It’s January, the best month to DO NOTHING except explore, learn, and develop your curiosity about goals and resolutions. I’m proud to say that I haven’t really done anything toward my annual goals yet, just like most years. This is because of everything I’ve learned about “productivity” and habit formation over the years. Perfection be gone! Death to unbroken streaks!
The War of Art utterly changed my life. You can read it in one sitting, or you can listen to it on audio like I did and walk around with your mouth hanging open.
For those of us who want to DO ALL THE THINGS at the same time, multipotentialites who struggle to stay focused, generally people who feel stretched too thin - try The One Thing,
There is no way to read Better Than Before without finding several helpful insights. Plus Gretchen is a really sweet person with a gentle approach.
Getting Things Done is the one to show off at work, although only after you’ve read the first couple of chapters. This is an analog sort of book and I don’t really agree with Allen’s tech-free focus; that being said, it’s great for pencil-and-paper people.
This book helped me see that Getting Organized actually mattered. I didn’t really see the point of it all before I read this. It’s Hard to Make a Difference When You Can’t Find Your Keys, indeed.
The one true clutter book! I have this practically memorized. Flip through it and read any section of any page.
Apparently quitting social media in some form or another is a common resolution at the New Year. Who knew? If this is something you’ve thought of doing, this is what it was like for me.
I didn’t make a resolution to quit Facebook. On the contrary. For a couple of years I felt really guilty for not spending more time there. I just couldn’t make myself. I tried forcing myself to make the occasional token appearance, but each time it would end the same way. Finally I realized that I was done and I should stop pretending I was ever going to treat social media like a commitment again.
My reasons for feeling ill at the thought of logging in to Facebook might overlap with yours, or they might not. Reasons for doing something else with your time can vary and cover quite a lot of categories.
I realized I was losing an average of two hours a day, and I’d rather spend that time reading
I kept seeing rants about unwanted game invites and it seemed ironic
I got tired of looking at pictures of meat and other badly lit, uninspiring amateur food photography
I started thinking that Mark Zuckerberg is a supervillain, that or a cyborg belonging to a supervillain
Ultimately I decided to replace the unsatisfying time I had been burning on Facebook over the past few years with in-person social activities instead.
The thing I dislike about Facebook the most is the way that people relate in text. The more time I spend away from what used to be a regular part of my day, the more I realize that people truly never act in person the way they do on social media. In so, so many ways is this true!
I would be reading through a thread on a friend’s wall, and someone would insult someone else. This happened countless times. There would be this perfectly reasonable, interesting conversation that might have continued for hours or days. Suddenly, someone would pop on and be really rude.
This is often the root of “unfriending,” a social phenomenon for which there was not even a word until Zucky came along.
It’s not so much that I cared about people insulting *me*, although it happened. It’s that it was so hard to read through a single thread anywhere, on any topic, without it happening. I didn’t even participate in the vast majority of discussions; as a rule, I would only comment if I felt I had something new and different to add, a point to make that hadn’t already been covered.
That’s actually another problem entirely - how many times someone would pop up to make a comment that had already been made by someone else. It proved they hadn’t read the whole thread, and sometimes what they said wasn’t even relevant or made no sense.
It seemed that out of all the people I knew socially, only a handful would moderate the discussions on their threads in any way. Almost all tolerated routine rudeness or impertinence.
I don’t think I’m being too sensitive in this, because as I said, it wasn’t being directed at me. It was tiresome to read through it even when I had never met the arguers involved.
This was by no means limited to political discussions!
People argued about dog breeds and travel behavior and brands of cell phone and wheat and a thousand other things of little to no consequence.
I didn't find it cute or funny. Well, sometimes I did. Mostly I just shook my head and wondered how such innocuous conversations could turn on a dime so quickly. What was making previously ordinary people suddenly so combative and belligerent?
Text-based conversations, that’s what.
What finally happened in my life was that I replaced Facebook with a social club. It could be anything at all, for others, like pickleball or a book group, a band or the dog park or a yoga class. In my case it was Toastmasters.
I started talking to more people face to face. That has always been hard for me, because I’m a shy person and I have struggled quite a lot with social anxiety.
It turns out that, at least where I live, most people are really pretty nice.
The great advantage of being a shy person is that it can make you into a great listener. If you learn to ask thoughtful questions, you can become a sort of interviewer and draw fascinating stories out of people. They flourish under the attention. Sometimes they say they’ve never told that story before, or that they hadn’t thought about it in years.
Storytelling is so much more interesting and fun than arguing!
One story inspires another. We get each other going. We laugh, we cry. We pull each other aside to share observations and compliments. We learn, eventually, how to turn even the most innocuous and minor incidents into well-structured anecdotes.
Example: earlier today I was walking my dog when a slice of toast landed on the sidewalk right in front of us. I looked up, wondering where it could have come from. Did a gull drop it? Then a woman’s head popped over a balcony. She started calling out apologies. She’d thrown the toast “for the birds” and didn’t know we were there.
I laughed so hard!
I could easily imagine myself doing the same thing. I wasn’t mad, I was amused and grateful that something mildly entertaining happened that day.
Without a storytelling group, I might never have thought to share that with anyone. Not the most fascinating story ever told, but I’m sure it has the potential to remind someone else of another story, and then we’re off.
I have never once, not a single time in three years, heard someone insult someone else in Toastmasters.
People do give speeches on sensitive topics, definitely including politics at times. Sometimes these are formal assignments in our program. Pick a controversial topic and try to persuade people of your position. I did mine on outdoor cats, and one guy still wanted to talk about it two months later. It happens. But, we laugh about it because we can see each other’s facial expressions. We can hear each other’s tone of voice. We have a history of liking each other and enjoying one another’s company.
