2021 New Year's Resolutions
2021 is going to be the first year in a long time where I know from the start where I’m going to be for the entire year. This year’s goals and resolutions will aim to take advantage of that as much as possible.
Additionally, this year I’m going to experiment with more aggressive prioritization. Not every goal is created equal. Rather than aim to cram as much as I can into the year, I’m going to focus on just a few of the most important goals, and then trust myself to fill the remaining time with whatever I need or want to in the moment.
I’m doing this partly because I’d like to try creating a mental environment for myself that has more space and less pressure and partly because I worry having such a long list of goals makes it easy to work on the less important things at the expense of the more important things.
Most of the items I’ve chosen have shown up in some shape or form across multiple iterations of my annual goals, and I’ve made inconsistent progress on them. That’s why this year I’ve asked myself “What goals would actually change my quality of life if I accomplished them this year?”
Here’s my high-level answer:
- Maintaining a healthy mind and body.
- Overcoming my fear of failure.
- Working towards financial freedom.
- Overcoming my fear of rejection.
- Living a balanced life full of friends, family, and non-professional interests.
Here’s what’s situationally important given that I’ll be spending the next year in Taipei:
- Reaching native-level fluency in Chinese.
- Establishing deeper friendships and expanding my network.
- Embracing the experience of finally living somewhere for an extended period of time!
That’s it. Everything else is secondary. And everything here is aspirational–when I say “reaching native-level fluency in Chinese” I don’t mean that I expect myself to be fluent by the end of the year. I simply mean that I expect myself to regularly commit some time and make a real effort to move in that direction. (Though I will give myself a more realistic target for just this year further down in this document.)
In going through this exercise, I actually tried to keep myself to three things, but failed. However, while it may still look like there’s a lot here, there’s actually a ton of overlap in the goals that I’ve chosen. For example, the vehicle for overcoming my fear of failure is still my entrepreneurial pursuits, which are also aimed at generating revenue for financial independence. Likewise, my fear of rejection probably affects my friendships just as much as it affects my romantic life, so putting in the effort and taking risks to meet new friends and deepen existing relationships will push me to confront some of those fears. I plan to be intentional about seeking out overlaps between these goals to reduce the risk of overload.
Of course, there are a bunch of other things I’d like to do, and I could commit myself to some of them, but this year I’m choosing not to. I think my fear is always that, without a granular roadmap for how I should spend my time, that I’ll end up doing nothing. And, yes, when I’m feeling really tired I know I can, for example, binge video games for literally days on end.
But I think the thing that I usually forget is that, inevitably, when the dust settles and I leave my metaphorical man cave feeling recharged, I find myself bored by the idea of continuing that existence. Once that happens I tend to naturally look for things to learn or ways to improve myself–that’s just who I am.
For example, this past holiday break I initially spent a lot of time playing video games. But after that, I went on a trip, and on that trip I found myself spending the down time learning about how to grow plants, or watching Garry Kasparov’s MasterClass on chess, or alternating reading The Alchemist in Chinese and English with my girlfriend.
I think the truth is that so long as I create a balance, a routine, and an environment for myself that constantly charges me up instead of draining me, I can trust myself to do what’s best for me in the moment. If that sometimes means that, hey, I really do just need to play video games until I’m feeling OK again, then I need to be able to give myself the space to do that without feeling judgement, guilt, or shame.
Even though there are a million things I want to do and life is short, this year I’m going to try trusting myself a little more by giving myself the space to pursue or not pursue some things as I feel fit.
All that said, I am still going to be neurotic about the things that I’ve decided are important–I’ve chosen these things because even if I accomplish nothing else this year, these are the things that I think will really keep me moving in the direction I want to go. Making sure I have a handle on what attacking these goals means is important, especially because I chronically avoid some of them because, frankly, they scare the shit out of me.
Maintaining a Healthy Mind and Body
To me, this includes:
- Daily habit: Wake up early
- Daily habit: Reserve the first hour after waking for self-care
- Daily habit: Reserve the hour before bed for self-care and relaxation
- Daily habit: Go to sleep early enough to get ~8 hours of sleep
- Daily habit: Meditate for at least 10 minutes
- Daily habit: Journal for at least 10 minutes
- Weekly habit: Exercise at least 3 times a week
- Pick a set of dietary rules quarterly and stick to them ~80%+ of the time
- Stretch OKR: Reach ~10% body fat
I’d also add that I don’t want to be exercising more than ~6 hours/week max. I’m not planning to train for anything crazy this year–though I do want to maintain a high standard of fitness, competing in events or completing other athletic feats isn’t a priority this year.
