Winter Molt Challenge: Success!

Roughly 141 days have passed (I’m not sure if today counts yet) and I am now officially at the end of Winter Molt Challenge.

I have to say, overall it has been a tremendous success. As of today I weigh in at 156.3 pounds and am 9.8% body fat. Now, technically my original goal was to reach 150 pounds by this date. I’ve found however that, with the strength training routine I’ve been following and my goal of obtaining as good a strength:weight ratio as possible, 150 pounds and under is just too light.

Charts and data are to come, as well as a general overview of everything that worked and everything that didn’t. In the meantime though I wanted to get something up today so no one is left hanging on the results.

Fluent in 6 Months: Progress Update

Having learned from my Winter Molt Challenge that regular progress updates are not only tedious to produce but, honestly, probably not that interesting to read this is going to be the only check in for this challenge until you get our final result.

We’re now a little past the halfway point and I am extremely pleased with our progress. Our 1,000 words in 30 days mini-challenge worked out really well, though I’ve found it a little difficult to quantify exactly how well we did. I can, however, tell a huge difference in our comprehension as a direct result of the vocabulary boost.

We both now regularly read the news in Korean everyday. We are also working through Korean books. I can’t say we have 100% comprehension at this point, but it’s sufficient to read and then usually be able to relate about 80% to 90% of what happened.

What I am most pleased about overall, is that we are no longer slaves to English subtitles on Korean shows. Much like the books we don’t always get everything, but we can now enjoy an entire TV show in Korean without the aid of an .srt file. Of all our accomplishments, I find that one to be the biggest and most motivating.

I’m also finding that our conversations with native speakers are becoming progressively easier, with much fewer corrections being necessary.

With roughly two months left, I’m eager to see how our challenge ends. Given our progress so far, I have to say I’m extremely optimistic.

Learn 1,000 Words in 30 Days

Korean Dictionary by Bittegitte

Is it possible to learn 1,000 new words in 30 days?

Being fairly well invested at this point in our challenge to learn to speak Korean in six months, we’ve decided to toss another minor challenge on top of it.

Learning 1,000 new words in Korean in 30 days

The motivation for this is simple, I just don’t feel our vocabulary is progressing quite as quickly as I would like it to for meeting our 6 month challenge. I’m also finding that in many cases our vocabulary is the limiting factor in the speed of progress in other areas of practice. I figure the best way to fix this is by learning the 1,000 most common words in Korean.

Why the 1,000 most common? Well, like I’ve said before, the 80/20 rule applies to language too. By focusing on the most common 1,000 words we’ll be taking the most efficient route and learning the stuff we’re most likely to need to know first.

Why in 30 days? Well, for two reasons to be honest. The first reason is that we’re on a constrained timeline. Our goal is to speak Korean in six months, if we take four months to learn those thousand words, we’re not going to be able to make as much total progress. The second reason is because it’s a challenge. 1,000 words in 30 days probably sounds crazy to most people (a lot like learning a language in 6 months probably does), which is a perfectly good reason to see if we can pull it off.

How are we going to go about it? The first step is finding a listing of the 1,000 most common Korean words. That part is easy, a quick Google search has given me this one which is likely what we’ll use.

With our list in hand, the next step is to divide and conquer. A quick bit of math reveals that 1,000 words divided into 30 days comes down to 33.3 words per day. Since I have no interest in learning 1/3rd of a word everyday, I’m going to round that up to 34 words per day.

I do realize that at 34 words per day we can actually learn 1,000 words in 29 days, but I’m going to assume we’ll need that extra day for review anyway.

Everyday we will tackle the next 34 words using all of the memorization hacks we have available to us, from SRS systems like Anki to good old-fashioned memory hooks. If, by the end of the day, we haven’t learned all 34 words then I’m not going to worry about it too much. The most wonderful part of this challenge is even if we have a dismal 50% success rate, we’ll still have learned 500 of the most common Korean words – an accomplishment I would be proud of on its own.

Anyone else want to try to learn 1,000 words in 30 days?

