Year in Review 2019

2019 Year In Review

Deborah KayBy Deborah KayDecember 31, 201932 Minutes

If I had to summarise 2019 in one theme, that theme would be “discipline”. It has been a year of conscious efforts to build good habits, regain my health and improve my fitness.

 

This review is broken up into:

 

Health

Focusing my health has been my number one priority for 2019, and this meant optimising my diet, exercise and sleep.

 

Diet

I continued to build on what I had started in Q4 2018:

  • Intermittent fasting: 16 hours a day, going up to 18 hours at times. I would start each morning with a black coffee and some apple cider vinegar. This combo helped to curb my appetite and felt good for my gut. I would eat lunch between 10:30am-1pm and dinner at 4.30pm-6:30pm. My Zero fasting app logged 272 fasts in 2019.
  • Ketogenic diet: I spent most of 2019 in ketosis (tracked by my Keyto stick). My diet comprised mainly of home cooked meals – steamed salmon or cod, avocado, eggs, and 70% vegetables (e.g. kailan, spinach, bok choy) and nuts (e.g. almonds, macadamia) for snacks.
    • The combination of IF + ketosis helped to regulate my hunger hormones so I was hardly ever hungry. On the days where I reintroduced carbs into my diet, hunger pangs would return and I would think about food a lot more.
    • Exercising in the morning also helped me to resist the urge to eat before lunch.
  • Gut Microbiome: I try to eat fermented foods as much as I can for my gut health. This includes kimchi and unsweetened Greek yoghurt
  • Alcohol: I started tracking my alcohol intake in December 2018 and January 2019 using an app called Drink Control.  Over those two months, I spent on average $600 a month on ~100 drinks which worked out to 3.5-4 units a day.
    • These stats did not surprise or bother me.  What really surprised me was this statistic that the app shared – that those 100 drinks worked out to about 8,000 calories a month and the equivalent of 30-35 hamburgers. 30-35! I could have eaten an additional hamburger a day!
    • In an attempt to reduce my alcohol intake, I went dry in the months of February and July. It was very hard.
    • To keep myself accountable, I would post on my Instagram stories each night that I had consumed no alcohol that day.
    • At that time, I did not notice a huge impact on how I felt or how I slept (this was pre-Oura Ring).
    • However, I did feel significant gut discomfort and a difference in my poop once I resumed drinking again. I
    • ‘m glad I did it though. It was a good exercise in willpower, just to prove to myself that I can do it.
  • Extended Fasting with Prolon FMD: I did Dr Valter Longo’s five day fast mimicking diet and found it to be beneficial. I lost 1.7kg of body weight and 2.5kg of body fat during those 5 days, which stayed off long after the diet was over. I hope to do this every quarter. (More about my FMD experience here)
  • Tracking: I tracked my weight with a Xiaomi Smart Scale and everything I ate or drank in MyFitnessPal to develop a better awareness of my daily caloric intake

 

Exercise

Exercise was another big area where I invested a significant amount of time and resources in. I logged 575 workouts in my Polar A370 in 2019.

  • Personal Training: In April, I started strength training with a personal trainer twice a week. Benny has helped me build muscle mass with exercises like squats, deadlifts, bench presses, and other weighted work. I was surprised at how satisfying it was to lift heavy weights and everyone says I look very toned.
  • Ashtanga Yoga: I managed to re-kick start my ashtanga practice – something that I started in 2001 but always struggled to maintain a consistent practice. (Super happy about this!)
    • In 2019, I attended 17 ashtanga led classes in various studios.
    • In August, I finally made it to the Yoga Shala on Yan Kit Road (I had attended led classes with James before in 2001).
    • Starting mysore at a new shala is always intimidating. I discovered that I have irrational fears of doing poses wrongly and always dread if the instructor comes by to adjust me. I never had this fear in the past.
    • I also have a fear of injury, as I broke my toe attempting to do jump throughs earlier in the year.
    • I now practice 5 times a week. All in all, I ended the year with 72 sessions with James at the Yoga Shala.
    • It took was 2 months of yoga practice 5 times a week to regain all the strength and flexibility, and to be able to do all the poses I used to be able to do.
    • I love fact that I am drenched in sweat. The practice is extremely detoxifying.
    • I find my daily practices extremely meditative. Focusing on my breath and clearing my mind requires effort and practice. I love the feeling at the end of each session where I am filled with a sense of calm and achievement.
  • Others: Spinning, boxing, pilates, handstand classes were also part of my exercise regime
  • Walking: I made a conscious decision in 2019 to take the bus as much as I could, which in turn would allow me to hit my daily steps target. My goal was to walk 15,000 steps daily. I ended the year with a daily average of 13,877 steps. I would also walk in the Botanic Gardens in the mornings (while listening to audiobooks or podcasts) or with my dad.

