March Challenge: The effects of zero sugar and zero news

Sugar Pop Coral by Sara Pope

At the end of 2020, I've decided to make 2021 a challenging year. I have committed to doing 12 monthly challenges, one for each month. You can see the list of all the challenges here. Below is a summary of the March challenge.

What was the challenge?

Challenge: No sugar, no news (No sugar is self explanatory. No news means no news websites, no tv (Netflix is fine), no Facebook, no Twitter, no Instagram, no Hacker News, no Reddit, etc.)

Why no sugar: Sugar is toxic. Its effects also add up with years. I want to reverse this trend.

Why no news: News consumption is toxic. The value of news is vastly overrated and expires in a matter of days. The time commitment is much greater on a daily basis than we realize. While never consuming news is tempting but not feasible, it's entirely doable for 30 days. Observing the effects of this challenge should be very interesting. I also look forward to learnings and potential changes in behavior in the future.

How well did it go?

Challenge completion rate: 100% (31 out of 31)

How hard was it?

At the end of each day, I recorded if I have completed the challenge for the day. I also rated how much effort it took on a scale of 1 to 10. While it's subjective, it gives an idea of how hard it was to complete the challenge.

Average effort score: 1.16

Lowest effort score for the month: 1 (26 times)

Highest effort score for the month: 2 (5 times)

What did I learn from it?

It was the easiest challenge up to this point, by far. It turns out it's much easier to stick to "do less of" than to "do more of" type of goals. Or, in this case, "do none of".

Interestingly, resisting the news was harder than resisting sugar. I only thought about sugar a few times and just didn't act on the desire to eat a cookie or a piece of cake.

With news, it was more tricky. Reading news (including all social media) was baked into the day and all the daily activities: when I had a 5-minute break, on the sofa in the evening, waiting for something, on the toilet, etc. Stuffing myself with the news was the default behavior in such cases. I replaced it with reading a book on the Kindle app on my phone. Reaching for the phone was automatic, and it was hard to fight muscle memory, but I just changed the action that comes next: Kindle instead of the endless scroll of doom.

Pros

  • Didn't feel the craving to eat sugar. I expected it to be much more of a struggle than it was. I barely had to fight it actively.
  • More time to read. Reclaiming all the social media time was outstanding. All the minutes add up. Replacing it with reading a book was ten times more valuable and interesting.
  • Fewer distractions. No endless scroll, no going down the rabbit holes from one article to another, no "what happened to the last two hours?" surprises.
  • Stopped using Facebook's newsfeed. On my computer, I use Kill News Feed extension to block Facebook's news feed. I can use Facebook, post new items, see notifications, go to profiles; I just don't see the news feed. I've had this extension for a long time now. If I wanted to see what's going on on Facebook, I would use the Facebook app on my iPad. With a month of not using Facebook at all, I don't feel the need to do even that. While I still use Facebook to post links or discuss with friends or comment on friends' items, I've disarmed it of its most potent weapon.
  • Didn't miss any big or important news. If something is big or important enough, it will reach me. There was a specific date when I could book a date for my vaccination. I did it, and my first dose is going to be administered in May. There were some shenanigans with the royal family in the UK. While I didn't know the details, I still knew something was happening. Myanmar coup was still a mess. The virus is still doing viral things. What else is there to know?

Cons

  • Fewer options for a quick bite. It used to be easier to buy something to eat on the run. There was always some bakery or a gas station on the way. Most of they have to offer contains sugar. I don't visit bakeries anymore.
  • Out of touch with the industry. Not reading Twitter and Hacker News meant that I wasn't up to date with what was happening in the industry. I felt like I was missing out and something important might be happening, but when I caught up with all the news, there were surprisingly few things or messages worthy of attention. 5% of the usual time dedicated to Twitter or Hacker News would be enough to extract 90% of the value. If only there were a dial where I could dose different apps like this...

Will I keep doing it?

No sugar—yes. See next month's challenge below for more details.

No news—mostly. I re-installed Twitter and Instagram on my phone. I still didn't install Facebook, though, and I intend to keep it that way. I've also limited the time I spend on Hacker News (by about a half) and on Reddit (by about 80%). I'm happy with all the changes, except for Twitter. I get the most value from Twitter (professionally), but I also spend way too much time on it. I went right back to old habits with Twitter. The time I spent reading on my phone in March is shifted back to Twitter in April. I'll have to rein it in.

What's the next month's challenge?

Challenge: No sugar. Again.

Why: Each month, there was supposed to be one challenge. In March, I've done two. I expected it to be challenging, but it was so easy that I've decided to continue eating no sugar in April, too. It may potentially be a long-lasting, high-impact habit with a positive influence on all aspects of my life. I want to maximize the chance of it happening.

I also want to give my body more time without sugar before doing the blood tests again (all 11 of them) and comparing. Two full months should be long enough, and it will be interesting to see the change.

To be honest, I don't expect anything groundbreaking—all my tests (except one) were already quite good, so there was not much room for improvement, but if it's going to be even slightly better, that's good enough for me.

"Slightly better" multiplied by months and years = compounding effects.

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