The End of a 12-Week Year – After Action Review

Alright friends and strangers, hold on tight, this is probably going to be a long one. Not only is this a weekly update of the random stuff in my life (which I’ll probably try to keep relatively short) but this is the end of my 12-week year and I learned a lot of things. But first, my weekly update (fitness stuff is at the bottom).

  • Pulling myself permanently off Facebook has generally improved my life but I wish I was in email contact with more of my friends and acquaintances.
  • I bought some things this week:
    • “The New Localism: How Cities Can Thrive in the Age of Populism” by Bruce Katz – This is mostly for work but I do have a growing interest in urbanism
    • “Stop the Clock: The Optimal Anti-Aging Strategy” by P Mangan – I’m always looking for more information on longevity
    • Escape Proof Cat Harness – It is cute that Poncho loves Higgins but it is really obnoxious that he “meows” for hours at the back door. I’m hoping that this harness will allow me to attach Poncho to a long line so that he can hang out outside. Maybe I’ll take him for walks too
    • 7 Wonders – A board game that I love was on sale. I wish I had more opportunities to play board games, especially more in-depth, serious, or Legacy games. Games like Scythe, I.M.E Stories, etc. basically require 4+ players with a couple of hours (sometimes over 8+ sessions) to really dedicate fully to the game. I’m reluctant to drop $50-$100 on a game without a pretty solid guarantee that I’ll have people to play it with. I love more relaxed games that allow casual conversations, but I’d also like to dive into something. To be honest, I could play board games for hours and hours at a time
    • “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!” by Richard Feynman – I’ve been meaning to read this book for a while and I heard Feynman mentioned in an episode of “Numb3rs” which reminded me so I ordered it.
    • “Saga of Swamp Thing: Book 3” by Alan Moore – I read the first two and loved them, so it is time to keep the adventure going
    • HP OfficeJet 5255 Printer – My old printer fucked me over and I kind of ordered this one out of spite. I had an Epson but it stopped working after doing a software update. I googled around and found out that Epson updates their software to prevent non-Epson ink from working. I was using recycled ink cartridges. Fuck them for their stupid policy. I’m going with HP now.
    • Mpow H5 Active Noise Cancelling Bluetooth Headphones – I needed new headphones with a microphone for work and play. Earbuds just weren’t cutting it anymore for office work.
  • I scheduled an initial meeting with a new therapist for next week. Unfortunately, the VA doesn’t have the resources to see me more than once every couple months. I’m not sick enough. I get it, but I want more regular care so I’m going to be paying out of pocket.
  • My personal trainer and I have decided it is time to switch from weight loss to strength building. Now that I’ve got my body fat % close to my range and my body weight is about as low as it is going to go, it’s time to bulk up. Part of this plan is upping my calories from around 1800 per day to 2200 per day. I’m a little nervous because of my family history of obesity but I know it will be mostly vegetables, protein, and healthy fats.
  • I completed a 110-hour fast this week, which is pretty baller
  • I ended up doing an 8-mile run last Saturday (I had only planned on running 6.5). I’m gearing up for a 12-mile trail run next month and this was a good little practice to see where I am at. I think this Saturday I’m going to shoot for 9.5 miles
  • This week in Dungeons and Dragon my character tried to act like a noble but ended up passing out from smoking poisoned weed. Eventually, he woke up and used his acid to tear open a portcullis and stick his head inside without even attempting to be stealthy. A few minutes later he took his ax and shield out of a Triton’s hole, jumped into the room, and some guy told the group secrets and then his brain exploded. My character took some scented candles because he likes lavender. There was also an octopus that may or may not have been a polymorphed human. The party jumped off the ship and swam to shore but not before someone blew up the ship (it wasn’t me).
  • At the end of my fast, I cooked an awesome tortilla casserole from “The No Meat Athlete Cookbook”

 

Alright, on to the bulk of my post, the results of a 12-week focus. Twelve weeks ago I started using the Phoenix Journal to help guide my productivity a little bit. The results were pretty mixed but I learned a lot of things. I will say that there is nothing in this blog post that is revolutionary. Every lesson I had read about in books like “The Power of Habit”, “The 4-Hour Work Week”, “The ONE Thing”, etc. I read what I should do and then I just went ahead and did the fucking opposite. Oh well, I always was one that had to learn the hard way.

