Super Woman April: how I rocked at… being human

I tried being a superwoman for 2 weeks and in sum, this is how it went down:

Illustration by Alex Solis

These last weeks of April showed that I’m just an average, very imperfect human. Pushing hard to “do everything” got me sick in the first week of the experiment and in the second week,  I started throwing up. Not much of a superhero, I know. 

My dashboard tracking during the “superwoman” experiment

But I learned many lessons in the experiment that I am already applying in May and already seeing better results.

Lesson One: I need my chill

Turns out I need a full night of sleep, a bar of chocolate once in a while and some chill-time in my life or I get violently ill.  On the scale of: 1: super human, 2: normal human, and 3: piggie Magda, here’s how I did each day:

Sure, I proved to myself that I’m definitely not Wonder Woman material, but I sure as hell try to be better every day, and in my book, that’s a win.

“The only person you should try to be better than, is the person you were yesterday.”

Lesson Two: I’m Pavlov’s dog

I noticed that I have more chance of success when my days were well planned, and my new items were fully integrated into my old habits. For example, I discovered that the easiest way to practice Wim Hoff breathing is while I’m on the subway. I generally inhale/exhale deeply for one to two stops and I try to hold my breath for one stop. I repeat the cycle twice.

For the same reason, I did very well with Spanish practice. I would take out my Spanish reading as soon as I sat down on the bus in the morning. It became a pavlovian reflex.

Lesson Three: Calendar is everything

It helps to be consistent. I tried to plan out my routine in advance, and reserve spots in my calendar for the things I wanted to work on. For example, I placed a 20-minute lunch on my work calendar every day, and during that time I ate and read machine-learning material.

Lesson Four: I fucking hate when I fail

Not surprisingly, I failed miserably in my attempt to control my diet. On most days, I couldn’t stop my urge to snack or shove some fried potato down my throat. But, at least I noticed that the urge controls me, and that fact made me feel terrible. I can’t bear anyone controlling my mind, even if it’s my own body. Every time I ate something bad and wrote it down to make it official, and it made me feel like I failed.

My fear of failure has held me back before (for that reason I try to make my failures public! Just airing the #skeletons) but in this case, I think this fear is actually helping me become a better human.

Lesson five: Clear definition of success

The key to goal setting in personal life, just like in product management, is a clear definition of success. What is a successful day? How do I know “I made it”? Defining these things upfront makes it easier to work them into my day.

Where the success criteria were clear I mostly succeeded. For example, one of my goals was to exercise enough to break a sweat at minimum twice a week. There’s no way to “half- do it”, it’s binary – I either did it, or I didn’t. On the other hand, “study agile” goal was harder to assess – how much learning is enough? Does 20-minutes of reading check off the box? What about listening to a conference video/podcast on the topic, is that learning? Hard to say.

The cherry on top

Some unexpected good things came out of the experiment. For one, I started journaling every day. I’m not sure why, but it just felt good to talk to myself in a five-minute journal style and write about my small successes/failures of the day.

The second unexpected development was that for some reason I started making my bed. I did not have this in my plans at all – our room is always a total mess and I don’t really care. But for some reason, it felt good to start the day in an organized fashion. It set the scene for a productive day.

“If you make your bed every morning, you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another.” McRaven

I also exceed my own expectations in one of the categories (“job search documentation”). I not only documented my process, but also shared it with people at the Product School. 

I gave a presentation and received overwhelmingly good feedback.

May goals

This month, I am continuing on my goals from April, and expanding on them using the lessons I learned. I’ve defined my goals clearly, and fit them into my regular routine.

So far, I’m doing okay. I’ve had lots of travel at the beginning of the month, which threw a wrench into my routine, but I’ve been trying my best. I went to Poland for a family function, ate a lot of fantastic BBQ and home baked goods, and took long walks in the forest. It was a very much needed rest.

One of the things I noticed last month was that I got distracted with new ideas half way through the day and would go on down unexpected rabbit holes which were a clever way to procrastinate and not feel bad about it. This month, whenever a new idea comes to my mind, I write it down but not actually pursue it. The list definitely provides me a piece of mind that I’ll get to these things at some point, just not today. At the end of the month I can prioritize the ideas and work on some of them in June.

As I said, I am a work in progress. Do you have any tips for how to improve my routine and make sure I set myself for success? I’m all ears.

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