If you’re like me, then often the thing preventing you from replacing bad habits with good habits is not the joy that comes from the bad habit—because, let’s face it, that joy is usually short-lived—but truly believing that you really can change.
Following a (successful!) self-imposed spending fast in the Summer of 2016, I not only gained insight into what drove me to shop but confidence that I could set and, more importantly, actually achieve resolutions around behavioral stumbling blocks like over-spending.
Laying the Foundation
So what was the first thing I did? I read. A lot. I have always been a big reader but at the time I hadn’t read any nonfiction in a while, preferring mysteries and romance novels. Lucky for me, the number of awesome books out there on habit change is huge (not to mention the many great podcasts and blogs that can give you insight into why you do what you do).
One of the first books I picked up was Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project. In it, she documents a year spent on not just researching happiness and habits, but actually making changes in her life to see if they made her happier.
She stresses that being happy is not the opposite of being depressed and I would like to similarly stress that here: depression is a clinical condition and people who are experiencing depression should not only seek help but understand that seeking help for depression is a good thing on par with me seeking help for my asthma.
Instead, I believe the opposite of being happy is being dissatisfied. And that is exactly what I was: dis-satisfied. I had a good life but I knew in my bones it could be so much better.
A Systematic Approach
The systematic approach Gretchen Rubin took—she set specific goals each month based on a theme and monitored her success on a daily basis using a goals chart—was something that definitely appealed to how I like to problem-solve.
In high school, one of my favorite classes was algebra. This isn’t because I am a math wiz but because the hunt for “X” was something that I could get behind. Unfortunately, unlike a mathematics equation, solving for X when X are those things that will help me develop better habits was going to take some time.
I thought about all the areas of my life with which I was dissatisfied and ended up with a rather daunting list:
- My health in general and my weight in particular. I had lost almost 50 pounds in 2012 and had gotten in probably the best shape of my life—I am talking completing a 10k, not an marathon—but by the end of 2016 I had regained most of the weight and would have been hard-pressed to finish even a 5k.
- My money. I had a good salary and had been diligently saving for retirement for years but knew that I had gotten lazy about monitoring my spending. I also wasn’t making as much progress on my roughly $60,0000 of debt as I could, especially on my student loans (which totaled around $32,000). Despite paying extra and refinancing them to a lower interest rate, I was beginning to wonder if my debt was ever going to go away.
- My career. I had been with the same employer for more than eleven years at this point and, while I had been steadily promoted and given more responsibility, I couldn’t see a next step. I had also grown tired of the city in which I was living. When I moved there to work for this employer, I hadn’t expected to stay longer than two years let alone almost twelve. I knew where I wanted to move but also that the city I wanted to move to has a much higher cost of living. To live there, I would need to earn more (and owe less) to maintain my lifestyle.
My Plan of Action
With my list of areas I wanted to address finalized, I created a plan of action. I set a target date of October 2018 for a move and worked backward from there.
First, I decided to cut my spending down to the bare essentials and put everything extra toward my debt which at the start of 2017 totaled around $60,000. If this meant learning to cook then so be it (I don’t enjoy cooking but my real problem is with doing dishes—ugh!).
I also decided I needed to learn more about the saving and investing side of the equation, so set goals around learning about tax advantaged savings options and how to grow what I had already put away for retirement.
For my health, I made what I now think of as a bold decision and ruled out all the strategies I had tried previously (Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, working with a trainer, etc.). I hadn’t been able to sustain them over the long haul and was so unbelievable tired of feeling like a failure that I decided to try something new.
That something was a low carb, high fat approach to eating, like the one described in Gary Taubes’ book Why We Get Fat. It went against everything I had learned about dieting up to that point in my life but, given that everything I had learned had served me so poorly, I felt like I didn’t have anything to lose (except weight).
I also added in a few other new habit goals such as going to bed earlier, watching less TV, and moderate exercise 120 minutes a week that included some upper body strength-building.
Knowing that I had some time before I would begin my job search, I set more general goals regarding career change including improving my LinkedIn profile, networking with friends who already live in the city I want to move to, reading up on how to implement a mid-life career pivots, etc.
With my plan in place, I just had to start implementing it, which I did in January of 2017. In this blog, I will share all that I have learned, trace the progress I have made so far, and document what has become a really amazing journey.