Happy New Year!

First, mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa……. I dropped the ball and I wish I could say there was some specific circumstance that caused my radio silence and delinquency in writing. Truth is, yes I was busy, but I frankly did not prioritize and carve out time in my schedule for writing, something I hope to remedy moving forward.

Which brings me to the subject of this post: the New Year! Now I know that many of you will be scratching your heads and wondering how I’m possibly wishing everyone Happy New Year over a month after January 1, but I’ll explain.

My shift in perspective happened years ago when the Chinese New Year happened to fall on my birthday in February. It all of a sudden dawned on me that for everyone – every person on Earth – their *true* New Year was, in fact, their birthday. That’s when your clock begins, so why do we prioritize January 1 over that very personal date?

For me, selfishly, this worked out pretty well. I found New Years resolutions very difficult. Frankly, I’d be lucky if I made it through the holidays unscathed, and I can guarantee, there was very little time in December contemplating just what I wanted to embark upon for the next year. The result was that I began January hazily, and never really firmed up any resolutions, or had the generic resolutions we all have without any thought to specifics and execution.

Enter the (Birthday-centric) New Year

The lucky coincidence of my birthday being at the beginning of February meant that if I used that as my starting point, I had all of January to recover from the holidays, get a little bit back to “normal” and really give some meaningful thought to my resolutions. I have to say that this has had some pretty good results over the years.

Oh sure, I could be even more prescriptive and perhaps even establish clearer benchmarks or leading and lagging indicators for meeting my goals (if I totally want to geek out), and in some cases I have done so by default even if not explicitly. But, it definitely has paid better dividends than the failed attempt to center my annual goals around January 1.

So What’s Up for This Year?

Welp. I wish I could say I was super and uber specific and prepared this year, but I’m going to be honest and say I’m not, entirely. I have a few general things that have become a perennial set of goals I’ll mention and then a couple of new ones, even if I could have done a better job outlining them before embarking upon them.

Health and Wellness

I wish I could *not* be that guy who defaults to the generic health resolutions every year, but, alas I am – with a twist. See, another reason I found my Birthday New Year to be helpful was the way it gave me some “wiggle room” around the holidays. Basically, if I was very disciplined nutrition and exercise-wise most of the year, I felt like I could loosen the reins a bit during the holidays. As a result, I generally begin my “relaxed” period on Thanksgiving Day and allow it to run through (my) New Year in February. Now, I generally try not to go absolutely CRAZY during this period; however, it really helped eliminate a lot of the guilt if I ate something “off plan” at a holiday party (not to mention both Thanksgiving and Christmas themselves!), or the feeling of either needing to avoid these situations to stay “on plan,” or the societal cost of coming off sanctimonious by attending but not indulging in anything offered. That said, this year, due to our Disney trip I was a bit more off the rails than in a typical year, so I’ll have some ground to recover moving forward.

Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor, health or nutrition professional so I’m not qualified to give any advice on diet or exercise. I’m only reporting what has seemed to work well for me in recent years and what my “goals” are for this new year.

Diet

I’ve experimented with a variety of different nutrition plans (I prefer this term to “diet” per se, since I think it helps to think of it more as a lifestyle than a set of restrictions if possible) over the years. What has worked the best for me in recent years has been the ketogenic diet. I’ll be honest and say some of the biggest draws for me are the fact that I can eat keto and keep a few things in the mix:

  1. Cheese. I. Just. Love. Cheese. Full stop.
  2. Meat. I’m a carnivore at heart. I have eaten for periods of times with meat substitutes, and do actually quite enjoy many of them, but I’m a sucker for a good burger or a good steak.
  3. Booze. Keepin’ it real – I’m a parent of a young child, and I like to have a cocktail. Now, keto has adjusted what I can drink (pretty much only hard alcohol, like vodka, with zero calorie mixers like seltzer) from what I used to drink (I’m a sucker for a good bottle of wine), but at least it’s an option without feeling like it’s completely tanking my progress.

So, my body had just reacted pretty well to keto compared to some of the other nutrition plans I’ve tried, so I’ve actually kept it as my primary state for the last four years or so. One new thing I introduced in the last couple of years that has also seemed to work well for me is intermittent fasting.

I started my intermittent fasting on as wide a band as you could: a 16/8 split. This basically means that you don’t eat for 16 hours (this usually includes the sleeping hours to make it at least somewhat easier/doable), and can eat within an 8 hour window. I’d basically skip breakfast, have lunch around 12 and then make sure dinner was done by 8. Last year I started expanding the fasting window to the point where many days I was only eating (a very hearty) dinner, but was generally fine and not feeling deprived throughout the day.

My plan for this year is to continue this intermittent fasting with a keto-based diet. I will probably start with a closer to 16/8 split and ramp back up to a shorter window, possibly even one meal per day again.

The next piece is a new experimental resolution. I am going to try a 24 hour fast once a week. Considering I have, at times, gotten down to one meal a day, this may not be a super heavy lift, but having heard about some of the benefits of true fasting, I am going to experiment with this to see how my body reacts. I plan on approaching this like I did with intermittent fasting originally – started with one plan and try variations and checking in with how my body feels as I go before settling on an approach (or abandoning if it’s just not something my body reacts well to).

Wim Hof Breathing and Cold Showers

I’ve been a big fan of Wim Hof’s breathing exercises for awhile, and even experimented off and on with the cold showers piece of his training regimen. My plan is to follow the printout he provides on his website to ramp up over time beginning with a short cold shower, and eventually increasing the time. Not gonna lie, this is huge for me. I grew up in Southern California, and despite living in the Boston area now, I absolutely HATE the cold. This is one of those “get outside of your comfort zone” resolutions. Pray for me.

