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t's the end of January as I write this. It's about the time that most people

Found at: ymodem.org:70/phlog/2018/newyearsresolutions.txt

It's the end of January as I write this. It's about the time that most people
fail with their New Year's Resolutions and sink back into old habits. 

There have been lots of words vomited all over the Internet and print media and
newspapers and radios and whatever else people use to get information they
already know that tries to explain this phenomenon. I'm not going to rehash them
here, exactly, but what I will do is offer some of my keyboard effluvia to how I
deal with New Year's Resolutions, or my lack thereof.

I don't make any New Year's Resolutions any more. I never really got into
them anyway because I could never think of any 'good ones' that I wanted to do.
Yeah, yeah, 'save money', 'exercise', 'lose weight', 'learn ', 'travel',
'et cetera', but those typically didn't speak to me, or if I did decide to do
something, I did it all wrong or in a way that I couldn't keep up for very
long. For instance, if I decided I wanted to learn a new language, I would buy
fifty textbooks on the subject. Or if I wanted to learn about, say, Python, I'd
buy every Python book I could find. If I wanted to lose weight, I'd create an 
over-complicated spreadsheet that kept track of how many calories I ate, how
many I lost by doing exercise, and then it would calculate how many ounces I
would gain or lose in a day. Or if I decided to exercise more, I'd get a gym
membership for a year, but only go three times a month for the first couple of
months, then never show up again until the contract ran out.

And I think part of that is just me (and even though I probably haven't met you,
maybe it's you, too). Whenever I get started on a project that I'm really
excited about, energy is really high, and I want to dive in and give it
everything I've got. I want to absorb absolutely every bit of information that I
can find on the subject, or if I find a new movie or game or book series that I
want to get into, I want to go get all of them so I can watch/play/read them all
from the beginning.  And I do that, and I make some progress. For a while.
Then, when it's not new any more, and I see that there's lots of work left to do,
I sometimes just stop.

And the big reason for that is not because there's lots of work left to do on
it, even though that's what I try to tell myself, and it's not that I'm not
seeing immediate results, either. No, the real reason is that trying to change
habits is hard, and when I'm spending time doing New Thing(tm), I'm not doing
the other things that I've forced myself to like doing over the years.

For instance: Let's say that I decide that watch too much television (see also
whatever your thing you think you do too much of) and I want to transition to
reading books instead.

So, for the first few nights, everything is great! I do my normal settling down
routine at the end of another busy day, I sit down to read whatever book I've
chosen, and I do that until whatever time I decide that I should stop and do
something else, like going to bed or washing the chinchillas. Then, one night
my Favorite Show(tm) has a new episode. So I watch it instead of reading the
book that I was getting into. "I'll read it tomorrow night," I think to myself,
"or maybe in the morning before work." 

But when tomorrow comes, I don't read it before work because I have too much to
do to get ready to face the day. And when I get home, hey look! This Other
Show(tm) is on, and it's a rerun, but it's a pretty good one, so I should
probably watch that. Then, there's nothing I really want to watch for an hour,
but then there's a special report that I've been dying to see, so I'll just
watch this since it'd be foolish to turn off the television for an hour just to
turn it back on again. I'll get back into that book on the weekend. 

Then the weekend rolls around, and, well, I have to run to the store and I
have to cut the grass and I have to clean the house and I have to do laundry
and I have hang the gutters and I have to till the fields and I have to do
all this stuff. And by the end of the day, when I have a little time to pick up
that book and read it... I dont'. I fall back into watching television again
because it's easier. It's easier to continue doing the thing I've always done
because I don't have to think about them. It takes no mental energy to go through
the motions and my mental energy is just gone. Completely. The next night, I
don't read the book because I don't feel like it. Yeah, it'd be nice, but I just
don't want to tonight. 

Repeat the next night, and the next, and the next. And pretty soon, it's six
months later and I can't remember the last time I cracked open my book and I
can't figure out how I managed to go this long without reading when I made it my
New Year's Resolution, and I bought all these books to read, but I barely made
it a quarter of the way through the first one in six months, so now I feel even
worse.

