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2019 New Year's Resolutions

There is no sugarcoating it, 2018 was not the best year for resolutions. I came up with all of this criteria that I thought was going to help me and it seemed to have the opposite effect. So I took what I learned and updated that criteria 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?

My 2018 resolutions were too clinical. There were very cut and dry fail points with no wiggle room. My 2018 resolutions were too vague and basically had no way to measure if had I succeeded other than did I feel that I completed the "spirit of the resolution". My resolutions for 2019 are an attempt to meet somewhere in the middle. I can't be too prescriptive less I kill my motivation but I also need smaller goals / checkpoints to keep me going.

So with all that in mind here are my nine resolutions for 2019:

1. Get my driver's license and go on a road trip

I have lived in California for over four years and still haven't gotten my driver's license. Back in Toronto it was impossible to live without one. I was constantly using Zipcars to get all around the Greater Toronto Area. In San Francisco it is a bit different. Uber is so prolific that unless you want to go outside of San Francisco there is no need to drive yourself. Uber actually makes things much easier because you don't have to find parking of which there is a very limited supply.

That being said, after being cooped up in this concrete jungle for four years I really want to start exploring outside of it. I would love to go on hikes, maybe see a hockey game in San Jose, or visit Yosemite National Park and these are just not things that you can rely on Uber to get you to and from.

So in 2019 I am finally going to get my diver's license. A behind-the-wheel test has been scheduled and I am going to take a couple of driving lessons to ensure I understand all of California's rules of the road. If everything goes well I should have my license before the spring. After that it is time to plan a road trip. I was thinking something for a long weekend such as driving to Portland, the Grand Canyon, Disneyland, etc.

I was going to add "purchase a car" to this resolution but then I learned about how much of a pain in the ass it is to import cars from the US into Canada. I decided to leave this stipulation out because there is a high probability I will move back to Canada. I am still investigating what it would take to import the car I want to buy but I don't want to tie the success of this resolution to it.

2. Lose body fat

I am sick and tired of always having multiple resolutions that boil down to "get healthy". This year I wanted to create a single resolution to encompass everything and came up with "lose body fat". My weight no longer matters because if it is going up but my body fat percentage is going down then that means I'm just adding muscle which is the definition of healthy.

I will be looking at my average body fat percentage over any given four month period. If I can hit one of my goals during any of those periods I will consider it a success. This gets around the standard problem of December usually being a lazier, gluttonous month that causes this stuff to tick back up.

To avoid the problems of previous years where too lax or too strict numbers sabotage my resolutions I am creating a sliding set of goals. The bare minimum to call this resolution a success is to get below 19% body fat. I last achieved this back in November of 2017 so it is definitely a goal that I can reach if I put my mind to it. My target goal is to get below 18% body fat which is very doable in my mind if I put on some muscle and do a bit more cardio. The stretch goal is getting below 17% body fat which is probably a pipe dream but who knows. A lot can change in a year.

I really like this resolution but there is no way to complete it unless I improve my diet and exercise for the entire year. Everything I have been writing about in the health section of my monthly retrospective now funnels into this resolution.

3. Do 50 push-ups and 20 pull-ups

It may seem that this is another resolution centered around getting healthy but that is not its primary purpose. These are simply personal milestones that I want to hit in 2019. With all of my bouldering, yoga and weightlifting I want to measure my progress and I think push-ups and pull-ups are great metrics for that. I assume that I am going to lose some body fat as I work towards these goals but theoretically I could lose absolutely none so I don't want to tie the success of these two resolutions together.

I am aiming to do 50 push-ups consecutively and 20 pull-ups consecutively. They don't need to be during the same workout session but they do need to be in a row without any breaks.

For push-ups the range I am targeting is between 40-50. My personal record is 30 so even getting to 40 I will consider a win. But I think that I can push myself to 50 and beyond if I really try. I was debating about making this resolution do the 100 push-up challenge but I really dislike the rigid structure of it.

For pull-ups I am talking about the variation where your palms are facing away so you are targeting your back muscles. They don't have to be wide gripped pull-ups but maybe that is something to work towards. Getting my chin up and over wherever my hands are positioned is considered a successful pull-up. I am targeting to do between 10-20 pull-ups. Right now I can barely do three so I know I am really pushing myself here.