Is that still true of your experience on social media?
Most of my social media “friends” are people I know in person. We friended each other because we met and we liked each other enough to stay in touch. In a lot of cases, though, I think we lost that affectionate regard because our online personas annoyed each other. We liked each other better before social media came along and messed it up.
In a few cases, friends have reached out to DM me, or text me if we’re close enough that they have my phone number. Some of them have arranged to come for a visit. This is part of how you find out who your real friends are, the ones who miss you and like you the most.
Mostly, though, you find that you care more about them than they care about you.
I traded my former Facebook time for a bunch of other stuff. I became a Distinguished Toastmaster. I started having board game parties from time to time. I have text message threads with my family. I also read a lot more books and started up a technology newsletter.
When I was active on social media, I realized that it put me in a worse mood almost every time. There would always be something that irritated me or made me sad. When I traded that in for hanging out with other people face to face, I realized that it left me feeling better every time. Laughs and hugs and food for thought, great stories and light hearts. If there was really a way to capture all of that through text, over social media, believe me, I’d never leave it alone.
How’ve you been?
Busy, so busy!
Yeah, me too.
January is the time of year when I think about TIME the most. The way that time is passing. Everything older people used to tell me about how time moves faster when you’re older unfortunately turned out to be true.
How can we possibly “live our dreams” or have a bucket list when we’re so gosh-darn busy?
We have to.
I think it’s time for a major cultural change. I think we’ve all passed “peak busy” and we’re ready for something else.
In fact, I think we should all start bragging about how lazy we are instead!
I don’t believe that “lazy” actually exists. I’m just saying that. The only people I’ve ever heard describe themselves as lazy turn out to be doing all sorts of things. Did you realize that you can’t be both lazy and a procrastinator at the same time? Seriously. A truly lazy person would not feel bothered by not doing something and wouldn’t feel guilty about putting anything off, either. So which one is it? Are you lazy or are you a procrastinator?
I’m picking lazy, as soon as I can figure out how to do it.
The way our current system is set up, we’re supposed to Work Hard so we can earn money so we can Retire. Retirement is about relaxing and doing nothing as a reward, right?
If relaxing in retirement is so great, then why wait??
Actually I think the idea of hanging out in a recliner in front of a television is the most boring thing imaginable. I don’t really believe in retirement in the traditional sense.
What I want is INTERESTING, not “busy.” Busy is not interesting in itself because it makes us exactly like everyone else. It usually consists of work, chores, and errands.
Why not lead with our real interests? Since surely we do and think about more than just work, chores, and errands?
I’ll tell you mine. Do you think the thylacine is really still alive?? The Tasmanian tiger?
Also, do you think Kate Middleton ever secretly attacks a heavy bag and just kicks it over and over again while screaming curse words? I would.
Anyway. We all know that somehow, in between all the “busy” things we do, we have plenty of time to play with our phones. We text and look at memes and follow celebrity gossip and play games.
Which is awesome, and also a great list of things to do while pushing pedals on the elliptical.
I go on the elliptical because I’m lazy. I could be running along the beach but there’s a really steep hill on the way back to my apartment. It’s easier to just take the elevator down to our little apartment gym, the one that basically nobody uses.
Mostly I go down there and read articles about astrology. Totally true.
So busy! So, so busy!
The thing is that everyone gets the same 24 hours, infuriating as it is. Same as Beyoncé, Kate Middleton, and the high school students riding their skateboards past my apartment. Those 24 hours are the only thing we all have in common.
Are we going to make them ours, or are we going to give them to other people and their priorities?
Pretend an hour of your life is your favorite beverage. Are you going to let someone just walk up, snatch it out of your hand, and drink it right in front of you?
My green tea soy latte NOOOOOOOO
This is exactly why I set my goals and resolutions every year. It’s my little way of saying “in your face” to every naysayer or critic or bad boss I’ve ever had. This hour, it’s mine. Not yours, mine. I decide what to do with my time and you do not. So nyah.
My first boss at my first official paycheck job assigned me to scrub the baseboards. The other employees told me they had never heard of anyone having to do that at that job. Why me? I dunno. I got a better job, tripled my income, and left. My final paycheck was under $40.
Not every use of time is deserving of our attention.
We do have to do a lot of necessary but boring stuff. Life is, what, 80% maintenance? Work, commute, fold laundry, try to figure out where all these little packets of soy sauce and ketchup keep coming from, stand in line somewhere, repeat. Thus it’s up to us to fit in anything personal, to make time for anything that actually matters to us.
For a lot of people, that magic personal thing is listening to music. For others, it’s putting on makeup or watching cute animal videos or choosing new tattoo art. We fit these personal things into our lives somehow or other.
What if we could fit in more?
What if there were more of those forgotten personal things, and it turned out that we have time for them after all?
A friend of mine started drawing again after many years without. Actually two friends of mine did this in different years. In both cases, I could not believe how talented they were, and that nobody knew. Why on earth would you ever give that up? What, not even doodle while you’re on the phone? Not even while you’re out to dinner and there’s a paper tablecloth?
Most of us associate these talents and interests with our school days. For some reason we think it’s normal to sigh and give up.
It’s true that most of us give up lounging on our beds, reading song lyrics, talking on the phone for hours, and all the other fun things we did in high school. We get home at six instead of three, and where are we supposed to find those extra three hours a day?
But then how do the statistics keep coming back that the average American spends five hours a day watching TV?
We certainly don’t need to stop watching TV if that’s what we really love to do. I doubt, though, that we should keep claiming that we’re so, so busy if that’s the main reason we aren’t living our dreams. We should instead proudly proclaim that we’re indulging ourselves, relaxing quite recklessly in defiance of social norms.