That's the first problem: you only want to do the New Thing when you feel like
it. The thing is that if you wait until you feel like it, you'll rarely ever
feel like it, and when you finally *do* feel like it, you're so far behind that
you practically have to start over from zero because you forgot everything/fell
so far behind/et cetera, that you'll never get caught up. That makes it really
easy to just give up because you're not making progress in it, so you must not
be any good at it (even though if you did the thing long enough and regularly
enough, you'd *get* good at it). 

So the first lesson that I learned: do  every day, even if I don't feel
like it. 

Second lesson: I just don't have the time. 

Of course, this is baloney. In my experience, I make the time for the things
that are important to me. I can't speak for everyone in every circumstance, of
course, but, in general, I've seen a lot of people who say that they don't have
time to do  because they have almost no free time, especially as they
get older. They have jobs and kids and all of these other things that they just
have to do every waking minute of the day.

And, I have no doubt that there are people out there who wake up, immediately
shower, immediately get dressed, immediately go to work, stay there all day
working, come home, eat dinner, immediately go to bed, and then start it all
over again the next day. But for a lot of people like me, who think they have
less time than they really do, if they really look at the time that they have
in a day, they have more than they think. Or, more accurately, they waste more
time than they think.

Using myself as an example again: I have to go to work most mornings at 9:00 AM.
I would get up at 6:00, shower, dress, make and eat breakfast, feed the cat, and
then catch up on the morning news before heading out the door. Then I'd go to
work, come home around 6:00, make and eat dinner, feed the cat, watch the
evening news, and then something on primetime television, feed the cat again
(she eats a lot), and then go to bed. I lamented how I didn't have time to do
things like write or work on my website(s) like I wanted to. 

After a while I looked at my schedule and made a spreadsheet. Did it really take
me two-and-a-half hours to get ready to go to work? It does if I turn on the
morning news and have it on in the background for an hour or so while I log into
Facebook or  and scroll around like
a robot, not really doing anything until it's time to leave for work. Do I
really not have time to do anything in the evenings, either? I don't if I want
to watch a show that comes on an hour or more after the news and I just keep on
watching because it wouldn't make sense to turn the television off an back on. 

After actually getting a good look at what I was doing, I decided that maybe I
didn't have to keep the news on for an hour while they repeat everything anyway.
And maybe I don't need to scroll around on some website reading comments about
some fluff. Maybe I can start writing something every morning instead, whether
I feel like it or not (which has resulted in around 400 personal journal entries
so far, and a few blog entries (like this one!)). 

Everyone's different, though. But I'd be willing to bet (not money, but
something else... like imaginary donuts) I'm not alone in this.

I looked around and I found that I *was* making the time for things, just not
the things that were important to me. I somehow didn't have time to play a game
in my backlog, but I had the time to sit down and watch television for three
hours. I didn't have time to update my blog, but I had time to scroll around on
social media sites for an hour every morning, every evening, and every time I
was bored for a couple of minutes.

I'm not saying that one pursuit is better or worse than another. I'm just saying
that if something is important enough to me, then I'll find time to do it. Yes,
that means that I have to reduce the amount of time I devote to other things
(sometimes down to zero minutes), but that also ensures that the things I am
spending time on are the things that I actually want to spend time on, and not
things that I just do because that's what I've always done and they're ingrained
into my being.

Third Lesson: I just try to do too much. 

If I set New Year's Resolutions, I overdo it. I say something like, "This year
I'm going to lose weight, exercise more, learn BIND, learn a foreign language,
and get all of the video games out of my backlog!". That's a good set of goals
to have, but in order to make all of that happen at once, I have to take
everything that I'm doing, and maybe carve out a few hours, as stated in Point
Two, and try to figure out how to exercise, read a book, do some language
drills, play a video game, all in two or three hours a day. That's setting
myself up for failure. What's easier and better for me to do is to pick one or
two things, work on them in the spare time that I carved out above, keep working
on them until they become habits, *then* start working on the next one.
Adjusting my schedule slowly enough that it doesn't feel like work, because if
it feels like work, if I'm not getting paid, I'm not going to want to do it.