All my workouts were tracked using my Polar A370 which I love. I bought one of my dad too. Recently, I have found it harder to get into Zone 4/5 (used to be easy with the HIIT / strength training sessions). I’m not sure if this means my cardiovascular health has improved – will do more research into this in 2020.

 

Sleep

  • I have been tracking my sleep scores with the Polar A370 and the Oura Ring (from July). As a result of the Oura Ring, I have increased my time in bed from about 7 hours to 9 hours, so as to get a good 7-8 hours of time asleep.
  • I have also been focusing on improving my sleep scores, in particular, my sleep efficiency and my restlessness score.
    • My sleep tends to be extremely restless, with frequent wake-ups
    • I wear blue-light blockers and activate the red screen on my phone at night.
    • I sleep in a 18 degree celsius air-conditioned room with black out curtains
    • I’ve also started taking Magnesium supplements, which appears to help with the restlessness.
    • I avoid eating / working out 3 hours before bedtime and avoid coffee after 2pm.
    • Readiness Score: ave 71
    • Sleep Score, ave 76
  • Alcohol: One insight from my Oura Ring was how much alcohol would affect my sleep and recovery. A night of heavy drinking (4-6 glasses of alcohol) would tank my Resting Heart Rate (from ave 56 to >70 bpm) and my Heart Rate Variability (from 40ms to <20ms)
  • I’ve also experimented with keeping my phone on airplane mode by default to reduce wifi signals and it seems to improve my sleep.

 

Other Health

  • Sauna: I spend 20 minutes in a conventional sauna (80 degree celsius) four times a week. It feels amazing and is purported to have many health benefits.
  • Ice baths: I did a fundamental course in the Wim Hof method which included four rounds of submersion in 2 degree celsius water for 2 minutes.  I felt invigorated and slept extremely well after. I hope to do this on a monthly basis in 2020.
  • 23 and Me DNA test: I did the DNA test but did not get much out of the genealogy report. Instead I found the most benefits uploading my raw data to third party databases like Found My Fitness and Promethease. I learnt about my genetic predisposition to matters relating to metabolism, longevity, methylation, circadian rhythm, micronutrients and more.
  • Meditation: After trying a bunch of meditation apps (Calm, Headspace, Waking Up, 10% Happier), I found one that I liked called Oak Meditation (free). In particular, the Loving Kindness meditation resonated with me and 15 minutes a day would put me in the right mindset.

 

Results

  • Weight: I started the year at 73kg and am ending the year at 55kg (18 kg lost in 2019, 26kg lost in total).  Besides weight, my waistline shrank by 15cm, a good indication that my visceral fat has decreased. (Related: My Top 10 Tips for Weight Loss)
    • Body Composition (as measured by the Boditrax machine at Fitness First): Thin & Muscular to Very Muscular
      • 40kg muscle, 21% body fat, 1.7% degree of obesity, visceral rating 2, muscle score 1924
      • BMI is 22.7 – just under 23 which is recommended as “healthy weight”
      • Metabolic age: 28
  • Biomarkers: More important than weight was the improvement in my biomarkers indicating an improvement in my health.
    • Triglycerides decreased from 154 to 57 (<150 is good)
    • HDL increased from 57 to 89 (>40 is good)
    • LDL decreased from 147 to 115 (<100 is good)
    • All my liver markers improved to low 20s
    • Uric Acid decreased from 8.3 to 5.2 (<6 is good)

 

Writing

I did not write as much as I did in 2018.

I managed to grow my Instagram blog to 213,000 unique visitors in 2019 which was very satisfying. The blog had 2-3 popular articles that managed to get featured snippets as well as top 3 rankings in Google Search. I also created a strong lead magnet which allowed me to acquire chatbot subscribers and emails at a rapid rate. However, I found myself spending more time deleting subscribers to reduce email / chatbot subscription costs than creating new content.

Monetising this blog was far more challenging. I had a digital download (where I made about $1.5K USD) as well as referral products (another couple of thousand USD) and Adsense (USD $150/month) which was enough to the cover the costs of running the blog. I need to work on better monetisation in 2020. Unfortunately the referral products stopped becoming viable due to changes in Instagram’s algorithm, or I would have made more money.

 

Speaking

I spoke at three events in 2019:

  • SMU CEO Series (invited by Prof Pang). I enjoyed this a lot and will be speaking at the 2020 series again. I made friends with students, many of whom I keep in touch with today.
  • EConsultancy Digital Outlook 2019. I gave a presentation on AI Trends in Marketing, which got written up on their blog. You can also find my slides here.
  • Singapore Writers Festival: Chatbots and the Human Connection. This was a fun panel alongside friend Abhilash Murthy (creator of the Bus Uncle chatbot)

 

Social Media

I spent far less time on Twitter in 2019, but managed to grow my followers to 67.5K. I’m pleased to maintain a good engagement rate for Twitter, with an average of 45 likes and 19 retweets per post.

