It’s my first time writing on this blog in quite some time. I’ve posted things intermittently on my Posterous site, but nothing more than snapshots of things I ate or places I visited. I went through a phase of being hyper-sensitive about what I wrote and was often fearful or discouraged about the prospect of sounding both obtuse and frivolous. There were times when I would start to write an entry only to abandon it after the first couple of sentences didn’t work out the way I wanted them to. Before long, I ceased to even remember that this blog existed and only lamented at the fact that I hardly ever wrote anything.
I recently finished The World is What It Is, an authorized biography of V.S. Naipaul by Patrick French. It is an excellent read, and I was fascinated by the experiences and habits of the world-renowned novelist. Aside from the more infamous traits – the tendency to be controversial in his statements, his non-PC labels, his snobbish Brahmin attitude, and his aggressive, confrontational style – I was particularly impressed by his degree of self-discipline and his devotion to literature. No matter the personal turmoils and various outside distractions, Naipaul seems to always have found the willpower to continue his work as an observer, taker of notes, and writer. Such dedication comes at great costs and the biography closely examines the way Naipaul’s first wife Patricia Hale quietly suffered his temper, his infidelity, and his endless demands in order to fully support what she believed was a master in pursuit of great art.
I can’t say that I have a singular passion for anything that can instill the degree of confidence exhibited by someone like Naipaul. In fact, I know that I am incapable of such self-discipline and such grand visions of myself as someone serving a great purpose (Naipaul felt that he had to “serve literature”). But as I finished up the biography, I felt that it would be good to enact some sort of self-discipline on my loose, freestyle life and to at least experience the feeling of accomplishment, no matter how trivial it may be.
In a way, this is a continuation of an experiment I began last year. On January 1, 2008, I began to keep track of various things that I did – going to the gym, packing lunch, finishing a book, writing a story, etc. – and rewarding myself with “points” to keep things interesting. Different activities would have different weights, depending on the degree of difficulty. For example, writing a story would get double the points that going to the gym would, since it takes a lot of patience and work to pump out a story. I actually kept this up for eight or so months and was pleased to have compiled such wealth of data to analyze the number of lunches I packed (thus saving some money) or to see how many books I finished and what frequency. All was great until the day my laptop died and the file I had – saved nowhere else – was toast.
The loss of my points spreadsheet was demoralizing. I stopped caring so much about going to the gym, packing lunch, finishing books, or writing. I started watching more shows on Hulu and actively downloaded movies to pass the time. I also surfed the web more and let myself browse idly for hours. While I still spent a lot of my waking hours thinking about work and scheming to make money, my time had no other structure to it.
A few days ago, I started another points spreadsheet. I have a new laptop now, but I’m going to back up my spreadsheet every few weeks onto an online location, just to be safe. This points system is similar to the original but has some new wrinkles to reflect some of my newer concerns. These are the activities with their points per execution:
– Ran 3 Miles: 7
– Exercise at YMCA: 5
– Biked to Work: 3
– Biked Home: 3
– Packed/Made Lunch: 5
– Made Dinner: 7
– Wrote for 30 minutes: 7
– Solid biz research for 30 minutes: 3
– Attended Networking Event: 5
The first four activities are all about fitness. Aside from riding the bike every now and then, I’ve been bad about doing anything else. I’m thinking that as I get older, it’s best to keep active any way I can. Running 3 miles may sound like a piece of cake, but for me, it’s quite a challenge. My calves are incredibly sore still from my first run of the year around Prospect Park.
The two items that have to do with eating are geared towards health and personal finance. The less I eat out, the better I can save money and eat healthier. Although it was a great experience, I don’t think I will go through another month of frugality like I did in February ($100 for the entire month). What I’m thinking is a sustained effort to make or prepare the majority of my meals while mixing it up with the occasional meals out on the town.
In this new point system, I no longer reward myself for finishing a book. I’ve found that it doesn’t make sense for me to count every book as having the same value in terms of points. Some books are challenging and require a great deal of focus while others are fluff and as silly as an episode of The Office. Plus, I do a lot of non-book reading during the week (magazines galore), so I felt that the activity of reading was best left out of the equation. Instead, I’ve charged the act of writing with more weight this time around. Instead of a story, I’m counting any writing of 30-minutes or more to be worth 7 points, on par with running 3 miles or making dinner (shopping for food, cooking, cleaning). Late in 2008, I took part in a daily 30-minute writing exercise with my buddy Sol. This was one of the best things I ever did, and it went along for nearly a month before I gave up. I don’t expect to write 30 minutes every single day, but it’s nice to have that extra incentive to help me write more often.
The last two things are work-related in that it has to do with activities that are not directly tied to my business but can greatly benefit the business through new ideas and connections. Business research doesn’t only mean surfing the web, but taking notes and writing clear observations. I’ve found this to be much more useful in helping me articulate my thoughts. As for attending networking events, I don’t mean going to random business meet-ups or conferences, but just being open to putting myself in different social situations so I can meet new people and gain prospective clients. I’ve been pretty lazy about that recently, and I think with the weather warming up, it’ll be good to put myself out there more.
The biggest change I’ve made with the new points system is the addition of a demerits section. It’s now no longer just about accumulating points but also not losing them. Here are the three demerit activities and the points I lose for each infraction:
# of drinks over one 1
# of shows watched 1
# of times dined out 1
As you can see, the demerit activities reflect the same concerns as the regular ones. I’ve become a bit wary about the amount of alcohol I consume on a regular basis. I think it’s time to cut back. I’ve given myself a freebie by allowing 1 drink per day, but any amount over that will cost me a point. It sucks how easily I can rack up 5-10 points on a given night. With my friend’s bachelor party coming up this weekend, things aren’t looking good for this row.
I’ve been disappointed with myself for loving television shows so much lately. In addition to weekly episodes of House, which I’ve followed for a few years now, I now follow Damages, Lie to Me, The Office, and 30 Rock. That’s four hours a week, 16 hours a month, 192 hours in a year! I think I’ll continue to watch most of these, but I’ll try my best to keep from watching anything more.
And lastly, I’ve mentioned why it’s important to dine in, so I’ve decided to penalize myself for eating out. This row will probably suffer on vacations when dining out occurs consistently for all three meals, but I will try to keep it to a minimum during routine weeks.
It’s been four days, and I’m up 14 points. I’m hoping to average about 300 points a month, which means I’ll have to pick up the pace. I already had a negative day over the weekend (-7) from eating out a few times, drinking too much, and watching a lot of Hulu. I know such days will be hard to avoid, but maybe this is where writing can really help me. Thirty minutes of self-discipline, a single train of thought, devotion to putting words together.