Half of 2021 is gone, and good riddance to it. This has not been a great year, and in fact I would even say my second quarter has been as bad as 2020.
My little parrot died, I had a major family crisis, our good friend got hit by a car and gravely injured, I spent last Sunday in urgent care, and right now half my face is numb because I was just at the periodontist again. The only things that are going well in my life are my marriage, my job, and my finances - which is more or less the opposite of where I was 20ish years ago, so at least that’s something.
I’m freaked out, grieving, worried about too many people with too much going on, and wandering through another medical labyrinth.
This makes it as good a time as any to think about goals and resolutions. At least it’s a distraction. When it’s raining bowling balls, the only things that are going to go our way are things that we have planned, researched, and put into motion ourselves. We certainly can’t wait around for destiny or luck.
Something I need to do - besides scheduling seemingly endless medical and dental appointments - is to figure out, what kind of fun things do I want to do for summer? Normally by this time of year, I already have plans for my birthday and our wedding anniversary. Right now I am wracking my brain trying to remember, what was fun?? Were there really things that used to be relaxing and enjoyable?
Imagine having three weeks of paid vacation time and no idea what to do with it.
It’s my feeling that a summer can disappear almost as quickly as a weekend. It’s not so much that we need Plans as that it can be diverting to make a list of summery things to do. Last year I illustrated a whole page in my bullet journal. One of my items was to taste-test every flavor of La Croix, and I’m happy to report that I managed to do this.
How busy are we if we need to remind ourselves to try to have a good time?
My goal for the third quarter of 2021 is to “do summertime things” such as sitting under a beach umbrella, eating an ice cream cone, and perhaps trying on some roller skates.
As for my yearly goals, how am I doing?
My personal goal was to expel my math anxiety. I probably won’t start working on this until September to be honest.
My career goal is to become a futurist. I sort of just realized that I can technically claim this as true. I am already on the strategic advisory council and the horizon scanning team, I put out a futurism newsletter five days a week, and I’ve been asked to do another quarterly company newsletter with, get this, a comic strip! Things are moving in the correct direction seemingly without effort. It’s true what they say, that if you do something you truly love, then it doesn’t really feel like work.
My physical goal was to get back to my goal weight. I have made zero progress in the past year and a half, and I think I finally know why. I had my TSH hormone levels checked this week, and it turns out I’m right back to where I was in my early 20s when I had a thyroid nodule and all sorts of other problems. Now my goal is just to get my TSH levels back up and see if it corrects the issues that I believe it will. Two of those are having difficulty losing weight, and constantly being freezing cold. I’ve worked out every day this week and I’m already feeling better.
My home goal was to “probably move to a larger home.” I am not sure whether this will happen this year. It appears that our dinky apartment may be one of the best options in our area. Where we live, there are a lot of units dedicated to summer rentals, so this is the worst time to try to move. Maybe we will start looking again in the fall. Otherwise, I think this goal depends on whether we are asked to relocate at some point, and there is no telling when that might or might not happen.
Our couples goal was to save for a house. We are crushing this, yet on the other hand, house prices are quite high and apparently the market is very hot. Maybe this will not be the year to buy. The great thing about savings is that it’s still there when you go back to check it again.
My stop goal was to stop hoarding reading material. I have successfully eliminated one entire reading queue and I am in good shape on another. As usual with my stop goals, it’s a bigger issue than I had fully grasped and it will probably take me all year to get there.
My lifestyle upgrade was to get a new bed. We have gotten as far as choosing three options for bed frames. That raised the issue that none of them matched any of the other furniture in our bedroom. Not that everything needs to “match” but at the moment, every single thing with a wood finish in our apartment is a different color. The plan is to order the bed frame first, before choosing a mattress, because rumor has it that new furniture can take months to ship.
My Do the Obvious was to assume another year of working from home. We are indeed still working from home. I went on a tour of my work site and got a badge - with a very terrible photo - but I do not have a desk and I have no idea where in the building I would sit. I have a strong suspicion that we will all still be working from home through the end of 2021. Solid prediction there.
My ultralearning goal was to learn data visualization. The more I learn, the more I realize there is to learn. Right now I’m working on a graphics project that should be pretty awesome if I can get it done to my standards.
My quest is to run a 50-mile ultramarathon for my 50th birthday. Somehow I only have four years left to train, and how the heck did that happen?? I can share that I bought new running shoes and managed to run a quarter mile without stopping.
My wish was to visit my family safely. I DID IT! We all got our shots and I wore a space helmet on all my flights and nobody got sick.
We have been very lucky in that virtually everyone we know ran out and got their COVID-19 vaccinations as soon as they could. Most of the people we know are essential workers, so we got in the front of the queue. We have tentatively started seeing vaccinated friends in small groups, and so far we have not had to give any slackers the bum’s rush.
We are all halfway through 2021, meaning there is still plenty of time to make things happen. Whether that is taking a nap, going to the dentist, walking in the park, or hanging up a bird feeder, only you will care enough to do things for yourself that make you smile.
Let’s all do what we can to make the back half of 2021 better than the front half.
Personal: To expel my math anxiety
Career: Become a futurist - IN PROGRESS
Physical: Back to my goal weight
Home: Probably move to a larger home
Couples: Save for a house - IN PROGRESS
Stop goal: Stop hoarding reading material - IN PROGRESS
Lifestyle upgrades: New bed - IN PROGRESS
Do the Obvious: Assume another year of WFH - IN PROGRESS
Ultralearning: Data visualization - Tableau, Excel, etc. - IN PROGRESS
Quest: 50 for 50 ultramarathon (2025) - IN PROGRESS
Wish: To visit my family safely - SUCCESS
Noelie is home again, after her second separate weekend in the veterinary hospital. She’s eating on her own and she can sleep standing on one foot with her head tucked backward, which is more than I can do, so hey.
