A time for speeding up

In my last post, I talked about slowing down, reflecting, and experimenting as a way to overcome feeling stuck. The two main insights I got from that were 1) I need to be proactive about improving the skills that are important to me, and 2) being proactive in creative ways makes me more motivated.

Since then, one area I got unstuck was physical activity. I had never been athletic, and attempts at exercising usually fail within a couple of weeks. I’ve tried taking group classes, scheduling gym time, playing games while at the gym, getting a personal trainer, training for and running a 5k, and doing at-home bodyweight workouts, but nothing stuck for more than a month. In August, I signed up for my local Crossfit gym as a last resort at finding an activity I would love. Four months later, it’s a habit, and not only do I still look forward to going (I just renewed my membership for another 3 months), but I feel restless if I don’t go.

To continue exploring and having fun with health-related pursuits, I’m doing the following this year:

  • Add yoga to my routine. Yoga is an excellent way to recover from an intense Crossfit workout. I attended yoga classes a few times after finding the relaxing and beautifully-designed Giggling Lotus studio where a college friend happened to teach, and for the first time, I felt a need to do yoga on a regular basis. I’m currently using the Yoga Studio iPad app at home, which affords me a flexible schedule without having to think about a commute.
  • Start running again. I stopped running after completing a 5K in the fall of 2012 because running for 30 minutes while listening to music was boring. I went for a run with Nick last Sunday to take advantage of living near the Embarcadero and use the Zombies, Run! app. My Crossfit training increased my endurance to the point where Nick was panting behind me, saying “When did you get in such good shape?” I enjoyed the run because I was fitter than I had been in years. I will experiment with a running schedule on the days I don’t go to Crossfit.
  • Eat dessert just once a month. When Nick did his one-dessert-in-2013 stunt, I thought he was crazy. I would get bummed when he wouldn’t share a dessert with me. But it obliterated his dessert cravings, which became my main reason for trying this. Eating it once a month will still give me some of that sugary enjoyment (but sparingly) without feeling like I’m quitting it altogether. Plus, I’ll use the opportunity to carefully select and photo the crap out of a beautiful dessert-of-the-month.
  • Experiment with the no shampoo method. Since high school, I’ve had a wide part line and thinning hair that made me feel like I had some nutritional deficiency, with occasional dandruff. This led me to cut my hair shorter and use more natural products in the last couple of years. I heard about the “no ‘poo method” then, but didn’t have the courage to try it until now. So far, it’s been a week with only one wash with baking soda and one wash with just water, and my hair hasn’t clogged the shower drain or fallen out while brushing.

Seeing how experimenting with new habits ripple out to other positive changes, I decided to take a similar approach to furthering my design career. The two main stagnating areas I want to improve are 1) having a strong design network and mentors, and 2) furthering self-directed learning of new and existing creative skills. Here’s what I decided to do this year:

  • Learn something new every month. I get bursts of inspiration to try new things sometimes, such as learning how to play accordion or creating my own mashups of songs. So far, I have the following activities on my list: DJing, hand-lettering, creating generative art, learning Italian, and photographing urban scenes. There is a separate list for advancing skills related to work: typography, data visualization, and interaction design. For each of these skills, I will follow a curriculum, such as watching related videos on Skillshare, an online class, or progressing through an app (e.g., Duolingo for learning Italian). Success is determined by both input and output—studying once a week or more, depending on the skill, and publishing results online at the end of each month.
  • Build a design network. Having mentors and peers you can turn to when you’re stuck helps you move forward faster. Inspired by a conversation with a fellow UX friend, I joined 7 design-related meetups in the Bay Area (attending 3 meetups in January so far). I also signed up for (and am still searching for) various tech or design talks hosted by companies such as Airbnb. I also started the Visualized Self blog to build a network with those interested in my specific field of data visualization in Quantified Self tools.
  • Take a photo (and video) everyday. It took me 3 years of amateur photography before I made a breakthrough and starting producing much better photography. To practice daily, I’m posting one photo per day on my VSCO cam blog (VSCO is like Instagram but hipsterer). To piggyback on the daily photography habit, I’ll be recording one second of video every day for the whole year. The 1 Second Everyday app recently released for Android—it creates a sweet compilation of those daily video snapshots.

I’d love to hear more about your recent pursuits and how you’re planning on furthering them this year!

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