There’s time, there’s time for all of it. You can learn a new language while you commute. You can play your favorite 100 albums of all time during your shower, week by week. You can “catch up on laundry” while binge-watching every show you ever wanted. You can draw during lunch. You can even train for a marathon if you have 4-6 hours a week. Not only is there plenty of time for you to put your own fun first, but if you have kids it’s still true. Kids like fun best of all. Set a good example.
People have the wrong idea about this whole “new year, new you” thing. We feel it as pressure. Like the only way to do it is to eat a lot of celery while filing paperwork. Instead it can be a form of rebellion, of reclaiming time for yourself and your own choices in the face of that exact same social pressure. So society wants me to be busy, so so busy? I’m just going to retire early and start telling the truth about my life. The truth is that I like to spend part of my time wearing silly socks and making elaborate breakfasts, just for myself. I’m not busy every single minute and I’m done pretending.
How about you?
The biggest problem with New Year’s Resolutions is that they get miscategorized. If you want to win at this game, you have to be clear about the rules. What does I WON look like?
The whole thing is much easier when you look at it as a game and approach it with curiosity, or hilarity if you can manage it.
Typically it looks like this. Someone blurts out a resolution on New Year’s Eve, and then quits by the middle of January because they couldn’t manage a perfect streak. Each time they feel guilty and dumb for trying.
The only things we should have a perfect streak at are all hygiene-related!
Like, go ahead and skip Duolingo - I don’t care what that owl says, unless it’s a barred owl in which case watch out - but please don’t skip washing your hands or brushing your teeth, mmkay?
Okay, let’s say the goal is to choose something fun and entertaining to do over the rest of the calendar year. We’ll use my friend Ed’s idea from 2018, which was to “ride more roller coasters.”
How does Ed know that he has kept his resolution?
What he has done is to set an “implementation intention.” He is going to ride “more” roller coasters. He has a clear vision in his mind that he and his wife are going to drive over to an amusement park, buy tickets, and get on the ride. (At that point, willpower no longer applies and the rest of the resolution happens on its own).
Technically, if Ed and Mrs. Ed rode zero roller coasters in 2017, and one in 2018, then he has kept his resolution because one is “more” than zero.
In actuality, this roller coaster deal happened throughout the year and became a fun, memorable series of dates.
This was a successful “resolution” but it could also reasonably be considered a “quest” or a “mission” or a “project.” It could even be an “experiment,” the purpose of which was to overcome the fear of roller coasters.
(That’s called exposure therapy, and it usually works for most people, just like public speaking did for me).
The idea here is to find a way to explore your intent and desire in a way that is not punishing or shaming, because what fun is that? How does it get anyone anywhere? If it really is important or interesting to you, then you would probably want to figure out how to set yourself up for success. By the end of the year, whatever it was that attracted you would be satisfied in some way.
A regular part of your daily routine?
A memory and interesting story?
Information that taught you that it wasn’t what you thought it was, and now you no longer want to play the bagpipes after all?
Certainly an escape clause should be built in. You want a way to release yourself from your internal contract. A learning experience is not failure; in fact, far from it. Every learning experience gets you closer to the ideal vision of what you want for your life - and do not want!
A friend of mine has made a resolution to stop making assumptions about other people’s intentions. He had the insight that he tends to tell himself stories about what other people are thinking when they do or say certain things. This type of projection is stressful, and often wrong. This is a great example of a resolution, because it is meaningful to him and because it will take time to get it down. If he’s right, it will improve his life and there would thus never be a reason to quit doing it. It’s a resolution without a specific timeline or destination, which makes it poorly suited as a traditional “goal.”
Meanwhile, someone could have a goal of returning their ancient overdue library books from three years ago. That would be a clearly defined “goal” that also counts as a resolution. They would know when they were “done” and they would also have kept their implementation intention. (I did this once for a client and the librarians emailed me because they were so curious how I got ahold of the books). This same hypothetical person could make another resolution to “only check out digital books” so they never again have an overdue book, yay!
One of my resolutions for 2020 includes a “project.” I am learning about new ways to simplify, automate, or eliminate household chores. Built-in motivation, right? I have no idea how much I am going to learn or how long it will take me to explore this, which is why it’s a project and not a goal or a resolution. Another person might have a cooking project, or something like making raised garden beds, turning their garage into a music studio, or building a treehouse.
I also have a “quest,” which is to train for a fifty-mile ultramarathon over the next five years. If I were able to do this within three years, that would be amazing. I also wouldn’t be disappointed if it took me longer. The idea is to be fit enough to do an ultra at age fifty, so performing this magic trick at an even more advanced age would actually be an improvement over the original vision.
I have a traditional style of “resolution,” which I call a “stop goal.” I only frame stop goals when I realize that I’ve been doing something to drive myself crazy and annoy myself. One year it was to stop leaving tissues in my pockets and then running them through the washing machine, so that little shreds of wet tissue would disperse themselves throughout all the clothes. Years later I am six-sigma successful at this. This year it’s to stop procrastinating on listening to my voicemail on the rare occasions when I get them. Perfection is not the aim for a stop goal; it’s actually liberation from an easily preventable form of self-bothering.
Even if you only do it once, that’s one less time than usual, one less time of annoying yourself for no reason.
Probably the reason so many of us quit and give up on our “resolutions” is that we pick the preachy ones. Quit biting my nails, stop smoking, Lose Weight, save money. If we had any idea how to do these things, we definitely would have done them already. It’s not our fault if we don’t know what to do on day one.
This is why I believe that it pays to set aside two months to be streak-free, goal-free, and thus failure-free. December is for deciding what to do, and January is for starting to learn how to do it. The more clarity we can get on what we want, how it looks and feels, and how other people have generally made it happen, the more likely that we are to keep our resolutions. Because we want them, they are fun and interesting, and we like them!
