New Year's eve is approaching, which means that people are making their New Years' resolutions and asking me what mine are. I don't have any, and I think that's a good thing.
The problem with New Years Resolutions is that they're not motivated by a burning desire to change. Wee all know that most people don't really change, and we know how hard it is for us to change ourselves. The only fuel powerful enough to push through that pain period is the burning desire for results. New Year's resolutions don't have that burning desire. Instead we realize it's a new year, get the fluffy feeling that a fresh start is upon us, and then scramble to make up New Year's resolutions. That method of change is about as effective as the US' "war on drugs" is against drug addiction.
How motivated can you possibly be if you're willing to wait until the ball drops before taking action? Not very. I have a friend who is capable of, and has executed on many occasions, 180 degree life changes. On a normal day if he told me he was going to do something difficult, I'd have full faith in him. But he recently picked up smoking and told me he's quitting for New Year's. I bet he won't. Quitting cigarettes requires a fundamental hatred for the effects smoking has on your body and life. Anything less is a break from smoking. If he had that harsh emotion, he wouldn't be smoking today.
This is relevant at times other than New Year's, too. When someone tells me that they've decided not to eat unhealthy anymore, and they start their new diet on their next meal, I give them the benefit of the doubt. If they say, in between gobbling down moonpies, that they're quitting in a week, I'd bet strongly against them.
All that said...
New Years does seem to be a good time for reflection and planning. It's cold, so spending an hour or two inside at your computer making plans seems reasonable, and Christmas always tends to be a slow productivity period, which incites me to step up my game a bit.
Because of various studies and TED talks, I've been keeping my goals to myself recently. I don't think it's made me more motivated. My readers tend to bug me (in a very good way) when I'm not putting out stuff I promised I'd put out, and I find that motivating. I also benefit from the feedback. So I'm going to go back to my old ways of talking about what I'm working on. Here's what's on my plate:
I have two unfinished projects that are both long overdue. One is a social productivity site that Todd and I (and a few others) have been using for almost a year. You put stuff on your todo list every day, your friends can see it and keep you accountable. It needs a bit more polishing before it's ready for prime time, but I'm thinking about releasing some invites for readers. In fact, here are 15:
Each one comes with a free invitation code for your friend. DO NOT USE A CODE UNLESS YOU'LL GET A FRIEND TO SIGN UP TOO. I've invited a limited amount of people already, and every single person who sticks with it has had a friend keep them accountable. To use a code, go to www.tasksmash.com and mention in the comments which one you used.
The next project is a short book called Life Outside the Box. I think it's my best writing yet, I have some amazing people featured in it with guest essays and such, but it's still missing something. A twice NY Times bestselling author has been giving me his notes on it, and he's pointed out that while it all makes sense and is compelling, it doesn't end with a clear path on what to do next. I'm working on that, because I really want it to be a knockout.
I also have an idea for my next book, but I'm not letting myself start until I finish LOtB.
The project I'm most excited about is one that I can't say much about. But I can tell you a bit about how I came to decide on it:
In 2011 I turn 30. In practical terms, this is a totally arbitrary number. Nothing changes between the day before my birthday and the day after, but there is an undeniable mental switch that happens somewhere around then. Ten years goes by fast, and I know that in the next ten years I will probably start a family. That's a big change, and it leads me to start thinking that I need to buckle down and get serious about business. I feel like that's the one area of my life that I'm comfortable and happy, but not totally knocking out of the park.
And that got me thinking about what knocking it out of the park would mean. To me it comes down to a combination of three things. I need a project that has the potential to make a lot of money, has a big impact on something I care about, and keeps me fully engaged. Blogging fulfills the last two, but I don't expect to make a million dollars from my blog. That's not the point of it. I could always make a good amount of money teaching pickup, which does have a pretty big impact, but the truth is that I'm over it and it doesn't keep me engaged.
After thinking about all that for a few months, I came up with an idea for a new site that I think could be huge. If I can execute it properly, I think it has the potential to be in the same league as Twitter and Facebook (although it's not similar to either). I've already started work on it and have a very rough version running. I've told the idea to a handful of people, including a couple very successful startup people, and everyone shares my excitement about it. And that's why posts have been sporadic recently. I stopped writing my 1000 words a day because I was coding too much. I'm sorry I can't share more details now, but they'll be posted here first.
