In 2018 I generated a set of criteria that was supposed to ensure I came up with "sane" resolutions. Unsurprisingly, it didn't work great on its first time out, so I tweaked it and came up with the following criteria for 2019:
- The resolution cannot be failed. It should be valid all year round or can be completed early.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Be realistic. Is the resolution actually something that can be achieved in a single year?
- Be confident. Are you sure you will put the time and effort needed to see the resolution through?
This was an improvement upon the 2018 criteria by focusing on creating concrete resolutions that fostered good habits, rather than vague resolutions designed to combat bad habits.
Something else that came out of the 2018 resolutions retrospective was the realization that I forgot about the majority of my resolutions as the year progressed. In 2019 I would write about my resolutions monthly not only to refresh my memory but also to use them to help set my monthly goals. Unfortunately this only lasted until July and did not have the benefits I was hoping for.
I wrote about this in my July retrospective but the long of the short of it is that while being reminded of my resolutions may be helpful, being forced to write about them was not. It was a combination of not having enough to write about and not liking the resolutions that remained. Regularly I found myself depressed being forced to write about a resolution that I made no progress towards because I didn't care anymore.
Looking towards 2020, I do need to continue to force myself to be aware of the resolutions I set but I don't have to acknowledge them in my monthly retrospectives necessarily. One thing that I have definitely found out is that forcing myself to stay to some strict format does breed resentment. I don't need to be forced to write about my shortcomings. I am very open in that regard it turns out. But sometimes there just isn't enough to write about and forcing yourself to come up with something is not the right solution.
Anyways, let's look back at my 2019 resolutions and see how many I managed to complete this year.
1. ✅ Get my driver's license and go on a road trip
Ironically this was the resolution that I jumped on earliest and finished the latest.
I got my California driver's license in February and immediately started planning a road trip to Los Angeles to visit a friend. It looked like sometime in the summer would work the best so I ended up purchasing a Tesla Model 3 in May which was a great idea. Now I have a driver's license, a beautiful car, and a friend who wants us to come visit. Everything was falling into place.
Unfortunately personal things got in the way (which I won't get into here) and it became impossible for Elsie and I to take any road trips. It looked as if this resolution was going to be a failure until Elsie managed to fly back to San Francisco for Christmas. We celebrated by driving down to San Diego to visit some friends on the final weekend of the year.
Looking back this was a near perfect resolution. It couldn't be failed early. It was realistic and I was confident in my ability to complete it. I was motivated by it (nearly) year-round and it was very concrete. It also had the amazing side effect of me buying a car that I've used for all sorts of things outside of this road trip.
2. ✅ Lose body fat
I started the year at 19.61% and finished at 17.37% so yes technically I did complete this resolution. But those numbers do not tell the whole story.
I jumped to 21% in April and maintained it all the way through October. On November 12th I was 21.73% and managed to bottom out on December 17th at 14.98% before ending the year at 17.37%. I really only worked on this resolution for the final 49 days of 2019 and honestly, I had completely forgotten about it. I only succeeded because I had become disgusted with myself.
It was November 14th when I hit rock bottom at 165.5 pounds and 20.47% body fat. I finally admitted to myself that my diet was horrible and all the exercising I was doing would not offset it. I started to eat less than 2000 calories every day and fast for at least 16 hours. By the end of November my body fat percentage dropped to 19%.
This was a great resolution in principle, but a horrible resolution in practice. It was so vague and had no real way to motivate me. The bare minimum to call this resolution a success was to get below 19%. I set a target goal of 18% and a stretch goal of 17%. After just the last month and a half I don't think hitting 150 pounds and 15% body fat is just achievable, it is expected if I actually want to live a healthy life.
3. 🙅🏻♂️ Do 50 push-ups and 20 pull-ups
Here is the perfect example of a resolution that occurs when you lie to yourself. I was not realistic in the slightest when I set this resolution. This was what I wished would happen, not what I was actually willing to make happen.
I am being a bit too hard on myself because I didn't just set this resolution thinking "I just wanna be super strong". I did it because I was hoping this would be a metric for showcasing all the strength I would gain from my bouldering, yoga and weightlifting (which never happened).
In retrospect this resolution probably should have been centered around simply getting me into weightlifting at some regular cadence.
4. 🙅🏻♂️ Find a side project or hobby
I only wrote about this resolution for the first seven months of the year. Let's see what I think I did each month:
- January: Forgot
- February: Built AcroBee drone
- March: Forgot
- April: Docker course on Udemy
- May: Forgot
- June: Read Cyberpunk 2020 rulebook
- July: Forgot
I made a list of 16 freaking things I could have done and attempted none of them. Yeah, this seems like it was a super motivating resolution.
