Ah, New Year’s Resolutions. Can’t finish the new year with them; can’t start the new year without them. My attitude toward such ambitious undertakings at the onset of a new year has grown much grimmer over time, as I’ve become decidedly less bubbly and somewhat more cynical. Nevertheless, I’ve still got a hokey self-help streak in me; I’m still a big believer in bettering myself. So, yeah, I’m giving in to the New Year’s resolutions thing again.
Except I don’t like the word “resolution.” It’s too rigid and uncompromising. These are things I want to do and will try to do, but I’m not big on the idea of being “resolved” to do them. Will that make me less likely to actually do them? Perhaps. But, judging from past experience, I (like many, I would imagine) usually start off the year 100% committed to my goals; then, throughout the year, I begin giving them up one-by-one until all I’m left with is disappointment and self-loathing. So, this year, I’ll just skip the “oh, woe is me, I’m such a failure” element of this thing and simply call my New Year’s goals by another name: aspirations.
So, what are my New Year’s aspirations for 2017? I figured I would use a format I learned from Anthony Iannarino–an acquaintance of mine who has been blogging on self-helpy things for much longer and with much more clarity than me. 5 years ago, he wrote a post called “Keep, Start, Stop” that really left an impression on me. Basically, the idea is to break your goals down into 3 categories: things you want to keep doing, things you want to start doing, and things you want to stop doing. So, that’s the format I’m going to use here…
I want to keep…
Doing Intermittent Fasting
I’ve been doing intermittent fasting since September of 2015. If you’re unfamiliar with what intermittent fasting is, I wrote a post singing its praises when I first started experimenting with it. Basically, you just stop eating for a certain period of time. The science isn’t completely solid on its benefits, but it is allegedly supposed to aid your metabolism and increase your longevity–among other things.
There are several different methods of fasting. The most popular are probably the ADF (alternative day fasting) and 16/8 methods. I started off with the former but quickly switched to and settled on the latter. In the 16/8 method, you fast for 16 hours every day and then eat the other 8. I’ve found this very easy to stick to, because all I really do is skip breakfast. I start eating each day between noon and 2pm, and stop between 8pm and 10pm. Easy peasy.
Unless some fairly convincing research surfaces suggesting intermittent fasting is terrible for me, I plan to keep doing it. I’ve gotten used to it, and it seems a fairly simple way to maintain a healthy level of weight. And, if it actually helps me live longer, that’s just icing on the cake (as long as the cake is eaten after noon, that is).
If you’re interested in giving this a try, I just discovered this really cool app that helps you keep track of when you’re starting and stopping your fast.
Sticking with the hiPFloRC Diet
So, I made up that acronym. It’s pronounced “Hip-Flork,” and it stands for “High Protein and Fiber, Low Refined Carbs.” For the most part, there isn’t a hard and fast list and I don’t really do any calorie (or gram) counting. Basically, I just focus my diet on protein sources (mostly eggs, dairy, nuts, beans, fish, and poultry), along with fruits and vegetables. I also eat potatoes (baked or fried with Extra Virgin Olive Oil), brown rice, and oats. I deliberately avoid breaded products such as pizza, cookies, and cakes, as well as sweetened beverages. That’s more or less all of it.
I came up with this makeshift diet from reading articles on Authority Nutrition. The site publishes extensive articles citing academic research in nutrition science to back up its claims. If you are interested in developing a diet plan that has been shown to actually work through empirical analysis (as opposed to fad diets based on inspirational, anecdotal testimonials), I highly recommend using this as a resource. Here are some of my favorite pieces from the site:
- 6 Simple Ways to Lose Belly Fat
- 20 Delicious High Protein Foods to Eat
- 22 High Fiber Foods You Should Eat
- 20 Foods that Are Bad for Your Health
- 13 Health Benefits of Coffee
As has been evident by my recent writing, I became absolutely obsessed with the subject of Christian theology in 2016. I’m still really enthralled by the subject, and I want to continue pursuing it.
In my teenage years, I became what I now identify as the typical Evangelical Christian youth–getting saved, witnessing to my friends, attending Christian rock concerts, preparing for the Rapture, debating evolution with my high school biology teacher–the whole shebang. Upon graduating high school, and for the first decade of my adult life, I was part of a fringe fundamentalist group that holds to the belief that its congregants are the only Biblical (and therefore viable) people of God. In both cases, my faith has been driven by the assumption that a good religious life primarily consists of defending a truth I’ve already discovered.
In the last year, that thesis has been turned on its head. Now, my faith is about discovering truths that are continually in need of finding. I no longer hold my religion as a gavel by which I can pronounce judgments on the world. Instead, it’s simply a path that I’ve chosen (or, in some ways, that’s chosen me) to help me make sense of the world. In short, my Christian faith has become more fluid, progressive, and non-exclusionary.