I spent far more time on Instagram in 2019. My personal account grew to 12K. I have secondary account which grew to 91K. I hope to spend less time on Instagram in 2020!

 

Charity

In November, I got to visit the three schools I helped to build in Laos with Pencils of Promise. I continue to fundraise for them with sales of Emojibot. My dear friend Louisa also organised a musical concert as a fundraiser and her campaign has raised about USD $16K to date.

More recently, I managed to get a young sailor to create his own website and fundraise for Charity Water.

I hope to inspire more people to build their own websites and start their own fundraising campaigns.

 

Books

In 2019, I “read” 42 books (audiobooks via Audible). I found it very efficient to listen to audiobooks while walking in the park (one hour walks are a good way to get through a decent chunk of a book). Listening at 2X speed also helps me to focus and doubles my ability to consume content.

My favourite book from 2019 are:

  1. Atomic Habits by James Clear – so good I need it on Audible, Kindle and hard copy
  2. Essentialism by Greg McKweon – so good I have it on Audible and hard copy
  3. The Art of Learning by Josh Waitzkin – so good I have it on Audible and hard copy
  4. The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday – so good I need it on Audible and Kindle
  5. Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker
  6. The Longevity Diet by Dr Valter Longo
  7. Discipline Equals Freedom by Jocko Willink
  8. Show Your Work by Austin Kleon
  9. Originals by Adam Grant
  10. Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialist World by David Epstein
  11. Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport

You can book summaries of the above on my site Digital Discovery: Books and a full list of the books I read here.

I hope to read 52 books in 2020.

Productivity

In March, I decided to turn off all notifications on my mobile phone. I do not get any banner notifications ever (they are the most annoying) and my phone is Do Not Disturb mode 9am to 9am. I do keep some notifications in my Notification centre, which I check when I choose to.

I have missed some calls (e.g. from delivery people which resulted in me not getting my packages) but it’s a minor inconvenience that I’m more than happy to tolerate.

This is one of the best things I’ve done in 2019.

Time spent on my phone decreased from 8 hours a day to 6 hours a day (still too much)! with pickups declining as well.

 

Finances

Income: In 2019, I worked for a total of 61 days which is about one day a week – about 1/3 of what I did in 2018. I was able to maintain the same level of income, through automation, outsourcing, elimination of low value work and keeping my rates high. It worked out great and gave me plenty of time to focus on my health and fitness. In 2020, I hope to double the number of work days to 2 a week.

Budgeting: For the first time in my life, I started keeping a proper budget and analysing my spend each month. I have streamlined my credit cards down to two (personal and work) which makes monitoring much easier. Each month, I download a CSV of my credit card spend and my cash spending and categorise them into these 14 categories:

Discretionary Spending (which can be cut at any time) – 60%

  • Beauty
  • Exercise
  • F&B
  • Health
  • Holiday
  • Shopping / Entertainment
  • Taxi

No Limit Spending – 3%

  • Charity – no limit
  • Education – no limit

Non Discretionary Spending – 37%

  • Bus – non discretionary
  • Business – non discretionary
  • Finance charges – non discretionary
  • Insurance – non discretionary
  • Taxes – non discretionary

If I could be so fastidious about tracking my exercise, diet and health (and the tracking was a big factor in helping to keep me motivated), I figured I could really optimise my spending and wealth if I just put some effort into it.

 

Travel

The highlight of my summer was sailing in Europe for two weeks with Tobi and Shamayn. We sailed from Sicily, Italy to Corfu, Greece on their catamaran. You can see photos of my trip on my Instagram highlights.

 

2020 Goals and Intentions

As we go into 2020, here are some goals that I have:

  • One hour of blogging daily
  • One hour of coding daily – I’d like to learn Javascript in 2020
  • 5 days of yoga practice a week – I’d like to start the Intermediate Series in 2020
  • To be able to do a pull-up
  • To complete a Spartan Race
  • 4X increase in passive income, 2X active income, and to have passive income cover at least 50% of discretionary spend
  • 2 or 3 months dry
  • 50 cups of coffee with old contacts that I have not seen in over a year (based on this article)
  • Reduce time spent on phone by 50% and pickups by 50%
  • I would also like to hire a full time Wordpress developer in PH or VN (let me know if you know anyone good!)

 

Thanks and Gratitude

Special thanks to my parents, my sister, Jeanne, Eileen, Louisa, Edmund, Geraldine, Shamayn, Tobi, June, Siok, Benny, Jolyn, James; my life in 2019 was better because of you. (Read: 100 Things that Made My Year in 2019)