4. Find a side project or hobby

This resolution sounds really vague but it is actually very simple and concrete. Every month either do something you enjoy or try something new. Simple right?

The last two years I've set resolutions to force me to do things that I felt obliged to do. Release an app, become conversational in another language, program some open source stuff. These were all things I should have attempted for a month and moved on from if they didn't interest me. Instead they became anchors on my year.

In 2019 the plan is to throw everything against the wall and see what sticks. There are so many things I could try like:

  1. Build something with an Arduino. Perhaps an automated cat toy to keep Lacey occupied while we are at work.
  2. Try drawing some more complicated things.
  3. Write a novel or short story. Perhaps I'll continue my X-COM fanfic from grade 5.
  4. Play a pen-and-paper role-playing game.
  5. Build and paint miniatures.
  6. Design a board game.
  7. Get into 3D modeling and printing.
  8. Finally write my series on "Mobile App Foundations".
  9. Start a podcast.
  10. Take up powerlifting.
  11. Learn to play an instrument. Perhaps the synth?
  12. Photography.
  13. Learn to solve a Rubik's Cube.
  14. Take up woodworking on the path to becoming Nick Offerman.
  15. Try snowboarding again.
  16. Or even attempt to release an app again.

It doesn't matter if I find my true calling in January or try and fail twelve different things. Making the attempt is all I care about to count this resolution as a success.

5. Read six different types of books

In 2017 I set a resolution to read one book every month which I failed. After falling behind one month I lost the urge to complete the resolution. I could have tried to increase my reading to make up for the missed month but technically it was a failure in my mind. However I continued to read for the entire year and was able to complete eight books.

In 2018 I set a resolution to read a wide assortment of books which I also failed. I only read six books that year of which three were high fantasy and the other three were science fiction. Not exactly a large variety. This happened because I picked books that I ended up disliking but was afraid to stop reading for some reason. I felt compelled to complete every book I started which eventually led me to dread reading.

So for 2019 I wanted to try to combine the two resolutions. Read a large variety of books but not be explicit in a way that makes it easy to fail.

So the resolution I settled on was to read six different types of books in 2019. A type could be the standard literary genres like fantasy, science-fiction, thriller, mystery, drama, biography, historical, etc. It could also be technical books like Game Engine Black Book: Wolfenstein 3D or The Pragmatic Programmer as well as RPG rulebooks like Cyberpunk 2020 or the Dungeons & Dragons Player Handbook. Even esoteric things like whitepapers or artbooks or manga are fair game. After reading so little last year I don't want to do anything that would limit what I could read in 2019. If I end up reading twelve different types of books because I was too lenient I'll deal with that when I write my 2019 resolutions retrospectives next year. But for the time being I want to remove any blockers that would stop me from reading something.

Also, for the love of god, don't be afraid to stop reading books that don't interest me. It is better to fail reading four books in a month rather than force myself to read one of them over several months.

6. Complete unique 24 scenarios in Gloomhaven

Over the last few years I have really been trying to get into board games. Last year was mostly Kingdom Death: Monster and Pandemic Legacy: Season 1. For 2019 I want it to be all about Gloomhaven.

Gloomhaven is a persistent dungeon-crawler where a single campaign will be comprised of at least 70 unique scenarios. Each scenario takes about an hour or two to complete depending on how well your players understand the rules and the complexity of the scenario. You are also not guaranteed to complete each scenario on your first try. So if we assume you fail 40% of the time that means you'll be playing at least 98 scenarios in a campaign which equates to between 98 and 196 hours. If you played for four hours every gaming session that means you'd have to play between 25 and 49 sessions to complete a campaign.

I am doing all of this math so it is abundantly clear how I came up with the goal of completing 24 scenarios for this resolution. I am under no disillusionment that I will be able to complete a Gloomhaven campaign this year. But if I try to complete 24 scenarios with a 40% failure rate than I'll only need to play between two to six hours of Gloomhaven every month which seems very doable and should not overwhelm me. One month may only be a single session for five hours and beat two scenarios while another month could be three sessions of two hours each and still complete two scenarios. These all seem like sane expectations for someone who works a 9-5 job.