The Winter Molt Challenge: Weeks 3 & 4

This will be a very quick update since things have been a little hectic lately. Honestly, there isn’t a whole lot to report as my efforts have finally fallen into a bit of a groove. One problem I’m noticing though is that my workouts are getting increasingly easier, and I currently have no easy way of scaling up the intensity.

That problem may be fixed soon if I can purchase a cheap weight set, but in the meantime I may have to get creative.

No stats this week, or lesson, but I will in the next check-in. I’m also going to start spacing them out a little bit more. Keep checking in for more updates, and articles based on what I’m learning.

Fluent in 6 Months Challenge: The Method

Yesterday I introduced our latest challenge, learning fluent Korean in 6 months. Today, I’ll share the method we’re going to follow to try and accomplish that goal.

We’ve had a lot of experience with language learning (I even have a Bachelor’s degree in Linguistics) and so far I think the most effect method for language learning we have found so far is to just start using that language.

After all, while our stated goal is to reach fluency, in the end learning fluent Korean isn’t really an end goal in and of itself. It’s a tool, and it should be treated the same way when you’re learning. A lot of people seem to make the mistake of treating the language they’re learning like it is the goal itself. They study and pour over textbooks and slave away in classes or listening to and repeating after recordings of native speakers as if they’ll eventually hit some finish line where someone officially declares they know the language. They may say they want to speak the language, but they go about it like all they care about is ‘knowing’ the language.

In reality, knowledge of the language is just a tool with which to communicate your ideas and find out the ideas of others. Doesn’t it make sense then, if the goal is to be able to communicate with others, that most of the time learning/practicing be spent actually trying to communicate? After all, speaking a language is a skill, and you don’t learn a skill just by studying – you learn by going out and doing it.

Would you learn to swim by reading textbooks on swimming, memorizing all the different methods for swimming, practicing holding your breath and miming the different strokes in mid-air? No. You learn to swim by getting in a pool and trying to not drown. Maybe you have some help or some of those little arm floaties, maybe you have really mean parents and just get chucked into the deep end. Either way, you may learn a little bit before getting into the water, but you never really learn how to swim until you start trying to actually swim.

That’s how we’re going to approach completing this challenge. To keep the pool analogy, we’re going to learn a little first, and then jump right into the water.

We’re not going to bother with any classes, courses, or purchasable methods. Honestly, I have never met anyone who reached fluency from just a class. I personally think that’s because of fundamental pedagogical/methodological problems in modern language courses, but that’s a discussion for another time. The point is, I think they’re largely a waste of time.

We’re going to start by learning a handful of necessary basic grammar constructions (present tense, past tense, how to form a question etc.) and a handful of the most common words, and then we’re just going to start chatting with our Korean friends and coworkers as often as possible. We’re also going to immerse ourselves in Korean by watching mostly Korean TV and movies and listening to mostly Korean music (something we already do anyway) as well as writing entries in Korean on Lang-8, reading Korean newspapers online and, well, basically doing as many things as we can that we would normally do in English in Korean instead.

We may make daily vocabulary study sheets following a lemmatized frequency list in order to maximize the number of useful words we learn, but I’m no sure yet. In all likelihood just reading new material with a dictionary/iPhone nearby and constantly bugging our Korean friends by asking (in Korean) ‘What is this called in Korean?’ will introduce to more than enough new words, in context, with appropriate memory hooks, without needing to worry about lists and study sheets.

So what do you think? Sounds like a good plan or are we doomed to failure? Think we can pull it off in 6 months or less?

Fluent In 6 Months Challenge: Speak Fluent Korean in Half a Year

While I’m just barely at the end of my third week into my first challenge, losing 56 lbs. in under 4 months, Caroline and I were talking and decided that today we would like to start a second challenge:

Become able to speak fluent Korean in only 6 months.

Why Korean? Why in 6 months? How does this help us on the way to being epic? One question at a time.

We chose Korean for two main reasons. The first is that we’ve been wanting to learn it for a long while now, but have never really committed to it. We already speak some Japanese, Mandarin, German and Russian (though not nearly as well as we’d like) so it seems right to pick a language we know almost nothing in that we’ve wanted to learn for a while. The second reason is that right now we’re working on the side at a Korean restaurant, so we have tons and tons of access to native speakers to practice with, which is really important.