See also: "It's not a race, it's a marathon," "Rome wasn't built in a day," or
whatever your pet idiom is.

Fourth Lesson: There's never a bad time to improve yourself.

I think it's a trap to only make these life-changing promises on New Year's Day
or right around there. I get it, the new year is symbolic of new beginnings, and
et cetera, but if I decide that I want to eat healthier in June, why should I
wait until January to do it? If I want to learn how to speak Portuguese in
October, why should I waste two months before I get started? I'll do it now. 

As they say: Seize the fish!

Fifth Lesson: It's not as fun/cool/exciting/interesting/et cetera as I thought it would
be, but I already spent money on it.

Ah, the old Sunk Cost Fallacy. It's easy to look at, say, someone who's somehow
making living making videos of themselves playing video games all day and think
that I could do that, and I get started. I buy some capture equipment and set up
some editing software and get to streamin'. Only to find out after a few
days/weeks/months/whatevers that I don't like it as much as I thought I would.
Yeah, I'm playing video games, and I like video games, but now playing video
games means that I have to work, where before it was just for fun. And I have to
play something every day, even if I hate the game because I 'owe it' to my
audience or whatever. Also, depending on the amount of success I achieve, I
can't get sick since being sick means no new content and no new content means
that I don't get paid. Plus, I bought all of this gear, and I have to get my
money's worth out of it or it will go to waste.

Or I bought a bassoon and started taking lessons. After a period I decided that
this wasn't as fun as I thought it might be, and I don't like it. But I already
paid for the lessons and bought this instrument, so I'm going to either complete
the lessons and hate every minute of it, or I'll just stop showing up for them.
I'll never get rid of the bassoon because I spent money on it, and it's hard to
sell in this area and this market. It stays as a reminder of my past failures.
So instead of ditching it and trying something that I might enjoy more, I keep
it for the sole reason of: I spent money on it, and I don't want to waste the
money that I have tied up in it, even though it's being wasted by just sitting
there unused.

I have to know when to cut my losses and move on. Maybe I wasted some money
buying some piece of software that I ultimately barely used because it turned
out that I hated trying to edit video. Maybe I bought a book on Lua but decided
after getting a couple of chapters in that I didn't have any need to know it.
Maybe I registered for a writing class, but it turned out that I didn't have as
much of an interest in that kind of writing once I got started. If I keep going,
I'll have a skill that I'll never use and it'll wither immediately, or if I do
anything else, I'll maybe find something that I actually like to do. 

Of course this leads to the possibility that I'll endlessly try new things and
never become an expert in any of them, but is that really so bad?

Sixth Lesson: Work is hard.

This, I think, is the big one. I want the results, but I don't want to do the
work that it takes to get there. It's like moving to a new house. I want to live
in the new house, but I don't want to pack up all my things and move them over
there. I just want to go to sleep one day in the old house, and wake up the next
in the new one with the moving all done.

It's the same with New Year's Resolutions. I want to have already know PHP, but
I don't want to read a book and build applications. I want to have already lost
however much weight I want to lose without having to do all that diet and
exercise. I want to already have $10,000 in my savings account without actually
having to actually save a few bucks every day. And so on.

I get it, kind of. Work *is* hard, and it's really tough to do work after
working all day at our Real Job(tm) because at least your Real Job(tm) pays you
sometimes, and your resolution work doesn't. At least not at first, and not in
cash (usually). You put in 40 hours (or so) for your employer, and you can see
something real. You put in another 20 (or so) into hitting the gym that week,
and you won't see much of a change at all on the scale. Maybe not even for weeks
or months. It's easy to get discouraged and just quit 

Seventh Lesson: Quitting is easy.

