The year is coming to an end, and whenever that happens I get into a rather wistful and contemplative mood. There’s a sense of winding down, of taking time to reflect upon the past. I was looking through my archives and it looks like I’ve been doing this consistently for almost all of the 2010s so far. There are two or three instances that I tend to write about – I write at the end of the year to review how it’s gone, I write at the dawn of the new year to plan ahead, and I write on my birthday (which conveniently falls in June, right in the middle) to take stock of how things are going.
Here’s what I’ve noticed from examining my past few years’ worth of notes.
I have the same recurring goals over and over again. They’re the most fundamental of goals. Sleep more, sleep better. Avoid cigarettes. Eat healthier. Exercise more. Read more. Write more. Spend less time dicking around on the internet. Spend more time with loved ones. Make time to try new, different and challenging things. Grow as a person.
I don’t make a lot of progress on these goals. When I compare myself today to myself from 2-3 years ago, there’s obvious progress. But it’s not as dramatic as I’d like it to be. I’ve gotten rather bored with how often I’m repeating myself, and I’ve definitely gotten bored of saying that I’m bored. I’m trapped in this little cycle. Which is frustrating, because I already feel quite trapped by my circumstances – living in a small flat, struggling through a lengthy commute, day after week after month after year. It’s silly if I’m also going to trap myself in old patterns of thinking, patterns of behavior.
A friend repeatedly says that 27 is the year that everything changes. You’re too close to 30 now to keep dicking around. Your time is too precious, and you’ve wasted too much already. Well I hope he’s right. But I can’t depend on hope alone, either. I have to put in the effort. I have to change something about how I’ve been doing things. I find myself thinking that there are parallels between the way I’m currently operating and the way I used to play video games as a child. I’ve written this several times now surely – 0194. I couldn’t break through the plateau until I stopped making the fundamental mistake, which was spending way too much at the start on infrastructure and then getting eaten alive by the maintenance costs. You have to grow organically.
If I’m forced to draw a parallel, just for fun, I think the mistake I make here is that I think way too big and plan way too far ahead. And I probably incur some sort of maintenance costs from that. What I should I be doing instead? The same thing with the city – start really really small. Focus on an hour at a time, a day at a time. You win the year by winning the months, the months by winning the weeks, the weeks by winning the days. I’ve been hit hard by the fact that I always think “1 word vomit a day isn’t a big deal”, and yet every year I publish far less than 365 word vomits. If I had just stuck to 1 a day, I would have been done by now. It’s a sobering reminder of the power of accumulation. It’s actually worth doing 5 pushups a day if you can, run for 5 minutes if you can. It seems trivial but it’s really not, it really adds up. So maybe that’s what I’m going to do in 2017. I’m going to focus on the smallest wins – smaller than anything I’ve done before. I’m not going to try to win the whole year. I’m going to try to win the first week. And then the 2nd week. And I’m going to do weekly and monthly reviews. I’ve already been doing weekly reviews for the past 10+ weeks – they haven’t been perfect, but they’ve been done.
There’s two things that I need to focus on to get that right. I need to have a daily routine where I check my calendar several times, and I need to update it regularly. I’m doing that now. I need to make sure every day is as filled as I possibly can fill it – not with what I’m planning to do, but with what I actually did. If I can do this every day, I will be able to see a much clearer picture of how I’m spending my time – and I can make adjustments accordingly in real time.
It’s still November. I want to be doing this for all of December and January and I want to do it for as long as I can. If I screw up for a week or a month, I want to get right back on track. It’s all about focusing on what’s in front of my face, on what I can do now that will contribute towards my larger vision, towards my larger goals for myself. There’s no point trying to over-articulate those bigger picture things until I can get to the relative cutting-edge of whatever it is that I’m working on, because that will give me the perspective and context I need in order to make bets.
I was re-reading Cal Newport’s So Good They Can’t Ignore You. While I thought I had internalised the idea, there are still a few useful points to reference and ruminate on. I thought he made a great point about the necessity of career capital, and about how courage is insufficient early on but necessary later once you’ve paid your dues. There was a great bit about how… something along the lines of – if a little introspection, day-dreaming, imagination and idealism was all it took to change the world, tonnes of people would be making massive impact.
The thing that I want to do is HARD. It’s PAINFUL. Most people QUIT. And I have a long history of quitting when things get hard and painful. The path I have taken so far has not been the most efficient, has not been the best. But I am not down for the count. I’m coming back. I will be better and stronger because of it.