I do have one concrete measurable goal: my goal is for this site to be in the top 50k Alexa by September 2011. Right now I'm somewhere around 70k.
Once again, sorry about not sticking to my Monday/Thursday schedule. I really value you reading my blog and don't take the responsibility of writing for you lightly.
I also have the goal of traveling slightly less (mostly restricting travel within the US). I don't feel like I've "earned" the amount of travel I've been doing recently, in terms of productivity.
I've had a few friends who've gone through quitting smoking. The hard part, they say, is that certain things trigger wanting to smoke. Stressful situation? Time to smoke. Driving a car? Time to smoke. Drinking at a bar? Time to smoke. The reason that bad habits are so hard to quit is that we have these many triggers that start us down that path almost automatically. A compulsive eater might get into a stressful situation and have a hamburger halfway into their face before they even consciously think about whether or not they should be eating.
The silver lining of this nuance of human nature is that we can also harness triggers to create positive habits. Just as bad habits are so hard to break because of our triggers, good habits can be made resilient using the same mechanism. And just as bad habits are built slowly and incrementally, so are good habits.
I meditate for five minutes every day. As soon as I wake up, I grab my phone and press the start button on a five minute meditation timer. Waking up is my trigger. At first I had to remind myself to do the meditation every morning, but now I do it almost automatically. It would feel strange not to meditate. Just as a veteran smoker is likely to have a harder time quitting than a new smoker, the longer I keep my meditation habit, the easier it becomes to maintain.
There are two main types of triggers: contextual triggers and constant triggers. Waking up is a constant trigger, since I do it every single day and want to meditate every day. A contextual trigger is something that happens at an inconsistent frequency. For me, feeling tired during the day is a contextual trigger. Whenever that happens, I drink a glass of water, because I've found that sometimes I'm just dehydrated and not actually tired.
I eat pretty well and take pretty good care of myself. But it's taken quite a while to get here - before 2006, I had a pretty standard American diet. Lots of pizza, junk food, fast food, liquor, soda, sweets, etc. I smoked cigarettes, cigars, sheesha, and other kinds of tobacco.
Since then I've refined my diet and I eat pretty well. I have more energy, feel better, look better, and God willing, I'll live a lot longer as a result. It's a gradual process though, and I'm still improving. There's a few things I use to do it:
First, I'm all about incremental improvement - I think trying to crash change your diet is unlikely to work unless you have immense amounts of willpower and self-discipline. If you do have these Herculean amounts of will and discipline, you know who you are and don't need my advice. If you're more mortal, then you'll want to pick one or two things to be refining in your diet at a time.
Second, there's two ways I quit food or habits I don't like - "hard quitting" (cold turkey) and "soft quitting" (gradually reduce my consumption and eventually eliminate it). I pick which of these routes to go based on how convenient it is to quit something outright and if there's any detox process. If there's detox (like there was with nicotine), I think it's better to just get it over with once instead of constantly feeling deprived as your body re-adjusts to its new biochemical levels. The most successful method for quitting smoking is cold turkey, isn't it? Something like 80% of successful attempts to quit smoking are cold turkey? I don't have the statistics onhand, but that's the general idea. Quitting something like sugar, bad oils, or excess salt might be easier to do incrementally, since you need to replace the consumption with something else.
Which brings us to third point - I actively introduce new good behaviors before and during the time I quit something. Now, I don't know if the following is a good strategy, but it's what I did - when I started cutting down the sweets I ate, I increased my consumption of the kinds of salty foods I already ate: Chips, french fries, nuts, etc. Later I cut the salt content back. I don't know if that's a good habit, but it's worked okay for me. I also try to actively introduce fruits and vegetables before I quit something - it's hard to go from no fiber food that's highly processed to stimulate you immediately to fruits and vegetables. Fruit tastes bland compared to ice cream. So I introduce fruits and vegetables first, get comfortable with them, then increase my consumption of them as I decrease or eliminate bad consumption.