Why 6 months? Well, that’s actually somewhat arbitrary I suppose. Benny the Irish Polyglot manages to become fluent in a new language every 3 months, but his method is studying in a country that predominately speaks his target language (although, that’s not true of his latest mission). Then there’s Randy at Yearlyglot who becomes fluent in a new language every year, but without travelling. Right in the middle is Lyzazel at the I Kinda Like Languages blog who goes for six months, three traveling and three in his home country. While we can’t travel, we do have daily, constant access to native speakers because of work. We figure that’ll be good enough to manage fluency in six months.

Lastly, what makes this so epic? Well being epic largely comes down to experiences. We think that being equipped with as many languages as possible facilitates having those really epic experiences and meeting really epic people. After all, it’s a lot easier to have really awesome experiences in a foreign country when you aren’t trying to speak English with everyone (Native English speaking countries aside). On top of that for most Americans, crippled as they are by traditional high school/college language courses, becoming fluent in a second language at all let alone in a year or less is kind of epic.

What Constitutes Fluent

Defining fluency can be a little tricky at times, since there’s no real set goal line and a lot of people have differing opinion on where that line should be drawn. Our definition of fluency falls somewhere very near Randy of’s definition of fluency. We’re going with:

Fluency – The ability to express oneself fully in a fluid manner without any more pauses to think than might be expected of a native speaker. Must also be able to understand others expressing themselves in the same way and have a command of common slang comparative to that of a native speaker.

I’m not so concerned about trying to be grammatically correct all the time (I can’t even seem to pull that off in English) nor am I concerned about accent or superficial things like that – the basic goal is to be able to chat with a native speaker in the target language about nearly anything without any conversational difficulty (confusion, searching for words, misunderstandings etc.).

We’ll post about the method we plan to use to beat this challenge soon. For now though, here’s the official challenge.

The Challenge

In six months time (May 19th, 2011) Caroline and I will both be able to converse in spoken and written Korean well enough to meet the criteria above for fluency, i.e., we will be able to have natural, fluid conversations with any native Korean speaker we meet with no more difficulties than would be expected of a native speaker.

Have any advice? Think we’ll never be able to pull it off? Let us know.

The Method
Halfway Point Progress Update
The Conclusion

Winter Molt Challenge: Week 2

As encouraging as the first week was, this week was every bit as disheartening.

To start with, at the beginning of the week I was stricken with a particularly nasty cold. I would say flu, since I did have a fever, but there was no nausea – just fun things like constant chronic coughing, loss of my voice, sinuses more congested than the Cross Bronx Expressway and an unstoppable crew of cranial jackhammer operators.

As of today few of these symptoms have abated. Needless to say, I have had no interest in working out this week and have not only not started my daily high intensity interval training as I had originally planned, but I didn’t even do a single strength workout this week.

On top of that, the first of our three Thanksgiving dinners was held on the 12th. That means, in addition to not a single day of exercise, constant consumption of copious amounts of such nutritional staples as pumpkin pie, pumpkin ice cream and mashed potatoes among other things.

Surprisingly, of my 8 pounds lost in the first week, I only gained 3 pounds back. That is a serious relief for me, as I expected completely falling off the wagon as I did would have left me even heavier than when I first began.

I intend to be extra diligent in the coming week to make up for this past one as best as I possibly can. Some of you may be saying that I should have just sucked it up and worked out while sick, or just skipped out entirely on the Thanksgiving dinner.

That’s all well and good to say, but unfortunately I’m quite human. It would have been rude at best to skip out on dinner or not eat and, even if that weren’t the case, it would take superhuman willpower to resist Caroline’s cooking. As far as working out while sick, it would seem exceptionally foolish to put extra strain on my central nervous system and further weaken my immune system when I’m already ill. Sure it would’ve been the hardcore thing to do, but it also would have been the dumb thing to do.

