What plans have you laid to proactively make your life better in 2013?
If you give that question to the average person, they might be able to list a few goals they tepidly want to follow, but they probably haven’t decided on any specific, actionable, trackable steps to reach them.
This is why their problems linger, and the great goals they hold for themselves are forever put off until the ever-receding future.
If you want to overcome a chronic health problem, lose weight, feel more vital, or reach virtually any other goal that you have, know that in 2013 you can do it, or at least make tremendous progress toward your goal.
For many years now I have committed myself at the start of each journey around the sun to one or more 365-day focuses in highly-specific areas which receive the lion’s share of my self-improvement efforts.
The results have been pretty astonishing, and my life has been forever bettered by the concentrated attention I’ve brought to bear on my problems and objectives.
I’ve used focuses to help me lose weight, overcome numerous health problem, advance as an athlete, change my body composition, become self employed, publish books, and gain friends, among other things.
In this article I’ll first give you an overview of how to set yearly focuses, and then talk about the big results I’ve seen from using them.
How Yearly Focuses Work
You set one or more yearly focuses at the beginning of each new calendar year as the main area of concentration of your personal development efforts for the next 12 months.
By so focusing your concentration, amazing results tend to come about. If you chip away at a problem or goal for an entire year, even if you aren’t aware of the best way to achieve your goal at the outset, you’ll have learned a lot and made massive progress after 12 months.
I find that the more focuses you set, the less dramatic your gains in any of the areas tend to be because your attention is diffused. Sometimes, setting just one focus is best.
This is what I did in 2005, when my colitis had gotten so bad that I could barely concentrate on anything else. I needed to find a solution, and I put every free bit of energy into doing so. My exploration of possible solutions was broad, and I actually didn’t discover my fix until more than 10 months of sustained effort had passed.
Had I diffused my efforts by working on other major projects, I may not have succeeded at all. While I was working on my colitis issue, the other parts of my life were on autopilot to the largest extent possible. I wasn’t trying to make progress in these areas, but was just coasting.
On the other hand, in 2011 I had many focuses. I wanted to find a solution for my insomnia, travel widely, lower my bodyfat percentage into the single digits, increase my running range to 35 miles, and work on Raw Food Weight Loss And Vitality.
None of these goals were particularly burdensome to me, as I was already an experienced writer, runner, and over the years I’d already lost more than 40 pounds. I had no problem working on all of these at the same time.
When There Is No Obvious Course Of Action
Whenever you want to reach a goal but don’t know how to go about it, reading is usually your best bet. Chances are that whatever your problem or goal, someone else has faced it before and found a solution.
My focus of finding a fix for my insomnia did not suggest an obvious course of action, but I devised a plan of research for myself which included poring over research articles on nutrition and insomnia, reading anatomy, nutrition, and physiology textbooks to gain a deeper understanding of the elements that bring about sleep, and then created of a long list of nutrients which my research lead me to believe might be influencing my insomnia.
After I’d created that list, I began supplementing each one in turn, and eventually discovered what element had been missing: chromium.
When There Are Too Many Possible Solutions
Having too many possible solutions is often more of a problem than having none at all.
Let’s say you want to lose weight, but you’re not sure which of the many available routes to take. Should you exercise, diet, sleep more, or do some combination of these? If you want to diet, what type of diet should to try?
The best thing to do is put 100% commitment into one solution at a time. The best way to do this is via a 30 day trial.
If you’re going to try a raw diet, do it 100% for a full month to evaluate it properly. If you only do a 80% raw diet, you’ll never be sure if the results you’re seeing are indicative of the best a raw diet can bring about.
Specific Vs Broader Focuses
The more specific your goal, the more likely you are to succeed.
Don’t say, “lose weight,” say, “decrease body fat percentage by to 13%”.
Don’t say, “get better at drawing”, say, “I want to draw realistic human hands and faces.”
Have trackable results whenever possible. If you want to get stronger, you can test your strength against a barbell every day to see just how you’re progressing. If you want to be able to do 100 pushups, you’ll know as soon as you’ve reached that point.
You can even invent your own measurement systems. If you want to feel more energetic, keep a journal and note down on a one-to-ten scale exactly how energetic you feel.
