Synthesis : Scott Becker

A Fresh Start and a One Month Challenge

It’s January 1st, 2012! According to some wackos, this might be the year the world ends. It probably won’t, since from the beginning of mankind there have been countless predictions of the end of the world and so far they’ve all been wrong, so I’m gonna guess this year follows that pattern. On the off chance that they’re right, or that it might be my last year personally, I’ve decided to make it count. This year will be my “year of hustle“, as shall soon be further detailed.

A challenge

It’s the season for resolutions and fresh starts, so in that spirit, one of the first things I’m doing is a “cleanse” of my own design for the month of January. I’m actually calling this cleanse a “challenge” since that sounds more fun and I enjoy challenges. This challenge isn’t forever. No new years resolution of “from now on, I’ll never _____ again!” because that’s unrealistic and doomed to fail. This is a rational one month challenge that any person with self control ought to be able to achieve.

The challenge includes

I got this idea from an article I read online called the “Argon Challenge“, where a guy who goes by the name of Argon takes an even more extreme approach than what I outline here, eliminating many other things I have not listed. He’s been doing it for years, and each year he adds another element to his challenge. This is my first year, so I’m starting from a different place. I’ll call it the Becker Challenge.

Feel free to play along. My girlfriend has decided to do most of this along with me, which makes things easier, as we’ll both be helping to motivate the other and cook meals together. She’s foregoing the recreational internet challenge, as she actually has to use Facebook and Twitter as part of her job. This is comforting, since if something actually important happens to scroll past Facebook she can be my liaison to the social web through which I can communicate for the month.

To go into a bit more detail:

No eating out

My girlfriend and I have become a little shall we say, “dependent” on restaurants, food carts, and drive throughs for about 80% of our dietary needs. One could argue this is primarily my influence, being the lazier of the two in the kitchen, but she loves to try new places and eat out, so it’s a perfect storm. This is a) expensive, and b) not so healthy. Food at restaurants is generally very rich and fatty, to maximize the deliciousness, which is understandable. I want to challenge myself ┬áto pay better attention to what I eat and take more responsibility for being healthy. There’s no better way to do this than making your own food. It’s a skill I obtained as a teenager working as a food prep in the kitchens of various restaurants, but slowly neglected over time since leaving the food service industry. I hope to regain and hone my chef skills this month and add a few new recipes to my limited repertoire. My girlfriend’s pro kitchen skills will ease the transition a bit, but doing this the entire month might get a bit extreme, so we’ll have one restaurant outing a week as a reward for our cook-at-home / eat-healthy efforts.

No meat

I once challenged myself to be vegetarian, in order to eat healthier, and also just to see if I had the willpower. Turns out I do. I lasted a year. Eventually I gave in to my cravings for chicken and fish, and then the flood gates opened and I was back to eating burgers, steak, bacon, and anything else from the animal kingdom that found its way on to my plate. I am most definitely an omnivore, but that year taught me a few things. A) If you’re only eating vegetables, you’re going to eat ALL your vegetables, because you need sustenance and a feeling of “fullness”, and anything on your plate that counts as food will be eaten in order to get closer to that aim. B) Vegetarian dishes can be way more colorful, creative, spicy, and delicious than your typical meat and potatoes dish. To be vegetarian is to buck the status quo, and force yourself to think outside the box. That alone is worth doing for a month, to force yourself to think different.

No excess sugar

Refined sugar makes things taste sweeter, and provides a quick energy and mood boost. The problem is it provides an equally fast energy and mood crash. I’m not much of a sugar addict now. I don’t drink soda, but I love chocolate, such as an occasional cafe mocha or chocolate chip cookie. I’m stepping off the sweets train for the month. This should help level out my moods and allow me to sleep better.

No alcohol

I live in Portland Oregon, which has a thousand awesome drinking establishments, which I quite enjoy. I don’t drink to excess on any particular night, typically having a max of two drinks, but I estimate I’ve had at least one drink per day for probably 75% of last year. I don’t have a highly addictive personality, and I don’t drink at home alone, only socially with friends, or sharing a couple glasses of wine with my girlfriend. I don’t think I have an alcohol problem. But I’m curious to see what happens. If I eliminate it for a month, will I crave it? Will I not miss it at all? Sometimes you don’t know if you’ve become dependent on something until its gone.

No coffee

There’s no question with this one. I have a coffee dependency. In the last few years I’ve gone from drinking 0-1 cups of coffee a day to 3-4, refilling at breakfast a few times, or getting a late afternoon latte. Many of these being outings to Portland’s numerous amazing coffee shops. I can’t get enough of that delicious espresso. Like sugar, coffee gives us an energy boost and corresponding crash. I’m not going to strictly cut out caffeine though, just minimize it. I’m allowing myself 1-2 cups of black tea a day. This is to ease off the caffeine, without causing headaches. I’ll need to drink twice as much tea to get the same effect as a cup of coffee. This too should help the sleep cycle.

No recreational internet

This one is huge. I have a slight internet addiction. As a software engineer, I work on the internet every day, and I need it to search for solutions to issues and questions that come up, but in between those times, I’ve allowed myself quite a bit of free reign to read interesting articles, blog posts, friend’s updates on Facebook and Twitter, and other things that aren’t really contributing to my productivity. It’s become my substitute for TV, which I don’t watch, but this is just as bad as channel surfing. It is a muscle memory reflex I do without thinking whenever I start getting bored. I love Hacker News, and there’s tons of good information on there, but there comes a time when you need to stop consuming and start producing. The internet is a two-way communication medium, so this month I’m focusing on trying to produce more and consume less. After this month I’ll resume reading blogs and social networking sites, and hopefully find a more healthy balance.

That about wraps it up. I’m already experiencing the positive benefits of this challenge. We made our own breakfast today, planned our meals and shopped for groceries for the week. Normally I would have then hopped on the internet and read a bunch of blogs and news sites. Instead of surfing the internet, I freed up the time in order to write this blog post. I’ll update as we go along, and announce a few other things happening soon as well.


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