How To Make Everyone Jealous of How Awesome You Are

Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/viccastelo/2582562265/sizes/m/in/photostream/So here’s the thing – I hate running in January. Nope, it’s got nothing to do with the weather – Singapore has only one climate all-year round: Hot and sweaty. Like the title of a porn movie. And it’s not because I don’t like exercising in general.

I hate running in January because there are way Too. Many. People.

Every time January 1st  rolls around, the track I usually frequent actually looks like a porn movie: filled with panting, sweaty people doing laps.

Most of these folks got up on January 1st and decided that they would change their lives just because the earth completed another orbit around the sun.

But like clockwork, the track gets pretty damn empty by the third week of January, leaving behind the same bunch of regulars. It’s like all the people who so spiritedly decided 2 weeks ago that they were “Gonna get a six pack!!!” suddenly got together and decided to go on strike. (Oh wait, it’s illegal to go on strike in Singapore…)

Resolutions are stupid.

Lots of people got up on the first day of 2013, got hit by a bolt of inspiration, and wrote down a bunch of resolutions: Get fitter, get richer, get promoted, be a better husband… etc etc.

Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great that people want to improve themselves. I blog all year round about living a rich life, and part of that rich life involves us being happier, healthier, and more productive.

But the sad truth is, very few people who make resolutions actually manage to keep them. That’s how gyms make money: they sell year-long gym memberships to people who make resolutions to “get fitter”, and then never actually show up after January.

Why are we so bad at keeping our resolutions?

Because resolutions are simply codewords for “wishes”. We envision this ideal, perfect person that we’d like to be, and believe that if we could only visualize it hard enough, we’d become that person. But wishes never got anyone anywhere.

Goals, not resolutions

Screw resolutions. Very few people actually benefit from them anyway.

Instead, let’s talk about something way more effective; something which I hinted at in part 1 of this series on annual reviews. Let’s talk about goals.

Okay, I know, “goals, not resolutions” sounds like some management B.S they teach you at MBA programs. But hear me out for a second here. Here’s the difference between a resolution and a goal:

Resolution: Get fitter

Goal: Run at least 2.4km every Wednesday, do at least 100 crunches on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and swim at least 40 laps on Saturday morning from 9-11 am. Track progress on weekly basis.

See the difference? A resolution is a wish. “I wish I was fitter.”

A goal is targeted, specific, and measurable. You either ran 2.4km or you didn’t. You either did 100 crunches or you didn’t. (nope, 99.5 doesn’t count either).

Goals hold you PERSONALLY responsible if you don’t complete them.

Resolution: Find a new programming job.

Goal: Get certified in C++ programming, schedule networking meetings with employees in software companies, source for 2 recommendations, apply to 2 jobs a month

It’s true that completing your goal may still mean that you don’t find another job. But who do you think is more likely to get hired: the guy who systematically works through his job hunt and networking checklist, or the guy who sits around thinking that he “should” start sending out resumes?

Most people don’t set goals for themselves. They prefer resolutions. Resolutions are easy, and resolutions won’t hold you accountable. But sadly, resolutions won’t help you move towards a rich life either.

But goals will.

How to set some kick-ass goals for 2013

Okay, let’s figure out how to set some awesome goals for 2013. I got this idea off Chris Gulliebeau’s blogpost on annual reviews, which I highly recommend to anyone who’s serious about doing anything awesome this year. You can read about his framework here, and download his goal-setting template here.

Essentially, good goals have 3 essential characteristics

  1. They focus on a specific behavior or action, not an outcome – So “focus more at work” isn’t a goal, but “sleep at least 7 hours a day” is.
  2. They have a deadline – I usually set a specific date (usually the end of a quarter) for mine
  3. They’re measurable – great goals have metrics that you can define and review regularly to determine if you’re succeeding.

So if you’ve already made the mistake of setting up some resolutions for yourself, do yourself a favor and turn them into goals instead. You’ll be more likely to complete them.

You can follow Chris’ framework on how to set your own goals, but in a nutshell, the steps are:

1. Define a few categories to split your goals into.

My categories this year are: Cheerfulegg, Health, Personal Finance, Career, Relationships, Spirituality and Learning. Some people, like Paula from Afford Anything find that having a long list of categories may cause them to lose focus. If that’s you, then feel free to limit it to just 2-3 categories. But I’ve personally found that it’s best to set goals for all aspects of life – striving towards one area while sacrificing the others has made me miserable in the past, so I’ve learnt that balance is usually the best formula.