The great thing about all of this is that both Jarques and Elsie have expressed interest in playing Gloomhaven weekly.

7. Be proactive at work and take on tasks that increase my visibility

I have spent close to an hour trying to think of a one-liner for this resolution and everything I have come up with is garbage. At this point I've just given up and am now going to throw a wall of text at you in hopes that by the end you can understand what I am hoping to achieve.

During my first year in San Francisco I was very successful at my job. I was also incredibly aggressive and rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. I was part of a team that was responsible for building foundational frameworks and instilling best practices in other developers. While I may have been good at this I was also a real dick while doing it. By the end of that year my performance review said I was solid technically but my soft skills needed work and I will readily admit that I did not take that criticism well. I shifted to the other extreme and tried not to offend anyone which resulted in me coming off as aloof and not passionate about anything.

Instead of being proactive at work I would just focus on the tasks that were assigned to me and if anything got any pushback I would crumble and retreat into my shell. As someone on a work visa it was just not worth the risk of asserting myself and potentially offending someone who could get me in trouble or even fired. I realize this is an irrational fear but when your whole life depends on having a piece of paper that says you can live somewhere rationality easily goes out the window.

What helped me break out of this fear was working with some people who behaved exactly like I did during that first year. I finally understood how tiring and soul crushing it must have been and there obviously is a better way to assert yourself while also maintaining a high degree of empathy for those around you.

So for 2019 I am going to attempt to turn this all around. It is time to take all of these things that I have learned over the last four years and redefine how I carry myself at work. To become proactive again and fight for those things that I believe in. To extend this even further I want to put myself into a position where these proactive actions don't just get me a good performance review but raise my visibility inside the company. I want to be known as one of the goto people that greases the wheels that get things done rather than a well oiled cog in the machine. I no longer fear being fired, losing my work visa and my money. This is now all about my career. What am I going to do 1,2,5,10 years from now? That is what 2019 needs to expose to me.

Maybe this will result in me becoming a staff engineer, a technical lead manager or even a pure engineering manager. All of these are on the table and I will make sure I consider all of them in 2019.

I realize this resolution is very vague and doesn't really have any measurables which goes directly against my criteria but at my core I know this is something I have to do. Maybe I am doomed to fail but doing a retrospective on it at the end of the year will no doubt be beneficial.

8. Grade my mood multiple times a day

Back in August 2018 I attempted to grade every day as being either positive, negative or neutral. The idea was that I would be able to look back at the month and track my mood to try to find correlations as to why I felt good or bad. It was a solid idea in practice but it failed in execution because I would routinely forget to grade the day until late in the evening when I was tired and had forgotten a lot of the nuance of what had occurred.

A developer I follow on Twitter named Felix Krause has a Telegram bot that asks him for his mood three times a day. The idea is not to grade what has already happened that day but to be forward looking.

If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

When you're answering that question you've completely flipped what you are grading on its head. You are no longer judging your hindsight but your optimism. I like this idea and want to see it through in 2019.

The idea is to do something similar but since I don't use Telegram I am going to have to come up with some other mechanism to track my mood. The planned v1 is to use the Reminders app on iOS and a Google spreadsheet that I configure for the year. Each column will contain rows for how many times I want to judge my mood and every cell will have a dropdown with all of the possible values. I am still working out exactly what those values are but I hope to have explicit details by my January 2019 retrospective.

My hope is that I will have a growing graph of my general mood that I can contrast to what was happening in my life. Using my monthly retrospectives and my Hobonichi Techo journal if I see a strange spike in either direction I can look back and try to understand what affected me.

9. Run a half-marathon

This feels like a cop-out resolution but on the other hand I think it is one of the purest resolutions you can make. It is a straight up pass or fail that is valid until the very last day of the year. Even if I forgot to register for a single race all year long there is nothing stopping me from going outside on December 31, 2019 and running up and down the Embarcadero for 21.1 kilometers.

This is something that will hang over my head and pull me along the entire year until I attack it head on. It has been over four years since I last ran a half-marathon but I know I can still do it. I have plenty of friends who are interested as well so there is no reason I shouldn't be able to run one in 2019.