This is the first time I have posted decade-level goals and resolutions on my blog, so I put extra work into it. Over the past few years, I’ve realized that the projects that I find the most engrossing and challenging are multi-year projects. The day I started each of these, I had no idea that I’d still be grinding away three years later. One of the benefits of midlife is that we have the patience, attention span, experience, and (frankly) the resources to attain long-term goals. Might as well harness that, right?
Over the past month, I’ve asked my elders how they felt at the start of each decade, particularly how they felt about technological innovations and major cultural changes. SO INTERESTING! My parents were barely old enough to be aware of current events in 1960, but they certainly noticed the Moon landing at the end of that decade. Talking about decade-level achievements with people who are satisfied in their careers and proud of their kids and grandkids can be really inspiring. That’s my hope, that when we are in our sixties and older my hubby and I will look back and feel like we’ve participated in life, in our culture, in our family legacy. We want to feel like we’ve enjoyed, learned, and experienced as much as we can.
That’s what all this goal-setting is about.
I already have so many regrets: that I never interviewed my grandparents about their lives when they were still here to ask. That I missed so much of the childhoods of my niece and nephews. That I missed graduations and weddings when I felt too poor to make the trip. What I regret most is not showing up, not connecting, not engaging and not reaching out. I could have called, I could have written, but I put it off and put it off without realizing how quickly time was passing.
At the same time, I’ve never wanted an ordinary life. If the only thing I ever did was to make the calls, come to the parties, and send the letters, well, heck. That’s a fine life but not big enough for me. I want to see the world and make at least one project that is bigger than me, something that outlasts my tenure on this blasted rock we call Earth.
In ten years I’ll be 55. If I’m ever going to do anything at all then I’d better get going.
What I’m posting here are yearly goals and resolutions, and also ten-year goals. Some of these were really tricky because I’ve never thought of them in that context before. It definitely puts some perspective on habits when you think, Will I still be annoying myself in just this same way ten years from now? (*facepalm*)
Personal: This category is what I think most people would refer to as their “resolution.” For me it’s my major area of focus. In past years it’s been running, public speaking, or martial arts. I try to choose something where I feel intense resistance and instinctive dislike. That’s where the greatest transformation is possible!
In 2020 this is going to be body transformation. Right now I feel like an angry puddle of goo. I had a very rough 2019 and there is no way I can tolerate the idea of being the same or worse ten years from now. I’m forty-four and my body belongs to me, not to society’s female-vessel regulations. I’m going to lose weight, I’m going to talk about it at great length on a regular basis, I’m going to do it my way, I’m going to get covered in mud and punch things, and that’s just how it’s going to be. I can’t force myself to pretend to pander to “body positivity” “I’m just fluffy” clouds and rainbows, riding in on a panda and licking an ice cream cone. I gotta wake up in this crusty old carcass every day and I intend to fully inhabit it like a warrior queen with the flaming sword of truth.
Career: My career goal for 2020 is to learn how to do webinars. I am not a digital native and I have to push hard to understand technology that is new to me. Eventually, whatever I learn becomes something that I do on a daily basis, without thinking about it, like syncing Bluetooth or downloading new apps, but that first onboarding process is something that I always find deeply confusing and frustrating.
For 2030, I want to be a published author, of course!
Physical: My physical goal for 2020 is to get my weight back to 125. I was able to maintain this for about five years, until I made the benighted decision to “put on ten pounds of muscle” and started eating like an NFL linebacker. (For reference, I am 5’4” and small-framed).
While I was training for my marathon lo these many moons ago, I became enchanted with the idea of the ultramarathon. I started telling everyone my goal was “50 for 50,” a fifty-mile ultramarathon for my fiftieth birthday. Suddenly that goal is only five years off and I either need to abandon it or start training. I hate abdicating, this is my one and only lifetime (or if not, it’s a moot point), and I want to see Silver Fox Future Self crossing that finish line.
Home: We’ve decided to start formally saving for a house, really a far-fetched, Moonshot sort of a goal where we live, but we like it here. That’s the 2030 goal.
For 2020, I’m working on automating more household chores as part of my book project.
Couples: Our couples goal is to build an app together. Fortunately the software coding part (the hard work) is my husband’s bailiwick; he’s learning Python and this project is as good as any.
Over the next decade, we have a shared goal to do more camping, hiking, backpacking, and bicycling adventures together. We only really see each other on weekends anymore and we like the idea of planning expeditions and picnics when the weather is fine.
Stop goal: My “stop goal” for 2020 is to stop procrastinating about text messages and voicemail. Honestly there are few things I despise more than listening to voicemail, but letting them sit there with blinking notifications isn’t helping. Text messages can be a serious problem for anyone who needs to focus and do long stretches of deep work - you broke my concentration to send a meme to a group thread?? But again, it seems that society has moved to this rather than email. My plan is to blast through the day’s detritus during my workout.
My ten-year goal is to stop procrastinating in general. I’m one of the 20% who fights this constantly. I think the solution is to reframe anything that feels aversive and try to think of better messages to send myself. Like instead of “I’d rather be scrubbing a toilet than doing this” I can think, “This will probably take less time than scrubbing a toilet.”
Lifestyle upgrades: Our ten-year lifestyle upgrade goal is to have a garden again.
For 2020, it’s a bummer to think about but my big lifestyle upgrade will probably be to have gum surgery. Over the past year I have had increasing reason to take my dentist’s advice seriously and I really want Future Me to think I had good judgment. Young people take note: you never think of your teeth as a part of your lifestyle until your first root canal.
