Hack your New Year's resolutions with these startup strategies

By Michael Carney , written on December 31, 2013

From The News Desk

Entrepreneurs are notorious tinkerers who routinely take what other people see as problems and turn them into business opportunities. There’s even a startup methodology called "Lean Startup" devoted to conducting numerous small, measurable experiments to find the minimum viable prescription to drive business success.

It’s no surprise then that some entrepreneurs would apply similar hacker’s mentality to their own lives and bodies. There are areas of life where taking an entrepreneurial mindset and making small, calculated changes can result in a serious boost in performance and, ultimately, happiness.

With 2013 rapidly coming to a close and a new year beginning, it’s a natural time to think about potential life hacks worth implementing to create the best version of yourself. As a reporter, I'm obsessed with startups and what makes them tick. As a fitness devotee, I care about my health. Here I get to combine the two.

Consider this a jumping off point, a choose-your-own-adventure primer to entrepreneurial life hacking for the new year.

1. Reevaluate your diet and experiment with new dietary styles

"You are what you eat" is basic biology. For any entrepreneur who hopes to gain a (legal) competitive edge over his competition, eating well is a must.

There is no right answer to the question what’s the optimal diet? But there are a number of popular theories and enough data and anecdotal evidence out there to choose a jumping off point. Many entrepreneurs and life hackers have experimented with eating a Paleo (aka, “primal” or “ancestral”) diet. Others swear by vegetarianism, veganism, raw foodism, intermittent fasting, and other methods.

But one permeates them all. Whether you prefer meat or vegetables, low-fat or low-carb, cooked or raw, it’s hard to go wrong eating “real food.” That’s food produced by the earth in a form that can be delivered to your plate with minimal processing.

Given the fact that many entrepreneurs subsist on a diet compressed primarily of ramen noodles, hot pockets, Red Bull, and Keystone Light, almost anything would be an improvement. Choose the dietary style that makes you feel the best physically (and possibly mentally or ethically, if that's your thing).

Shift your eating habits completely and stick with the new diet for a minimum of 30 days before making any judgements about effectiveness. At the same time, per lean startup thinking, don’t be afraid to try try several of these or other dietary systems – with appropriate commitment to each – to find the one that works best for you. There are real performance gains to achieve beyond "looking better."

2. Make sleep a priority, but know that not all sleep is created equal.

Next to nutrition, sleep and the physical and mental restoration that takes place during this period, is important to functioning well. For some, one solid block of eight hours may not be in the cards.

Rather than think about sleep in the traditional sense, where you devote a large block of time to rest, consider budgeting your time. That might sound like it wouldn't give you the rest you need, but some swear by an alternative sleep regimen called polyphasic sleep -- sleeping in multiple smaller sessions, each 24 hours.

Various polyphasic sleep prescriptions include sleeping in two blocks of three to four hours per day and sleeping one block of three to four hours in conjunction with multiple 45 to 60 minute naps. Armed with such methods, some claim it’s possible to reduce the overall sleep requirement well below the recommended six to eight hours. The (unproven) theory behind polyphasic sleep is that the body adapts to fill nearly all of its limited sleeping time with REM, or deep sleep, and eliminates the less restorative non-REM sleep.

Personal development author Steve Pavlina conducted (and documented) perhaps the most extensive modern polyphasic sleep experiment. For nearly six months in 2004 and 2005, he followed a schedule of sleeping in only six 20 minute increments spaced evenly every four hours over a 24 hour period – yes, that’s just two hours of total sleep per day. Pavlina, like others, claims that after an initial adjustment period, his body adapted to the alternate sleep schedule and even experienced performance benefits, beyond the obvious addition of approximately four more waking hours each day.

It’s not a method for the faint of heart and can obviously be difficult to implement within family, romantic, or professional relationships that exist within more traditional waking and sleeping schedules. It was this conflict with his family’s sleep routine, rather than his personal performance or degree of restfulness that Pavlina claims led him to abandon the experiment after a half-year.

Like diet, there is no one universal prescription for sleep. Beyond going polyphasic, there are several more moderate strategies worth experimenting with to improve sleep, including using blue light when waking in the morning, managing blood sugar before bed, using ice baths or other forms of cold therapy, and meditating or eliminating stressful tasks late at night. Think critically about how you'd like to see your sleep improve and choose your strategy accordingly, conducting small tests and measuring their effectiveness.

3. Learn a new language or other valuable skill.

The best hackers are constantly learning the newest programming languages, system architectures, and design trends. The self-improvement-focused entrepreneur should apply this relentless curiosity to their own life. The brain, like any muscle in the body, benefits from regular exercise and also from variety. The act of learning a new skill is one of the best ways to exercise the brain, and one that comes with the benefit of adding to your life toolbox.

Learning another language does not just offer a valuable skill, the process also keeps your brain sharp. It's loke a well-thought-out workout for your mind. There are countless strategies and methods for learning a new language, including online and in-person lessons, software-based courses, and the tried and true methods of watching foreign TV and videos or dating a native speaker of a foreign language.

Like many skills on this list, the method is often less important than the commitment in seeing the task through. Unless you’re a true savant, languages aren’t learned overnight. It’s reasonable, though, to make meaningful progress over the course of a year. To that end, consider setting the goal of being conversationally proficient in a new language by the end of 2014.

Beyond language learning, cooking, dancing, painting, and coding are other mentally stimulating and generally beneficial skills to add to your repertoire. Or start meditating. Or take up a sport like tennis, ping pong, bowling or cricket. Or learn a musical instrument.

The key is to continue to grow and challenge yourself.

[Image via WallSave]