using spaced repetition)
- Set up game plan for SportsReplay – I won a non-profit challenge on 99Designs and a couple weeks later had a beautiful webpage design. The designers were very responsive and awesome to work with and I would definitely recommend using them for any webpage, logo or other design you might need help with. (LPT – Tim Ferriss partners with them and you can get $99 off by clicking here.)
- The 27 Amendments and American Presidents in order
- Play “Imagine” by John Lennon on the guitar – slowly but surely making progress here. This will be a multi-month challenge for sure.
- Solve a Rubik’s cube – It took me the entire month but I was finally able to solve the Rubik’s cube. Once you know the different algorithms, there really isn’t that much to it.
- 1,000 German Words – I’m about half way through with memorizing these words and look forward to seeing if I’ll be able to manage all 1,000 before New Years
- Juggle a soccer ball 100 times – This was more difficult than I thought and I wasn’t able to get to 100. 69 was my max so will need to move this challenge forward into November
- Calligraphy – I learned the basics and now know a bit more about this world. It is not something I am looking to pursue but it was interesting to get to know how much detail goes into some of these projects.
- KWIK videos – Jim Kwik has put out some absolutely amazing videos ranging from speed reading to memorizing anything. I will upload my summaries of these videos soon and highly recommend all of them. He gives you tips and tools on how to memorize pretty much anything just using a couple straightforward techniques.
In September I really wanted to push myself with music and language. I was a little disappointed with my progress and will have to keep making big strides in this area in order to accomplish my goals
- “Imagine” by John Lennon on Guitar – I was pretty disappointed with my minor progress. I knew this would probably be the most difficult challenge I have undertaken as I am musically illiterate and never dreamed that this would only take me a month to learn. I memorized the most 8 common chords and came up with a game plan for how to learn this song in the upcoming months.
- Experiment with New Recipes – I read the “4 Hour Chef” by Tim Ferriss and loved some of the meta-learning lessons and recipes it provided (it gives you much more than cooking tips and can’t recommend highly enough!) I made some new dishes and love trying new things so this was a fun challenge for me. I’ll definitely keep experimenting and finding new dishes to try moving forward
- Lift 3 times per week – I used Tim Ferriss’ suggestions from 4 Hour Body, namely the 5 second up/down cadence, the specific exercises and going until failure in each exercise. My lifts were 30 minutes long and typically consisted of bench press, squats, lunges, row and a variety of smaller muscle groups like biceps, triceps and shoulders, etc.). I gained 6 lbs of muscle and lost 2 lbs of fat – nowhere close to Tim’s 34 lbs in 28 days but still a good gain.
- Brew a better cup of coffee – I bought the Aeropress and it is magic. It is very affordable ($25), takes 30 seconds to clean, is portable and makes an amazing cup of coffee. This has completely replaced my Keurig brewer and will be a great stocking stuffer this holiday season.
- German – I want to learn the 1,000 most commonly used German words by the end of the year. I decided to use Vis-Ed flashcards and if you don’t know Vis-Ed, it is a very powerful tool to learn languages or any number of other topics. I made really good progress but I will definitely be pushed trying to learn all thousand words in 3 months.
- Solve a Rubik’s Cube – I tried figuring this out for myself without learning any of the algorithms but was unsuccessful. I will keep working on this in October and try to be able to solve it every time. Also, the world record for fastest Rubik’s cube is pretty mind blowing.
- Get CPR Certified – I got certified in CPR and in situations where people are choking. It was all pretty straight forward and did it in an afternoon. It wasn’t difficult at all but I am very happy I did it.
- Vegetarian – After doing a raw/meatless day per week I wanted to try being a vegetarian full time for a month. I didn’t crave meat nearly as much as I thought I would but I definitely ate less healthy as I had less options (especially since I’m lactose intolerant, I was essentially vegan this month) and felt tired and more irritable than normal
- Apple Cider Vinegar – Every morning, instead of hot water with lemon, I drank one TBS of raw, organic ACV with water in the morning. I didn’t feel different from this and lemon but it was easier than lemon juice so I think I’ll keep this up moving forward. Positive Health Welnness has a great, in depth article on the benefits of lemon water if you’re interested in learning more
- Raw one day per week – On Meatless Mondays, I added the raw aspect which wasn’t all that difficult considering it’s not too big of a step from vegetarian to raw. I definitely felt good doing this and will keep this up.
- Incorporate fermented foods as much as possible – This is supposed to help with digestion so I ate a lot of sauerkraut and kombucha tea. I didn’t feel any noticeable effects but will keep up as I don’t think there are any down falls and long term it might help with gut health.
- Bikram Yoga – Did this twice per week for 6 weeks. I absolutely love how calm, relaxed, and refreshed I felt. I will work this into my weekly workout routine – maybe one time per week or so.
- Spike Mat – This was a completely foreign concept to me but a challenge I really enjoyed and will keep up. Essentially, it is a yoga mat with plastic spikes sticking up and the idea is that you lie on it for as long as you want – I did between 15-20 minutes before bed. While the first 2-3 minutes are pretty painful, soon after you enter a state of extreme relaxation and as a consequence sleep deeper than ever before. I ended up combining my time on the spike mat with meditation and listening to binaurals.
