2017 Themes

I had 3 “look back” posts in the past ten days or so that all built up to my annual review. After all that looking back, the time has now come to look forward. I don’t like new years resolutions as I’m not a fan of “goals” based thinking. Instead, I prefer thinking in terms of direction and process. So, I prefer thinking of the new year in terms of themes.

My theme for the new year is engagement. I believe engagement is the answer to the debates around managing energy versus managing time. As with most important things, it isn’t an either/or. And, I also believe engagement is a principle that a good life is anchored around. And, as with all life principles, it is very hard to consistently live it. Also, I think of engagement and consciousness (the ability to be aware and to choose) as sister concepts. They share the same core.

While engagement is the high level theme, my audit and reading pointed to 3 sub themes.

The first theme is – “Seek to understand and then to be understood” – from my holiday re-read of “The 7 Habits.” I am way too impatient and, as a result, interrupt far too much than I’d like. I’d like to do better, a lot better. This isn’t something that’s easy to measure. So, I intend to just check in with myself every day for starters as I build my instincts around this.

The second theme is health. As I grow older, the idea of being very fit grows increasingly more appealing. I haven’t done as bad a job at this so far. But, there’s plenty of room for improvement. I used Mr Money Mustache’s excellent post on “Staying fit with no gym in sight” to reflect on this and piece together my health plan. The first part of this plan is to moderate my diet better – my diet is still pretty carbohydrate heavy (I love rice!). And, having just discovered the benefits of doing a full body work out during the week, I’ll aim to keep that going through this year.

The final theme is information. Again, there are two pieces. First, I’ve been working on streamlining my information diet over the past couple of weeks. I massively cut down on my news consumption and went through a review of every source I regularly consume on Feedly. I also took a good look at my work email flow and consumption habits and have made a few changes. The idea here is to be a lot more conscious about this as I still check my email and feeds far more than I’d like. The second piece of this theme is doubling down on reading books. I have a reading list that I cannot wait to get to. And, I’d like to spend more time on deep book reading over shallower sources.

I expect to see a step change in my level of engagement/consciousness if I work through these sub themes. But, as with all good processes, the journey is sure to be filled with learning. While seeking to understand will help me improve on my interactions with others, I see my approach to health and information as crucial. The better my health and information diets, the more energy I expect to have to be engaged through the day.

Lots of work to do. Onward.

PS: Peter Koehler, a reader, has done a nice job co-creating “The New Years Reader” – to be read aloud and shared with your close friends and family. Hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did. I contributed a thought to it as well. The theme should look familiar to you. 🙂

“We are a by-product of our questions. Perhaps we stop asking ourselves about how we can be better/best at something this year and, instead, ask ourselves – “How can I be engaged every day? How can I make sure I am being conscious about my decisions?”

All this would take is a commitment to spend 3 minutes to ask yourselves these questions at the start of your day, every day. And, a calendar reminder to re-commit to this habit every weekend.

Wishing you more engaged, more conscious days this new year. As we live our days, so we live our lives…”

Pressure, quirks and chopping wood

A close friend shared that his plans for today involved a quiet day at work. He also mentioned that he was getting screamed at by everyone he shared the plan with. Today is new year’s eve after all and there’s a certain pressure to do something memorable.

I was reminded of an evening a bunch of us spent together as teenagers. I think it was new years eve. After some time spent gaming in the afternoon, we spent about 3 hours in the side walk discussing our plans for the evening. Ironically, it was well into the evening by the time we ended our discussion. And, this wasn’t a one-time occurrence. We enjoyed talking about what to do. That meant everyone shared their preference and pretty much got berated for suggesting what always seemed like a dumb idea. Planning what to do typically meant lots of laughter and, I think, as a result, we spent a significant portion of those years planning.

Planning was the excuse, of course. It was just a blast to spend time together.

When I look back to my childhood, some of the best moments my friends and I spent together were spent on the most unspectacular things. An evening hanging out at my place, “planning,” a sleep over with a movie or two, riding to the beach (It was 1 hour away. So, it wasn’t the hanging out at the beach as much as it was about the ride), playing, eating panipuri at a roadside chaat shop, and just cracking up at each other’s expense – none of these cost much. But, they all made for really cool memories.

One of the funny consequences of the digital age and social media is that, somehow, they’ve added a certain pressure of expectation to moments of fun. Suddenly, it is not enough to be on vacation, it matters that it is a really cool vacation. Similarly, it is not clear if a fun evening with friends counts without a tagged status update or photo. As a result, fun occasions like new years days and valentines day have become high pressure days where we compete for likes and social status. Maybe some find it fun. I sure hope they do. This is for all those who don’t.

As you think about your fun events either to celebrate this new year’s day or an upcoming vacation, I really hope you think about what makes it fun for YOU. If that means, spending a week by yourself, so be it. In doing this, you will have to embrace your quirks. I realized a year or so ago that I don’t mind working on “stuff” when I’m on a break. What does matter to me is waking up without an alarm. You see, I sleep 10-11 hours on average most vacations and, as long as I do that, I’m happy.

It is up to us to design a life that will embrace that quirkiness. There is no shortcut to looking inward.

Finally, I came across this Zen quote – “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.”

It is a fantastic quote. Applying it to this context, it doesn’t matter how rich/successful/enlightened we are – at the end of the day, we are still human beings who crave love, attention, engagement, good food, good times and sleep. Here’s to that and more – on this new year’s eve and beyond.