Like any great transition in life, there are many circumstances that have led to my spiritual transformation, but much of it has had to do with theology. I’ve spent time reading the texts of others who have wrestled with profound spiritual concepts related to tradition, culture, scripture, and reason. So far in my studies, these are the theologians who have had the most significant influence on my thinking:
- John Macquarrie. When I first read his most famous work, Principles of Christian Theology, that’s when I first started thinking there could be more to my faith. That one work has shaped my understanding of God and humanity in relation to God more than any other I’ve read. Still, I also really enjoyed Macquarrie’s Jesus Christ in Modern Thought, In Search of Humanity, and Existentialism. I’ve also listened to a series of audio lectures on the nature of Jesus over and over again–and they’ve really left and impression on me.
- Elizabeth A. Johnson. My favorite living theologian. The works of hers that I’ve read include Quest for the Living God, Consider Jesus, and Ask the Beasts.
- Paul Tillich. Gave me definitions of God (ground of being) and faith (absolute concern) that actually made sense to me. I love his short works The Courage to Be and The Dynamics of Faith, as well as his trio of Systematic Theologies.
- Wolfhart Pannenberg. My favorite work: What is Man? I also enjoyed Jesus, God and Man.
- Karl Rahner. Love his systematic theology, Foundations of Christian Faith.
- Jurgen Moltmann. Helped me wrestle with the nature of suffering and the meaning of Christian hope (Theology of Hope).
- Sally McFague. Shaped my understanding of nature in relation to God. A New Climate for Theology changed my view of the environment, but I also enjoyed The Body of God and Models of God.
- Gordon Kaufman. Enjoyed his In Face of Mystery and The Theological Imagination.
- Luke Timothy Johnson. He’s more of a historian than a theologian, but two series of audio lectures of his completely reshaped my understanding of how the Bible should be understood (The Story of the Bible) and how the church has developed over time (Early Christianity).
- Dorothy Soelle. I’ve never read her directly, because her work is hard to get your hands on. However, her theology on atonement (heard from John Macquarrie) reshaped my understanding of the meaning of Jesus’s death.
Learning About Data Science
2016 was a pivotal year for me in firming up my intended career path. Although I started dabbling in data science at the beginning of 2015, I really dove in headfirst this past year. In addition to brushing up on my statistics chops, I’ve managed to become an advanced user of Excel and an intermediate user of Tableau, SQL, and R programming.
In the coming year, I plan to extend my knowledge of data science to include Python, machine learning, MongoDB, and Hadoop–for starters. The amazing thing about this field is that there are an abundance of resources online to learn these skills (mostly) for free. Here are a few that I’ve discovered…
- Edx. In addition to courses on data science, this site offers courses on a variety of subjects (history, religion, literature, physics, etc.) taught by Professors from the most prestigious universities in the world. At the end of March, I’m planning to start a course on Data Structures from the University of Adelaide. Some other courses I would like to take include: Purdue’s courses on Probability, Berkley’s course on Big Data Analysis with Apache Spark, Harvard’s course on Statistics with R, and Columbia’s course on Machine Learning–just to name a few.
- Coursera. I used this site to learn MySQL and Tableau. Like Edx, courses are offered by Professors from some top-notch universities, but most of these tend to focus on data science and other analytical fields. Some courses I would like to take in the future include Johns Hopkins’ Data Science and Software Development in R courses, Duke’s Statistics with R courses, the University of Washington’s Machine Learning courses, the University of Colorado’s Data Warehousing courses, and the University of Michigan’s Python for Data Science courses.
- Datacamp. This format of this platform has made it easier for me to learn than any other. So far, the courses have focused on R (and I’ve taken quite a few of them)–along with a few on Python. The courses I would still like to take include the courses on Python, ggplot2 data visualizations, Machine Learning, Time Series Analysis, and Statistical Modeling. Note: this platform requires a monthly subscription, but you can take the first chapter of any course for free.
- Udemy. Lots of free courses (and even more paid) on data and computer science. I’ve used this platform mostly to learn databases and SQL. Some courses I would still like to data include: MongoDB Essentials, Hadoop Starter Kit, Hadoop Hive, and Java from Scratch. This site is great for getting brief introductions to subjects to which you are completely new.
- Udacity. This site offers data sciences courses taught primarily by industry professionals from top-notch tech companies (Google, Facebook, IBM, etc.). Some courses I would like to take include MapReduce, Deep Learning, Data Visualization with node.js, Apache Storm, and Data Wrangling with MongoDB.
- Big Data University. A site containing a few dozen short courses offered for free by IBM. Some courses I would like to take include Hadoop, Spark, Deep Learning, MapReduce, Pig, and OpenRefine.
- MongoDB University. The NoSQL platform MongoDB offers free training on its platform. I’m going to be starting MongoDB for Developers on January 10th.
- Edureka. This site is not free, but it does offer high level courses on a variety of applications that provide professional certification. For example, I am strongly considering taking the Data Analytics with R Certification.