Meditation

It goes without saying on a blog entitled “Zen and the Art of Parenting” that some meditation is incorporated. Stay tuned for a future post on my history of meditation and my current regimen and tools that I find helpful.

Exercise

I successfully completed P90X during a previous “milestone” birthday year. Last year I completed Shawn T’s “Focus T-25,” which I found much more conducive to a parent’s schedule with its workouts all strictly capped at 25 minutes. I found it very effective, and plan on taking my favorite sessions and rotating them to get back into the swing of things. Real talk: I hit my goal weight and felt very good about myself by the time of my Thanksgiving Day “grace period,” in large part to this workout program. I have put back on about 10 lbs, so have my work cut out for me to get back into fighting shape. What I can say (thanks to my friendly Fitbit app) is that over the last five years or so since I’ve been tracking my vitals and stats, each time I bump back up, the bump up tends to be lower than the previous year’s bump, so overall the trend is good. Over the 10 months I work hard my lows get lower, the highs in the grace periods don’t go as high, and overall I feel great. I’m toying around with the idea of reprising P90X again at some point this year (because it’s another milestone birthday year), but haven’t decided if I want to commit to that yet or not. I’d love to do it, but I am also trying to be realistic given the fact I’m now a parent, which I was not the last time around. Stay tuned.

Reading Fiction

This was actually a Birthday New Year’s resolution a couple of years ago but I have maintained it and have found it has profoundly enriched my life. I used to LOVE reading fiction and read almost nothing but fiction as a kid, unsurprisingly. As I got older and started reading to acquire skills or improve my life, I realized a couple of years ago I couldn’t actually remember the last fiction book I’d read. I crowdsourced a list of fiction books to try out and have been making my way through it ever since. To be clear, I still read plenty of nonfiction books aimed to improve myself; however, I realized that reading for the sheer pleasure and joy of it was also something that was important to me.

Be A Better Father

No pressure. I have to say, I really don’t feel terrible about how I’m doing as a dad on a day-to-day basis. I am fortunate that I work mostly from home and that gives me a lot of opportunities to spend time with Maya that I wouldn’t have been able to have in some of my prior positions. Instead of being out the door before she’s even awake to beat the traffic into the city, I am able to cook her breakfast, get her ready for the day, and sometimes walk her to school. I have the flexibility to volunteer in her classrooms from time to time, and I also am the primary evening-time parent since Michael works in a service industry meaning evenings are a moneymaking time. That said, I know I can engage even better and even more. My new goal is to sit down with her while she’s eating dinner, even if I am not eating my dinner until later (one downside of the keto diet is that there’s very little overlap between your food and your child’s food) and engage with her on how her day went instead of running around doing things “for” her instead of “with” her. Sure, I read her books and talk with her before bed, but adding this extra time can only add value to both her growing up experience as well as our relationship.

Be A Better Husband

I had been doing a pretty good job of this back in the fall, but let it slip when we were getting into the holidays and prepping for the trip. My goal is to make sure we have some sort of a “date” once a week. Date, in this sense, is defined very loosely and flexibly. It costs a lot of money for a sitter, and to layer that on top of the cost of going out and eating dinner, or going to a show, or fill in the blank, it’s a lot of extra expense every week for connection that can be gotten just as easily in other ways. Working from home and having negotiated flexibility into my hours at work, we can go out for coffee (much cheaper!), go for a walk (when the weather finally warms up), or just hang out for a half hour at home and connect as a couple rather than as parents of a daughter, which is what we too often feel is our only role and identity.

Improve Our Finances

Everyone’s always looking toward some version of this, right? My goal is to reduce our monthly spending by $1,000. I’m pretty good about tracking our spending using YNAB, and quite frankly, there’s a lot of fat we can trim. One area I have already started with is reducing existing costs by shopping for better deals and sales and reducing the amount of markup we’ve been paying for convenience. We have been paying a premium by having Amazon Fresh deliver our groceries and all sorts of other items instead of making sure we’re getting the best deals. Part of that started out of a need for convenience. It just saved so much time once Maya came along to not have to go out shopping when you factored in getting her ready, dressed, buckled in, and then taking her out for every trip, the carrying or the slowness of the walking pace of a toddler…. It just seemed easier to buy as much as you could online, and then you also got to spend more time with her at home instead of out running errands. Now that she’s older, things are in a different place, and there a lot of things we buy on a regular basis that we can save a ton of money on by just putting in a little extra effort. I found an Excel spreadsheet to help calculate the price per unit of items we buy to decide which version is most cost-effective and help me get re-sensitized to what a good price per pound something is. I expect even this initial step to pay off some pretty good dividends in meeting my $1,000 goal, but I’ll mention if I find anything else worth sharing that might help others.

Write

We end as we began. I have already put in the calendar for next week the times I plan on writing each day for a half hour, and posting twice a week – once on Monday, and once on Thursday. Even writing that is scary to commit to, but even if it’s a sad, sorry, short post, I feel like the plan to post something on these two days will help keep me on track. More importantly, is the daily habit and scheduling said daily habit in my calendar to ensure it happens every day. Sadly, I have at least five blog post topics ready to go in the Draft folder as the ideas came to me, so it’s not like I’m wanting for topics to write on. It’s the act of doing. It’s the act of committing. And that’s my goal for this next Birthday New Year. Write half an hour every day, and post on Mondays and Thursdays.

What are your New Year’s resolutions for this year (even if yours begins on January 1 and not in February like mine)?