//3 January 2021

An alternative to New Year’s resolutions

Before you roll your eyes at the inherently rotten concept of making a New Year’s resolution, let us just acknowledge that for many people, the end of the winter holidays is the most suitable (if not the only) time when they can step out and reflect on their lives. Sure, some prefer to do it on their birthdays, some do it every week, others would rather pour petrol over themselves and jump into magma. But while the beginning of a new year does have a symbolic power, I tend to strike a balance then for a more practical reason.

It is the only time in the year when I am guaranteed to have a day or two free of any obligations, the perfect moment to sit down, reminisce about the past and figure out a strategy for the future.

On the topic of resolutions, it all has been said before. Set concrete goals instead of abstract ones, break a large goal into smaller tasks, replace bad habits with good habits, keep track of progress… So today, I am offering an alternative to all that, which may or may not work for anyone else, but at least it’s worth a try. Obviously, it is tailored to my life and my specific tendency to always have too much on my plate—if this sounds familiar to you at all, keep reading.

Ask people who know me whether I have a problem with procrastination, and it’s likely they’ll give you a negative answer. The truth is I do have a hiccup in this regard, though it manifests in a different way. I will not play video games all day and never start my main task. Instead, I will spontaneously decide to learn crochet, or drawing with pastels, or try out a new recipe (and never start my main task). Yes, you might think these are all enriching and interesting experiences (video games also qualify for that, by the way), so it’s not wasteful to pursue them. Yet the result is the same—I did not finish (or even start) my designated “main task”.

“Big deal, live a little!”, you may say. And you may be right—in the end, a balance between diligence and frivolity needs to be established. Well, I noticed for myself this balance was off, as I dumped more and more time into activities which didn’t amount to anything. Yeah sure, not everything must lead to success and eternal glory and achieving a higher plane of existence. However, for as long as I can remember, my idea of “fun” fits more into the general idea for “work”, or is otherwise bizarre, to say the least.

A fantasy comic strip depicting a barbaric woman having fun

Furthermore, I recognised the futility of some of my sporadic undertakings, and quickly a pattern emerged. For example, why should I invest five hours in learning a new instrument, when I could invest this time in becoming better at the instrument I already know? Sure, the law of diminishing returns is at play here, meaning the better you become at something, the harder it gets to progress further. That’s why most people (me included) never reach the top levels in any particular field.

My alternative to New Year’s resolutions is this: pick a small number of core activites you are already decent at, and try to hone those skills as much as possible. It’s not about going out of your comfort zone or expanding your horizons, it is about challenging yourself within that familiar field. And it can be just as scary and difficult as is trying something new, but it can also be as exciting and rewarding, even more so, if you pull through.

Those of you nice enough (or strange enough) to be curious about my core things can kind of see them listed in the pages of this site. The five “pillars” I have singled out all share the following: I’ve been doing them for more than a decade; no matter what, they have always been present in my life; and they don’t require much (if any) resources, except time and dedication. In all of them I think I have reached depths where it gets really exciting and complex, so this year, I plan to explore the seabed. Looking at the state of the world, I couldn’t have picked a better time for such a dive.

Maybe this write-up has been utterly useless to you. Maybe you can’t think of a single thing that could be your core/pillar. This is the moment to say it doesn’t have to be anything shiny or important. One of mine is cooking, for crying out loud. Notice what you spend time on, notice what excites you, notice what you’re kind of good at, no matter how trivial or oddly specific it is. The geeks shall inherit the Earth, after all.

Or perhaps you do need to do the exact opposite and try more new stuff. Then a few years from now, my thoughts might be more relevant to you. Yes, I refuse to accept defeat, and yes, I’ve rambled enough on this already. Now go do something!