2. While thinking of each category, think about 3-5 measurable goals for each.

For example, some of my goals under Cheerfulegg are:

  1. Create a free mini-product for loyal readers
  2. Convert cheerfulegg.com into a self-hosted domain
  3. Write book proposal and source for publishers

 3. Come up with a set of sub-actions 

This doesn’t have to be extremely detailed. For example, under the goal of “write a book proposal” I might include “ideate, organize, write first draft, share for feedback, edit, write second draft, etc”

4. Set a deadline for the completion of the project.

This should be a specific date. If you’re not sure, pick the end of a particular month.

 5. Finally, pick a set of metrics that you can use to track your progress.

For example, I might pick something like “number of pages written” or “number of peer reviews”

Dominate Your Goals In 2013

That’s it! If you think that this sounds like a helluva lot of work, well, it is. It took me a couple of days of reflection before I could come up with a list I was happy with, but it was definitely worth the effort.

Writing everything down will give you a clarity and focus that will be crucial to completing your goals, especially in the face of temptation. And hopefully, with a bit of luck, perseverance, and hard work, you’d be dominating your goals and kicking some ass in 2013. Good luck!

Image credit: kidgrifter

The 2012 Cheerfulegg Review

Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/joka2000/80198350/sizes/m/in/photostream/All the blogs in the world are reviewing 2012 at the moment. In summary, the world didn’t end, Obama got re-elected, the Euro crisis didn’t blow up, and most importantly, Singapore saw a record number of sex scandals. And they said Singaporeans don’t have enough sex.

So I thought it’d be a good time to do a little personal review of my own. I got this idea off Chris Guillebeau’s framework on annual reviews, which he cites as probably the best decision he’s made in terms of working towards multiple goals simultaneously (He’s probably one of the most successful bloggers around, so there’s definitely something going on there).

So this post is the first of a 2-part series on annual reviews. In this post, I’ll review 2012 and what it meant for cheerfulegg.com and for parts of my own life. I’m basing it off Chris’ methodology, and if you haven’t done a 2012 review of your own yet, I highly recommend that you give it a try.

It involves answering 2 questions:

  1. What went well this year?
  2. What didn’t go so well this year?

Yeah, I know it sounds like one of those corny-ass “After-Action Reviews” that your company is so fond of doing – I thought it was pretty lame when I first read it too. But after spending an entire day reflecting on it, I got pretty surprised by the results.

So – enough preamble.  Let’s get started.

What went well this year?

(Please don’t take this section as a bragfest. I try to be as objective and transparent as possible in any reflection and including both the good and bad stuff)

*I grew and developed cheerfulegg.com to a level that I’m pretty happy with for its one-year existence. It’s probably one of my proudest accomplishments of 2012. An idea of what this blog has managed to achieve in the past year:

  1. 71 new posts, to grand total of 77 posts since it started in Dec 2011.
  2. A post that got featured on WordPress’s Freshly Pressed section, generating a record 16,000+ views for that month, and 220+ WordPress followers.
  3. A brand new “cheerfulegg.com” domain name
  4. A cheerfulegg VIP list, which grew to 85 subscribers within a couple of months
  5. Being accepted on blog aggregators theFinance.sg and PaperBlog.com

* I developed, followed, and refined a personal finance system. Writing a book about it really helped because it forced me to solidify the ideas. It isn’t perfect yet, but it’s at a point where I’m about 80-90% satisfied. Will be sharing more of it in some publications that I’m working on.

  1. I apologize if some of you were confused by my previous posts about multiple saving and spending accounts, sometimes with different names and purposes, etc.  It was all part of a process of trying it out and making improvements to make the final version simpler and more effective for everyone. Sometimes I just had to write about it here in order to crystalize the idea.

* I successfully achieved my saving and investing goals, entirely thanks to a system of automation I set up to take care of everything.

* I introduced fixed income and Singapore asset classes into my portfolio, adding a further level of diversification. Contemplating if I should add gold in the coming year (Its historical real returns aren’t the best, but it might be a good diversifier. Check out this blog for more details. I’m still thinking about it though).

*The markets have also been pretty kind to my portfolio this year, which was really encouraging for my first full calendar year in sticking with a passive, indexed-based investment style, which has worked out pretty well thus far.

 What didn’t go so well this year?

* I severely underestimated the effort required to write a book. After spending the best part of August – November writing for three nights a week, I had a 82-page first draft, which was about 60% of my planned book. And I hated it.