Do the Obvious: The most obvious thing to do in my life right now is to plan around constant travel. At least during the active career portion of our shared life, my hubby and I have had to be constantly poised to pack a suitcase. He sometimes calls me to say that he’s flying out that very night; I’ve even had to head out to his building and bring him his passport. This is exciting and fascinating for us, but it also requires mental agility.
This will most likely still be true in 2030, so there ya go. No normal weeks.
Ultralearning: This is the first time I’m setting up an ultralearning project. I have total confidence in my ability to become absorbed in an educational mission; really the problem is more that I don’t know when to quit! In past years I feel like I’ve neglected the perpetual-student part of myself, and particularly my special gift of language acquisition. A quarter-century ago my Japanese teacher pulled me aside and said I had talent and that I should go forward in languages. I nodded (like, duh, totally), waited several years to go to college, dithered around in Greek and Latin, and then became a suburban housewife. That part of me only awakens when we see an action film with supervillain subtitles, and I can pick out the occasional word in Russian, German, or Japanese. SO, uh... *drumroll* in 2020, I’m going to do an ultralearning project and study Dutch.
DUTCH! Why the heck not. *tada*
For 2030 I plan to learn to write screenplays.
Quest: In my terminology, a quest is a grand adventure that I don’t necessarily know how to do. Part of the quest is figuring out the guidelines. My quest for 2020-2025 is to train for that “50 for 50” ultramarathon. This means I need to start running again. I also need to figure out how to add mileage without borking my ankle like last time, or causing myself any other overuse injuries.
My decade quest is to visit Antarctica.
Wish: My wish for 2020 is to get a publishing deal. Our wish for the next decade is to become millionaires!
Personal: Body transformation
Career: Learn how to do webinars
Physical: Weight at 125 lbs.
Home: Automation project
Couples: Build an app together
Stop goal: Stop procrastinating on text messages and voicemail
Lifestyle upgrades: Probably gum surgery
Do the Obvious: Plan around constant travel
Ultralearning: Dutch language
Quest: 50 for 50 ultramarathon! (2025)
Wish: Publishing deal!
2030 - Ten-Year Goals and Resolutions
Personal: Silver Fox project
Career: Published author
Physical: 50 for 50 ultramarathon!
Home: Buy a house to live in
Couples: Camping, hiking, backpacking, and bicycling together
Stop goal: Stop procrastinating in general
Lifestyle upgrades: A garden
Do the Obvious: Plan around constant travel
Ultralearning: Write screenplays
Quest: Visit Antarctica
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.
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.
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.
Sign up for a first aid/CPR certification class.
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.
Do you ever feel like, New Year, another one?? Right now I’m looking at the turn of the year with equal parts relief and dread, glad we made it through some heavy weather but feeling like the next year will be more of the same. Some excellent things and some terrible things happened, sometimes at the same time, and in fact isn’t every year like that?
Sometimes life gives with one hand and takes away with the other. Example, our dog was given “six weeks to live” in November 2018, and he’s still here, but his liver tumor got bigger and he also has a mass in his lung. Another example, I had to get oral surgery, but those two teeth were saved. A friend of mine in a similar situation has to wait six toothless months before she can get an implant, so I guess I feel “lucky”? Further example, I had a cyst removed after a very scary and weird medical issue, when for a few hours I feared I actually might tip over and die. Surgery is not cute or fun but it is usually better than the alternative.
Crabby person: I spent a month on antibiotics, thought I might die, spent weeks dealing with medical, dental, and veterinary stuff alone because my husband was out of town, and had to get stitches twice!
Optimist: I survived with just a small scar, they managed to save both my teeth, insurance paid for almost all of it, and I got my stitches out before the New Year!
This is part of why I try so hard to focus on highlights and achievements at the end of the year. Otherwise it would be very, very easy to overlook them amid the chaos of daily life, that or fail to fit in any highlights at all. Here are a few.
Our dog Spike survived his predicted 2018 demise, a sweet bonus year
Won an election and became a Division Director in Toastmasters
Went to World Domination Summit
Visited London and Edinburgh for the first time
Sat in one of the cafes where Harry Potter originated
Moved to a new apartment that is actually quiet!
Went to the Canary Islands for our tenth wedding anniversary
Oh, BTW, we had a tenth wedding anniversary, 13 years together
Became a Distinguished Toastmaster
Noelle started saying ‘Okay’ (when she wants to go to bed)
Personal: My big personal goal for the year was to submit a book proposal to a publisher. If I had known what a total train wreck this year was going to be, I would have held off on declaring this and instead just said “Get through 2019 somehow mostly intact.” Nevertheless this goal is in progress. I finally feel like I can take myself seriously as a working writer.
Career: My career goal for 2019 was to become a Distinguished Toastmaster. I didn’t even know what that was when I first made my 2016 resolution to conquer my fear of public speaking. This has been one of the most emotionally challenging things I ever did, and I am really proud of myself. Not only did I get that DTM, something not even 1% of Toastmasters do, but I won an election as well. The last time I gave an impromptu speech, a couple weeks ago, someone told me that I “have a commanding presence up there.” Heh. Seriously, it’s hard to imagine someone being worse at something, and feeling more dread and dislike for it, and then having a greater transformation. If *I* could do *this* then I feel like anyone could do anything. Just push through the first six months.
Physical: My physical goal was to focus on hip openers, a type of stretching exercise. I kept reminding myself to get down on the floor and figure this out, and now it’s the New Year and I still haven’t done it. Overall I feel like my body is turning into a bruised fruit. I failed at this goal. I dropped out of my martial arts gym. I also gained weight, which feels exhausting and terrible and which I am hating beyond description. This year I feel like the only physical thing I did well was to not die.