I didn’t know what was going to happen over this long holiday weekend. I feared the inevitable. Not too many parrots have been known to survive a stroke. I decided not to cancel my plans to go camping, so I could creep off to cry in the trees and meditate on all that circle of life business.
Time enough to find out the sad news after we came down off the mountain again. In the meantime, let me pretend that all this is uncertain. Schrodinger’s Parrot.
I set out alone to walk around the lake, a distance somewhere between seven and eight miles. This would be the farthest distance I have traveled on foot since I came down with COVID last year. Actually about double.
What I didn’t know, when I set out, was that there was not a clear path around the entire lake.
This is life. You make these big impressive plans and set out to accomplish them, often as a way to escape a situation or a grief or a trauma, and then realize that what you are doing isn’t what you thought it was going to be.
I walked over sand
I walked over rocks
I walked straight into a bog
My socks got wet
I didn’t know where I was
I couldn’t find the path
I wandered in the trees and realized the sun was going to set
I was in the home stretch, only a mile or so from camp, tired and dehydrated and feeling dumb as heck
When I turned around and decided to go back in the woods again
And I saw these rare flowers, trilliums, that supposedly take seven years to bloom
Oh, I should take a picture of these, I thought, and got out my phone
Only to see an incoming text message. Out here?
A video of my little parrot Noelle, standing at her dish and eating, which used to be the most ordinary thing in the world
But which now constituted PROOF OF LIFE
And I stood there in the Bog of Confusion and texted my husband and found out that she was home again.
A few minutes later I had found the trail - a messy and muddy trail, unimproved, large sections washed out in knee-deep pools of water, blocked by half a dozen fallen trees - and half an hour later I was back in camp
Where everyone thought I had been in my tent taking a nap the whole time.
I was not lost
I did not need a search party
I didn’t even get a mosquito bite, despite the bog
And I drank nearly two liters of water and ate two burgers
And told everybody about my sweet little birdie
And there was much rejoicing.
I thought to myself, if I can walk seven miles then maybe I can walk ten
Maybe I can run-walk soon
Only a year ago I could barely stand up long enough to fold a basket of laundry
And now I can carry a 30-pound pack down the stairs again.
I can pitch my tent, I can put my sleeping bag in the compression sack, I can survive a night when the temperature is 43F
I did it all
And if I can survive coronavirus, then maybe my baby bean can survive her stroke after all.
When I got back to town I talked to my husband and he shared about what he has learned from the vet. She has been checking in a lot.
We are now on the cutting edge of veterinary science
She only knows of one other parrot who has had the same symptoms as my girl
That bird was messed up for a few months
BUT IT RECOVERED
And she is not writing her off by any means!
Let’s remember her as an acrobat, chatty, musical, demanding little diva
And not as this sorry creature with dizzy spells who cannot preen her own tail.
Let us hope and pray together that she will recover, like this other bird supposedly has, that she will continue her upward trend and start to collect her personality back into herself.
Let us wish for her that she will have better balance and better strength and more appetite, that she will return to her cheerful little self
just like her mama did
And let’s also take a few moments to think about whatever the heck miracles might be.
I shared about Noelie’s story before going off grid for the weekend
Because my heart was heavy and I didn’t know how to do anything else
But also because I had this inkling that positive thoughts might work, and asking would be harmless.
I thought of all the many friends my little parrot has made, with her sweet nature and kisses and all the times she has posed for photos, the happiness she has distributed
I thought, if any of her many friends were to pause for a moment and think of her, let their hearts go out to her
Maybe there would be something to it?
It seems like probably there was!
I wanted everyone to know that whatever we have been doing together in this project, it seems to be working!
Now if you’re looking for a simple homework assignment, if you want to participate in this endeavor of willing my small bird back to health, this is the task:
Visualize her successfully grooming her lovely red tail and doing her bird yoga.
I will be home with her again soon - and my poor hubby as well, of course - and my visualization is holding her again. I know and trust that she will be there to greet me, that she has another week in her.
That she may be stronger and healthier in a week than she is today.
As may we all.
Aw heck. Is it April already?
I did something this month that I’ve never done before, and that is to completely forget that it was time to do my goals check-in. I blew it.
Possibly like a lot of people, I am thoroughly fed up, bored, and annoyed by isolation. I’m climbing the walls of our dinky apartment. I don’t want to do any of the things I am allowed to do, while simultaneously not feeling like doing any of the stuff I’m not allowed to do, either. It’s not like, I dunno, flying to Japan would even be fun right now.
All I do is work and clean my apartment! Blearghhhhh!
Okay, now that I have that out of my system, what have I actually done this year and what do I intend to do with the remaining three quarters of the year?
Well, one thing was that I got my first shot! Hooray! Another is that I’m coming along in my Italian lessons. And another is that I’m trying to teach Noelle how to open a La Croix can, which will either prove to be my single best or single worst idea of all time.
My personal goal was to work on my math anxiety. I don’t even care who knows that I have not started working on this yet. I’m building up to it. In fact, I think I’m close to working up a head of steam on the idea that I can Prove Something to my engineer husband, who thinks my current math skills are comical to the extreme.
My career goal is to become a futurist. I have actually made good traction on this. I found out the application deadlines for grad school are months earlier than I had assumed, so now I know that I can start applying in August for academic year 2022. (Which does give me plenty of time to study remedial math...) I’ve also discovered which universities have programs that interest me, including one where I could study both futurism and space policy. Cool, right??
My physical goal is to get back to my goal weight. I got another chiding little note from Kaiser, an action plan to lose three pounds. I am pleased to say that I finally seem to have broken the barrier on this thing that I have been actively trying to do for something like a year and a half. I am DETERMINED!!! to reach my goal by my birthday this year, or at least be well on my way.
