There is something special about reaching the end of a decade. An internal feeling that the slate being wiped clean to usher in a new beginning filled with aspirations. It also provides an excellent time to reflect, not just on the events in 2019, but also on the greater arc of my life's journey thus far.
With that said, just like I did for 2018, the purpose of this review is to answer three important questions:
- What went well?
- My biggest struggles?
- What did I learn?
What Went Well?
I published 17 blog posts in 2019. While it may not seem like much, it's up from 11 posts published in 2018 (I published my first post in February 2018). Out of those 17 posts, 7 of those were my notes on some of the best books I read during the year. I got the idea of publishing my book notes from Derek Sivers, and they surprisingly have been some of my most popular posts to date, especially my notes on The Great Mental Models.
I also started a weekly newsletter back in May to compliment my blog. It highlights interesting ideas I find online, what I'm reading, and any ideas I'm thinking about. Its called the Weekly Roundup and it gets sent out every Monday morning (I have yet to miss a deadline).
While I haven't put as much effort into promoting my blog as I would like, I am pleased to see my site grow from 2018. My numbers may seem laughable to some of you, but when you consider that behind every number is an actual human being, it is quite surreal to think that I average over 100 visitors per month to my little space of the internet.
I traveled to a total of 5 states: Alabama (4 times), Florida (once), New York (first time), North Carolina (once), and Tennessee (3 times). I visited one city for the first time this year which happened to be NYC.
But the most exciting trip of the year was to Italy for the first time. During my trip, I traveled to Florence, Rome, Sorrento, and Positano. Each city was beautiful in it's own unique way but I think Florence may have been my favorite to explore.
One of the highlights of 2019 was starting a weekly accountability program with my friend, David. We both share similar interests in the self-development and productivity sphere, so it was easy to get him on-board with the idea. Knowing that we would have to report to each other every Monday helped us stay focused on our goals and to challenge our methods and assumptions.
Every week we discussed our goals for the week ahead, reviewed results from the previous week, and discussed any struggles or observations we had. Our weekly calls also led to both of us experimenting with 30-day challenges to see how much we could achieve given a singular focus. David completed a 30-day vegetarian-only diet while I fell just four days short of writing at least 250 words every day.
Unfortunately, our weekly accountability call came to an end when David started his medical residency in June. While it would have been nice to have maintained it for the entire year, the first six months of the year were by far my most productive.
If you would like to learn more about how we structured our calls or would like to try it out for yourself, you can download a copy of the Google Doc I created to serve as our framework (Once you open the Doc, go to File -> Make a copy).
My Biggest Struggles
I still haven't adhered to any type of deadline for publishing new blog posts. My original intent was to publish something every two weeks, but I averaged closer to three weeks. Even though the blog is a hobby I work on during my free time, I know that publishing on a more consistent basis would improve both my writing and traffic to the site.
The purpose of setting a deadline goal for myself was to maintain a daily writing practice so I could improve my skill. But other than April, when I tried the 30-day writing challenge, I didn't come close to maintaining a daily writing practice.
I've observed that I struggle with maintaining a daily writing practice because I don't schedule large enough chunks of time to write. Writing doesn't come naturally to me, so it takes at least 20-30 minutes to just get into the groove. If I want to make significant progress with a daily writing habit, I need to schedule larger blocks of time for myself.
Since I am most energetic and creative in the mornings, I use my free time before work to write. I usually give myself a two-hour block of free time from the time I wake until the time I leave for work. The issue is I also use this time for reading and getting ready for work. If publishing on a more consistent basis is important to me, then I will need to consider modifying my morning routine.
My gym routine did not change much from the year before. I averaged going to the gym three days per week to focus on weight training. While I am content with these results, I failed to achieve my goal of competing in a powerlifting competition. But I failed for a reason I'm okay with: my priorities changed.
Throughout the year, I became less interested in training for a powerlifting competition. I weighed the opportunity costs and decided that I didn't want to dedicate the necessary time, energy, and attention to compete in an event. My joy for weightlifting stems from the energy and confidence it gives me, not so much the desire to see how strong I can become. I might change my mind on this goal later in life, but for now, I am content with my current routine.
Lack of Focus
When I objectively look at the goals I set for myself in 2019 and where I finished, I can only be brought to two words: I failed. I started the year off strong with the help of the accountability calls, but my focus started to drop off as soon as the calls did.
Three of my goals for the year were to learn how to sell, build a daily writing practice, and compete in a powerlifting competition. While I will excuse not competing in a powerlifting competition due to a change in interests, I must admit full fault for not accomplishing the other two.
The root cause of my failure stems from not maintaining focus on the goals I set for myself. While both of these goals were maintained in the back of my mind throughout the year, I failed to maintain accountability with myself. Instead of maintaining a consistent push towards making progress, I would push hard in spurts then retire back to doing nothing for long stretches of time.
What I Learned
Introduce Hormesis (Healthy Stress)
I discovered the idea of hormesis in Nassim Taleb's book, Antifragile. Hormesis is the process of periodically exposing yourself to acute stress so you can build up a resistance to future stress. In other words, purposely exposing yourself to mild pain and discomfort so you can become more resilient in the future.
I recognized I was already applying this idea to my life through my weightlifting routine. Lifting heavy weights via squats, deadlifts, and presses is a great example of purposely introducing acute stress to build resistance (muscle mass and endurance) so I can handle more physical stress in the future.