Home: My home goal was to set up an outdoor writing area. That was at our old apartment, and it was great. We crushed this by relocating to a new place, where not only do I have an outdoor writing area, but it even has an ocean view. We’re finally in a place that doesn’t have carpet, we have a dishwasher and a bedroom door again, and it’s so quiet that we sometimes take two naps a day. As sometimes happens, the results exceeded the original goal.
Couples: Our couples goal was to do meal prep. This helped us get into really cooking again, and our freezer is full of homemade soup. My husband even made jam for the first time in a few years. We’re back in a proper kitchen and remembering how much we prefer our own cooking.
Stop goal: My “stop” goal was to “stop being sick and tired.” Last year I was really struggling with getting the common cold over and over and over again, and I basically lost a year of sleep thanks to my selfish rude upstairs neighbors. I did some research and experimentation, talked with my doctor, and found out that hardcore zinc supplements really do make all the difference for the immune system. Super Bio Veg for the win. Also we moved and I’ve been able to get about 25% more sleep.
Lifestyle upgrades: My lifestyle upgrade was to get a new desktop computer, which I finally did, once I realized that the system I wanted cost less than half of what I thought it would. Something I have learned is that I should not say I “can’t afford” something until I know, objectively, how much it actually costs.
Do the Obvious: My “do the obvious” was to schedule time blocks so I could get more done. This failed utterly and spectacularly. From June through today there has not been a single normal week, between my dental stuff, travel, moving, my husband’s business trips, my nasty medical surprise that ate November and December, and our poor sick doggy. I honestly don’t think there will ever be a time in my life when I can predict a strict schedule weeks or months in advance. I’m shifting my attitude toward something more flexible and forgiving.
Metrics: I had the idea to add metrics to my annual goal-setting, and this was generally a success. I started out trying to track a bunch of stuff (mostly HIIT exercises) that fell out of my routine due to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Tracking metrics did help me to complete my DTM, focus on SleepQuest, and read more than the year before. Wherever I track what I’m doing I tend to get better results, because it doesn’t take long for patterns to stand out.
Quest: My quest for the year was SleepQuest 2019. I’m calling this a success! I was not able to find a single thing that helped me sleep through the heavy footsteps and early-morning vacuuming/rearranging furniture of our upstairs neighbors. Well, other than a moving van, that is. We moved and now I can sleep whenever I want. I may have lost the first three quarters of the year but at least that phase of our life is over.
Wish: My wish was to be signed by a literary agent. To my great astonishment, I am kinda sorta “in talks” with a couple of people. Maybe this will turn into a thing.
Personal: Book proposal - IN PROGRESS
Career: Distinguished Toastmaster - SUCCESS!
Physical: Hip openers - FAIL
Home: Outdoor writing area - SUCCESS
Couples: Meal prep - SUCCESS
Stop goal: Stop being sick and tired - SUCCESS
Lifestyle upgrades: New desktop computer - SUCCESS
Do the Obvious: Schedule time blocks - FAIL
Metrics: Sleep, fitness, reading, writing, speaking - SUCCESS
Quest: Sleep Project - SUCCESS
Wish: To be signed by a literary agent. - IN PROGRESS
Where do you want to be ten years from now?
Answers to this question tend to come in two varieties:
grandiose plans with no clear information about how to get there.
In these days, a lot of dreams that once would have sounded completely impossible are now fairly reasonable. Like, I want to be a colonist on Mars! Or, I want to be a rock star! Or, I want to talk to a celebrity! Or, I want to build a robot! The more technology makes possible, the less impressed we are by it.
We’ve seen so much dramatic change in our lifetimes that it’s really hard to picture the future. The further out it is, the harder it is to imagine it in detail.
I can definitely say that in 1990, I had no idea about most of what we take for granted today. I would have had the hardest time picturing cheap or free long-distance phone calls, cheap airfare with people wearing shorts and flip-flops on the plane, or everyone having tattoos.
In 2000, I still couldn’t picture little kids talking on cell phones, YouTube, Google, Wikipedia, Facebook, or robotic appliances.
In 2010, I couldn’t imagine how easy it would be to have everything delivered, rideshare, or controlling everything from your phone.
Now 2020 is almost here, and I have no idea what it is that I’m not seeing, even though it will be a regular part of my life in the near future. 2030? Your guess is as good as mine.
The other thing is that as difficult as it is to picture technological innovations before they arrive, it can be even more difficult to imagine the major events of our own lives. New friends, job changes, moving and living in a different home, or even medical issues can come as such huge surprises. We feel buffeted and attacked by circumstances.
We forget or deny that we have free will. We don’t realize the infinite power we have to make choices, overcome obstacles, and create our own circumstances.
I do think the ten-year framework can help clarify things, though.
If you’re in an on-again, off-again relationship, do you think you’ll still want to be with this person ten years from now?
Do you think you’ll still be living in the same place?
Will your pets still be here? (People usually fail to realize that bringing home a kitten can be an extremely expensive 20-year commitment)
Will you be at the same job?
Will you have any savings? Will you be debt-free?
If you knew you would wind up in the hospital ten years from now, do you have a few solid guesses about why?
(I kinda always assumed I’d probably need a root canal one day, and guess what, I was right)
Will you have new family members in your home? A kid, or one of your parents moving in with you?
The lessons of middle age have a lot to do with responsibility for others, one annoying medical or dental thing after another, financial planning, and being the one who has to answer the Bat Signal. We can get so caught up in the endless waves of problem-solving that we lose sight of the dreams and idealism we had when we were young.
Also we find out how expensive they are.
Or assume they are and never bother to check.
I travel a lot - my dad got a job with an airline when I was a little kid and I started early. It always surprises me how often I meet people who have never gone anywhere. Often they’re so captivated by a certain country or city that they have pictures or artwork about that place. Oh my gosh, I think, you could get a flight there for $600, you could go this year! There are SO MANY travel-related jobs, you could even change jobs and literally get paid to go there. To me travel is the easiest dream because I know how to do it.