- YouTube. When all else fails, there are tons of great tutorials on YouTube. For example, I’m planning at some point to watch these tutorials on MongoDB, Hadoop, RapidMiner, and Talend.
I want to start…
So, I’ve pretty much got my diet under control. I’ve found something that works, and I don’t think I need to change anything. As for physical activity, though, I’ve definitely come up short over the last year. For a while, I managed to do some high intensity interval training, and I even managed to start lifting weights–but that didn’t last.
I’m not exactly sure what kind of exercise I’d like to engage in for 2017. I know I want to build muscle, and I also want to improve my heart health. I’m considering joining a gym, but what I would really like to do is take up some physical activity in which I get exercise naturally. Basketball, maybe? I did start doing nature walks in the fall with my wife, and I plan to continue that in the spring. It’s a good place to start, anyway…
Writing Short Stories
So, in 2015, I somehow managed to write a novel. Actually, it was more like a novella. It was 50,000 words, and I wrote it in about 3 weeks as part of National Novel Writing Month. In 2016, I tried to write a full-length novel–I spent a few weeks writing and got to around 30,000 words before giving up. I just don’t think I have the kind of sustained focus that enables me to work on a single project for months at a time–one month seems to be my limit. So, in 2017, I think I’ll play to my strengths.
I keep telling myself to abandon the writing dream and just focus on developing my career, but I don’t think that’s possible. Ideas for stories keep popping in my head. For better or for worse, I think I’ve got the soul of a storyteller. The problem is that I lack the discipline and sustained focus to finish a longer piece.
Starting in 2017, then, I’d like to begin writing short stories–5000-7000 words in length. I found a list of publications to which I can submit them, but the real purpose is just to get the stories out of my head. I’ll probably write 4-5 a month at a time–and do 2-3 batches throughout the year. That’s what I’ll shoot for–let’s see if I can do it…
Networking with Data Scientists
Toward the end of 2016, I attended my first meetup with the “R User Group of Greater Cleveland.” This group is one of several groups in my area that focus on data science. In 2017, I’m hoping to start regularly attending events to build relationships with people in the field. So far, I’ve been trying to learn this stuff on my own. I think it could be useful to find some sparring partners…
I want to stop…
Chewing and Picking My Fingernails
Okay, this one may seem weird on a list of other relatively high-minded pursuits. And yet, this is probably the goal I am most likely to fail to accomplish. Ever since I can remember, I’ve had this compulsion to chew my fingers down to the nubs and rip off anything that remains. It’s kind of a gross habit, and it’s not very sanitary. I’d really like to kick it, but I’ve tried so many times unsuccessfully. Don’t know if I can pull it off…
Spending So Much Time on Social Media
I’m ambivalent about social media. On the one hand, I follow a great number of solid sources that are constantly bringing great stories and great research to me. On the other hand, I waste a lot of time mindlessly scrolling through my Facebook and Twitter feeds in order to cure the feeling of boredom. Furthermore, I got pretty up-in-arms on social media during this past election cycle–participating in much of the angst-ridden behavior I’ve been known to criticize in the past. I think I could use a little more discipline on this front.
Besides, I think I’m addicted. I surprise myself by how often I’ll unlock my phone, swipe over to Facebook, and open the app without even thinking twice. I can be waiting in a line for 30 seconds, and I’ll feel the tug of social media to help me fill the time. I think I would instead like to try being more present in the moment. I bore too easily with the everyday experience, and I often fail to recognize it for the gift that it is. The shiny allure of social media is in a large part to blame for this, I’m afraid.
To begin with, I think I’ll remove the Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn apps from my phone. I’ll do any social media I want to do on the computer before I leave in the morning and won’t check it again until the next day. But, what if someone needs to reach me? If it can’t wait 24 hours, there’s this amazing invention called a phone…
Taking on Too Much at Once
Over the last year, I’ve realized something about myself–I am clearly not a “multi-tasker” and yet I am continually trying to be one. The problem isn’t that I’m interested in too many things; the problem is that I try to be interested in them all at the same time.
I’ve noticed that I’m not all that great in doing a variety of things consistently over time. I work better in batches–focusing exclusively on one thing at a time before moving on to the next. For example, I’m scheduled to take a data science course between January 10th and February 28th. Rather than also trying to write short stories during that time, I’ll focus only on my data science course and then use March to write a batch of short stories.
My 10 New Year’s Aspirations
So, that’s it. Here’s a summary of what I hope to accomplish in 2017.
- Keep doing intermittent fasting.
- Keep sticking to a high protein, high fiber, and low refined carb diet.
- Keep exploring theology.
- Keep learning about data science.
- Start exercising.
- Start writing short stories.
- Start networking with data scientists.
- Stop chewing and picking my fingernails.
- Stop spending so much time on social media.
- Stop taking on too much at once.