My home goal is probably to move to a larger home. Progress on this is that we’ve started looking at listings. We reminded ourselves that in our region at this time of year, the focus is on short-term rentals and summer listings, because apparently people from all over the world will pay high prices to rent a place here for one to three months. There wasn’t a single available place we saw in our price range where we would want to live. Probably we will start to have better luck at the end of summer.
Our couples goal is to save for a house. We are making such great progress that it is positively cheering us up. Yet it will take a Hollywood-level miracle for us to buy a house here for us to live in. I wouldn’t rule it out, but if we buy a place it will probably be a rental property elsewhere.
My stop goal is to stop hoarding reading material. I am very proud of my progress in this area! This was the stop goal from Heck-Darn, which I assure you is a real place. I am not “done” yet, but I’ve got all my various reading queues down to the double digits, rather than four digits. Two orders of magnitude! I know I can nail this before the end of the year, and possibly even by the end of the quarter.
Our lifestyle upgrade is to buy a new bed. We are waiting until we can safely visit a mattress store in person and test them out. We were also thinking about swapping them out when we move, so we can be sure the new bed will fit in the new home. (A lot of beach real estate has tiny, narrow little bedrooms). This one hasn’t happened yet, but we already have the money set aside and we’re counting the days.
In the meantime, our biggest lifestyle upgrade is probably that we both got our first shot! We’re two weeks away from getting our second dose of the Pfizer vaccine, and we couldn’t be more thrilled.
My Do the Obvious was to assume another year of working from home. Well, here we are, still working at home. If I eventually turn out to be wrong, it hasn’t happened yet. I’m sticking to my original prediction, from before I personally contracted COVID, that the pandemic won’t be officially “over” until January 2023. By “over” I mean that it’s safe to travel anywhere in the world without worrying about being exposed to coronavirus. Still waiting on that.
My ultralearning goal is data visualization. I can say that sometimes it feels like all I do is look at various formats of data visualization. I’m officially taking courses in both Tableau and Excel at work, so not only am I working on this goal, I’m getting paid to do so. What I’ve learned so far is that this is a complicated topic and also something of an art form.
My quest is to run a 50-mile ultramarathon for my 50th birthday. This will be yet another Hollywood-style miracle if I can pull it off. I have been plugging away at the elliptical several days a week, so I wouldn’t completely rule it out. Right now, running one mile outdoors would be pretty impressive for me.
My wish is to visit my family safely. Right now I’m pacing the floor waiting for the last few stragglers to please, please, pretty please get their vaccines. The last thing I would want to do is show up from LAX swarming with germs and get my favorite people deathly ill. Right now I guess we’re all stuck with Zoom.
I set out to write this post in a somewhat surly mood, disappointed with myself for not giving my goals much thought over the past three months. As I reviewed my progress, I started feeling gradually more excited, realizing that I really was on track in several areas. I reminded myself why I had chosen these things. Okay, I don’t really wanna sit around doing grade school math, but I think I will eventually. Everything else on my list is perfectly fine. I can see myself swanning around our new place, only to flop backward onto our new bed, satisfied with all the hard work and studying I have been doing.
How about you? How is your year going?
Personal: To expel my math anxiety
Career: Become a futurist
Physical: Back to my goal weight
Home: Probably move to a larger home
Couples: Save for a house
Stop goal: Stop hoarding reading material
Lifestyle upgrades: New bed
Do the Obvious: Assume another year of WFH
Ultralearning: Data visualization - Tableau, Excel, etc.
Quest: 50 for 50 ultramarathon (2025)
Wish: To visit my family safely
Skip January, I always say. I think the reason most people quit on their New Year’s Resolutions is that they feel like they need a perfect streak for it to really count. New Year’s Eve, in this formulation, is a magical portal that only exists for a few hours, and if the perfect streak is not maintained, then the spell is broken and the new habit is now forever off-limits.
I just added in a loophole that January is for getting ready, and nothing counts until February.
February is a good sampler month because it’s the shortest month, the weather in the Northern Hemisphere is usually terrible, and there’s not much else to do unless you love Valentine’s Day - which I’m gathering most of you don’t?
I made a bunch of New Year’s Resolutions, most of which I haven’t touched yet. Worse than that, I haven’t even finished filling out my goal planner, which is absolutely unprecedented in my life. I actually feel really bad about that because it’s a gift I give myself, and if I can’t find time once a year for something I find very fun and rewarding, then what is going on??
Scope creep and overkill?
A lot of us feel like we’re letting ourselves down in some way. We don’t like setting goals because we feel like failures when we aren’t able to crush those goals in some kind of world-record timeframe.
Slow and steady is realistic, yet too boring to be inspirational.
What I’ve found from tracking my resolutions and goals on a quarterly basis is that it’s a lot easier to achieve these goals when they’re layered. Trying to do every single thing at once basically guarantees that none of it will happen.
The first goal for everyone should probably be baseline contentment.
This is something that’s been tougher for me. I always feel like I should be strenuously Doing Something. It’s an ADHD problem. I’m not great at simply sitting. This concept of “Netflix and chill” is a little mystifying to me.
My work buddy mentioned that she binge-watched an entire series over the weekend - something on cybersecurity - and I blinked in surprise. A whole series?? But you’d have to watch three or four hours a day! Is that even possible?? What would you do, just sit there??
What did you do the rest of the weekend?
It’s actually something to think about. What can you add to your baseline habits that would be fun?
‘Habit’ always seems to be seen in the context of ‘bad.’ When we think ‘habit’ we think of removing or stopping or quitting or taking away. This is very tough on human psychology, and probably not a useful formulation for a goal.
An example would be our poor old dog Spike. When he was a young dog, we got him a laser pointer, and he reacted to it about the way that any grade-school kid would react to getting a PlayStation 5. We would try to hide it, and he would sniff out where it was, and he would stare at that spot and bark obsessively.