While I do want to continue working on lowering my body fat and maintaining a healthy weight, I also don’t want to see myself going super out of my way–in terms of time–to support this. If I can make this happen semi-passively by establishing and sticking to a fairly low-effort diet, great. If I need to go out of my way to make it happen beyond that, it’s not a priority if it’s going to detract from important goals.
Some of these habits continue to hint at the desire to create strong morning and evening routines that will support long-term well-being and productivity. I do still think that’s important, and want to work toward finding a routine that works for me, and which I can reasonably tweak as I learn about new things I want to try. I’m going to leave some of the ultra-specifics out, though, to give myself flexibility to determine e.g. what the right wake-up and sleep timing is for my body / workflows.
Overcoming my fear of failure and working toward financial freedom
The primary lens for this is going to be my entrepreneurial pursuits. The primary problem in those pursuits so far has been a resistance to launching and putting a product out there (rejection) and then watching it die (failure). If I continue to find excuses not to launch, I can keep tricking myself into believing that I didn’t really fail because I never really tried.
So this year I need to focus on getting things out the door. Which means the following things potentially need to matter less:
- Finding the perfect idea
- Creating the perfect product
- Having a perfect marketing strategy or business plan
- Alienating the potential customer base
The thing that really matters, is launching something because that’s where all the learning is for me.
Fortunately, after consulting for so long in 2020, I’ve got a long runway. It’s time to start using it.
The high-level goals, then, need to be:
- Free up time to work on my own projects
- OKR: Stop consulting full-time by February
- OKR: Wind down consulting to the bare minimum by start of Q2
- OKR: Don’t take on more students for The Spike Lab unless I have to
- OKR: Launch at least 1 of my own projects to the general public this year
- OKR: Secure at least 1 paying customer for one of my own projects
- For inspiration and tactical advice:
- OKR: Read Make by Peter Levels
- OKR: Read about other peoples’ experiences doing 12 projects in 12 months
- Stretch OKR: Launch 12 projects in 12 months
At first glance, the OKR of launching just one project may seem a little… unambitious. However, after a few years of finding this journey daunting (and finding ways to get distracted from it), I’ve decided to really chunk this down and try to keep myself focused on the smallest scale version of the success I want to see here. I’m hoping that after I launch one project, or after I find one paying customer, it won’t be as hard or as scary to scale my efforts from there.
Somewhat contradictory, I am also loosely going to aim for launching 12 projects in 12 months this year. After a few years trying to get myself to do this and failing, I’m realizing that I’ve stopped believing in the idea of being able to launch a project in a month–a month isn’t a lot of time, and things have to stay small and pretty tightly scoped to fit into a 1-month time span.
When I started this journey, though, 1-month projects were the intention. I generally want to work on things that are fast to validate and fast to fail so that the majority of the time is spent gaining entrepreneurial experience rather than just straight-up building things (which is always the engineer’s instinct). However, I don’t expect myself to follow the letter of “12 months 12 projects” as much as the spirit.
In the past I’ve struggled with self-motivation in this area–often the fear is strong enough to keep me from being productive. I’m optimistic that this year will be different because:
- I’m more focused. I won’t be moving around. This year I expect to plant some roots and really focus on this. I’m even willing to invest in creating a real home office environment for myself to boost my productivity.
- My support network is stronger. I have quite a few friends now who are on a similar journey, some of whom are also pushing themselves to launch for quantity over quality. I expect to chat with them frequently, and hope that these interactions will help to keep me accountable.
- My runway is longer than it typically has been in the past. This doesn’t shove away some of the existential, career-oriented fears that this path has always presented, but it certainly does relieve some of the time pressure and stress of feeling like I’m “pissing away my life’s savings.”
Overcoming my fear of rejection, deepening friendships, and expanding my network
I expect that launching my own projects is going to, itself, be a form of rejection therapy–there’s often a fear that what I’ve created isn’t good enough, that people won’t like it, or even that people simply won’t care. In that sense, making good on the goals in the previous section will also do wonders here.
However, I’d also like to push my rejection comfort zone through the lens of deepening my friendships and expanding my network, specifically with people here in Taiwan. This pairs well with embracing the experience of living in Taiwan for a longer period of time and improves my sense of balance and well-being by strengthening my support network out here.