Physical Health

Let’s start with the clearest success, my physical fitness. At the beginning of this 12-week year, I was 187.5 lbs. and had a body fat percentage of 24.4%. Now, I am 158 lbs. and my body fat is 14%, that’s a drop of nearly 30 lbs. and over 10%. Pretty awesome. That translates into a loss of 23.26 lbs. of body fat, or 81,410 stored calories. That’s 814 bananas or 46 lbs. of sugar or 529 cans of beer or 3,256 carrots or 53 whole cheesecakes.

The first reason this was so successful is that I started out with a clear, measurable, and attainable goal. Instead of putting something like “be in the best shape of my life” I put “Weight ~155 lbs., Body Fat % ~15%”. I do want to point out that good health is not exactly the same as body weight and body fat percentage, but in my case, it was a good enough substitute. In many situations finding a decent substitute for my true goal was difficult.

The second reason that this was successful is that I had several measurable actions that lead (fairly) directly to my goal. I had a reasonable hypothesis about how I could reach my goal and I stuck with that plan. In this case, I had six key actions that I identified before starting the 12-week year. They were:

  • Run Daily
  • Weight Training 3x per Week
  • Daily Yoga
  • 10,000 Steps Daily
  • Weekly Fast
  • < 1,800 kcal

While these actions are all measurable and lead towards my goal I made two main mistakes with this list. First off, it is too damn large. At the end of March, I had my bi-weekly Skype session with one of my accountability friends. I was struggling and he recommended not having more than 2-3 actions at a time. Any more than that and you can easily become overwhelmed. So, because weight loss was my primary goal I decided to focus almost exclusively on achieving my nutrition goals of 1,800 kcal and daily intermittent fasting. I also merged the first four into simply “exercise daily”. That freed up a lot of mental space for me to focus on doing those things well instead of stressing about when I was going to lift or run or do yoga or what my steps were. Strangely, when I trimmed my responsibilities down I actually ended up running more, lifting more, and walking more (I haven’t done yoga in months).

There are three more things that really helped keep me accountable with this goal. First, I tracked my progress very consistently. There was no point in choosing measurable goals if I wasn’t going to measure them. As you can see from the below image I monitored both my inputs and outputs pretty thoroughly each day. At first this kind of annoying but soon it became kind of fun to sit down for five minutes each morning and plug in the info from the day before. Also, just tracking what I was doing helped keep me accountable. If I saw the weight creeping up or the calories going over my limit I took a hard look at my situation to make sure I wanted to take the actions I was taking. Even on bad days or weeks I took a picture of myself, recorded my progress, and pressed on.

Related to daily tracking is the necessity of getting bloodwork done. I wouldn’t drive a car that couldn’t track gas levels, engine temperature, and lacked the ability to check tire pressure. So, I don’t want to drive around in my meat suit without being diligent in checking my micronutrient levels and other key indicators of health. Ideally, my doctor would do that easily but that isn’t the case (and, as a vegan, I have some specific testing that is valuable) so I get an annual workup done using LifeExtension.

Second, I had professional help. Having a personal trainer was a huge benefit and I highly recommend it. Does it cost money? Yep, and it is worth it. If I could do it alone I would have done it already, the fact that I wasn’t in the shape I wanted to be in points to the fact that I need help. My trainer costs $80 per 1-hour session. That’s the equivalent of about 2.25 hours of work. So, I’m basically spending just over 3 hours for each hour of his personal attention and guidance (not including emails and texts and such). I think it is worth it and I am very happy with the results. This also provides an additional level of accountability. There is someone who is going to ask how my week was and they are committing to spending time with me, that helps a lot.

Lastly, I had events and sources of motivation that spanned the entire next year. Having a 9-mile race on the horizon, a 12-miler a few months later, a week-long bike ride in July, a vacation in Iceland that has clothing-optional hot springs in September, and such kept me going. I own two whiteboards (see below), one has my goals for the week, month, 3-month, 1-year, and 4-years. And, more importantly, it has the fun things that I’m going to be able to more comfortably accomplish if I meet my goals. The second whiteboard has my weekly tasks laid out by day.

In addition to specific events that I wanted to be healthier for I was able to add an ethical component to my motivation. Minimizing harm to others and taking responsibility for myself are two of my most important principles. When I neglect my body I am virtually guaranteeing my family and friends will suffer more and bear some of the consequences of those actions. Maybe I’ll die younger or need medical care. I want to be able to see my nieces and nephews have children and I don’t want my siblings to be burdened because I didn’t take care of my body.