The day we moved from that house, we took down the wall sorter where the laser pointer had been kept. He barked at the movers and showed them the blank spot on the wall and barked some more, asking if they would play with him, even though there was nothing there anymore.
See, it’s hard to eliminate a habit!
It’s much more tempting to think of something positive that you want to add to your life, and make it as easy and appealing to do as possible. By this method, you can gradually crowd out habits that you wish would go away, and eventually, they will.
For someone like my work buddy who likes to binge-watch TV, there are a raft of habits that can be added without letting go of the binge-watching. Putting on lotion. Doing your own mani-pedi. Stretching or doing PT exercises. Folding laundry. Brushing out your pets. Using a percussion massager or a facial steamer. Mindlessly eating a large salad. Who knows what else?
It’s also possible to watch TV on fitness equipment, like a treadmill or elliptical, although personally I find that this makes both the show and the workout feel ten hours long.
As I said, I haven’t done much on my goals yet this year, because I don’t take January seriously as a goal month. I have done a few things, though, in the spirit of getting ready.
I set up my new bullet journal, which is bright yellow and which I like very much.
I lost four pounds, a great start, although a pound a week is not exactly magazine-feature material.
I started using a language app to learn to speak Italian, and according to the app, I’ve already learned 78 words, even though I can’t seem to maintain a streak.
*** I hate streaks ***
I upgraded my phone and my fitness tracker and got them both up and running.
I got a laptop charging station and organized all the cables at my desk for work.
I scheduled up my periodontist appointments.
I learned how to order grocery delivery through multiple services.
I went through my digital hoard and got numbers. Confronting the extent of a problem is the most painful part - the clarity, the wake-up call - but that cold clear reality is what helps drive change.
So... I had a thousand items in my ‘Read at Leisure’ email folder, 700 in one news queue, 1000 in another, and yet another 1000 in yet another. This is not including various library app bookshelves. Nearly four thousand articles, why??
I got some apps and started making a dent. I’m now reading through stuff faster than I’m accumulating it, which means there is hope for me yet.
While it’s still true that I haven’t done a single thing toward most of my goals and resolutions for the year, I have done *some* things to make my life easier. Many of the things I have done in January are set-up tasks that I won’t have to do again. I’ve streamlined a few areas and bought myself some time.
Now, as I do at the first of every month, it’s time to pause and look at my list of goals and resolutions, where I wrote them longhand in the front of my bullet journal. Are these things I’m still committed to doing?
Okay, then when am I going to do them?
It’s February and it’s time to get started.
Most goals are easier than we think, especially if we pick the kind of commodity goals that millions of other people have already done.
Commodity goal - I just made that up and I think I’ll keep it!
A commodity is something that is widespread, inexpensive, and easy to acquire, like... ketchup packets. If you want to start a ketchup packet business, best of luck to you, because you’re going to need a pretty excellent idea to disrupt that industry.
Just like ketchup packets, a lot of goals are standardized and very easy to find.
Also just like ketchup packets, a lot of goals wind up never being used and just clutter up the place.
What are we keeping those commodity goals for, to impress people? Not hardly. Almost everyone has a ketchup packet problem. It’s more like we never realized they were building up to that point.
About your goals, I would ask the same questions that I would ask my hoarders about their ketchup packets.
When are you going to use them?
What are you going to use them for?
Throw them away, give them to someone else, or just start having, say, Tater Tot Fridays and eating your ketchup packets at home instead of adding more. Hey presto, problem solved.
It’s the same thing with goals and resolutions.
When are you going to do it?
What do you need to make it happen?
I was just talking to my friend about her resolution to DRINK MORE WATER (Hark! A commodity goal!). I pointed out that I have the same issue - true - and that I use a hydration app to remind me to drink enough fluids. Another way to go about it is to buy one of those water bottles with the hours of the day marked on it, or maybe a pretty one with a crystal in it or something.
The hydration answer would then be, When? First thing in the morning and then throughout the day. What? An attractive water bottle and/or a hydration app.
Another fairly common goal is to learn a new language. I love this goal for everyone in the galaxy so much that I refuse to label it as a commodity goal, but it sort of is. I’m personally working on my [counting...] seventh language and it’s the most fun possible. (Am I fluent? No. Can I read signs and menus and book tickets? Yes). I have a lot of advice on this particular one.
Where people lose track on the language front is in either thinking that they have to study the same way they did in a school classroom, which is destined to failure for 99.5% of American students, or spend a bunch of money buying Rosetta Stone. Neither of those are true. There are lots of other ways that plenty of polyglots have used to become fluent in other languages, and it’s possible to do it for free.
For instance, where I live, I could become fluent in Spanish, Armenian, Vietnamese, Korean, or Ukrainian (to name a few) just by talking to people in my neighborhood. If the goal is to learn “a language” then why not pick one that you could use while you run errands?
That’s my first advice on most goals: make it more specific. If you’re going to study a language (or a musical instrument, as a parallel example) then which one? When are you going to use that new skill? Like, do you want to emigrate to another country, talk to your relatives, or go on a trip and visit cities all around the world? Your strategy is going to be a bit different for each of those, just as it would be if you want to play guitar by yourself versus joining a band.
If you’re going to study a language, *when* are you going to do your lessons? *What* study tools are you going to use? I aim to do my Italian lesson right when I clock out at work, so I can transition my mind to free time and also to keep me from getting sucked into the never-ending news vortex.
Replace your most annoying default habit with your exciting, fun, new habit. If you’ve chosen the right thing, which is something that you truly enjoy, then you’ll never look back.
I’m the kind of person who can’t resist making tons and tons of goals, and then struggling to fit them all into a realistic Earth-month. Maybe on a different planet it could work, I dunno. If you’re like me, it might actually help to lay out a month and plug in the different things you want to do. What are you going to do on weeknights and what are you going to do on weekends, for example?