For this goal, I’m also going to try something new: I’m getting a coach. Well, sort of. I’m going to be working with my little sister on this one. I think the advantage of having a coach is that I get to learn from someone else’s experience, and I get to benefit from that experience to avoid needing to struggle to find the best strategy to accomplish this goal.
The goals here are as follows:
- Bi-monthly habit: Call my sister and debrief on progress and blockers
- OKR: Complete any homework assignments given to me by my sister
- Monthly habit: Make time to attend a networking-like event roughly once a month
- Bi-monthly habit: Make time to attend improv workshops twice a month
- OKR: Make at least 1 close friend in Taipei this year
- OKR: Schedule some time to get to know the other The Spike Lab coaches
Last year I wondered if I had regressed a bit, since I’ve recently found myself pretty uncomfortable at networking events. I’ve told myself that it’s because I don’t love how networking events are always so focused on “what you do” and “how you can be of value to me” as opposed to “who you are” and “what I can learn from you.”
I think there is an element of that, but I think a lot of it is that I’m afraid. Especially when the crowd at a networking event is older and more traditionally “accomplished”, it’s easy to feel a sense of “I don’t belong here” or “I’m not enough.” I think at networking events it’s easy to fall into the trap of comparing myself to others… and that combined with not having the deeper conversations sometimes leaves me feeling awkward and uncomfortable.
I don’t know that I’m ever going to love networking events, but I do think that this could be a good environment to challenge my beliefs around self-worth and self-value that likely sit at the root of my fear of rejection.
The improv workshops I’ve referenced above are actually conducted in Chinese and English, so this synergizes well with improving my Chinese fluency. Usually they break activities into groups of English speakers, bilingual speakers, and Chinese speakers. I’ve always been intimidated by the idea of doing improv in Chinese, so when I’ve gone I’ve usually gravitated towards the English groups. I want to challenge myself to finally try the bilingual and, ultimately, the Chinese-only groups.
In the past, when I’ve brought up fear of rejection, women and dating have been common focal points. While those areas do remain important challenge areas for me when it comes to rejection, since I’m currently in a relationship I’m not planning anything specific in that direction. I am, however, puzzling over whether or not there are ways to continue pushing past my fears even in the context of a relationship. I’m not sure what that might look like, but those are conversations that I continue to have with my girlfriend, who is aware of my desire to continue growing in this area. When it comes down to it, though, even if I weren’t in a relationship right now, I think that if I had to choose between focusing on my entrepreneurial pursuits and focusing on this, my entrepreneurial pursuits are more important.
Living a balanced life full of friends, family, and non-professional interests
This one is coming as a reaction to re-discovering in 2020 that, under the right conditions, I will sometimes drive myself way too hard, to the point where I start suffering from balance issues like feeling too tired or stressed to see friends. It’s also all too easy for me to end up in a place where I’m “always on” and even a small disruption in my day can lead to a feeling of constantly being behind.
Now, I’ve only ever had the opposite problem while working solo on projects, but to head this off anyway, here’s the plan:
- Daily habit: Aim never to obligate myself to log more than ~8 hours of work a day
- Weekly habit: Always make friends, relaxation, and extracurricular activities the priority on weekends
My hope is simply that this will create enough space in my life that I won’t feel as stressed, and that I’ll then naturally make time for friends, family, and hobbies. Additionally, rather than see myself work 10, 11, 12+ hours per day, I’d rather see myself finding ways to be more focused and efficient in 8 hours.
If there’s nothing else going on and I feel like it, can I work more than 8 hours a day? Sure. At the same time, I don’t want to find myself stressing myself out to do this on a regular basis, and especially not at the expense of health or well-being. Life is more than just work.
I want to try something a little different this year. I’ve been using Anki for a couple of years now, and it’s a great tool, but lately I’ve been finding language learning has become a chore rather than a hobby I look forward to.
Last year, I pulled a lot of vocabulary from the Taiwan official vocabulary lists. This wasn’t always very effective for a couple of reasons:
- It’s not terribly motivating.
- The words don’t come with a lot of context.
I’m finding that Anki is also potentially weak as a long-long-term memorization strategy. The hope has been that, over time, the Anki reviews will monotonically decrease in number, eventually approaching 0. In reality, though, I’m finding that there’s likely always going to be some leakage, especially for Anki cards that aren’t scheduled to show up for e.g. years.
