As 2018 passes us by, I decided to take the time to reflect on my life this past year by conducting an annual review. I was encouraged to do this after reading James Clear’s and Leo Babauta’s annual reviews. The purpose of this is to answer three questions:
What went well?
My biggest struggles?
What did I learn?
Before I begin, I want to note that this post was a little difficult for me to share (hence the procrastination to get this out at the beginning of January). Being open about what I thought I did well and what I struggled with is not something I typically share with others. I decided to share this anyway because I believe there is value in taking stock of the ups and downs of the past year. This post forces me to reflect on the choices I made so I can confirm whether or not I am making the right moves towards the life I want to live.
Let’s jump in.
What Went Well?
I started this blog and eventually decided to share it publicly. It was a big step for me since it took quite a bit of courage to share my thoughts online. I got the initiative to start this blog to help distill the information from books and articles I was consuming on self-development. Writing this blog and keeping a journal has arguably been the best decision I made this year. The process of writing has helped me become a more conscious thinker as I try to make sense of the complex world around me.
Although I did not make it out of the country this year, I traveled to seven states: Alabama (5+ times), California (once), Florida (once), Massachusetts (first time), North Carolina (once), Tennessee (4 times) and Texas (3 times). I visited four new cities which included: Boston, Fort Worth, Key West, and San Diego. This year included seven weddings which made up for the bulk of my travels this year. Whew.
At the tail end of 2017, I decided to switch from a commercial gym to a powerlifting-focused gym. I also hired a coach for the first couple of months of 2018 to help with developing my form and workout regiment. Investing in a coach was one of the better decisions I made this year. He helped correct some bad habits I had in my compound lift movements and designed intense workouts around my weaknesses to help me become a better lifter. On average, I went to the gym three times per week. I also joined a weekly intramural soccer league in the spring and summer for additional exercise and fun.
I fell short of my reading goal of finishing 40 books in 2018, but reading 31 books this past year is the most I’ve ever read in a given year (read 30 in 2017). Even though I fell short of my initial goal, I am satisfied with the results mostly due to shifting my focus towards writing in the last quarter of the year. Not to say I value quantity over quality with regards to information, but rather a reflection on the fact that reading has become my top leisure activity over watching TV. This single shift has allowed me to read this many books per year with relative ease.
My Biggest Struggles?
My original goal was to publish a blog post every two weeks. I would have a full week of writing with an additional week to edit and market the post. I ultimately failed following through with this strategy. On average, it would take 3-4 weeks to publish one post with little time or effort spent on marketing it. This failure is a direct result of not sticking to daily writing practice. I also had the bad habit of taking nearly a week off from beginning a new post right after publishing one.
I also underestimated the time it would take to write and edit new posts. I chalk this up to being a complete beginner who hasn’t yet developed a calibrated understanding of how much time and effort is required to finish something. I expect I will gradually get better at estimating the time needed to complete a new post with continued practice.
Staying In Touch With Friends
I suck at reaching out to people – plain and simple. Reaching out to people first or trying to organize events to hang out with friends was a rare occurrence for me this year. Now that my friends and I are a few years removed from college and living in different cities, I realize I must put effort into maintaining relationships with those closest to me. Taking the time to have meaningful conversations with friends either over the phone on in person needs to become a higher priority for me in the new year.
I admit this is a tough one to talk about due to money being a personal topic. With all of the traveling done this year, I did not make saving and investing a priority like I wanted to. Living in a big city also makes it tempting to incur lifestyle creep with the endless options of restaurants and entertainment to check out on the weekends. I did a poor job reviewing my finances every week like I originally had intended. Not keeping track of my spending habits allowed me to get carried away with my spending (out of sight, out of mind).
I’ve since recognized scheduling my weekly financial review on Sunday afternoons did not work well for me due to the random nature of weekends filled with social events and travel. Having a lack of structure on Sundays made it all too easy for me to skip the process. I plan to avoid this problem in the new year by moving my weekly review to Monday evenings. This simple change should make it much more difficult for me to skip the process.
What Did I Learn?
Systems Always Win
The most important realization for me. Our society heavily promotes creating goals but does not focus much attention on building systems to help you reach said goals. Setting goals are easy to do, but building habits you work on every single day require much more time and attention which makes them not nearly as sexy to discuss.
Spending the necessary time upfront to design systems to compliment your strengths and weaknesses is the path to experiencing consistent growth. I have benefitted greatly from developing a consistent morning routine which has now become the cornerstone to my personal development.
