I really like taking some time around the new year to do step back and review: to reflect on the past year and what I’d like to improve. I highly recommend taking the time to do this if you can - not just setting resolutions, but reflecting more systematically on how different areas of your life are going, what you’ve achieved and learned over the past year, and what you might do differently. I’ve shared it before, but again, Alex Vermeer has a really great guide to doing this here.
Thinking about all the ways in which I could improve my life, though, I have to constantly remind myself to prioritise and take one thing at a time. When I do these reviews, I start out really excited about all the things I could change or improve in my life, but then begin to feel overwhelmed with all the possibilities, which can quickly turn into me feeling unmotivated by all the areas of my life I’m not fixing right now. There are too many things I could be doing, and I don’t know where to start - so I end up doing none of them. The solution is sort of obvious - when overwhelmed with possibilities, prioritise - but I find it really hard to do, because it means letting go of things I really want to do but aren't highest-priority-right-now. Really internalising this was perhaps the single thing that resulted in me making way more improvements to my life last year than I’d ever done in previous years. Each month, I chose a single area of my life - e.g. exercise, diet, social life - or one specific goal - e.g. simplify my life and get rid of unnecessary commitments - and focused on just doing that one thing really well. And ironically, the sense of self-efficacy I got from seeing concrete improvements in one area of my life actually meant I often ended up making more other improvements than I’d planned.
If you are setting new year’s resolutions, here’s something I wrote last year with some psychology-based tips on how to set resolutions you’ll actually keep. In short: only choose goals you actually care about and genuinely believe you can achieve, use “implementation intentions” to help behaviours occur more automatically, change your environment to make a behaviour easier, think in advance about possible failure modes and how to avoid them, and set a time later to check in on your progress. The main thing I’d add to this now is to set a couple of really important goals rather than lots and lots of smaller ones (see second bullet!), and to be aware that ‘failure’, at least to a certain extent, is inevitable and an important part of the process of improving
My favourite insight of 2016 so far: don’t ask yourself what you want out of life, but what you’re willing to struggle for/what struggles you’re willing to undergo. Another way of putting this is that, for anything you think you want in life, it’s important to make sure you actually want to undergo the process involved in achieving that thing - including the costs and struggles. From the linked article: "If you want the beach body, you have to want the sweat, the soreness, the early mornings, and the hunger pangs. If you want the yacht, you have to also want the late nights, the risky business moves, and the possibility of pissing off a person or ten thousand."
A question I've found amazingly useful to ask myself: “What would the best version of myself do right now?” I'm always surprised how much this helps me clarify what I should do at any given time, and helps me to live more in line with what I most care about. “What would make me most proud of myself?” has a similar effect. It's surprising to me because it's often immediately obvious what the "best" version of myself would do - but that's often not the thing I would do if just acting based on my immediate inclinations. I think this is related to why it can be easier to give others advice than ourselves - sometimes we just need to step back from the situation and whatever we're feeling in the immediate moment to get some perspective. (Inspiration from Brian Johnson's notion of "the integrity gap")
I think I’ve underestimated just how important it is to get the really ‘essential’ elements of my life really sorted, before tackling other challenges. For me, this means getting enough good quality sleep, and getting enough exercise. I think I haven’t prioritised these enough in the past, despite knowing that sleep and exercise are clearly the things that account for most of the variance in my happiness. Asking yourself what those areas are for you that make a big difference to everything else, and making sure you’re doing everything you can in those areas, is one of those pieces of advice that sounds so obvious but very few people actually follow.
People spend a lot of time trying to find ways to extend their lives - eating certain kinds of food, taking certain supplements, exercising in ways that are suggested might make you live longer. I'm all for doing these things, but I think it's also worth thinking about ways you can make your subjective experience of your life longer: key things like living more mindfully and deliberately, building more variety into your days, and finding ways to make your experiences more memorable. Though these things won't technically "extend" the amount of time you live for, in my experience focusing on them makes me feel like my life passes more slowly (in a good way!) and that, in retrospect, I've been living it more fully. And in many ways, I think this might be worth more than an extra year of life that passes by in a blur
If I’m going to publicly commit to one new year’s resolution, it’s that I want to write more - and not write to get my name in publications, but write to explore ideas, and share those ideas with others who may have other insights. The biggest barrier for me to doing that more is being less perfectionist with my writing, and being willing to leave questions unanswered. Each of the bullets here could have been it’s own blog post, and it’s taking a lot of self-restraint for me to post this without going into more depth and answering more questions - but I know realistically the alternative is me publishing nothing. So watch this space for more imperfect blog posts...