Other people might feel that way about a makeover, or learning to write code, or cooking or interior design or going back to school. Sure hon, I can help you with that, what are you doing tomorrow?
It’s humanly possible and they’re probably hiring.
A friend of mine wants to go to Antarctica. I told her I would totally go with her and she said she would do the research. All right, I guess I’d better start parka shopping...
The thing is, though, there’s never an obvious right time to board your dog and just go to Antarctica. There’s never an obvious right time to book a resume consultant and start job hunting.
There was an obvious right time for me to go back to school and get my degree, because my first husband asked for a divorce. Don’t wait for that kind of “opportunity” - just make up your mind and go for your dream now.
How old are you going to be in 2030? I’ll be turning 55, how about you?
Where do you want to be? Do you want to adopt a kid, see the world, get your teeth fixed, launch a website, buy a motorcycle, get your passport? When are you going to do it?
One of the most provocative ideas I ever heard is that most people could make their ten-year goal happen in six months. That is patently not true if you want to do certain very specific things, like study to be a surgeon, but that list is really short. Most of the most common goals, like losing weight, going back to school, paying off debt, training for a marathon, or traveling to a new city, absolutely can be done in that timescale.
Most ten-year goals are so easily reachable, reasonable, and modest that they aren’t motivating enough. They also draw naysayers. Nothing annoys other people as much as when someone achieves something that they want for themselves. Go on and bother them, then. None of these goals are zero-sum or exclusive. That’s why I suggested that I would go with my friend to Antarctica, because I know we’re both more likely to go if we have a buddy.
Sometimes that buddy shows up in the process of planning your dream. It’s a great way to make new friends, friends who can’t imagine you in their life yet, either.
Who will you be celebrating with on New Year’s Eve 2029? What resolutions will you be making that year? What is it that you want to experience in your lifetime?
Do you think you’ll do the research and make it happen? Do you think you’ll show up for yourself?
Obviously a check-in can be done any time, and the Gregorian calendar is a weird artifact of history that has no absolute meaning, but there are undeniable advantages to doing an annual review at the New Year. It’s up to you what you want to put in it, as well.
Lists of grievances and personal vendettas with matching caricatures
Inventions to patent
Obscure parts of the home to decorate and post on Instagram
Hopelessness seems to be a common response to the concept of a yearly review. I don’t get this at all. I can’t imagine why, other than social comparison, it would bother someone to think that you have the power to add more of what you like to your life.
If you want to be sad every day, can you sad more sadly? Nobody is going to stop you.
It doesn’t have to be perky, cute, cheerful, socially acceptable, or photogenic. It doesn’t need illustrations or a soundtrack. It just has to be yours.
It doesn’t have to be relatable, either. I believe this to my very depths, and that’s why I pursue my New Year’s perimeter check even though resolutions have been so unfashionable for so long. More than half of people refuse to set a resolution and of those who do, over 80% have quit by February.
Either it doesn’t work, nobody likes it, everyone is doing it wrong, or I am a freak. I’ve never let any of those things stop me before...
Here is a basic sense of what I mean by a ‘perimeter check.’
Who is in my life? What does my typical day look like? Where am I spending most of my time? What is that space like? What am I doing, and is it working?
How is my energy level?
What am I liking and not liking? What do I want more of, what do I want less of?
The people. Who are the five most important people in my life? Am I showing up for them? Am I letting the time I have for them be eaten up by people who are less vital to my life? (Example: arguing with an anonymous griefer or troll rather than talking to someone I know and love)
The routine. Can I quantify where my time goes, or am I losing track? Can I cut anything out of my schedule? Is it time to let go of a commitment to make time for something else?
The space. Space clearing! Is there enough room for me to live my life? Do I have somewhere to do the things I want to do?
The energy level. Am I tired all the time? Is there anything obvious in my routine, my space, or my social life that is affecting my energy level? How do I want to feel most days, and what am I willing to do or change to spark that feeling?
Like, dislike. Is someone else setting those preferences? Do I even know what I want, in major and minor ways?
More and less. More sleep, less scrolling. More face-to-face conversation, less reading the comments. Or whatever.
For the visuals, I like to draw a life wheel. Typically there are eight slices of the pie, but that can be adjusted to suit. Categories are up to you; for instance, one could be “tacos” and you could rate your year on quality and quantity of tacos. My categories are:
Friends & family
This is where I think the trouble starts, why this exercise can feel so depressing. What if you feel like you get a zero for everything?
I can say from experience that this is how it gets better.
It’s my perception that a lot of guesswork goes into a diagnosis of depression. We’re *told* that it’s neurochemical, without any literal, objective, actual bloodwork or brain scans going on. (Even though they are technologically possible). Prescriptions are written after fifteen-minute consults (if that, ha) and it can take several years to get confirmation when those initial diagnoses prove incorrect.
I think it’s helpful to point out that there are differences between depression, other neurochemical or physiological states that feel pretty depressing, grief, sorrow, and depressing situations and circumstances. Life review is a piece that can serve to figure this out, to get a better sense of what is going on.
If you have depression and you also live in depressing circumstances, then it may be possible to get faster results by working on the circumstances first.
If you actually do not have depression (maybe it’s medical, like low thyroid, did they check that?), then working on improving depressing circumstances may be all you needed after all. That, and a more competent doctor...
I used this same sort of rating system to track, analyze, and overcome chronic pain and fatigue, migraine, night terrors, and insomnia, among other things. Those problems were real to me - just as your pain and sorrow are real - but I didn’t lose my identity when they went away. It’s mighty interesting to get to know yourself, the you that exists under the shadow of your worst problems.