Failing Is Ok
Sometimes, despite all your efforts, you fail. That’s ok, because you end up learning what doesn’t work, and gain a broader perspective which can help you move forward in the future.
I failed to fix my colitis, insomnia, and several other problems for years before I finally manged to ditch those conditions.
I’ve been trying to fix The Raynaud’s phenomenon issue I talk about in my 2013 focus since 2004. The fast I’m planning to address it is the latest in a long line of possible fixes.
Andrew’s Year-By-Year Focus Examples
I was pretty much a mess -from a health, intellectual, emotional, and social perspective – in my early life.
Today, I consider myself greatly improved across virtually all of these fields. Much of the reason for this is the yearly focuses I decided on. I hope to show you just how well you can progress – and move past setbacks – by talking about the focuses I’ve used in the past.
By age 17 I was technically qualified as obese at 5′ 11 and 220 pounds. I suffered from chronic headaches, a -then undiagnosed- case of colitis, back pain, general low energy levels, periodic insomnia, and other health problems. I was depressed because I felt powerless to improve my situation. Socially I felt isolated and alone.
1) Lose weight and become fitter.
After a series of events I describe in The Raw Food Lifestyle, I realized that I did have power over my life, and my first yearly focus (actually more like an 9-month focus, because part of the year was already over) was to lose weight and become fit.
My exercise consisted of three ninjitsu classes a week, a daily yoga routine based off the book, “Light On Yoga”, and modest dietary improvements like the elimination of milk, cutting back on processed foods, and replacing most of my desserts with fruit. With this regime I managed to drop from 220 to 190 pounds and saw the first signs that I actual had a considerable amount of athletic potential.
It was a revelation to me that I had such power over my fate, and it forever changed the way I thought about the status quo and my own limitations.
1) Lose more weight, and become more athletic.
2) Gain a better understanding of nutrition through study
3) Spend more time socializing
4) Overcome my health problems.
My yearly focus goals for 2004 were mostly an expansion of what I’d been working on in 2003. I wanted to continue to improve my health and fitness, overcome my health problems, and do more socializing, which I suddenly had the confidence to engage in.
Enjoying my newly improved body, I started exploring more aspects of physicality by expanding my Ninjitsu practice and beginning to rock climb. I also began to earnestly study nutrition, spending many hours pouring over nutrition and medical journals. I was attempting to find fixes for my colitis (still not diagnosed), Raynaud’s Phenomenon disorder, my periodic bouts of insomnia, my headaches, and some other issues.
30-Day Trial Dietary Explorations:
1) A very clean SAD diet,
2) Something close to a paleo diet with no grains or starches but lots of cooked veggies, animal products, and some fruit.
3) A Mcdougall style cooked vegan diet.
4) A Fuhrman style cooked vegan diet.
Although I found I was able to ditch my headaches by cutting out most processed foods and caffeinated beverages, none of these diets help my Raynaud’s, nor got rid of my colitis. I found I felt very good when I cut out meat, dairy, and eggs, and my energy levels increased.
My colitis seemed to get worse when I was eating more grains and starches on McDougall’s plan. A Fuhrman style menu left me feeling the best out of all these options, but my colitis was still getting worse over time.
Overall, I tried out many options and learned a lot about what worked for me dietarily, but I still hadn’t reached my goal of overcoming colitis, nor succeeded in correcting my other health problems.
After spending a number of months on two vegan diets, I dropped another 10 pounds down to 180.
1) Rock Climbing
3) Yoga Classes
Overall, I felt stronger and fitter at the end of this year.
I made numerous friends, found my first serious girlfriend, and pushed my social boundaries.
1) Fix My Colitis At All Costs
From a physical perspective, 2005 was a strange year. In many ways I was feeling better than ever due to my dietary improvements, yet my colitis continued to worsen, going from a hassle to something that was destroying my life.
Raw Diet Trial:
It was in 2005 that a doctor first suggested that the blood and pus in my stools, pain, foul-smelling gas, bouts of severe constipation and diarrhea, and other problems were actually indicative of colitis.
He didn’t listen to me when I told him that symptoms came and went depending on what I was eating, and in annoyance I never went back after his only suggestion was a battery of drugs.
Later in the year, after reading, “Grain Damage,” I decided to try eating nothing but bananas for 30 days. I kept at it, and by the end of 60 days all of my overt symptoms were gone.