For most people, people with more sense than me, it’s probably better to pick just one thing and experiment around what time of day you will engage with it. The ‘when’ is the toughest because all this time, you’ve been spending that same hour of the day doing something else. That different thing, that thing that is not your goal, is going to have to either leave your life or get moved to a different time.
Another thing to figure out is separate fallback plans for what to do if something interrupts your chosen time slot. For instance, I don’t necessarily want an audience for my Italian lesson, so I’m likely to do it when my hubby is either in the shower or brushing his teeth. Since I’m doing only 5-10 minutes a night, it’s a matter of 1. Wait for him to leave the room and 2. Open the app on my phone.
Make your goal as easy as possible to do. That’s contrary to the Calvinist idea that we must punish ourselves and work as hard as we can every single minute, but it works. You have the right to have fun and frivolous goals.
It’s easy to get a bit hung up on the ‘what.’ The perfect notebook before I can start my bullet journal! The perfect running shoes! The perfect water bottle! What’s likely to happen is that if you really start to make your goal a part of your identity, it will be such a part of your life that you’ll wind up replacing these objects many times. You’ll use them up.
It’s better to have commodity objects than to be uninspired by commodity goals.
What is it that you are working on these days? When are you doing it and what are you using?
For the first time, I took up the offer to be accountability partners with someone.
I’ve had supposed accountability arrangements with people before, and it hasn’t suited me. I had come to the conclusion that what people are asking for is to abdicate on their decisions and try to outsource their willpower.
“I will literally only ever do this if someone else forces me.”
Sure, I’m very good at this type of nagging, but it’s part of what I do at work. Essentially, if someone is asking for me to be their accountability coach, they’re asking me for administrative support.
You can program your smartphone to do this for you if you want to, and it will probably only take you a few minutes to set up.
I did this type of accountability coaching as a coach for about a year, but the amount of stress on my part went far beyond the measly pay. It seemed like, from my perspective, the clients would have either done it on their own without my help, or would never do it at all, either through blackmail or at gunpoint or for charity or under extreme hypnosis or any other reason.
I think it’s better if more of us just admit that we don’t want to do certain things, that we have no intention of ever doing them, and that we’re not going to pretend to try. The end.
I do! I do this. I have no intention of, let’s see: making scrapbooks, learning to wear liquid eyeliner, or making any kind of food that has a shape. When I see attractive stuff on someone’s pinboard, I just wave my hand, Ehh.
Another lifetime maybe.
It’s easy for me, as a Questioner. If I think something is a good idea, I’ll do it right away. If it makes sense to me, I only need to hear about it or see it once and I’ll jump on it. Or at least give it a try.
For instance, I tried those little suspenders for the fitted sheet? They work, but they’re miserable to put on. I’ve basically given up on them and determined to just buy slightly more expensive sheets next time.
This is the more challenging part of being a Questioner. If I don’t think something is a good idea, I won’t bother. This is fine for me but apparently very trying to other people, most of whom are not fellow Questioners but some of whom are, and should know better.
I have an Obliger friend (actually many, as a plurality of people are Obligers and they are the nicest kind of friend). What they have in common is that they will go far out of their way for others, but they have a tough time sticking to things that they see as benefiting only themselves.
The easy part of being a good friend to an Obliger is that I can explain to them how something they are reluctant to do for themselves actually benefits other people. For instance, if you take your meal breaks at work, you set a good example, but you’re also in a much better mood than when you attempt to go until 3 pm before you have your first calories of the day.
*ahem* You’ve all done it at least once, admit it.
So my Obliger friend asked if I wanted to be accountability partners, and I did the best I could. I told her my honest feelings.
Eww, she said. That wasn’t what she had in mind at all.
All she wanted was to check in every now and then and talk about our goals.
I agreed to this, because talking is something I know how to do. Also, and this is the secret lure if you’re trying to negotiate with a Questioner, she had privileged information that I found compelling. She was going to tell me about her system for tracking goals.
This wound up being a good part of our call. We traded details of how we’ve set our goals over the years. There was something about her system that really appealed to me, and something about my system that caught her attention too. It made me feel closer to my friend, realizing that goal-setting is such a big part of both our worlds.
There are very few people who take all this as seriously as I do, or at least, if they do, they haven’t told me yet.
Both of us had goals that we weren’t really sure how to tackle yet.
In this sense, our accountability arrangement is closer to what is usually referred to as a mastermind.
My friend wants to learn a language, and wasn’t really sure how to go about it. I don’t think she realized quite what a linguistics nerd I am. I told her all about language exchange partners, and which exact app has the language she wants to learn, since they’re all different. I told her, if she has any questions at all, I can’t help her with her chosen language, but I definitely can help her find resources and figure out her study plan.
It turns out that my big work goal of learning data visualization is right in my friend’s wheelhouse. I wouldn’t have gone so far as to ask her to look over my charts, because that’s overstepping. We did agree, though, that she could point me toward some resources. She told me I was making a really sound choice and that being good at data visualization sets people apart more than anything else.
After our talk, we were both laughing and excited. We agreed that we would do two-week sprints, just like we do at work. Our first task would be to share what we’re working on for our first sprint. Then we’ll check in every two weeks and see how we’re doing.
Our accountability arrangement is as much about sharing how thrilled we are with the whole goal-setting process and making accomplishments. I think we’ve both found that most of our friends are not up for this sort of discussion in any way. Couple of goal nerds.
If you want to do something similar, the most important thing is who not to choose. Almost all humans of Earth will naysay everything you ever wanted to do, left, right, sideways, and upside down. It’s better to keep your ideas to yourself than to expose them to this sort of negativity.
Honestly, it might be better to meet a random Internet friend who enjoys goal-setting than to choose from amongst your family or friends?