It’s not terrible, but it certainly fell short of the vision I had for it as something fresh, engaging and different from the other “how to get your personal finances in order” books.  I’m still going to finish writing it, but I’m now humbled by the effort and the dedication a project like this requires. In the meantime, I’m headed back to the drawing board and I’m only going to ship it to you once I’m satisfied with it.

* I attempted to start some freelancing projects, which pretty much fell through because I couldn’t find an idea that suited me, or that I had enough time for.

* I got fatter this year. Fareals. A combination a dropping metabolic rate, a new job rotation that required me to sit at my desk for longer hours, and my focus on cheerfulegg.com and the book resulted in some serious weight gain. An exercise plan for 2013 is definitely in order. I also definitely didn’t sleep as much as I would have liked.

* I made a conscious decision to give up dance, at least for now, even though it was my entire life just 2 years back. I’ve been pursuing it as a passion for 12 years now, but I really  want to pursue new adventures with this blog and the book. With a full-time day job, it’s pretty much impossible to commit to writing AND dance at the same time after office hours. Still though, I get that twinge of longing whenever I watch YouTube videos.

 Possible goals for next year

I’ll talk more about these after I’ve finalized my plans for 2013, but 2 things that are definitely in the works are:

* Going back to the drawing board to redefine the book, interviewing people to really understand them and coming up with fresh, new ideas. Check out my room wall at the moment:

Ideation

* I now know that this is going be an ongoing process, and it might take several months or more than a year before I see some results. However, this isn’t going to stop me from shipping some stuff out for everyone who’s been waiting patiently for it.

* In the interim, I’m working on pushing out 2 mini-products in 2013 – which are a lot less complex, but still pretty damn awesome. Stay tuned for those 🙂

Happy 2013 everyone!

Go Tiny

Soooo it’s mid-Feb. Have you discovered that you’re not keeping to most, or all of your resolutions? I know I have. My resolutions to leave work by 6.30pm and sleep 7 hours a day have fallen flat on their faces. (It’s sad, but despite all my posts on productivity I inevitably get a couple of days/weeks where the work just surges unbearably.) Yet, there are others, like exercising, personal finance and sending compliments, that I’ve managed to keep surprisingly well so far because of systems I’ve stuck to. I’ll tell you more about one in a bit.

If you’re like 90% of the people in the world, you’re probably not keeping to your resolutions like you said you would, or you’ve given up on making resolutions altogether because they’re impossible to keep. The thing is, if we really want our lives to improve, we’ve got to create something that sticks, that becomes so ingrained in the fabric of our lives that we do it without any effort or without thinking. Sort of like brushing your teeth. (I blogged previously on how personal finance can be exactly like that) There’s no point in making a resolution like “I’m gonna get a six-pack this year” if you’re not going to stick to it and look like a beached whale again once Christmas comes around. (Speaking from personal experience here.. pat pat)

So recently, I’ve been following BJ Fogg’s work on creating habits and sticking to them. He’s a Stanford professor and created quite a following with his program 3 Tiny Habits. He tells you to “forget about motivation. Forget about 21 days. Forget ‘one habit at a time.’ None of that matters as much as going tiny. When you succeed in tiny ways, you unlock power to do more. For this and other reasons, tiny is the key to new habits.”

Essentially, to create a new habit, follow these three steps:

1. Make it tiny: When Fogg was trying to create a habit of flossing, he started by flossing one tooth a day. That’s it. Make the habit tiny, even if it’s ridiculous, and suddenly it’s not so hard to start doing it.

2. Find a spot: just like how brushing your teeth always comes right after you get up and before you go to sleep. Create a spot in your existing routine for it.

3. Train the cycle: Every day, just do your tiny behavior in the spot you’ve chosen. If you’re not committing to it, go back to Step 1 and simplify it. Keep trying, revising and adapting, and trying again until you do something that sticks.

The awesome thing? When you train your body to do certain behaviors at a certain time in your routine, the little victories that come with accomplishing a goal start feeding your mind and your confidence. It then becomes way easier to expand that tiny habit into something a little more ambitious. But don’t be in too much of a hurry to achieve too much. The key is to do small, incremental steps, even if it takes you as long as a couple of months to train it. You’re better off moving slowly and progressively than jumping the gun and not sticking to it.