Weight lost: -3 lbs.
Days left: 127
Weight left to lose: 51 lbs.
Current Goal Loss Rate: 2.8 lbs/week
Current Average Loss Rate: 2.5 lbs/week

This Week’s Lesson:
It is inevitable that forces beyond your control will cause you to screw up from time to time. What really makes or breaks how successful you are is how you deal with the bad things. Roll with the punches, get back on the horse, whatever metaphor you feel like tacking in there – it’s all about not letting it get to you. Better yet, don’t just roll with it, try and learn from it. I’ve learned that it’s not such a big deal if I screw up and have a terrible week, it just means I have to work a little harder to make up for it.

Winter Molt Challenge: Week 1

The first week is over and, so far, it’s going particularly well. I stuck to the plan as far as my workouts go and completed all three throughout the week. In addition to that, I was able to mostly stick to a diet of primarily protein and fat and avoid grains all week long. Surprisingly, I was rewarded for my efforts this morning with the scale telling me I am now 198 lbs. That means, in this week alone, I managed to lose 8 pounds. Considering my goal requires roughly 3 pounds lost per week, that’s a really great first step.

That being said, it may have been mostly water weight or some other factor which will either be quickly replaced or not reflected in the rate of the rest of my progress throughout the challenge. Regardless, it also gives me a little bit of leeway. Assuming I don’t put any of that weight back on, my weekly target has now dropped from around 3 lbs lost per week to around 2.5 lbs lost per week.

That will probably come in handy since I have three Thanksgiving dinners to deal with, one on the 12th at our house, one on Thanksgiving day at my parents’ house and then one the day after at Caroline’s.

Weight lost: 8 lbs.
Days left: 134
Weight left to lose: 48 lbs.
Current Goal Loss Rate: 2.5 lbs/week
Current Average Loss Rate: 8 lbs/week

This Week’s Lesson:
It may all come right back, it might be all water weight, it might just be an error with the digital scale – regardless, it does seem that it is possible to lose a lot more weight in a short period of time than I would have thought without resorting to unhealthy/unsustainable methods. It’s important not to let large, immediate gains like this get to you though since it can convince you to slack off. It remains to be seen if the remainder of the challenge will be this easy, or if it will get progressively harder to lose weight the closer I get to my goal.

Winter Molt Challenge: The Method

Yesterday I introduced the first challenge I’m going to undertake as a part of our Road to Epic project, losing 56 pounds in 141 days (20 weeks and 1 day). Today I’m going to outline my plan for how to accomplish my goal.

Boiled down to its essentials, losing fat and building muscle is a process determined entirely by two variables – how you use your body and what you put into it. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, it’s diet and exercise.

The Diet Parameters

For me, since my primary goal for this challenge is weight loss and muscle gain is a related but secondary goal I think the most important variable for me to focus on of the the two is going to be diet.

The obvious scientific option would be to come up with 3 meals that fit a desirable nutrient profile and stay within a set caloric range. For example, three meals that include items which have a full range of micro-nutrients (vitamins and minerals) and have the right balance of Protein, Fat and Carbohydrates, which all add up to an amount of calories that would keep me nourished but in a state of overall caloric deficit.

Each of these meals would be carefully weighed when prepared, and I would eat nothing but one of each of those three meals everyday for the duration of my challenge. That way, for the entire 141 days, I would know precisely my daily caloric intake and all the work of eating healthy would be done for me since I would have removed the option of choice.

Unfortunately, I see two problems with this. The first is the issue of willpower, temptation and my current situation. Not only do I think I would lack the willpower to not deviate from the set diet, even if a weekly off day were allowed, I currently work at a Korean restaurant and most of my meals are provided by them. Due to the somewhat unique situation there it would be really difficult for me to take my own meals.

The second issue is the fact that, like a lot of fad diets, this very robotic plan doesn’t really help me build good eating habits for when the challenge ends. There would be a very good chance that, upon reaching my goal and terminating that diet ritual, I would just fall back into old habits and pack the weight back on. I need to find ways to shift my eating habits that instill new good habits, rather than just temporarily removing my freedom of choice to engage in the bad ones.

I need to build eating habits that I can stay with for the rest of my life. That means that those eating habits need to be optimized for at least three things, losing/keeping off weight, promoting optimal health and building muscle.