The main thing to remember is that your life is yours. You don’t owe other people an explanation for why you want to learn certain things or do certain things with your free time. You are perfectly entitled to have goals and resolutions, and enjoy them to the fullest extent. If your goal is to spend 18 hours a day with your phone, who’s to stop you?
I haven’t finished my New Year’s planning yet.
This is the first time this has happened that I can think of. Usually I spend all December working on my goals and resolutions. Now that I have a day job again, I’m super busy.
I figured it would be fine if I did the rough sketch, then spent New Year’s Day and the rest of the weekend filling in my bullet journal, making my goal board, and all that stuff.
Instead I wound up sleeping all day on the first. By “all day” I mean that I woke up in the morning, ate breakfast, and fell asleep for an hour and a half. Then I woke up again just enough to waddle to the bedroom and pass out again until 4:00 pm. I slept an average of 11 hours a day all weekend and barely did a thing.
I felt pretty bummed that I had slept all day, when I hadn’t finished all my goal stuff on New Year’s Eve either.
By the end of the weekend, when I still had basically nothing done, I thought, Oh no, the magic moment has passed.
It hasn’t, though. In one way, every day is like every other day. We each get 24 hours, and that’s the one and only thing that everyone has in common.
What I did, rather than write up all my plans like normal, was try to fit in the few things I had determined I would do. Mini actions. These are also known as ‘habits’ but I think that the word ‘habit’ has negative connotations. Action, maybe not so much.
One thing I did was to order a new Apple Watch to replace my old one, which is now over five years old. I’ve managed to crack the screen (ask me about my outrageously aggressive arm-swinging habits, which also involve having punched a fire hydrant). It’s also going dim in the middle, so that it doesn’t really serve as a watch anymore. Mainly I use it to unlock my computer in the morning.
It’ll take two weeks to get here, but that’s okay. In a way it gives me a fresh new start on trying to rebuild my baseline fitness. The only thing I really want this year is to feel that I’ve totally recovered from coronavirus.
Another thing I did was to start a new foreign language app (Speakly) and start doing 5-minute Italian lessons. If you’ve been following along, I was going to learn Dutch last year, but this app doesn’t have Dutch lessons, so *shrug* whatever. Next on the list.
This has been so much fun and so instantly rewarding that I’ve maintained a perfect streak so far. Normally I advocate for avoiding streaks in all situations (and I mean all) but especially in the sense of trying to attain instant perfection. Whatever we do, it’s more valuable if we do it 45% of the time than if we get discouraged and quit after skipping a couple days.
Io non parlo inglese!
In the app world, I also started logging my hydration and food intake again. It turns out I’ve been relentlessly dehydrated during the day. Logging my water helps me remember to make sure to drink water - it shouldn’t be 3 pm before I grab a glass. I’ve also had basically instant success with the food log, which is uplifting.
I took care of setting up a few appointments and ordering some stuff, since we were running out of shampoo and a few other things. I did manage to get the case of prescription parrot kibble, so that’s a relief. It’s hard to say what a big deal it feels like to do these 5- and 10-minute tasks when things are popping so much at work.
Sometimes it feels like a big deal just to start the robot mop, and how dumb is that?
Something that happened last year that I didn’t like was that the blog started to fall apart. I was posting more regularly when I was desperately ill than I have been since I got my job. This task that I can never quite seem to get to is to write up a list of topics and then schedule a few posts in advance, the way I used to do for years.
Part of the problem has been feeling like I’ve run out of things to talk about. It’s hard to figure out ways to talk about my cool new job without, you know, talking about it.
This is part of what I love about New Year’s. I have all these shiny new projects that I’d like to do, and I finally have enough energy recovered to attempt them. It gives me plenty to think about, and thus plenty to write about.
Not everyone likes making resolutions or having goals or projects. In fact, it seems like most people don’t, because they get so discouraged when they quit. I think this is because of unhelpful framing, lack of planning, and probably having a dark concept of what resolutions are for and how they work.
For me, it’s the light of my life.
When I was lonely and single after my divorce - I had a plan. I made over my bedroom to make space for a new love, and I started learning to cook - and then I got married again.
When I was flat broke and desperate - I had a plan. I went back to school, and I got a cruddy job, and I determined that I would focus on that job even if all I did was work, eat dinner, and go to bed. I paid off all my loans years early and the degree paid for itself the first year.
At a certain point, I didn’t have as many immediate fixes any more. I had more room to want to play around, go on adventures, and learn new things. This is of course when I started forcing difficult challenges on myself. Those have probably paid off most of all.
Could it be that I’m procrastinating on my big new personal challenge of beating my math anxiety? Perhaps.
Failing to live up to our own standards isn’t the end of the world. It’s the beginning. It’s recognizing that it’s better to have values and desired end goals than not to. It’s a reminder, one of many in a series, that we’ve chosen these purposes for reasons that are valid.
I haven’t finished all my planning for the year, even though it’s one of my favorite things, and that’s okay. The year is still pretty much brand new and we haven’t even cut the tags off yet.
It’s been said that we create our own reality. I believe that is only true to a certain extent. It does seem obvious, though, that we can have more or less influence over our lives depending on how prepared we are.
Preparation, not prediction. It’s a futurism thing.
We can’t necessarily guess what’s going to happen next, whether in the near or distant future.
I didn’t guess that I would get COVID-19 last March, that’s for sure. As a senior in high school, I never guessed that I would wind up working in the space industry - since there effectively *was no* space industry at that time. Anyone who pauses to think about it can probably list of a bunch of events that were major surprises when they happened.
Everyone has major surprises at some point or other. Sometimes those surprises happen to all of us at once, like a category five storm, or a global pandemic. (Just because you don’t believe in it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t believe in you).
The question isn’t what happens, the question is how we react to what happens.