Overall, there were no magic bullets for this progress. Everything I did is pretty common sense, but I could go into my specifics in detail if someone is interested. I kept count of my calories and nutrients, I exercised, cut out caloric drinks, drank more water, minimized processed foods, eat a whole-foods plant-based diet, and had a daily intermittent fasting. I was trying but I ended up on a pretty low-carb diet naturally.

My takeaways from this goal is:

  1. Keep goals and actions measurable
  2. Keep actions limited to three
  3. Track progress daily and pay attention to trends instead of specific days
  4. Get professional help
  5. Find a variety of motivating factors, both things that I want to avoid and things I want to accomplish or become.

 

Financial Health

Now on to a partial success, my financials. I had four original goals:

  1. Max my 2017 Roth IRA
  2. Pay off all my credit cards and only use them for reoccurring bill payments
  3. Reduce one of my student loans to less than $7,500
  4. Pay my taxes

My actions to accomplish this were:

  • Work at least 30 hours per week
  • Don’t spend money on books
  • Eat at home
  • Find other expenses to cut
  • Move money from the Blockchain if necessary to stay on track
  • Pursue other income sources

I actually managed to accomplish the first three of my goals. The only partial failure was paying my taxes. I completed my state taxes but I had to get an extension on my federal taxes and I will likely need to enter into a payment plan. The reason I didn’t save enough is because of some blockchain issues that effectively doubled my taxable income. I wasn’t prepared for that and I am hoping that after meeting with an accountant I will be able to save a little bit of money.

Overall, my hypothesis was a success but I could have done a lot more. Three of the key actions (don’t spend money on books, find other expenses to cut, and pursue other income sources) I did not really make any progress on. Like my physical fitness goals, I simply had too many things to focus on and some of them got cut away.

My takeaways from this goal are

  1. Keep goals and actions measurable
  2. Keep actions limited to three
  3. Get professional help

 

Creation and Knowledge Building

Which brings us to the last two goals I set up for myself. I believe I failed to achieve these goals over the last 12 weeks.

Knowledge Building –

I had four outcomes listed to increase my knowledge over 12-weeks. I wanted to read at least 15 books, complete a Tableau course on Data Visualization, complete a Codacademy course, and decide on which end-of-life doula training I wanted to go to. My only two key actions were read daily and work on skills daily.

There is a whole mess of problems here. First off, the category of “knowledge” is pretty broad and I included too many things in it. Data visualization, coding, reading, and end-of-life training are all things that are important to me but trying to really learn and master any of them requires that I don’t half-ass it. In the future, if I want to pursue them they should be their own 12-week goal.

Secondly, any time I put “daily” on the key action I am setting myself up for failure. Not only is “daily” too broad (how long each day? Or how many pages? How will I know I am done?) but it is something that can be broken after one bad day. It is too high of a standard for me to commit to without feeling like I failed after a slip up. I realize that I use “exercise” daily… so maybe this is a strategy that works for some goals and not others.

Third, my goals are completely unrealistic. The Tableau program alone is 6-courses that are 40 hours each and the Codacademy is similar. Lastly, my goals were not clearly related to my long-term plans or vision for who I am as a person. Why was I trying to learn to code? Why Tableau? Why reading more books? I didn’t clearly answer these questions in my mind or link them to a source of motivation. So, with the exception of scheduling my end-of-life doula training (which I currently have linked to a long-term vision), I really flopped this one.

 

Creating

My desire to create, specifically to write, was my last goal and one that I feel like I failed on. First, I had four specific goals (I’m sure you see the first problem already):

  1. Finish and publish a podcast of my book
  2. Write and submit a short story to a publisher
  3. Write and submit three things to a publisher
  4. Read 15 books

My key actions were:

  1. Work on the podcast daily
  2. Write daily
  3. Read daily
  4. Review submission options

With the exception of the 4th Key Action, the issues here are the same as with knowledge building. “Daily” actions that aren’t specific, too many goals and actions, no real long-term vision or motivation included, etc.

My takeaways:

  • Make sure the goals are realistic
  • Link the goals to a vision and long-term motivation
  • Key actions need to be specific
  • Keep the goals in each category related

 

New Thing, Habit Breaker

There is one additional thing that happened during this process that I think is worth noting. My partner and I decided to try and break some of our bad nutrition habits and committed to cutting all added sweeteners and alcohol out of our diets for the month of April. It involved a lot of extra label reading (sugar is in fucking everything) and more cooking from home but it was an absolutely wonderful experience.

