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2018 Resolutions Retrospective

After my disastrous 2017 New Year's resolutions, I sat down and brainstormed some criteria that would help me set sane resolutions for 2018. That criteria was:

  1. The resolution cannot be failed. It should be valid all year and a constant source of motivation.
  2. Avoid using metrics. The resolution should be abstract such that there is always something to strive for.
  3. Be realistic. Is the resolution actually something that can be achieved in a single year?
  4. Be confident. Are you sure you will put the time and effort needed to see the resolution through?

The idea was to create abstract resolutions that were valid all year long regardless of how much progress was made.

Now that 2018 has come and gone it is time to look back and see how many resolutions I kept and if this criteria worked as expected.

1. Improve posture and flexibility

We are not off to a good start because I honestly completely forgot I made this resolution. Going back and looking at my monthly retrospectives it appears that I talked about posture and flexibility up until April. But once I got deep into yoga I completely forgot about this resolution and instead focused on pushing the difficulty of my yoga classes.

This resolution is a prime example of how they could be out of sync with what I wrote about during my monthly retrospectives as well as not targeted by my monthly goals.

It goes without saying but this resolution was definitely a failure. Not only has my posture and flexibility not really improved but my neck and shoulders are still incredibly stiff. I think the main reason why I failed this resolution was that it was far too abstract. Sure that made it something that was valid all year long but it was also something so nebulous that I straight up forgot about it. Even if it had a dedicated section in my monthly retrospectives I think it would have become something I glossed over because of how rudderless it is.

This feels like a real knock against the "avoid using metrics" criteria. I think some metrics, or at least a sliding scale of it, would have made this something to strive for. Like measuring how much I could do the splits or how close my hands can meet behind my back. Not just "get better" at something.

2. Increase strength

Ugh, I am really stumbling out of the gate here because I totally forgot about this resolution as well. I did use the Strong app to track some bodyweight exercises at the beginning of the year. But by March I had completely stopped in favor of yoga.

I believe that my strength has increased due to all of the bouldering and yoga I did but unfortunately there is no real way to gauge it. Combine that with the fact that I barely thought about the resolution for the entire year and you must consider it a failure.

This is another knock against the "avoid using metrics" criteria. Without tracking something like how many push-ups or pull-ups I could do over the entire year there would be no way to complete this resolution. I think a better goal would have been something with metrics but set over the entire year. Something like try to do 30 consecutive push-ups by April, 50 consecutive by end of July, 70 consecutive by end of September and 100 consecutive by the end of the year. That is a resolution that cannot be failed until the whole year transpires. It does have the problem of potentially finishing early which means that the resolution would no longer be "valid" but I need to stop fearing that sort of thing. If I reach a major goal this like early then I can just set another one.

3. Pursue programming as a hobby again

I went back and looked over all twelve monthly retrospectives I wrote in 2018. Do you know in how many of them I actually did any form of programming? Only six and in those months I only did enough work to publish two things to GitHub, Git Leaderboard and Roadrunner. In January 2018 I wrote "maybe I am wrong and I have outgrown this hobby and it really has just become a job and my primary source of income. But I am going to make sure I take one last serious crack at it in 2018". It looks like my serious crack was barely a half-hearted attempt.

I kept trying to tell myself that I wanted to do this. That it truly is a hobby. But I realize now the reason I did that is because I was terrified about not being able to program for a living. If you go back and look at what I wrote for this resolution you'll see a lot of fear that I won't be able to find programming jobs forever. If the opportunities dry up where is the money going to come from? I finally realize that I don't need to worry about that. I can make drastic changes in my life if I want/need to. I am not defined solely by the fact that I can get paid for programming so I should stop forcing myself to do it "for fun".

I don't think my 2019 resolutions should (or need) to reference programming at all. I need to focus all of that energy into some side project that truly interests me. Maybe it is writing a book or doing something with my hands like woodworking. Maybe I should create my own pen-and-paper RPG campaign. Maybe I should try doing some hardware stuff with an Arduino or who knows maybe I should build an app. The point is that I should choose something because I am excited to see it through to fruition not out of some poisonous sense of obligation.

So yeah, obviously I failed this resolution and I think that I was both not realistic or confident about seeing it through. In this scenario I do believe the criteria helped me create a solid resolution but when you are lying to yourself you can only go so far.

4. Plan out and track my days with Hobonichi Techo journal

Talk about a nebulous resolution. How the hell do I evaluate this one? Looking back at my Hobonichi Techo I can definitely say that I set goals for the vast majority of the days in 2018. Does that constitute a pass? I probably completed less than half of the daily goals I set so does that mean I fail? I did break down my days almost by the hour and have fairly detailed descriptions of what happened. Is that regarded as success?

This resolution was born out of the idea that I was wasting too much of my time with "pointless" activities. By setting goals and tracking what I was doing I would be able to identify if I was wasting time. If that was the case I could adjust my goals and start spending time on things that were more "productive". By that description I would consider this resolution a success albeit a very weak one.

I think setting daily goals did have the intended effect of making me more productive because I would routinely not watch TV or play video games if I saw I could complete one of my goals. But on the flip side I did not actively analyze how I was spending my time. The days where I was the most productive were ones where I set the most goals, even if I did not complete them all. Some of the worst days were when I set only one or two goals and then spent my evening watching YouTube.