- How to Salsa – I learned the basics through the Pocket Salsa app. It made me want to take a real class and truly learn how to dance salsa and anything else.
- Meatless Mondays – Essentially protein cycling once per week which is shown to have good health benefits. Again, could be completely in my head but I felt lighter and cleaner after a month of this and I plan on keeping this up moving forward
- How to do a handstand – I made huge improvements with the handstand but still can’t do it confidently without a wall or something to support me. I will keep working on this moving forward until I can confidently balance every time.
- High quality cocktails – It was fun learning what some of the main cocktail recipes entail and got hooked on the bourbon old-fashioned
- Crack my knuckles – I definitely failed on not cracking my knuckles but I was at least conscious of when I was doing it and think I cracked them less. This is a habit I absolutely want to break and is something I will keep working on.
- How to juggle – I learned how to juggle after only a couple days. it was something I had always wanted to do had a really good time learning it. I want to incorporate more physical skills into my monthly challenges.
- Wake up at 4:30 three times per week – I kept getting up early and either working out, reading or meditating. I love this routine as I feel it sets up the rest of the day. Was feeling pretty tired by the end of the month though
- Take a 1 second video every day- I came across an inspiring TED talk by Cesar Kuriyama which describes his ambitious goal of taking a 1 second video every day for the rest of his life. I instantly fell in love with this concept and really enjoyed the 30 second video compilation at the end of the month. I would love to keep this going as much as possible moving forward.
- Watch TV – I failed this challenge after only a couple days. I tend to watch TV while I’m eating dinner and is part of my winding down routine at nights. I usually watch some sort of documentary so don’t feel too bad about it but found out that I am more reliant on TV than I realized. This will be something I want to try again.
- How to speed read – I learned the basic principles, techniques and some of the different schools of thought. I improved my average reading speed from around 300 WPM to over 600 WPM by just incorporating a couple simple techniques. A couple websites and apps that I recommend are spreeder, readsy, spritz, and the spritz speed reading app bundle. These are all Incredibly powerful programs that are very easy to use. The spritzlet bookmark is an absolute game changer – it takes 30 seconds to install and will instantly set up any page or highlighted material to be sped read (?). Give it a try – it can do up to 1,000 WPM which I hope to be able to achieve and comprehend one day! Note – I definitely don’t, and wouldn’t want to speed read everything. It is simply something useful to have in your repertoire whenever you need it.
- Sleep 6 hours per night – I ended up going to bed around 10:30 and waking up around 4:30. This was one of the more difficult challenges I have done so far but one that I really liked. The second week was definitely a struggle but it got easier after that. I ended up having several hours to myself in the morning before work even started. I used this time to read, study, workout, and meditate. It set up great things for the rest of the day and although I do not plan on being as strict with myself moving forward, it will definitely be something I incorporate from time to time.
- High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) – I didn’t achieve my goal of doing this 2-3 times per week but I got at least 1 to 2 sessions in per week. I was using the treadmill and the free version of the Tabata Stopwatch app to sprint at 12 MPH for 20 seconds and then rest for 10 seconds. Did this for 1 set of 4 reps – for a 12 minute workout including a quick warm-up. I definitely felt alert for the rest of the day and will make this part of my weekly workout routine (maybe only 1 time per week though).
- Hot water with lemon – Immediately upon waking I drank a cup of hot water with the juice of half a lemon. It might be completely in my head but I felt like it cleared my head and helped with digestion. Check out these posts by The Way U Think and Positive Health Wellness which have some great detail on the benefits of lemon water
- Cold showers – After my workouts I’d end my showers with 2-5 minutes of freezing water. This will really get you going in the morning and the drastic change in temperatures is supposed to have great health benefits too.
- Extra push-up every day – I wanted to test out the concept that you should be able to do one extra push-up everyday. This was a difficult challenge as it pushed me to my breaking point every single morning. However, I’m happy to say that I accomplished my goal of getting one extra push-up everyday and ended up being able to do 66 consecutive push-ups on January 31.
- Meditate – I was meditating at nights for about 20 minutes and found it to be very calming and something I looked forward to doing before sleeping. Definitely difficult to quiet your mind and it gets frustrating at times but I feel like I am beginning to reap some benefits such as being mindful that “I am not my mind nor my body” as Deepak Chopra explains. This has helped me see things from a more unbiased perspective and created a sense of calm since I am beginning to realize that my thoughts and body do not constitute who “I” am.
I began my monthly challenges in October of 2013 and have been hooked ever since.
- 7 minute exercise – using the same concept but only doing one at a time. Amazing how good of a workout you can get in just 7 minutes if you are focused on what you are doing.
- Meditate – kept reading learning about meditation. I started using some other apps which offer guided meditation and also started incorporating some binaurals which effect your brainwaves depending on the tone and frequency.
- 7 minutes of exercise daily – strange exercising so little compared to what I was used to but it was intense and effective. I used the (very macho…) Lolo 7 Minute Workout App. Very simple to use and it guides you through the quick, whole body workout.
- Meditate – I didn’t meditate as much as I had hoped to but I learned the basics around mindfulness meditation and will continue practicing. Sam Harris, who has a multitude of incredible and often controversial talks, offers an excellent guided meditation that I found helpful.
- No red meat – while at the time I was not a huge red meat eater, I remember how much I enjoyed my big first steak at training table