Based on those three parameters, I think the best option is to follow something akin to the way Jack LaLanne has professed to eating – a rough paleo/primal diet. I don’t strictly mean the Paleo Diet as outlined by Loren Cordain, there are some points he advocates that I find doubtful, but rather an adherence to the more general core principles shared by the majority of primal eating advocates.

Distilled into a list, it goes like this:

  • Lots of meat, particularly including organ meat.
  • Lots of vegetables, with the few restrictions listed below.
  • As few grains as possible, as few legumes as possible and as few carbohydrate heavy vegetables as possible (starches, etc.)
  • No processed or refined foods. To quote LaLanne, ‘If Man made it, don’t eat it.’

That’s it. Lots of protein, lots of fat, very few carbohydrates and no processed garbage. Additionally, I expect this to realistically encompass about 95% of my actual diet. In other words, I expect to deviate from those rules at least 5% of the time, and that’s fine. I intend to research and refine these principles as we go, in order to do this as efficiently and scientifically as possible.

The Exercise Parameters

I don’t yet have nearly as solid of a plan formulated for how to manipulate the exercise variable in my favor as I do for the diet variable. I do know that, like the parameters set for my diet, those set for my new exercise habits need to fit some set criteria.

First, I want it to be something that is sustainable. I imagine, like the robotic diet mentioned above, I could formulate a very rigid, scientific exercise program that would achieve my challenge goal, but fall apart after I was finished. Any fitness plan I come up with needs to help me reach my challenge goal, but also be something that is feasibly able to continue indefinitely.

Second, it needs to be built around principles of increasing all areas of my physical fitness. While just focusing on calories burned would likely be the most efficient for my short term goals, partially in order to satisfy the first parameter, I want something that will improve as many areas of my physical fitness as possible.

Third, it needs to be built around things that I can do with my severely limited amount of equipment and extra funds. Exercise on a serious budget.

It will take some research and testing to figure out what will work best. In the interest of getting started with something immediately, I plan to do as follows:

For the first week I’ll start with only strength workouts to get back into the habit of exercise. The strength workout will be done 3 days out of the week with at least 1 rest day in-between each and will consist of 5 sets of 5 reps of squats with my sandbags, handstand pushups, and pull-ups as well as 5 planks for as long as possible.

In the second week, I will add in daily high intensity interval training. I’m not sure if I’ll go for sprints or some other exercise since the weather is quickly turning very cold, but we’ll see.

Eventually, I would also like to add in some flexibility training, but I’m going to worry about that later since it really doesn’t directly contribute to the goal of the challenge.

Does anyone have any other suggestions? Let me know in the comments.

The Winter Molt Challenge: Losing 56 lbs. in Under 4 Months

For my first challenge, I have decided to tackle something that I’ve struggled with for quite some time now – fitness. After all, being fat bars me from performing as well as I would like in a variety of skills which I’m currently pursuing such as parkour, martial arts and b-boying. Being fat is, in almost every way, a direct obstacle to being epic.

As I mentioned, this is an old fight for me. Back when I was a teenager I was a self-described butter-sucking eat beast topping out at one point at around 300 pounds. I fought hard to fix a whole lot of bad habits and, at 23 years old, am now a slightly more respectable 206 pounds.

Something happened though, after that final transition from monstrous to just plain chubby. I’m not sure if it’s just an issue of complacency, or other things in my life (college, work etc.) getting in the way but I’ve never been able to break that 200 pound line. I fight for a little while, and then I just kind of fall out of it and bounce back to where I was.

That is precisely why I have chosen it as my first Road to Epic challenge.

Starting today, November 1st (both the 1st of the month and a Monday, about as auspicious a date as I could hope for) I will challenge myself to reach my goal of 150 lbs. by the vernal equinox, March 21st. That gives me a little under 4 months to drop 56 lbs., or a little under 3 lbs. lost per week.

Along the way I’ll deconstruct everything I’m doing and examine what works and what doesn’t, providing all of you with progress reports and helpful tips as I go.

Anyone who is interested in taking the challenge with me should feel free to comment with your progress and any tips you may want to add.

Update: Here are some links to the rest of the articles in this challenge.
The Method I’ll be Following.
Results of Week 1.
Results of Week 2.
Results of Weeks 3 & 4.
Final Results.