The further question is, what do we *make happen* regardless of external events?
Everyone responds to stress and trauma in different ways, and there’s no right answer. There’s no correct speed or reaction time when something goes wrong. I would never say otherwise.
Personally, though, I strongly resent being toppled by external events. Shocks in my life like my early divorce, an IRS error, or getting COVID have been deeply, shall I say, offensive and annoying. My response is to drag myself back to my feet and keep on pushing.
That’s why I applied for a job when I still wasn’t 100% convinced that I would survive COVID. I wasn’t about to quit setting goals just because I might die in a couple days.
(I tried. I tried to officially relinquish all my goals, but my system didn’t really accept it).
What if you can’t guess what’s going to happen next?
Well, you can. Anyone can take a wild guess. Can you get it right? By the time you know the answer to that, it’s a moot point because you already know the answer.
This is the inherent frustration of living in the place of uncertainty.
There are probably infinite ways to deal with the emotional load of being in the place of uncertainty. One of them is to shrug, and another is to go WHEEEEE and wave your arms in the air. Of course another is to curl into a ball with your hands over your head.
My preferred way is to go back to strategy.
The great thing about finding out that the rules have all suddenly changed is that, guess what? If the old rules no longer apply, then it’s likely that almost *no rules* apply.
You can step out of the maelstrom with a new identity.
Not to say that it’s easy. It’s not.
It hasn’t been easy, for example, to get onboarded at a new job while still recovering from a near-death experience. It’s hard to learn proficiency in half a dozen new software titles while still so tired that it’s hard to sit up straight.
It felt familiar, though. It felt a lot like getting back on my feet after my divorce.
This is why people who have lived through hard times can look back and say that it all turned out okay. Not that going through trauma has any sort of intrinsic value - I don’t think that it does at all.
It’s more like being backed into a corner by life forces people to be more decisive and bold than usual. We spend more time strategizing because that’s our only choice, and if we made it out, that’s why. We finally thought of options that normally wouldn’t have occurred to us, and did things that were out of character because that felt like the only choice that made sense.
This is where preparation comes into the picture.
What I did after my divorce was to eventually go back to school and get my degree. That put me in a significantly better position to deal with the next batch of high weirdness that life threw my way.
There is nothing about college that makes a natural and obvious connection to ending a marriage. “I have nothing, let’s add thousands of dollars in debt” is not an automatic response, right?
It just seemed to be the most obvious place to add skills, and adding skills is always a good answer.
I reacted the same way when I was bucked off my horse by COVID. Should I keep on doing what I was doing before? Not really, not when I had just had a universal reset.
Instead I thought, what is the most interesting thing I could be doing right now? And I got a new job.
Other people in other situations might have a natural “most obvious” repositioning station. For some, it would probably be moving in with their parents, especially if there was a need for a caregiver around the place. For others, it might be selling all their stuff and relocating, or taking some time off and getting their teeth fixed, or something else that feels more personal and necessary.
What is always helpful is to regroup and try to put things in their new, oddball perspective.
Remember, when times are tough, that every minute feels like a million years. It isn’t clear at all what the right choices are, or how things will turn out. That’s prediction and it isn’t something that humans are very good at.
In retrospect, though, what felt like forever might only be a few months.
Looking backward from whatever happened next in the storyline, whatever was going on during that time of mysterious transition won’t even be an interesting footnote. Nobody will care.
I could tell my story as “my husband left me and I lived on my friend’s couch for a year” - which happened over twenty years ago - or I could say, “I got a degree in history and then I became a futurist, and let me tell you what I think about lunar habitats.” Both versions are true.
That’s how preparation can turn into prediction. In that one sense, whatever you do to prepare for your next phase of life has the ability to predict how your life will turn out. You can shape it if you choose which direction you want to go and put yourself in motion.
I’m starting this year with a mix of pessimism and optimism, both because I can’t help it.
I’m pessimistic about the pandemic and the vaccine rollout. I think it will happen very slowly, partly because it already has and partly because there are just so many people to vaccinate. Israel is crushing it, with 10% of their population vaccinated in just two weeks - but that means it will take 5 months to reach everyone. My county happens to have roughly the same population as Israel, meaning if we were extremely efficient, I could have my vaccine by June.
Therefore, I’m accepting that there may be another lost year, another year when we can’t safely travel or visit people in person. This sucks, but not as much as dying of COVID-19. (Or COVID-21?) I’d rather assume that 2021 will be more of the same, and be wrong, than get my hopes up and have to keep resetting expectations.
The optimistic part is that I’m still alive, and there don’t appear to be any vaccine refusers in my immediate family. That means all I have to worry about this year is staying safe and keeping busy enough to manage my disappointment.
Making my goals and resolutions is my favorite part of the entire year, even when I don’t reach them all. Many years I’ve hit all of them, or 90%, and that’s enough reason to keep trying and keep planning even when the outside world is a mess.
I have some hunches this year. I have a super strong hunch that we’re going to wind up moving. There is a non-zero chance that we will wind up relocating for work at some future point, and it’s absolutely impossible to guess when that might be, but this year is more likely than last year. I dreamed I was driving again, so I think it will be outside of SoCal. (Several years ago I had a premonitory dream that we moved to Sacramento, and then we did).
Some people would be horrified at the prospect of moving, especially a sudden move to a new city. For me, at this point, in many ways it’s less hassle than packing for a camping trip or... going to Costco. Mainly this possibility will inform whether I hang stuff on the walls or make bulk purchases.
I also think this might be the year I manage to get back into school in some way. This would impact whether I commit to any other large-scale projects. I’d like to keep my dance card open.
