Category Archives: Challenges

Writing my bucket list

The topic of things I’d like to experience and places I’d like to see came up during dinner last night, and it reminded me of a few things that have come together to make me sit down and write down my current bucket list. I’d recently started reading a new blog of a travelling Danish couple who include their bucket list, and I remembered a conversation I’d had in Madrid with someone about Sean Ogle‘s bucket list, and how I’d done quite a few on his list, and finally a list I’d made myself four or five years ago. So  with these influences, I decided to spend a while writing my wishes down so I had somewhere to remember them and to give me some accountability into completing more of them.

Continue reading Writing my bucket list

Lift.do’s Quantified Diet Project

I received an email today from Lift.do about their Quantified Diet Project. I’ve been meaning to write about Lift.do for a while, since I discovered the site from Tim Ferriss’ blog. Lift.do is an application for iPhone, Android as well as online, to provide daily motivation with various habits you want to form. They provide plans to allow you to build up your desired habit, with plans ranging from a simple daily reminder to check off to providing you with daily step by step plans to get you from the start to your goal.

Continue reading Lift.do’s Quantified Diet Project

Madrid in Review

Good

I’ve improved my Spanish

Before I came to Madrid, I struggled with conversations, because I couldn’t understand people when they talked. I was attempting to translate in my head, and was only about to translate about one word before the other speaker was two sentences further along. Now I can understand a lot more. I don’t understand every word, and I need to concentrate, but I’m getting there. I’m not conversational by any stretch, but my understanding has massively improved.  I put this down to language exchanges, which allowed me to talk to real Spanish speakers and pushed my abilities. This is something I am going to try to continue with in Rio and in South America. I do find that not understanding a single word can prevent me from understanding an entire sentence, so I need to work on my vocabulary a little more too.

Improved my dental health

I never used to floss my teeth. I’d always been told that I should, but it always seemed like a hassle using regular floss. Then I discovered dental floss sticks and it suddenly became much easier. I believe I have successfully integrated then into my nightly routine. It adds a few minutes, but given the smell left on the floss, removing that rotting food and plague is well worth the time for reducing the chances of bad breathe and causing cavities. I’ve also noticed that I no longer have blood in my toothpaste from bleeding gums after I’ve brushed my teeth which shows the health of my gums had markedly improved.

Proved the concept of location independence works

One of the main reasons for moving to Madrid first was to test whether I could be as effective in Madrid as I was in Brighton, while still being close enough to jump on a plane in an emergency. There was a slight delay in getting internet set up, but the VoIP phone system worked and none of my clients were any wiser the fact that I was not in Brighton. My two weeks in the Maldives may put this to the test, but I think it’s sustainable.

Saved money

I was spending £1000 a month on rent and bills in Brighton. My rent in Madrid was closer to £425. I need to spend some time calculating my spending in Madrid, but even with buying numerous plane tickets, I’m in a better financial position than I was. The Maldives will probably be expensive and I know the cost of living in Brazil is surprisingly high, but I hope that this trend will continue. It does show that the United Kingdom, and Brighton in particular, is an expensive place to live.

The bad

Getting out of shape

When I moved to Spain I replaced measuring my weight with measuring my waist, which is a better approach, especially if you are weight lifting. Unfortunately, in the last month I have increased the measurement around my waist, and my clothes are feeling tighter. I’ve only added about an inch, but it’s still disappointing. I put this down to a couple of things. Firstly I have not been exercising. Before I left Brighton I’d started weight lifting, but I have not been able to continue this in Madrid. I will have to make a concerted effort to fix this in Brazil. Fortunately my girlfriend has been going to the gym there, so we will be able to go together.

Secondly I have been socialising. I’ve been spending most weekends with some English friends who are not avoiding carbs, which means that when we go to restaurants or they visit, I fail to eat according to my diet plan. This requires much more will-power and not giving in.

I also think I’ve been failing to stick to one particular plan. I normally aim for a ketogenic diet, but I’ve been reading Tim Ferriss’ Four Hour Body, and attempted to integrate some of his Slow Carb diet into my daily diet. Unfortunately, I think this meant I wasn’t really following either.  I need to pick one and stick to it.

Finally, I think I’ve been drinking far more alcohol than I would in England. Normally I’d order a soda and lime, but I don’t know an equivalent low-sugar drink that is typical in Spain. Going to language exchanges has only increased the number of opportunities to drink.

Procrastination

I possibly procrastinated more in Madrid than I did in Brighton, and this is my current major flaw, which I need to resolve if I want to continue making travelling a viable option. Part of this is down to not sleeping properly, despite attempting to fix this early into my stay here. The main problem here is lack of self-discipline and structure to my day. I think it would be a better idea if I worked on making getting out of bed soon after waking and showering first thing in the morning a habit. I also need to stop having distractions. Imgur and Reddit are a major time sink for me. I should investigate blocking these sites during the day and increasing my usage of tools like Focus@Will to get more things done. Planning my tasks may also help. I’ll be writing some more about these measures in a forthcoming article.