As I wrote previously the nebulous nature of this resolution makes it seem like it is a poor one. But I am having difficulty coming up with how I would change it. Being one the few resolutions that actually had a positive effect on me in 2018 makes it really hard to judge in hindsight. There was no measurable way to indicate success but this resolution facilitated a core change in my behavior which is really all I can ask for.

5. Engage with some aspect of gaming culture every month

It probably goes without saying but I played a ton of video games in 2018. The idea behind this resolution was to try and attempt to expand my interests beyond video games and into other gaming related things such as:

Unfortunately, I can only say I did one and a half of those things. I played a lot of the board games Kingdom Death: Monster and Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 as well as tried to git gud at Dota 2 but after only three months I fell off the wagon.

If you go back and read my monthly retrospectives it is sad how many times I said I would attempt to read a pen-and-paper role-playing book but just never did. It was just so much easier to pick up a video game or turn on YouTube. The worst part is that they weren't new video games. Most were random old games I had never got around to playing. There was no reason I couldn't have just tried something else rather than playing a video game from three years ago.

I think this resolution was a good one to set. I just didn't have the strength to see it through.

6. Read a wide assortment of books

I only read six books:

  1. Words of Radiance
  2. Oathbringer
  3. Lord of the Rings
  4. Altered Carbon
  5. Broken Angels
  6. Woken Furies

Three are high fantasy and three are science fiction. That doesn't sound like a wide assortment of books to me.

This resolution was supposed to make me read things like pen-and-paper RPG rulebooks or Game Engine Black Book: Wolfenstein 3D but I just fell back to my safe space. Oh also I did not expect to take like 7 months to read Lord of the Rings. I dreaded reading that book so much. Maybe I need to make a 2019 resolution of not being afraid to put a book down before it is finished.

Anyway I totally failed this resolution and this time it was just good old sheer laziness.

7. Expand the topics that I write about

I published 60 articles in 2018 and the vast majority of them were either monthly retrospectives, games of the year lists or hotlinks. I did make some delicious hot sauce recipes, covered my trip to Edinburgh and wrote about how I set up a Jenkins node (which has become my most popular article of all time by the way). Hotlinking 26 articles is nothing to sneeze at either.

While there was some variation when compared to what I wrote about in 2017, I had hoped to do more long form pieces on topics that I have strong opinions on. I explicitly referenced giving "my thoughts on what make a good video game, mobile app foundations, storytelling tropes that I dislike" which I did not touch on in the slightest. Almost all of my writing was summarizing something that had happened rather than being truly original content. I think my pieces on Chris Lattner's response to Rafael Avila de Espindola leaving the LLVM project or democrats who voted for Trump are good examples of the kind of writing I want to do more of.

I give myself a pass for this resolution while simultaneously being disappointed that I didn't go a bit deeper.

Bonus: Attempt to control your anger/frustration

While I do not believe that I was not particularly angry or blunt with people in 2018, I do believe that my frustration was simply focused inwards instead of outwards. The same types of things would agitate me and rather than confront them I would let them linger inside me and fester. This quickly lead to resentment and we can all see how that is not healthy.

There is obviously some middle ground here where I can healthily talk about my emotions rather than squeezing my rage into a bitter little ball and releasing it at an appropriate time. Like hitting a referee with a whiskey bottle.

It seems that between 2017 and 2018 I jackknifed between extremes with regards to my resolutions. A more measured approaches seems appropriate when it comes to 2019.

Conclusions

It looks like I only managed to keep two of my eight resolutions for a 25% success rate. That is down from 5/9 in 2017 or 56%. It seems that my criteria had the exact opposite effect I was hoping for and created resolutions that were not only more difficult to satisfy but also easier to give up on or forget about.

Using this knowledge I have re-evaluated my criteria and updated it for 2019.

  1. The resolution cannot be failed. It should be valid all year round or can be completed early.
  2. The resolution should be designed to create a sense of motivation and pride, not obligation and disappointment. It should not call out negative behaviour but instead suggest positive ways to change it.
  3. Err on the side of being more concrete than vague. It is better to quickly complete a concrete resolution and set another one than forget about a vague one.
  4. Use metrics on a sliding scale. Such as minimum, target and stretch goals or checkpoints throughout the entire year. There should not be a single flat value that is the make or break point.
  5. Be realistic. Is the resolution actually something that can be achieved in a single year?
  6. Be confident. Are you sure you will put the time and effort needed to see the resolution through?

Also one thing that I have to do throughout all of 2019 is ensure that I write about my resolutions in every one of my monthly retrospectives. I thought that I was doing that in 2018 but after only four months I had telephone gamed myself into thinking I was writing about them when I wasn't. I am not yet certain how I am going to do that but I'll take me first stab at it in my January 2019 retrospective.

So that is another year in the books. 2018 had some highs but it feels like a very transitory year. I wasn't really sure what I wanted to do and made a lot of decisions that I regretted. I hope now I have learned from that and 2019 will be the start of a much more directed part of my life.

#Resolutions

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