I took this idea a step further this year by also performing a 3-day water fast. By not eating for three days, I shocked my body into preservation mode. The stress of not eating forced my body to cleanse itself of damaged cells and improve insulin resistance. Going hungry in the short-term allowed my body to improve it's resilience to fight potential disease in the long-term (diabetes, obesity, and cancer).
Personal Growth Requires Patience
I think the biggest observation I took away from this year is making real progress in your life will probably take much longer than you think. It's easy to set goals and make calendar reminders, but you can't account for your mental and physical energy state ahead of time when you have other responsibilities in life.
Making significant changes in your life also requires you to reach a level you haven’t experienced before. So if you want to get to where you haven't been, it will require doing more than you have done before. Most meaningful goals can’t be achieved with partial effort and limited time.
While that may sound discouraging, all it really means is if you want to succeed then you must first define what your priorities are. Having a clear goal (north star) to focus most of your time and energy on is the most fool-proof way to have success. This may seem obvious, but it can be difficult to swallow since it means you will likely have to drop or delay most of your other goals to be able to focus on the one.
Stay on the Bus
Building off of my previous learning point, I have also come to recognize the importance of sticking with a creative pursuit even when it feels like you're just making poor copies of other people's work. Creativity is like any other skill; it requires working through your stages of ability.
If you want to get good at something, then you must stick with it. Copying others is how you learn so you can eventually evolve into having your own style. But first, you must learn to stay on the bus.
"What to do? It’s simple. Stay on the bus. Stay on the f*cking bus. Why, because if you do, in time you will begin to see a difference. The buses that move out of Helsinki stay on the same line but only for a while, maybe a kilometer or two. Then they begin to separate, each number heading off to its own unique destination. Bus 33 suddenly goes north, bus 19 southwest."
—Arno Rafael Minkkinen, "The Helsinki Bus Station Theory"
Moving Into 2020
2019 had its high peaks and its low valleys but more importantly, it had its learning opportunities. I am still a firm believer in focusing more on the systems in my daily life than the arbitrary goals I set for myself. Setting goals is important for pointing yourself in the right direction, but it is the systems you build that will take you to the finish line.
With that said, I plan to focus my time and attention on these four areas of my life: career, health, relationships, and writing.
Last year I set out to learn how to sell but failed in doing so. It was due to a combination of becoming complacent in my current position and not leaning into my fear of developing this new skill. I allowed myself to become distracted by what was urgent instead of focusing on what was important.
Learning how to sell, whether it be through a new role in my engineering career or by developing the skill online, doesn't really matter to me. But I do see the value in learning the skill through both outlets since they often require different sub-skills such as face-to-face interactions, effective copy, and utilizing a network (physical or digital).
One of the reasons why I am interested in learning how to sell is because it is a skill that can be easily measured. There is no such as being okay at sales. You either find quality customers or you don't and go out of business. So, for the new year, my goal is to find my first paying customer.
With the powerlifting competition no longer being a focus of mine, I need another method for keeping myself motivated for the new year. I have already established a routine schedule of going to the gym at least three days per week, but I am getting to the point where I am not seeing as much progress from my workouts.
I am currently working through Charles Poliquin's Elite Trainee program and will continue to do so. While I do keep track of my daily workouts, I do not review them or graph them out over the course of the year. Since I am not actively measuring my progress over the long-run, I am likely not optimizing my progression.
So, my goal for this year is to start keeping records of my primary lifts such as bench press, squat, deadlift, and max pullups. Being more keenly aware of my numbers will ensure that I am actively pushing myself to progress instead of introducing complacency via uncertainty.
Another health-related goal I have for the new year is to keep experimenting with fasting. My goal is to perform a 1-3 day fast for every quarter. I will also continue to experiment with the occasional 16-hour intermittent fast where I only eat during an 8-hour window.
I want to continue harboring a tight-knit circle of friends with whom I can openly share my successes, failures, and general observations about life. Less small talk and shallow conversation and more sharing of interesting ideas and offering help.
One of the best ways I can improve my relationships is by starting back up the weekly accountability call with a close friend or two. Having a weekly scheduled call to share my successes, failures, and struggles has helped me open up more which is essential for establishing strong bonds with those I care about.
I would also like to make it a priority to schedule at least one trip or event per quarter to spend time with friends that I don't get to see as often anymore. Planning trips with friends is essential for maintaining close ties as we grow older.
I still feel compelled to continue writing, whether it be for this blog or other mediums in the future. While it is a great feeling to witness complete strangers starting to read my blog, I still find the process of writing to be a selfish decision. In a world filled with infinite distractions, I need time to write to help make sense of the scrambled ideas in my head.
Last year I wanted to instill a daily writing practice. While I failed to do so, I am confident that I can improve upon this for the new year. Writing every day isn't an arbitrary goal I set for myself so I can hit a magic number of words. I want to write every day because I am a writer and that's what writers do.
"Many people begin the process of changing their habits by focusing on what they want to achieve. This leads us to outcome-based habits. The alternative is to build identity-based habits. With this approach, we start by focusing on who we wish to become."
A product of maintaining a daily writing habit should be improved output in regards to both quality and quantity. Publishing at least 2-3 posts per month would be ideal but I will focus on the ideas first.
The Bottom Line
2019 was a year of slow growth mixed with periods of stagnation. The most important thing I can take with me into the new year is to improve upon my daily systems to maintain momentum. And when I get tired, frustrated, or bored with my current progress, I must remember these four words: stay on the bus.