It turned out to be one of the most amazing discoveries of my life, and in some ways I’m grateful that colitis drove me to try the diet I now enjoy so much.
I didn’t go 100% raw at that point, and wouldn’t until 2007 because I wanted to see if I could eat some cooked food without suffering repercussions, but I’d found my fix to colitis.
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Having spent most of my life so overweight that running was painful and unpleasant, I suddenly found that it was a joy to run.
By the end of 2005 I could run a few miles at a time, but with that simple beginning I fell in love. I luxuriated in the feeling of flying down the nighttime streets under the power of my own two legs.
I also began taking advanced yoga classes.
2) Run every day of the year for 4-6 miles
3) Newspaper reporter internship
4) A summer semester studying at Oxford University.
Although as long as I was eating cooked food my colitis was not under control, I knew how to keep it at bay to a large degree with fruit, and so I could shift my focus away from health and toward just being a fairly normal young person. This was something of a breather year, but I did accomplish some things. Of note was that that last elements of my depression disappeared as my colitis receded.
I spent my summer studying at Oxford University and toured Europe a bit, which ignited in me a love of travel which I have not forgotten.
I also interned as a newspaper reporter, which I loved to such a degree that I decided to pursue journalism upon graduation.
I started concentrating on some advanced yoga classes while also running every single day of the year, through blizzards and rainstorms, without fail.
I dabbled in literary criticism in school. I found I was pretty great at extrapolating ideas, forming arguments, and thinking analytically. In the end I decided against going for a doctorate in English, but the analytical skills I learned still serve me well.
1) Eat a 100% Low Fat Raw Food Diet For A Full Year For Evaluation Purposes
2) Sink into my new job as a newspaper reporter.
Having spent more than two and a half years eating a raw-centered diet but periodically eating cooked vegan food, I decided that I would never be physically at my best while I was eating anything cooked. I decided to go on a 100% raw diet for an entire year to better be in a position to judge whether or not I should continue with it.
I also graduated college, and got a job as a newspaper reporter, which I loved. Although it was a rewarding job, it was stressful and challenging as well, and I felt like it needed a significant amount of my attention.
1) Start Raw-Food-Health.net and built it into something that would better the world.
2) Run a marathon
After a year of living on an entirely raw diet I knew this way of eating was a keeper. Although it hadn’t rid me of my Raynaud’s, and I still had several small health complaints left over from my unhealthy days, I felt better than I ever had before.
Because so many people asked me about my diet, I decided to start Raw-Food-Health.net to be a valuable source of information for people who were suffering like I once had. It made me furious that my doctor couldn’t even tell me about the simple cure that made my colitis go away, and I didn’t want anyone to have to be in that position again.
I had been running a few miles a day for several years by this point, and I decided to see if I could up the ante and run 26.2 miles.
I got some really bad advice about changing to a forefoot strike and fractured a bone in my right foot, which K.O.ed me just weeks before I was scheduled to run the marathon.
1) Run a Marathon
2) Turn Raw-Food-Health.net into a location-independent business.
I ran my first marathon in 2009 about 12 months after I was scheduled to run the first one. By that point, though, I was fit enough that it was a bit anticlimactic.
I also decided that I wanted to indulge my long-suppressed urge to travel the world. To do so, I needed to figure out a way to make money while I traveled, and decided to transform the already-popular Raw-Food-Health.net into a business.
I published my first ebook, The Raw Food Lifestyle, while continuing to produce lots of free articles and increase traffic.
1) Continue to build Raw-Food-Health.net into a location-independent business.
2) Travel to Asia.
Raw-Food-Health.net was growing nicely by 2010, but I had to keep working for the first half of the year. I spent much of my free time on building the site up, while also producing my second ebook, Savory Raw Dressings And Sauces.
By May of 2010 I was ready to quit my job, and after a few months I’d sold off most of my possessions, packed two backpacks full of essential gear, and hopped on a plane in time to reach Bali, Indonesia for a very merry Christmas.
1) Find a fix for my insomnia
2) Continue To Travel
3) Begin working on my raw food magnum opus, Raw Food Weight Loss And Vitality
4) Get body fat percentage into single digits.
5) Increase running range to 35 miles.
In 2011 I continued to travel, spending time in Thailand, Laos, and Burma; I was having the time of my life.
