Friday, 1 January 2016

2015 in review, and goals for 2016

It is my custom at this time of year to list off the films, books, and performances that I've enjoyed over the previous twelve months (2014, 2013), but 2015 was a very strange year for me, one in which I read hardly a book, watched hardly a film or TV show, played hardly a game, and didn’t go to a single play, concert, opera, or ballet.

Instead, I have worked on transforming my life.


The biggest changes for me this year were:
  • Losing a lot of weight (52kg; photos below taken just over 1 year apart!)
  • Returning to tertiary study for the first time in 17 years (starting an MBA at UQ Business School mid-year)
These had a number of follow-on effects:
  • I discovered forms of exercise that I either enjoy for their own sake (intrinsic motivation): Zumba and cycling, or which I enjoy for the sense of achievement that I get from participating in events (extrinsic motivation): running. Social motivation is strong in both cases too, and I am indebted to the friends who introduced me to these activities, and to the new friends I have made through them who keep me focused and coming back.
    14 June
    14km in 1h33m
    Brisbane Marathon
    2 August
    10km in 57min
    Bridge to Brisbane
    30 August
    10km in 58 min
    Brisbane 2 Gold Coast
    18 October
    100km in 4h56m

  • Of these forms of exercise, I have been open to experimenting with ones entirely new to me: Zumba and cycling were things I’d never done before. I’m now experimenting with swimming, which is practically new too. 
  • I have enjoyed buying clothes in regular sizes and being able to experiment with finding a style for myself. My life up to now has been having to make do with what was available in plus sizes and trying to find clothes to disguise my shape as much as possible. I’m not confident that I really know what I’m doing yet, but I’m working on it and I’m enjoying the process. 
  • I have developed a level of self-confidence I’ve never had before. I feel like I’ve finally bested the crippling shyness that’s been with me all my life. Part of this has been a huge reduction in the amount of body-shame I feel, and part has been learning from friendly, confident people (in the ParkRun community and in the MBA course). I have been able to adopt some of their confident behaviours until I felt the confidence myself. 
  • I have learned to play to my strengths more consciously and deliberately, encouraged by both my workplace and my studies. Conversely, I learned a difficult but valuable lesson in the futility of trying to be what I thought other people wanted me to be (which turned out to be wrong anyway).


So, on to what I want to achieve for the year ahead (SMART goals in bold):

  • Lose more weight! My rate of weight loss plateaued off late in the year as my study commitments intensified, followed quickly by food changes brought about by a broken jaw (bicycle accident) and the festive season. In late October, I hit my initial goal weight of 90kg; and this morning I weighed 97kg (that difference is not only body weight though; it also includes the fact that I’m presently well-fed and well-hydrated). I want to get my weight down to a new goal of 80kg by the end of June, and then stabilise it. 
    • The stabilisation will require thinking about eating for long-term nutrition, not just as fuel (calories). I need to find foods that strike the right balance of enjoyable–nutritious–convenient. At the moment, it seems hard to satisfy more than two of those criteria. 
  • Finish my MBA. The UQ MBA is made up of 12 units: 
    • I completed 3 in Semester 2 last year
    • I am doing 2 in the present Summer Semester
    • I plan to do 
      • 3 more in Semester one, 
      • 2 more in the Winter Semester, and 
      • the final 2 in Semester two
  • Running: presently, I do a 5km weekly ParkRun, and participate in events around the 10km mark. I want to:
    • keep ParkRunning, and  
      • earn my 50-run shirt this year
      • get my time down to under 24 minutes for the 5km.
      • Volunteer at ParkRun after every 10 runs.
    • extend the 10km runs to half-marathons this year, where available.
    • Consider getting some coaching
  • Cycling: I will 
    • keep commuting by bike 
    • participate in more events this year in the 100km-ish range
    • find or create more opportunities for social cycling too. 
    • ride my first “Imperial century” — 100 miles (160km). 
    • ride 10,000km in 2016 (I rode 3,000km in 2015.) 
    • Consider getting some coaching
  • Zumba: I will keep zumbaing! I have no specific goals right now beyond getting better!
  • Swimming: I want to be able to 
    • swim 1km in under 30 minutes and then appraise whether this is something I want to keep in my life. Assuming that I learn to like it enough to keep doing it, I am attracted to the idea of triathlon. 
  • Read for pleasure again, see some movies, watch some TV, go to a play/concert/opera/ballet, play a board game — do some fun stuff again! (No numbers on these though)