“How we spend our days is of course how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days.”—Annie Dillard
Learn Multiplying Skills
Taking the idea from Derek Sivers’ blog, these are skills such as speaking, writing, psychology, design, conversation, second language, persuasion, programming and meditation/focus. These skills complement your main pursuit in life by being beneficial no matter what career path you are on. These skills multiply your effort by giving you a competitive advantage in the market you are trying to serve. For example, imagine the market advantages a programmer who can speak multiple languages or a lawyer who is proficient in negotiation and human psychology would have in their respective fields.
Write To Think
When I first began keeping a journal, I thought I was only writing out my thoughts. What I soon realized was my thoughts were being developed/discovered when I wrote them down. Writing also made me realize how much content I passively consume, whether its books, articles or video. I would catch myself forming my opinion based on the most recent arguments I read instead of questioning the author’s stance and seeking out an opposing point of view.
I was able to craft a worldview through the act of writing that I could then compare to the views of others. Seeing my beliefs on paper made it easier for me to question my stance when presented with dissenting information. I became more open-minded when I let my ideas face off in a type of idea-meritocracy where the best ones get stronger, and the weak ones are killed off and replaced with better ones. Even still, it is always challenging to know what I believe, but the process of writing has helped me have a greater understanding of what I consider to be true.
Moving Into 2019
From a day-to-day perspective, it appears I am the same person I have always been. But when I take a broader view by looking back over the year, I can see how much I have changed. My hope is the systems I developed in 2018 will continue to improve in 2019. This new year I am taking a more systems-based approach towards my goals, so I have high expectations for myself.
As promised in my previous post, I will briefly share with you my main goals for 2019 and how I plan to achieve them. I have four main focuses for the new year: business/career, health, relationships, and writing.
The number one skill I am interested in developing this year is learning how to sell. Knowing how to be persuasive in both the written and spoken word has become a deep interest of mine. Being an engineer, I used to view marketing and sales as a gimmicky low-value skill, but my opinion has steadily changed. I now recognize the value in understanding the human psyche and matching a solution to people’s wants and needs.
Facing my fears head-on is another theme I want to focus on in the new year. Learning how to sell would force me to face my fear of rejection since being turned down comes with the territory. Developing this skill would be a fast track to understanding how and why people make decisions by observing what they are willing to spend their money on – a clear indication of their needs and desires.
I want to take my powerlifting training more seriously by competing in my first ever powerlifting competition. I debated on competing in 2018, but my fitness goals were not a top priority in the back half of the year.
I plan to accomplish this goal by continuing to work out 3-4 days per week following a coach-designed lifting routine. I have also started to use a built-in macro tracker in my meal planning software to confirm I am getting enough of the right nutrients and calories each day. Not consistently consuming enough calories for proper strength building has been my weakest link at this point. Putting more time and effort into my meal planning and supplementation should be the right push I need, all else being equal.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve started to value quality over quantity when it comes to the relationships I have in my life. My goal is to focus on harboring a more tight-knit circle of friends with whom I can openly share my successes, failures and general observations about life. I care more than ever about engaging in thoughtful conversations concerning ideas than I do about general banter about the events occurring around me.
To build stronger relationships with those I care about, I need to do my part of being a better communicator. I plan to make an effort to reach out to friends in the new year by setting myself a weekly reminder to call a friend. Since I do quite a good job of sticking with tasks on my schedule, it would only make sense for me to schedule a weekly reminder to maintain relationships too. I realize the best time for me to maintain contact would be on a given weekday during my evening commute.
I look forward to stumbling through the process of becoming a better writer in the new year. Even if I never produce a single dollar or a fan from my writing, I feel compelled to continue on this journey. I will only improve through practice, so my goal is to establish a daily writing habit even if it is just for 20-30 minutes per day. The benefits seem to outweigh the investment, so I look to make this a top priority in the new year.
A product of this daily writing habit will hopefully be more engaging content that urges action delivered on a routine basis. Ideally, I would like to publish a new post every two weeks, but I will not sacrifice quality for the sake of getting a new post out on time. If I can stick with this daily writing practice, then everything else should fall right into place.
The Bottom Line
As you can see, I have plenty to figure out and improve. I decided to share my progress to encourage you to take the time to reflect on how your year went as well. Recognize the value of accounting for how you allocate your time and energy and observe if you’re investing it in a way that helps you reach your long-term life goals.
2018 was a year of learning and re-learning for me. My goal is to take the knowledge and systems I developed in 2018 and apply it towards making effective decisions in 2019.
Here is to having your best year yet.