The worst part is that this resolution is vague on purpose. I set resolutions in the past that were too concrete and I came to resent them. This resolution was supposed to give me the freedom to try whatever I wanted and apparently the answer to that is nothing.
5. ✅ Read six different types of books
I absolutely destroyed this resolution!
- Science fiction
I managed to read 16 books this year and it probably would have been more if I had just been willing to put down ones that weren't interesting. I kept trying to power through Churchill: Walking with Destiny and wasted most of Summer and Fall.
This was another great resolution. It couldn't be failed early. It was realistic and I was confident in my ability to complete it. It was concrete and while it didn't really motivate me (because I already wanted to read) it did make me choose books I normally wouldn't have.
I need to keep some variant of this going in 2020. While there are a number of books on my "Want to Read" shelf, I want to make sure I don't fall back to reading all of the fantasy books first.
6. 🙅🏻♂️ Complete unique 24 scenarios in Gloomhaven
"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."
Oh how naive I was. Here we have another resolution that was not realistic in the slightest. I completely underestimated the time it would take to setup a scenario of Gloomhaven as well as the pain in scheduling time to play. These were similar problems I had with games like Kingdom Death: Monster, Pandemic Legacy, and Arkham Horror so I really should have known better.
In the end Elsie and I only managed to complete eight scenarios before she left in August. Even if we had a dedicated gaming room where we could just leave the game permanently set up I think this resolution still would have been unrealistic.
7. ✅ Be proactive at work and take on tasks that increase my visibility
I was originally going to fail myself for this resolution because there was an incident at work that made me want to reduce my visibility. I thought I had stepped back and tried not to rock the boat. But then I remembered all the work I had done this year to help onboard new engineers to Uber. Dozens if not hundreds of engineers are better prepared for their job because of the work I did and that has a much bigger impact than I ever gave myself credit for. Also I really think I did a great job of leading those engucation sessions. I love being up in front of people presenting a topic I understand deeply. It legitimately makes me think I should become a high school teacher or university professor.
I also deprecated iOS 10 which put me on a lot of people's radar and got asked to prototype a project that could grow into something quite large.
While I could have been more proactive and outgoing I need to stop holding myself to such a ludicrously high bar. Not everyone could do what I have done over the last year, or did it as well so I need to start taking pride in that.
8. ✅ Grade my mood multiple times a day
I have a Google spreadsheet that tracks my mood four times a day so I guess I completed this resolution. I have the ability to look back and view my mood for any given day but honestly I don't know what that is good for. Other than seeing a particularly bad week in May this data is pretty useless on its own.
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.
That was the question I was supposed to be answering but I never actually asked myself it. I was thinking I was going to take this data and cross reference it with what I wrote in my Hobonichi Techo journal or in my #MonthlyRetrospective but it is simply too much work. I need to better automate this sort of thing if I really want to make looking back easier.
9. ✅ Run a half-marathon
This one took longer than it should have but on December 14th I ran a half-marathon around Lake Merced. Amazingly I managed to match my record of 1 hour 41 minutes which I set back in 2013 at the Toronto half-marathon.
This is one of my favourite resolutions because it is so pure. It is something I know I can do but routinely put off because of its difficulty. But whenever I get that one burst of confidence I can strike it off my list in a few hours.
This year I managed to complete six of nine resolutions for a 67% success rate. Up from 2/8 in 2018 and 5/9 from 2017.
I think the only part of the new criteria that really made a difference was the setting of concrete resolutions. When you look at the three that were failed: two were simply not realistic from the start and the third was too vague. It feels like the criteria needs to be rebalanced so the more important bits like "be realistic" and "be confident" are closer to the top.
Sliding metrics is a bit of a wild card because it actually came out of a 2017 piece of criteria "avoid using metrics" which resulted in really vague resolutions. With the idea of concrete resolutions being required I think we can just slip in some mention of "use metrics sparingly" because they usually result in resolutions being failable.
So what does the updated criteria look like in 2020.
- The resolution cannot be failed before the end of the year.
- The resolution can be realistically achieved in a single year.
- The resolution will receive the necessary time and effort to see it through to fruition.
- The resolution should have concrete completion requirements. Use metrics sparingly as they typically lead to failable resolutions.
- The resolution should facilitate a proactive behaviour, not attempt to correct a negative one.