I also decided to find a fix for the longstanding insomnia problem I’d had since childhood, which seemed to get slightly worse when I went raw. After months of research and experimentation, I discovered that a chromium deficiency was the cause, and I began taking it in supplement form, which corrected the issue.
I felt like I really needed to create the life-changing diet guide I wished I’d had available to me when I was suffering, and started writing Raw Food Weight Loss And Vitality.
I continued to shed weight, dropping down to 158 pounds, the lowest I’d ever been in my adult life. I also continued to enjoy running, going as far as 35 miles at a time.
1) Make myself massively stronger and get rid of the gaunt look in my face.
2) Finish And Publish Raw Food Weight Loss And Vitality
3) Continue Traveling
Andrew in May of 2011 at aprox 165 pounds (still not his lowest weight).
Andrew in December of 2012 after a year of strength training. 180 pounds
For years I’d concentrated on losing body fat and becoming a better runner, letting most of my strength-based training fall to the wayside. By October of 2011 I’d reached 158 pounds, 62 pounds lighter than what I’d weighed at 17.
I felt great, and my running was better than ever, but I honestly didn’t think I looked that great. My face looked gaunt, and my arms looked scrawny. Having extra weight – even muscle – is a detriment when you want to run long distances, but I decided I’d spent enough time focusing on that.
In late 2011 I decided to start transforming myself into a strength athlete, and planned to continue through at least the end of 2012.
The results, I have to say, have been pretty astonishing. After adding enough body fat (through extra calorie consumption) to get rid of my gaunt look, I concentrated on adding muscle through a mix of bodyweight exercises, sprinting, olympic weight lifting, kettlebells, rope climbing, sledgehammering, tire flipping, etc.
I’ve tracked my strength gains in three olympic lifts which offer a reasonably good gauge of overall body strength. The starting weights were recorded in October of 2011. The second set was recorded in mid December of 2012.
At the same time I increased my weight to 180 pounds, and my figure now looks considerably more solid. My arms have gone from sticks to fairly muscular. My body feels much more steady in any physical endeavor. I’m surprised to find that I love being stronger, and that the decline I’ve seen in my distance running speeds doesn’t really bother me.
On the travel front, I continued to travel around Thailand, and also visited Burma and Malaysia before moving back to the United States. Now I’m exploring Austin, Texas.
Raw Food Weight Loss And Vitality was published in May of 2012, to pretty rave reviews, and it’s been popular since.
1) Do a long-desired water-only fast to take care of several unconquered health issues.
2) Continue to gain in strength, with a particular focus on body-weight exercises and gymnastics.
3) Spend more time on business development.
4) Spend more pleasure time doing fiction writing.
I’ve got big plans for 2013.
I’ll be starting off the year with a supervised water fast in the month of January, with the goal of correcting several old health problems that never yielded to my other attempts to fix them. I’ve simply run through every other fix I can think of without seeing any results, so the water fast is pretty much my last hope, from the options I’m aware of at this time.
I’m hoping that at least some of these issues will clear up:
1) Raynaud’s phenomenon
2) My allergy to tomatoes
3) The sensitivity of my intestines, which, despite no longer expressing the overt signs of colitis which once plagued me, can become irritated by cruciferous vegetables, too much variety, and some types of fruit.
4) A mild ringing in my right ear (tinnitus) which is pretty annoying.
On the exercise front I want to continue to grow stronger, with a particular concentration on body weight exercises. Some things I’d like to master are:
1) The ability to push up into a handstand from “crow,” or planche.
2) Being able to do a flag on a pole or ladder and hold it for 10 seconds.
3) And expansion of my partner-based strength, acro yoga, and gymnastic techniques, with a particular emphasis on lifts.
4) Learn some breakdancing techniques.
5) Finding someone to coach me on the ring muscle up, so I can get them down by the end of the year.
On the business front I’ll continue my work on Raw-Food-Health.net, but I also want to spend some time working on some short topical nonfiction books.
For my own pleasure, and that of a few of my friends who enjoy my work, I’d like to get back to doing some fiction writing. I’ve had a particular idea in mind for some time that I’d like to spend more time working on.
Overall, I’m excited for my growth potential in 2013, and have no doubt that, succeed or fail, it will be quite the year of experiences.