Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become. No single instance will transform your beliefs, but as the votes build up, so does the evidence of your new identity.
— James Clear
Today happens to be Bell Let’s Talk day in Canada. I thought it was an appropriate time to talk about where I am at mentally and where I would like to see myself go in this coming year. The framework for this discussion is around the concept of a theme for the year or season, something I wrote about back in 2020 when my theme for that year was having a Frictionless Life in 2020.
Quick aside: I never wrote about a theme last year, but I did have one in my head: momentum. I wanted to keep pushing myself through the year and try not to have things bring me down. Of course, it was a more challenging year than expected with the sudden shift in my position, the car accident, and the challenges my daughter faced. I was pushing myself so hard, however, I found myself with little energy to ever write about that theme. I wanted to make sure I did better for 2022.
When CGP Grey introduced the concept of a theme in his YouTube video, one of his helpful suggestions in identifying a theme is to switch the focus from the end goal (i.e. lose ten pounds, read 30 books in a year, write a book) and to identify a path that will help you improve. As he puts it:
The trend of your decisions, some big, mostly small, will get you to more or less.
The theme needs to be
He suggests brainstorming ideas on some pages to get a better idea of where you want to go in the year. I had an idea of some of the things I wanted to improve upon after last year and came out with a few more things I wanted to do this year.
After that exercise, I decided that the theme for 2022 is to communicate.
I decided upon the blanket term of communicate for the items below because for me, these things are a dialogue between myself and something else. Generally, a private experience, but not always. I am using the theme system journal (which I purchased a few years ago but never used) to help me track the following items:
Reading has always been an activity I have enjoyed since I was a kid. Through high school, I thought I read quite a bit. Then in University, my reading habits changed, reading more articles in academic journals and plays, plus slowly reading more information online than in print. As the years have passed, my bookshelves have remained full, my Kindle library grows, and my Audible library consists of more books to read than ones I have finished.
I find this all rather embarrassing considering how many books some of my favourite writers tend to read. I read Ryan Holiday’s monthly book email list religiously, but have not read many of them; I read the reviews of books in Harper’s Magazine or in the New York Times, but rarely read any of them; and Tyler Cowen lists more books that he is currently reading than I could ever tackle in my lifetime. It’s both exhausting to see how much others read and creates a challenge to see how much I could possibly read.
I will never match Ryan or Tyler’s reading habits, mainly because my job depends on other things being done, whereas reading is part of their work. But it is something I want to do more of this year and in the future. The positives from reading are too many to list here. The main thing I want to get from this year is to learn more and to help improve my writing. The other part of reading more is I want to read better - more highlights, notes, and reviewing those notes. That part is going to be aided in a big way by Readwise, which is an incredible service worth exploring (and writing about more).
The two rules I am trying to follow this year are:
- read for at least 30 minutes straight without interruption every day a book on the Kindle or paper copy. Articles on devices don’t count, listening to Audible does.
- try to limit book purchases as much as possible and add them to a wish list instead to contemplate. Less instant purchases and more decisive purchases.
So far this year, I have finished one book (Cal Newport’s A World Without Email) and more than halfway through another (Greg McKeown’s Effortless). I have been able to read for at least 30 minutes in 10 out of the last 14 days. I have been reading first thing in the morning with my first cup of coffee. Afterwards, I feel ready to take on the work day. The few exceptions have been when I woke up to work messages that needed to be dealt with right away, though I question whether they could have been delayed longer.
Less Social Media
This primarily is centred around Twitter. I recognized last fall how much time I was spending on Twitter and social media in general. The cycle of scrolling, swiping down to reload, then scrolling more was endless and mindless. I found myself thinking, “What am I getting from this?”
When I was thinking about wanting to read more books this year, I knew I had to carve out some time somehow, and trying to lessen social media was where I was going to tackle it. I primarily use Twitter and Instagram, with Facebook being mainly for work. I thought I would try cutting out Twitter first as much as I can, and see how I progress.
I started to avoid Twitter starting on January 1st, which means as of this writing, I have avoided it almost completely for a month straight. There were only a few times I have found myself opening up the app or the website. The main culprit was an article linking to a Twitter thread or post, which I wanted to see snippets of. The second reason was for sports. I found myself wanting to see how certain people were responding during the bigger moments that I was watching live. I would search for their profile, scan, then close it out almost immediately. When I look at the Screen Time stats for Twitter, the time spent in the app is less than I have spent playing Wordle - still less than 5 minutes a day.
Part of the prompt to get going on this was a challenge put forth by Cal Newport in late December in his blog post, Analog January: The No Twitter Challenge and reading the comments from others that had ditched Twitter or social media services several years ago. Not many talked about why they did this, but then in a followup post from Cal, I saw this:
Alexander also notes an increase in his productivity. “Social media became my mental crutch when faced with a hard task,” he writes, describing the period before his experiment. “When I couldn’t think of how to write the next sentence or headline, my default action was to open another tab and scroll social media.”
This is exactly how I was treating Twitter (and to a lesser degree Instagram). I wasn’t opening the app to find something, it was a “default action” to avoid something. There is likely a longer post about how I am feeling after doing this, but for now, the only aspect of it I am missing is the live commentary for sports. I am not missing the live commentary on news items, and definitely not missing all the commentary surrounding COVID.
This is more straightforward than some of the others. When work was going (really) well money-wise, it also coincided with an increase in the stress and I needed an outlet. The colder weather and shorter days were settling in so my motivation to get outside was dwindling, as was my time to do anything during the day. I found myself turning to bourbon more often than not. Not to the point of getting drunk, but enough for me to not feel motivated to wake up in the morning very easily.
I knew that needed to change. In the latter half of December, I started cutting back, and started tracking the consumption in January. I am not sure I could ever go without it completely because I do enjoy the taste of it, but we will see how the year progresses. So far this month, 3/4 of the days I have had one or none, which I feel is a pretty good start to the year. I think it is something that will take longer for me to identify some real positive changes. The one major shift is waking up in the morning is much easier.
I feel like I say this every month for the last six years. It is something I definitely want to change this year and built a better habit of writing something rather than nothing every day for long stretches. This is definitely going to be more fuelled by what I am reading and doing. More to come.
This is the biggest challenge out of all the areas I want to track and see progress this year. As an introvert, I have been soft spoken and quiet in person for the majority of my life. I don’t want to be transformed into an extrovert (gross) but do want to become more of an extroverted introvert as much as I can. The additional challenge to this is the pandemic, of course. Meeting new people now is more challenging than it was a few years ago, and even then it was still challenging unless you put yourself way out there.
I’m not quite there. I do want to be able to connect with more people by phone or in person, less by texting constantly. The year is young and I haven’t quite sorted out how I want to tackle this. I am open to suggestions on how to build a healthy habit of connecting with people (besides family and work) to see some friendships be built.
Those are the five areas I want to actively monitor and improve upon this year. I am looking forward to this year of growth and discovery. I plan to regularly check in on these items as well to help keep me even more accountable beyond using the journal.