Additionally, the progression down to 0 is taking… much longer than I had hoped it would. After nearly 2 years of maintenance on French cards, I still have ~50 cards to review a day. It doesn’t take that long (5-10 minutes), but combined with all of the other ~50-100 reviews I have to do each day across other categories, it tends to add up to a solid hour of slogging through Anki reviews.
After some pondering, I think the real goal is to reach a level in each language where maintenance of the language can be done through normal daily activities like consuming media. At that point, Anki ceases to be necessary, since frequent words will continue to reinforce themselves.
For that reason, this year I hope to focus more on functional fluency, with special attention to reading and conversation. For now, I’m still expecting to use Anki to help me memorize new words, but I hope the motivation to memorize those words will be so that I can fluently read a book or immediately use new grammar and expressions in conversation! I expect this to be a much more interesting and motivating experience.
Here are the goals:
- OKR: Reach an upper intermediate level in Chinese (B2, ~3000 words)
- OKR: Successfully participate in an Improv activity in Chinese
- Daily habit: Read in Chinese for ~15 minutes
- Daily habit: Clear Anki reviews
- Daily habit: Add 10-20 new Chinese Anki cards each day
Not strictly a goal or a habit that I intend to codify, but since I’m not committing myself to a reading goal this year, a lot of my passive listening time can potentially go to podcasts! Lately I’m re-discovering that I’m a fan of ChinesePod for level-focused content in coffee-break-sized episodes.
I explicitly plan to not add any new cards for any previously studied languages this year, but will likely try to maintain the existing cards for now. The focus is on Chinese at the expense of all other languages. If I find myself wanting to study other languages in my free time, I’m welcome to do so informally so long as it doesn’t start detracting from what’s been listed here as important.
Embracing the experience of finally living somewhere for a longer period of time
Since I’m going to be in Taiwan for the next year, I think it’s finally time to leave travel mode, at least for a little while. My current living situation has always been kind of temporary, in part because much of 2020 I wasn’t sure what might happen with my visa situation. After a year in a place more equipped for a stay of a couple months… I’m starting to feel the pain. I think I’m ready to make steps to fully embrace being here for a full year.
For now, this is more of an intention for the year than anything concrete, but I will put down:
- OKR: Find an apartment of my own
I’m also prepared to put some money down for this to make myself comfortable. Things like: real office equipment (a nice chair, some extra displays?), small kitchen appliances, and furniture to host people for small gatherings.
I’m not ready to commit to staying beyond a year yet, however, so I am still thinking about these things as semi-temporary, and do want to avoid accumulating too much unnecessary stuff.
Summarized 2021 Goals, Habits, and OKRs
- Wake up early
- Reserve the first hour after waking for self-care
- Reserve the hour before bed for self-care and relaxation
- Go to sleep early enough to get ~8 hours of sleep
- Meditate for at least 10 minutes
- Journal for at least 10 minutes
- Aim to never obligate myself to log more than ~8 hours of work a day
- Read in Chinese for ~15 minutes
- Clear Anki reviews
- Add 10-20 new Chinese Anki cards each day
- Exercise at least 3 times a week
- Always make friends, relaxation, and extracurricular activities the priority on weekends
- Call my sister and debrief on progress and blockers around deepening friendships
- Attend an improve workshop
- Attend a networking event
- Maintaining a healthy mind and body
- Pick a set of dietary rules quarterly and stick to them ~80% of the time
- Stretch: Reach ~10% body fat
- Overcoming my fear of failure and working toward financial freedom
- Free up time to work on my own projects
- Stop consulting full-time by February
- Wind down consulting to the bare minimum by start of Q2
- Don’t take on more students for The Spike Lab unless I have to
- Launch at least 1 of my own projects to the general public this year
- Secure at least 1 paying customer for one of my own projects
- For inspiration and tactical advice:
- Read Make by Peter Levels
- Read about other peoples’ experiences doing 12 projects in 12 months
- Stretch: Launch 12 projects in 12 months
- Free up time to work on my own projects
- Overcoming my fear of rejection, deepening friendships, and expanding my network
- Complete any homework assignments given to me by my sister
- Make at least 1 close friend in Taipei this year
- Schedule some time to get to know the other The Spike Lab coaches
- Learning Chinese
- Reach an upper intermediate level in Chinese (B2, ~3000 words)
- Successfully participate in an Improve activity in Chinese
- Embracing the experience of finally living somewhere for a longer period of time
- Find an apartment of my own