At a TEDx conference a couple of months back, I listened to my colleague Daniel Wong give an awesome talk about delivering happiness through emails (the summary can be found here). Inspired, I tried to fire off as many happy emails as possible whenever I could, but after a couple of weeks, it just wasn’t sticking as a habit. So I decided to try Fogg’s methods instead. First, I made a goal to send at least one complimentary / positive email per week (okay, I know what you’re thinking – now I sound like a douchey depressing office drone – but first, you’ve gotta make it tiny right?). Next, I found a spot by setting a weekly reminder on my phone to send a compliment at the start of the day every Wednesday, before I got lost in my daily barrage of emails. Finally, I trained the cycle by sticking to it religiously. Wednesday wasn’t just another workday, it became “Compliment Wednesday”. (Yes, you can tell I’m a total genius at coming up with creative names) It was weird at first – you’d be surprised at how hard it is to find someone new to compliment each week – but it started getting easier as time passed. As a result, my Wednesdays and my work week started getting more positive, my mood improved, and it became a lot easier to work with colleagues who were previously impossible to approach.

So give Fogg’s method a shot and go tiny. You’ll be way ahead of the game in creating habits that stick 🙂

The Secret to Keeping Your Resolutions

Zen Habits has a great post today on creating a habit for fitness, but the advice can be applied to any resolution you’re making for the new year:

“But resolutions never last. As you might already know, I’m not a fan of resolutions. Instead of creating a list of resolutions this year, create a new habit. Habits last, and they lead to long-term fitness (and more). They require more patience, but they are worth the wait.”

How many of us spent last year, and the year before, and the year before that, crafting out resolutions that we never stuck to?

“I will have $XYZ amount of money in my bank account by the end of next year”

“I will lose 10kg this year”

“I will go to the gym 3 times a week”

“I will spend more time with my kids”

As the year passes, the demands of work take over our lives, we blow our money on an expensive gift we don’t need, overeat because of the stress, stop going to the gym, and  spend even less time with the kids.

Resolutions are great motivators in the short term, but they simply don’t stick because we’re not used to them. There was an example in the Zen Habits post about how you could go through an intense workout phase and get those washboard abs in 2 months. Then you’re likely to fall back into overeating and get an even bigger belly than before. 500 crunches a day is a painful, tedious activity that simply isn’t sustainable in the long run if you’re not used to it.

It’s obvious that we have to start forming habits rather than resolutions. Habits that don’t really focus on a goal per se, but on a process aimed at being so automatic that you simply do them without thinking. Like brushing your teeth or having coffee in the morning. Is your ultimate goal to get those washboard abs? A good habit would be to start with something small, by setting aside 10 mins, three times a week to do crunches. Once that small practice becomes a habit, you can start to increase the frequency. Does it matter that you don’t get those washboard abs by the end of 2012? Nope, but at least you’ve cultivated a process that’s helping you slowly but surely move towards that ultimate goal – giving you a huge lead over the millions of people who try to reach their goals too fast and end up failing.

Starting a habit isn’t easy though – just ask anyone who’s ever tried to diet. We’re all human, and overcoming that huge inertia within us takes a helluva willpower. I’m not a huge fan of willpower. In fact, I have terrible willpower. Put a beer in front of me and I will drink it, even if I’m trying to cut down. People are terrible when it comes to doing the right thing – our minds and our bodies play tricks on each other and tend to screw each other over. Which is why, in order to create a habit, you need to acknowledge that it’s impossible to overcome those urges by sheer willpower alone, and to use systems to facilitate your habit formation.  I personally use two types of systems:

1. Automatic systems

These are the best kinds of systems because they eliminate the need for you to use any sort of “willpower”. Essentially, you’re automating your habit and outsourcing it to someone else to do it for you. Want to cultivate the habit of saving? Using “willpower” to cut down on spending every month never works because if you have money sitting there, you’re going to find an excuse to spend it. Instead, set up automatic transfers to a separate bank account and voila! You’ve just instantly cultivated a habit of saving.

Other kinds of automatic systems include setting your computer to ban you from certain time-wasting sites during certain times of the day, or setting up automatic bill payment so you’ll never get hit with overdraft fees or hefty interest rates on your credit cards.

2. Accountability systems

These systems essentially hold you accountable for keeping your habits. You could use sites like Fitocracy or Mint.com to track your fitness and expenditure respectively, but you don’t always have to rely on computerized systems. Sometimes an old-fashioned checklist / journal helps as well. Want to start a habit of running at least once a week? Write down the date, time, and distance you ran after every session. Then at the end of the month, look back and see how well you’ve done. At the beginning of every month, decide how you’re going to reward yourself if you stuck to your habits, and then go celebrate and enjoy yourself if you actually do. You deserve it.

One more thing – don’t be too ambitious in trying to form too many habits at one go. It’s better to start by forming 1 habit a month, and by the end of the year you’ll have 12 habits – essentially a major personal overhaul. Good luck!