Each year, as the old year winds down and a new year leaps excitedly at us, I set aside time for introspection. To review the past year and envision the new year. In the past, I set goals for each year, as many of us do. I’d type my New Year’s resolutions and post them on the wall. Then promptly go about not fulfilling them.
Three years ago I started making a new type of New Year’s resolution. Rather than focus on goals, I focused on behaviors. I set specific, measurable activities I needed to perform on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. I then tracked how I was doing in a spreadsheet.
For the most part, this worked. I now exercise daily, eat healthier and write regularly. I’ve lost weight, developed better friendships and am overall much happier.
Due to some major life changes, though, I stopped consistently tracking my resolutions in early 2011. Surprisingly, it hasn’t affected my activities–they’ve become habits, not just resolutions.
Thus, this year, I’m trying something new again. Instead of behavior-based resolutions, I’m choosing a motto as an overarching theme and 7 verbs that I aim to explore this year. I have thoughts in mind on how to explore these, but am purposely leaving myself open to experimentation.
My motto comes from Neil Gaiman’s New Year’s Wish:
Make More Mistakes
Mistakes are how we learn, how we grow and how we become proficient. In business, in relationships, in dance and everything else I do, I want to push myself farther. I already make mistakes all the time. But I want to make more of them. I want to become comfortable with failure, to be able to embrace it, rather than merely tolerate it. To actively seek it out.
I chose verbs, rather than resolutions, because I no longer have destinations in mind. I am exploring new territories and don’t want to presume what I’ll find. The verbs give me a direction, but allow me to be flexible. Each verb resonates through my personal, professional and business lives in different ways.
But I don’t intend for these to be abstract concepts. For each verb, I plan to take specific, measurable actions. It’s just that these actions may change over the course of the year, and I haven’t yet figured out what the actions will be for all of the verbs yet.
Appreciating others and the world around you makes both you and others happier. But expressing appreciation, especially to others, does not come naturally to me. My Myers-Briggs temperament is NT and I tend to forget about feelings and emotions.
This year I aim to express my appreciation of others more often, both at work and in my personal life. Ultimately, I want to learn how to express gratitude, thankfulness and appreciation as separate emotions. At some point I’ll start keeping a gratitude journal, which studies show is one of the most effective ways of increasing your subjective happiness. But for now, I’ll start with appreciation.
My initial specific, measurable action for Appreciate is to once a week tell someone what I appreciate about them.
Helping others feels good, and increases your own happiness. Helping others binds us closer to our community and allows us to develop stronger relationships.
Pay it forward gets used a lot in the startup community, and I wholeheartedly agree with this. This year I want to explore the differences between helping, volunteering and mentoring. They have subtle differences.
Last year I had the resolution to help out a friend or volunteer once a week. This worked out in the beginning, but I lost momentum. I jumped around between different activities, then overbooked myself on volunteer work with little time left for helping others. This year I want to focus on helping my friends more–being helpful on an individual level, rather than a group or community level.
Natively I’m an introvert. And while I’ve learned how to turn on being social for networking events or parties, I’m still socially awkward inside. That, combined with a focus on work and accomplishment, means I don’t connect with others as often as I should.
This year I want to improve my social skills: in business, dating and friendships. I want to remember to build the personal connection with others before jumping straight into business; it’s the oil that keeps things running smoothly when you hit bumps in the road. In my personal life, I want to remember to reach out to others more, and nurture my friendships.
Last year I had the resolution of taking one person out to lunch once a week. I got busy and it went by the wayside, but it worked well when I was doing it. I’m going to start this again this year and see how it works out.
Complexity breeds unnecessary work. It increases costs, multiplies maintenance and diffuses focus. In software we now aim for simpler user interfaces, fewer features and just-in-time architectures. In my personal life, I’ve reduced the amount of stuff I own; stuff I no longer need to store, clean, maintain or think about. The lifting of the psychological burden of owning unnecessary stuff has been awesome.
This year I aim to continue simplifying. If I haven’t used something in the past year, I should get rid of it. I’ll continue reducing the number of e-mail newsletters I receive and focus only on those that are relevant for me right now. I aim to have fewer projects, fewer products and fewer features. I want to double-down my time, money and effort on things that work and get rid of the long tail that requires more maintenance, mindshare and money than I get back in return.
Exercise gives us energy, makes us happier, enables us to do more with our lives and improves our health. I’ve made great strides in the past couple years integrating yoga, strength training and cardiovascular activities into my life.
This year I plan to transition into a maintenance mode, where exercise remains an ongoing habit, but doesn’t take up as much of my focus to keep it going. I’ve learned a lot over the past couple years watching videos, reading books and working with instructors. This is the year of integration, where the knowledge and practice sink into my subconscious. If I can do this, while maintaining regular exercise, I’ll have succeeded.
Savor came about because I was looking for a verb which meant “to eat healthier”. I couldn’t find one. Yet, savor represents what I want to achieve in my eating habits, as well other areas of my life.
When eating, I need to learn how to chew more and eat slowly (I have a habit of getting food stuck in my throat). But I also want to learn to savor the taste of food–especially healthy food. To make it enjoyable beyond fleeting tastes that need to be sustained with another bite.
I also want to learn to savor experiences, people and life in general. I want to develop mindfulness, a practice which heightens your happiness, improves your concentration and adds to your effectiveness. Last year I started a 10-day meditation program called Get Some Headspace, but I got busy and never finished. This year I want to try again, and practice other techniques that allow me to savor life more.
Last night I was talking to my friend Justin about these verbs, and he came up with another way to explore Savor that I plan to embark on. Each month pick a different sense and learn to savor that sense. Plan activities with friends around that sense. I don’t have to be limited to the five traditional senses either; there’s a range of senses, like balance, that I can play with.
Extend is about pushing myself out of my comfort zone. Doing things that challenge my sense of identity, discarding phantom rules and trying out new paradigms.
I don’t know yet how I will explore Extend. But I feel it’s a key part of continuing to learn and grow, and it’s easy to get comfortable as we get older and no longer need to push ourselves outside our comfort zone to survive. I want to make extending myself into a lifelong habit. I’ve done a decent job so far, but there are areas I can improve.
Thus, this year I aim to do things that make me uncomfortable…hopefully making a lot of mistakes along the way!
What resolutions have you chosen for this year and how do you plan to fulfill them?