Annual goals and achievements have been the cornerstone of my forward-thinking life for several years now. I use goals to form excellent habits early-on in life, and to make sure I'm pushing myself forward in some meaningful way every single day. It gives me reason to rise out of bed, and allows me to sleep better and quicker when I lie down to think about my accomplishments and progress for the day. These goals for the basis of my self-imposed "life projects" that I indulge in every single year. Here's a taste of how life goals can improve your own life and pull it out of mediocrity.
Since Dec 2012, my life has changed fairly dramatically, and for the better! I ran my first full marathon (26 mi or 42 km), switched jobs, got married, moved to San Francisco, switched jobs again, ran another half-marathon (my third and last one so far), made a big switch from running to cycling as my primary mode of exercise, then proceeded to complete two 100-mile century rides, traveled a bunch to such diverse places as India, Iceland, New Zealand, Banff (Canada), Europe, San Diego, Indonesia, etc., tried soylent for the first time and then proceeded to consume it everyday for lunch and breakfast for a week, bought a condo in San Francisco, took my photography hobby to the next level, and finally decided I wanted to get back into writing this year.
Phew! Suffice to say, I've been busy :) Both at work as a full-time software engineer, and outside during the evenings and weekends. Granted 4 years is a lot of time, but if you casually spend them just watching TV, they can quickly vaporize with nothing to show for. The only accomplishment you'll have then is the one surrounding your belly.
So how did I accomplish all this in such a short span? I made 4 simple yet effective changes to my life:
Step 1: I quit all social media. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Whatsapp. All of it. They were draining my time and I wasn't seeing the value of any of it. After 4 years of looking at the results, I don't regret it one bit. Time-sinks need to be aggressively curbed before they take over your life. This change alone saved me almost 2 hours a day.
Step 2: I limited myself to 1-hour of TV a day. And only TV shows, no cable TV. I banned myself from any kind of binge watching, and forcefully limited myself to watching no more than one episode or movie a day. Each season of House of Cards was therefore taking me 2-3 weeks to complete watching when many of my friends were done in a single weekend (or less). Turns out that my way of watching shows allowed me to remember each episode better and more vividly, and because of the immense power of delayed gratification, I also enjoyed each episode more. I further used each episode as a reward for a tough workout or mental activity that day, so I got some additional value-add there as well.
The idea is that TV can easily become a huge time-sink and it's up to us to masterfully control its influence on us. Instead of becoming a slave to the idiot box, why not use it as a reward to motivate us and get more shit done everyday?
Step 3: I prioritized physical and mental wellness. I don't think I've fallen sick even once during the last 4 (or 6?) years. A lot of that can be attributed to my obsession with stellar physical and mental wellness. Regular exercise + meditating a few minutes a day when you're in the loo or the shower can go a long way in thinking clearly and positively. Getting ahead in my eating and sleeping habits has also been a huge help. Finally, staying underweight has been a phenomenal multiplier to my everyday productivity.
Step 4: I minimized all "hanging out", chilling, and various other time-consuming socialization mechanisms. I avoided parties and happy hours like the plague. The only way I socialized was by going hiking, camping, or cycling, which had the side benefit of getting fitter. We'd have the occasional lunch or dinners, and usually at home, but they would always be time boxed. I could never be caught relaxing or "taking it easy" for more than 10 minutes. If I wasn't doing something, I found something productive to fill that time with, perhaps something from one of my life projects.
Okay so the last 4 years weren't too shabby. But focusing forward, I'd like to share our grand plan & goals for this year (2017) and beyond so we can be held accountable for them:
Goal 1: Possibly bike another 100-mile century this year, this time with my wife, Mrs. Frugal Hacker. It's been fascinating seeing her go from warming up her biking skills in a parking lot back in 2014 to being able to ride 60+ miles with steep hills no problem. Just recently we went on a ~60 mile bike ride to Tiburon with a friend, and it felt perfectly "normal". I want to continue remaining supportive in her quest to successfully complete an imperial century this year, which I think is a terrific mark of physical fitness not just for her or me, but for anyone. After one of these thigh-pinching, quadricep burning races, you'll be left wondering where all that fat magically disappeared and why you feel so feather-light and energetic all of a sudden.
Goal 2: Frugal, frugal, frugal. Both Mrs. Frugal Hacker and I are going to take our frugality (with a big F) to the next level this year and beyond. Frugality, like your quads, is a muscle that needs to be exercised constantly in order to make regular improvements. We have insane savings goals this year and we've done the math to convince ourselves of the value in doing so. We're targeting an aggressive 70% after-tax savings rate this year which is a whopping $130,000. This is in addition to the $20-$25k in stock market appreciation we're hoping to receive from our already existing net worth.
Turns out that if you can save (and invest) 25-33x of your annual expenditure in a city you can see yourself living in permanently, you can quit your job and retire in that city right away. Forever. This is popularly known as the 4% rule and is one of the core concepts of financial independence.
Being able to not have to work for money anymore could be a fantastic outcome for the both of us (or anyone really). We're well on our way to attaining that holy grail of savings and should hopefully get there in a few more years (2-3 years). Our previously published ideas on living frugually and maximizing our savings rate will be forming the basis of our bible for frugal living.
Status: ON TRACK (currently at a 71.2% savings rate)
Goal 3: Turn this blog into a living, breathing thing which a lot of people can benefit from. Many people carry on their lives in a very haphazard or unplanned fashion, and 30 years later they're left wondering why their life is just so normal and blah. If you think this might be you, worry not. With simple tweaks and little changes everyday, you too can convert your life from normcore to awesome in just a few years. Imagine what you can do in a few decades? True happiness (as you define it) is just the sum total of all your daily actions. You just need to show yourself that change is in fact possible. With this blog, we're targeting at least 2 posts a week.
Status: ON TRACK
Goal 4: Be able to eat anything vegetarian, in any format or taste, without restrictions. This is a spill-over goal from last year, but it's been extremely advantageous in mastering my own mind and senses. It's also allowed me to focus on the contents of what I eat, more than the taste of it. Substance over form. I used to loathe eating eggplant, asparagus and celery at one point in my life, but not anymore. Now, no veggie is out of bounds; no fruit too foreign (including durian). Why should my petty tongue dictate what I can and cannot eat, when my mind is (and should be) the ultimate decision maker? Read more about our goal here.
To see if I had actually gotten anywhere with this goal, I challenged myself to consume Soylent everyday for lunch for an entire week (the powder version) which many people found utterly disgusting. After succeeding at that, I later tried to see if I could eat solid food in liquid form by blending it into a paste. My co-workers blended dinner one night for me, and the other day Mrs. FH blended a cherry pie into a smoothie using a Vitamix. Both blending experiments made me realize how unimportant the form of food is, and that it's all in our heads.
Status: ON TRACK
Goal 5: Complete the popular 4-day hike to Machu Picchu with Mrs. Frugal Hacker without finding it too too hard. This is a fairly tough high-altitude hike that I had done once already back in 2012 but want to do again, this time with my wife. Doing this hike without any major pain requires one to be in top shape physically. It is only a 43-km hike (26 miles), but has a total of about 6500 ft. of elevation gain throughout the hike. Check out the trail map here. Permits for 2018 go live next month. Grab yours before it's too late!
What are your life goals for 2017? Are you on-track to achieving them? Are you okay with life just running past you, or do you want to have each year be well-defined in terms of what you have to show for it?