As much as I don’t think it is good to rely on other people to fix my problems, I hope that being around other people working, when I’m in Brazil, will help instil some of these habits in me. It’s harder to waste time looking at cute pictures of cats when the person next to you is writing away.

I didn’t improve my Spanish as much as I’d hoped

I knew that I need to spend more time conversing with native speakers if I wanted to improve my Spanish. Sadly I didn’t do this as much as I should. I spent far too much time talking with English speakers. I had also planned to visit far more language exchange than I did. I suspect that going to one every day the week was unrealistic, but I should have started sooner. Benny Lewis advocates a zero English approach and I failed spectacularly far from this goal. I will have to improve this in Brazil and in any south American countries we end up in. It’s going to be frustrating, but my experience of the improvement language exchanges have made to my Spanish shows that I need to get out of my comfort zone and make the effort and to deal with that frustration if I’m to progress in a decent time frame.

I didn’t explore further afield as I should have

I didn’t really get much change to venture out side of Madrid at all. I had planned to visit Segovia a few weekends ago, as they have a beautiful castle and a Roman viaduct, but a few friends weren’t able to make it, so we postponed our trip until after the new year, but I don’t be here now, so I won’t make that. The only real time I visited any tourist sites was when my friend from England came to visit and we went to see art galleries. I need to make an effort in future to spend more time sightseeing. I am trying to avoid experiencing cities as a tourist and to get a better feel for living in a city, but I shouldn’t avoid things that countries have to offer. The Tapapies festival is the kind of events I should be looking out for more. I think I need to work on working harder, so that I have more free time to experience these events and locations, rather than spending my day procrastinating.

I will be in Brazil during Carnival, so it will be pretty hard to ignore that. I’ve also realised that I need to take more pictures, especially of myself, as I don’t have many of my time in Madrid.

So that’s my review of my two and a half months in the Spanish capital. Some good, some bad, but the bad points are just places I need to look to improve in the future. Do you have any suggestions on how to improve the places I’m lacking? What are your good and bad points of your last few months or for this year? What do you want to improve next year?

Improving sleep patterns

I’ve noticed recently that my sleep pattern has drifted away from what I’d like, with me falling asleep at 5am and waking up after 10:30 some mornings over the last week. I can attribute some of this to being ill over the weekend, which kept me awake late into the night, but it doesn’t excuse all of my late nights. I can’t blame the infamously late Spanish lifestyle as not even the Spanish are up until 5am during the week. No, this is my fault and I want to fix it. Fortunately, this site is partly about self improvement, so here is what I plan to do about it:

No laptop in the bedroom

To make matters worse is that I have been failing to get out of bed until several hours after waking. It’s been far too easy to wake up, open the laptop, fire up reddit and then never move from my bed until gone midday. Even when I do start working from my bed, it’s never the best work environment.

It’s a double edged sword; having the laptop in bed makes it too easy to be distracted by the internet before I go to sleep. I’ll just read this page I say to myself or I’ll look at Imgur quickly and then 2 hours later I’m still awake.

The other problem with this is that the light from the laptop screen provides an unnatural light source that confuses our brains.

Rule 1: No laptop in the bedroom. No Exceptions.

Alarm to wake up

"Sleeping Sheep" challenge
“Sleeping Sheep” challenge

I haven’t been using an alarm while I’ve been in Madrid and this is clearly the simplest and most obvious trick to waking up at a reasonable time. As I’m travelling light I don’t have the space to carry a dedicated alarm clock, so I’m using my mobile phone to wake me up. The application I’m using is called Sleep As Android, which I’ll discuss properly further down, but one of the features it has beyond basic alarms is the ability to have a challenge for you before it turns off the alarm. You have a choice of solving a maths question, either as a multiple choice or a written answer, a rather adorable “hit the awake sheep” puzzle or scanning a QR or NFC tag or by shaking the phone.  Of the choices, the QR or NFC tag option would probably do the best to make sure you’re awake if you place the code to scan far enough away from your bed. I fear the maths and sheep would be too easy to go back to sleep after.

An alarm to go to sleep

One of the biggest problems is staying awake long after I should have gone to sleep. I’ve configured Sleep As Android to give an alarm when I should be going to bed. The time is based on the time you want to wake up and how much sleep you want, plus a little time to get ready for bed. I’ve set the alarm to go off between 8:00 and 8:30 with seven hours of sleep (I generally require less sleep than the average) so I should get alerted to go to sleep around 12:45. In previous experiments with the software, it’s been fairly easy to just ignore it, so this part will require some dedication to be useful.

Sleep tracking software

I’m a geek, and love to measure things. As I’ve mentioned, I’m using the Sleep As Android app, but there’s also SleepBot for Android and SleepCycle for iOS which do similar things. Basically, they track the vibrations that your movement makes while you sleep. The theory is that your body goes through several sleep cycles throughout the night from light sleeping to deep sleep (and from there into REM sleep, where you do most of your dreaming). Using the vibrations, through your mattress, the app can detect whether you are asleep and which stage of the sleep cycle you are in. The app website has a very through page on the topic if you’d like to read more.  One downside to this method is that if can be heavily confused if you share a bed. If this affects you, and you can afford it, the excellent FitBit One has a wristband you can use while you are asleep, which should reduce the effect of more than one person in the bed.