The emotions that I want to feel around my annual review may include elation, joy, and delight, but those are not the feeling states that drive me most of the time. I do aim for domestic contentment most of all, because I feel like it’s the most impact for the effort and it also benefits others around me. Happiness, though, isn’t always on my dial. What I prefer is to follow my curiosity. Intense interest is my preferred setting. Satisfaction is only possible for me, personally, through challenge. Serious challenge.
This is what happens when I do my annual review. I spend a few days sorting and getting rid of stuff, cleaning, emptying out the fridge, and maybe rearranging furniture. I evaluate the past year and make plans for the upcoming year, including travel and family visits. I make sure I’m starting the year without loose ends, like library fines. I do a broad overview of my finances and my fitness level. I try to be as accurate about the reality of my daily life as I can, because I’m the one who has to live it. I wake up with myself every day. Whatever else is going on, whatever external slings and arrows affect my circumstances, at least I can be clear about my own values and whether I’m living up to them. I can stand up for myself and be my own ally, even in the hardest years when I need myself the most. Even more, I can consider whether I am showing up for the people who make me want to show up for them.
I love the feeling of starting over with a clean slate. The truth is that the majority of stuff we beat ourselves up about doesn’t really affect anyone else; it only matters to us. That means we can look at it as a pure gift to ourselves, no pressure, no deadlines.
For me, though, my absolute favorite thing is to wake up on the morning of New Year’s Day and feel like I have a whole fresh calendar, no weird leftovers from the previous year.
This is what I like:
My place - the cleanest it will be the entire year
A basically empty fridge and freezer, no scary leftovers or containers with no expiration date
A clear desktop
Empty email inbox
No notifications pending on anything, anywhere
Some space on my shelves, some empty hangers, and room in my cabinets
No fines, fees, or borrowed items waiting to go back
Pets bathed, trimmed, etc.
The great thing about this fresh-start feeling is when you have the day off for the New Year. It means you have absolutely no chores to do and you can lounge around quite shamelessly, enjoying all the gleaming surfaces before everyone else messes it up.
*gives side-eye to flying feather duster and Mr. Muddy Paws*
I look at December and January both as buffer months. They don’t really count toward resolution time, most especially for fitness or body transformation purposes. December is my month for planning, and January is my grace period for finishing off any loose ends from the previous year.
Those loose ends usually mean closet-purging and other organizing projects, and books I was reading that I left off partway. Every single year I resolve to quit doing this, and every single year I somehow find myself midway through a dozen or more books. This probably started around the time I got into chapter books...
The goal around all this tying of loose ends is an emotional state. The idea is to avoid any kind of feeling of MUST or SHOULD or HAVE TO. We want to be fully aware of what we choose and what we do because it makes our lives easier - like paying taxes, staying out of traffic court, and maintaining a comfortable living environment.
Wouldn’t it be nice to feel that way close to 100% during our off hours?
I’ll share an example of a “clean slate” project that I’m focusing on this month. It’s honestly the dumbest thing I can think of, something that almost all sane people would think is beneath their attention, and they’re correct in that.
Our new apartment has glass shower doors. Unlike every previous set of shower doors I’ve ever had, these are not frosted, pebbled, textured, or coated in any way. This makes it obvious that there is some kind of grimy build-up. I have tried SO MANY different cleansers and approaches to getting this stuff off, and at this point it’s part intellectual puzzle and part battle of wills. What is this muck and filth??
I’m a “daily squeegee” person so it’s even more infuriating.
I’ve tried: white vinegar; white vinegar mixed with dish soap; CLR; Lime-A-Way; rubbing alcohol; Bon Ami; and each of these with a battery-powered scrubber with two different scrubbing heads.
Whatever it is, it evidently isn’t soap scum, calcium, limescale, or ordinary dirt. I suspect sorcery.
Nobody on earth could conceivably care about these grubby water droplets on my shower doors as much as I do. No way. Most people in my age group probably wouldn’t even see them without their glasses on. This has nothing to do with external pressure, social rules, feeling judged, or guilt or shame or whatever. It’s just a challenge. GAME ON.
A clean slate is what we need when something keeps clutching at our attention.
If we can’t convince ourselves to quit caring, and we don’t plan to remove ourselves from the situation entirely, then it’s time to vanquish it, whatever it is.
Stuck drawers, loose buttons, scuff marks, stacks and piles, the trunk that’s so full it can’t be used - anything that simply bothers and annoys and distracts us is a candidate for the clean slate.
There are several approaches to determining what projects to tackle for your clean slate. What works depends on your situation, your mindset, and even your daily mood.
One, the brain dump. Write out a list. This can be really fun because there are few delights quite like the satisfaction of crossing stuff off a list. If you share your household with others, you can tape the list to the inside of your front door and let everyone else compete for most items completed.
Two, the perimeter check. Start at the front door and work your way clockwise through the room, then clockwise to the next room. Either handle stuff as you come across it, or take notes and move along with your clipboard. This is a good method if you have a fix-it person under your roof who can barter peace of mind for pure action - and a little quid pro quo. There must be something this person would love for you to finally get done that would feel like a fair trade.
Three, the hot spot. Start with whatever is bothering you the absolute most. Even if that’s the only thing you do, at least you are free at last.
Four, the comfort zone. Start with the area that is most important to you and do everything that needs doing in that area. It might be the inside of your car, or the area around your bed, or your dining table. Imagine your dream version of that space and see if you can come up with an upgrade.
For me, the biggest question is always, would I choose this? Was it intentional? I don’t ever want to feel like I am tolerating a perpetual problem if I have the ability to do otherwise.
The next question is, when you’ve finished liberating your mental bandwidth, what are you going to do next?
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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