We have both agreed that moving into May we are committed to only purchasing things with added sweetener and alcohol in a very conscious and intentional way for special occasions. We are going to have a celebration day next week to celebrate moving into our new house and everything we’ve accomplished, but after that, we are riding this momentum into May. My partner is also adding “no added oil” to her list and I’m removing a processed food from my regular shopping. There are only five processed things in my regular diet: almond milk, tofu, pea protein powder, Tofurky Sausages, and Lightlife Vegan hot dogs. I have no plans to remove the first three but it would be a good choice for me to minimize and/or phase out the final two.

So, what’s next?

Well, the 12-Week Year starts over again. I’ve learned some great lessons and I’m still flushing out the details but I think my basic goals and strategies look like this for the next month. I’m going to try and shift some energy away from things that have become habits and into things that are more difficult but will have a large impact on my life. Oh, and I’ve included my longer term goals at the bottom after my pictures as well if you’re interested what my current trajectory is before I turn 40.

 

Physical Fitness – May Goals

  • Goal #1 – 157.5 – 162.5 lbs
  • Goal #2 – 12.5% – 13.5% Body Fat
  • Goal #3 – Complete 12-Mile Blue Clay Breakout Trail Run
  • Action #1 – Run 88 miles in the month
  • Action #2 – Weight training 14 times in the month

 

Finances – May Goals

  • Goal #1 – $3,000 saved for quarterly taxes
  • Goal #2 – Develop a business plan for health-related consulting services
  • Action #1 – Work 27.5-30 hours per week
  • Action #2 – Complete end-of-life doula training
  • Action #3 – Finish 4-Hour Workweek and implement strategies

 

Personal – May Goals

  • Goal #1 – Complete Mindfulness Meditation Program
  • Goal #2 – Meditate for 5 hours total
  • Action #1 – Attend all program group sessions
  • Action #2 – Meditate for an average of 1.25 hours per week

Alright, here is the visual result of 12-weeks of health and fitness focus. I’m pretty thrilled with the results and I’m excited for the next 12-week year.

 

Physical Fitness

  • 12-Week Goals (April 30 – July 23)
    • Goal #1 – ~165 lbs
    • Goal #2 – 12% Body Fat
    • Goal #3 – Ride in RAGBRAI
  • 1-Year Goals (April 1, 2019)
    • Goal #1 – Complete a marathon
    • Goal #2 – ~10% Body Fat
  • 4-Year Goals (April 1, 2022)
    • Goal #1 – Complete a 100-Mile Trail Run
    • Goal #2 – ~9% Body Fat

 

Finances

  • 12-Week Goals (April 30 – July 23)
    • Goal #1 – Total debt less than $52,000 (not including mortgage)
    • Goal #2 – Pay one quarterly tax payment
    • Goal #3 – Business bank account open
  • 1-Year Goals (April 1, 2019)
    • Goal #1 – Student Loans less than $27,000
    • Goal #2 – Passive income over $5,000 annually
    • Goal #3 – Business started
  • 4-Year Goals (April 1, 2022)
    • Goal #1 – Student loans paid off
    • Goal #2 – $20,000 passive income annually

 

Personal (Entrepreneurship)

  • 12-Week Goals (April 30 – July 23)
    • Goal #1 – Business bank account open
  • 1-Year Goals (April 1, 2019)
    • Goal #1 – Finish Massage School
    • Goal #2 – Passive income over $5,000 annually
    • Goal #3 – Business started
  • 4-Year Goals (April 1, 2022)
    • Goal #1 – $20,000 passive income annually

Wanna stay in touch? Got a question for me? Want to tell me why I’m wrong and are curious how I got everything so backward? Have an idea for a blog post? Drunk and wanna send me a snapchat? Wanna become penpals and send each other letters in the mail about life in general?

Feel free to reach out at any of the ways below while I take a Facebook break!

Email address: pjneiger@gmail.com
Instagram: @peterneiger
Questions:  pneiger.sarahah.com or www.surveymonkey.com/r/XYRDXHH
Snapchat: @pneiger
Also, I wrote a book about a cross-country bicycle ride I did!
“Wandering Oak: A Rite of Passage”

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