Some things are hard. Some things are very hard. But quitting? That's one of the
easiest things in the world to do. And, like I said in Lesson Five, sometimes I 
get into something and decide that I don't like it as much as I thought I would.
But sometimes I get into something and I like it, but there's going to be some
rough patches coming up. For instance, if I'm learning Spanish and I like it,
but there's a lot of vocabulary that I need to memorize... well, maybe I just
shouldn't even try. Or if I'm writing by blog and I've still got lots of ideas,
but I just don't really want to write the next entry because it's probably going
to be 4,000 words long and will probably involve lots of research, and blah blah
blah...

In those instances, it's easy to just quit and give up since the task is just
too big or too tough or too something else.

And in those instances, I have to decide if I really like the thing I'm trying
to do or if I just think that I like the thing that I'm trying to do. If it's
the former, I need to circle around and do other, related things, until I'm
ready to tackle the Big Thing(tm) (or break the Big Thing(tm) down into a bunch
of Smaller Things(tm)), but if it's the latter, then I need to seriously
reconsider if I want to be able to do  or if I just fell in love with the
idea of doing  and don't want to actually do it.

Eighth Lesson: I don't have to answer to anyone.

I don't make New Year's Resolutions any more. The last one I made several years
ago was to no longer make any new resolutions, and it's the only one that I've
actually kept. I also make decisions about trying new things and I don't
announce them anywhere. Most of the time I don't tell my friends or family that
I'm doing them, either. Telling the world that I'm going to start doing
something or learning something or whatever plants a seed of expectation in
them. That blossoms into some kind of bush that is part jealousy (oh, I wish I
had the talent/time/motivation/something to do that, too!), part envy (oh, I
wish I could program/get in shape/whatever, too!), and part expectation (oh, how
is  coming along? Let's see you perform!). 

And that's the thing. I have to look at who I'm doing this thing for. Unless my
goal is to do something for someone else, then the only person I have to satisfy
is myself. When I start something I do it on my own terms. When I decide that I
need to quit, I can do that whenever I want. When I decide that I'm going to
spend an entire weekend holed up in my house while I wrap my head around TCP/IP,
then I can do that, too. 

I've discussed this with myself and we both decided that we're okay with it.

Ninth Lesson: You can't force it.

I know, this is going to kind of run counter to a few of the points that I made
up there, but when I'm trying to make a change, I have to work at it to make
that change stick. If I'm trying to learn how to play guitar and I'm not getting
it and I'm not getting it and I'm not getting any better no matter how much I
practice and it's getting frustrating and it's been a month and I'm just not
progressing... maybe it's not for me. No matter how much I want to play the
guitar, I just can't for whatever reason (disclaimer, I've never attempted to
learn playing the guitar). Or maybe I'm writing a novel and I just can't seem to
write believable dialog no matter how many days and weeks I try. Or maybe I'm
trying to learn how to cook and for whatever reason I just can't seem to get
anything more complicated than boiling an egg done correctly, even after
following the recipe two or three dozen times. Whatever the reason, if it's not
working for me, then it's not working for me. 

It's possible that I've hit a wall and need to power through, but it's also
possible that I'm trying to do something I hate and my brain is sabotaging my
efforts. Or that I just don't like it and I don't want to do it any more. 

Tenth Lesson: Don't try to be great at everything

Maybe I'm not getting any better, but I've been doing this thing for months now,
and I appear to have plateaued. I've taken something is as far as I can, and,
yeah, with lots more practice I could probably be good at this thing, maybe even
great, but if I'm happy being on the periphery then who cares?

Of course, it might turn out that I'm both really great at the thing and I want
to keep doing all I can to get better at it, but I might not have never have
known that if I didn't quit doing the things that I didn't like and was bad at.

Everyone's different, and I can't say what worked for me will work for anyone
else. I want to end this before I get too preachy, so I'll just say this:

I realized a long time ago that I can either do that thing I always wanted to
do, I can take it out of my brain and make it real, or I can do nothing/the same
routine every day until my funeral.

One of those options is a lot more fun than the other.

Last updated 30 Jan 2018.


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