Other stuff I want to do but for which I have no specific goals yet. I don’t know how much of this I’ll be able to cram into 2016!
  • Fix my posture: I have a bad stoop from a lifetime of obesity and social anxiety. Now that I’m thinner, I’m really noticing this in photos.
  • Fix my flexibility: Even with so much weight gone and with so much regular exercise, I am not very flexible. In particular, my lower back is a problem: the closest I can come to touching my toes is just past my knees. This made it very difficult to get the right fit on a road bike for me. (My current set-up is comfortable, but probably not as efficient as it could be).
  • Overcome more fears and anxieties. A few years ago, I bettered my fear of dentistry. This year, I overcame a life-long shyness. There are a few other specific fears I want to target “soon”. (I have no idea yet of how to even approach these. I tried a head-on approach to the needle phobia a few years ago and I think I made it worse...)
    • needles (about a 1-in-4 chance of passing out; nausea, tunnel-vision, and sound of blood rushing in ears even discussing the subject)
    • authority figures (police and security of all kinds; practically guaranteed to freak me out the longer an interaction continues)
    • body shame (I have only been able to get into a swimming pool covered up Edwardian-style!)
      • Note that the fear of authority figures and the body-shame work together to keep me from travelling by air. The body-shame keeps me from medical screening that I should get. 
  • Try some more things I’ve either never done before or not done much of. Some ideas include:
    • latin dance
    • fencing
    • horse-riding
    • rifle-shooting
    • archery
    • fly a glider (sailplane, not hang-glider)
    • sail a boat (increased proficiency in swimming might be a prerequisite to this one!)
  • Investigate meditation. I bested my fear of dentistry by learning how to put myself into a state of deep relaxation. I would like to explore further in this direction. 
That should be enough for a year!


  1. Very cool! Husnain took up archery and shooting last year as a hobby in case you're looking for a buddy to help you transition into those activities.

    1. Thanks Misha! I'll likely take him up on that as the year unfolds. :)

  2. Well done! Would love to hear some tips on the mental determination you have achieved. Any apps or books or therapies that helped you?

    1. You'll have to wait for my self-help book to come out! ;)

      Just kidding...

      No apps, books, or therapies -- this was a home-grown effort, but I've been thinking a lot about it over the year. I think it boils down to:

      1. know and be honest about your motivations; engage with them. All along, this has been about looks, not health, and I suspect that's the case for most people trying to lose weight. (But maybe I'm projecting...) I also tried to harness internal and external forms of motivation.
      2. know your strengths and play to them
      3. know your weaknesses and limitations and figure out ahead of time how you will overcome or (better) bypass them; remove obstacles ahead of time
      4. understand that there will be a price and be prepared to pay it. Exercise has eaten up a lot of time I would have used for reading or for watching TV or movies. Wanting to avoid food has limited opportunities to spend time with friends or work colleagues. Otto Lilienthal was the 19-century inventor of the (hang) glider and was killed by injuries he received by crashing one. It's claimed that his last words were "Opfer müssen gebracht werden!" -- "Sacrifices must be made" (the claim is probably untrue, but I find it inspirational anyway!)
      5. don't give up! Things won't always go to plan, and there will be mistakes and setbacks. Acknowledge them and move past them. There's a Japanese proverb I love: "Fall down seven times, stand up eight times".