Armed with the the knowledge of where you are in your sleep cycle, the app can wake you at the best time so that you aren’t overly tired when you wake up. The observant amongst you might have noticed earlier that I said I’d set my alarm for between 8:00 and 8:30 and this is why. Sleep As Android will set off the alarm at some point during that half hour period where I’m not in a deep sleep, allowing me to wake up feeling more refreshed.

device-2012-08-14-154314

One more feature that could come in handy is the ability to record noises during the night, so I should be able to discover how much I snore and if I talk in my sleep.

Other options

I’m making sure that my room is a suitably cool temperature, with no external light if possible (thanks to the amazing external blinds most modern Spanish houses appear to have), have drunk plenty of fluids during the day and emptying my bladder before I go to sleep.  This was one of the useful side effects of my drive to make cleaning my teeth twice a day a habit a few years ago.

People often discuss sun lamps when talking about improving your sleep. Unfortunately, these are usually very bulky, like the Philips HF3485 Wake-Up Light. There are more compact options available, which I might investigate. In the mean time, Sleep As Android appears to have the ability to use the flashlight on the phone to increase the light, but I fear it will not be completely suitable as the light, while very bright, doesn’t increase ambient light as much as dedicated lights.

In Tim Ferriss’s book, The Four Hour Body, he discusses several options, including using supplements to increase the amount of deep sleep you get, so this might be something to investigate in the future, depending on availability outside the US.

Further reading

All Change: The Mission

Something’s got to change.

Everything.

I’m not unhappy with my life; in fact, if anything, my life is pretty great, but there’s always things I could improve about myself. I could be thinner, healthier and stronger, I could learn more languages or skills, or I could have more experiences.

I’m 34 years old, run my own successful software development company and live in Brighton, United Kingdom, but I’ve lived here nearly nine years, in the same flat, and my flatmate of eight years has just moved to a different city for a new job and my girlfriend of 8 months has returned to her native Brazil at the end of her studies. This has left me with a decision: Do I stay in my comfortable life and look for a new flatmate, or do I decide it’s time to get out of my comfort zone and do something different, something amazing?

So, in the next two weeks, I’ll be selling all of my possessions and moving to Madrid for the next three months.

I plan to get rid of everything that I don’t need for my job, selling what I can, giving away where I can to charity or friends, or storing items I can’t. I plan to reduce my possessions down to what I can fit into a 70 litre ruck sack and a small back pack.

Why Madrid? There are many reasons for picking Madrid. The main reasons are location, cost and practical. I will still be working for my  software development business, which is based in the UK, and Madrid is a short two hour flight from London, which means that I can meet with clients in London or Brighton if there’s an emergency.

Another reason is that I calculated how much my flat in Brighton was costing me, and including bills, it was close to £1,000 a month. Thanks to the dire state of the Spanish economy, rental prices are considerably lower (and Brighton is unreasonably high), and my friend in Madrid has a flat that she’s willing to rent to me for €500. Saving over £500 a month is not to be sniffed at.

Finally, I’ve been learning Spanish for the last few years, and while the last eight months with a Spanish speaking girlfriend, have helped me become more confident talking in Spanish, I’m far from fluent and struggle understanding when people talk. The main challenge I’ll be setting myself over the next three months is to improve my Spanish to the point of being conversational.

Why three months? I think that three months is a short enough time to see if a nomadic existence is compatible with my job and lifestyle, yet long enough to improve my Spanish and give me a decent insight into Spanish living and culture. The plan after Spain is to find another country to visit for a new three month challenge. Learning Portuguese in Rio, or Mauy Thai in Phuket both seem appealing.

That explains the Nomad part of the site, but what about Experimental? I plan to set myself additional targets other than improving my Spanish and I plan to run experiments in the process of those targets to see what works and what doesn’t. I’m also planning on developing additional revenue streams to support my digital nomad lifestyle. I’ll be sharing details of those endeavours too.

So what am I planning on improving? The initial plans are to work on my health. I’m not in bad shape, but I could definitely be in better shape. At 76kg, I’m not overweight, but I’m definitely at the higher range of normal and my body fat percentage is around 18-20%, which is not ideal, and I’ve never been strong or muscular, which I’d like to change. In addition, 20 years of computer usage has left me with postural problems. I slouch a lot of the time, resulting in hunched shoulders and a rounded back and sitting at a desk has left me with tight  hip flexors in my thighs, which results in my pelvis being pulled down at the front, resulting in a non-neutral spine position. I also have tight calves which cause pain in my shins when running. I’ll talk more about these changes in future posts.

Hopefully those explains why I’m doing this and why I’m writing this blog.