Now for my 2021 goals:
Personal: To expel my math anxiety. [uggggghhhhhh] Every year I like to take on a massive personal challenge, something that intimidates me to the point of making myself a little ill. It started with running, then public speaking, then martial arts, and now I don’t have all that much left that freaks me out! The only thing that really and truly gives me dread and trepidation now is mathematics, by which I mean, algebra and beyond. The deal here is that I want to go to grad school, which likely means the GRE, which means I have to master calculus, and that is something I’ve never done. I did a math placement test that had me stuck on some 5th-grade math things, so I guess this fits the bill. Try to always work on something that keeps you humble and it can help from having your ego balloon out of control.
Career: Become a futurist. It’s plausible that I can move in this direction without grad school, and it’s also plausible that this can happen through my current job. I really love the company where I work, and there’s nowhere else I’d rather be right now, so I’m going with it. This promises to be a very lively and intriguing year at work.
Physical: Back to my goal weight. I was shooting for this last year, but I got COVID instead. I’m at the point where I feel like my weight gain is actively interfering with my respiration. Strangely, I was in the same position in 2004-5, so I have reason to believe this will work. It’s not that I regret learning to box, but the weight I put on that year has been disastrous for my health and energy level.
Home: Probably move to a larger home. We’re waiting until the pandemic winds down, because it just doesn’t make sense to move right now. But we are ready for a place with a washer and dryer and a proper kitchen. Probably also a second bedroom, so we can shut a door between us when we’re both on conference calls.
Couples: Save for a house. We’ve decided that if we buy a house here, where we currently live, it would have to be after a slightly improbable series of events. (Start our own company etc). Maybe we’ll buy a house elsewhere. We’re learning a bit about remodeling and interior design, trying to figure out what style of place we would like.
Stop goal: Stop hoarding reading material. Okay, this one is painful but I feel it has to be done. My husband looked at me and asked, “Including digital?” I nodded and he winced. It is a key part of my job to Read All the Things, but I don’t really need to have absolutely thousands of articles in my queue. Do I? I don’t even know how to do this goal other than to quit putting library books on hold. The point of all these goals and resolutions (this is a resolution, BTW) is to explore and learn new ways of doing things.
Lifestyle upgrades: New bed. Our bed went like this: Years 0-10, glorious. Year 10, lumpy. Year 11, terrible. If only we’d known to replace it before the pandemic...
Do the Obvious: Assume another year of WFH. I might work from home forever and I like it that way.
Ultralearning: Data visualization - Tableau, Excel, etc. This is a goal that is inevitable, due to my job responsibilities, so I might as well give myself credit for it. By this time next year, I’ll know all sorts of things that I don’t know right now.
Quest: 50 for 50 ultramarathon (2025). A quest is quixotic and I’m not ready to let this one go. If I can ever run any decent distance again, I’m sure I’ll cry so hard I’ll soak my shirt.
Wish: To visit my family safely!
Personal: To expel my math anxiety
Career: Become a futurist
Physical: Back to my goal weight
Home: Probably move to a larger home
Couples: Save for a house
Stop goal: Stop hoarding reading material
Lifestyle upgrades: New bed
Do the Obvious: Assume another year of WFH
Ultralearning: Data visualization - Tableau, Excel, etc.
Quest: 50 for 50 ultramarathon (2025)
Wish: To visit my family safely
Categorizing these, the math anxiety thing is a challenge; the futurism career is a mission; reaching my goal weight again, moving to a larger home, saving for a house, and getting a new bed are goals; and it is a resolution to stop hoarding reading material. Ultralearning is a project. A quest is something big that probably takes more than a year to do, and a wish is something that you can’t simply make happen through an obvious action. I like to be clear with myself about how I’m going to go about making something happen in my life. That’s all this is: pick something and do it!
Choose a resolution you can finish in one day, and you automatically get the same bragging rights as the people who choose something more complicated. If you never make resolutions because you “know” you’ll let yourself down, change the rules! You are invited to look over this list of one-day resolutions. Pick one if you think it could make your life better, easier, more fun, or more interesting.
Get your flu shot.
Apply for a passport.
If you already have a passport, get it out and check the expiration date.
Change all your passwords and find out where you can use dual authentication.
Go around and set all your clocks, including the microwave and the dashboard in your vehicle.
Throw out everything in your kitchen that is past its expiration date.
Throw out any expired medications.
Throw out worn-out socks and underwear.
Cash in your change jar.
If you haven’t already, find out if you can open an IRA account at your bank.
Make an appointment to get your teeth cleaned if it’s been more than 6 months.
Make sure you’ve had a tetanus shot booster within the last 10 years.
Pull out your driver’s license and check to see when it expires. Is it this year? Oh snap.
Give back anything you borrowed from someone else.
If you have overdue library books, return them. A lot of libraries no longer charge overdue fines!
If you quit reading a book because you lost interest, let it go. Give it away or trade it in.
Match up the lids with all your pots, pans, travel mugs, and plastic containers.
Make a “dump run” and get rid of the broken junk from your garage, yard, or anywhere else it’s piled up.
If you have a mending pile, look it over right now and decide to fix it or throw it away.
Increase your retirement contribution 1%.
Get a free copy of your credit report and check it for errors.
Fill out a living will and have it witnessed.
Set a reminder to sign up for a first aid/CPR certification class (maybe this fall).
Set a timer for one hour and spend it cleaning or filing.
Go through your email inbox and unsubscribe to as much as possible.
Delete some apps.
Reconsider your social media engagement.
Call an old friend and say hello.
Apologize to someone.
If you have your own URLs, look them over and decide whether you still want them all.
Look through your queue of movies and TV episodes and delete anything that no longer interests you.
Look at your keys. Are there any you don’t need any more that you can get rid of? Mystery keys you don’t even recognize?
Think of any task you’ve been procrastinating for longer than a year. Make the decision to do it this month or let it go.
Read The War of Art by Stephen Pressfield.
Make a vow not to make negative comments about other people’s resolutions.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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