Tabula Rasa

Every year I take up a set of challenges to see if I can expand myself in a new dimension. Most interestingly, in 2017 I challenged myself to try out two new things every week so I’ll have a 100 new things to look back at the end of the year. To keep myself accountable I kept track of the things I did for the first few weeks and by that point it had become a habit. It was an interesting experiment to see if I can come up with genuinely new things to try and open my mind up. I lost track of the number of new things I tried but towards the summer I found myself to be more impulsive and open to new things than I was prior to this experiment. Even if I didn’t do a hundred new things that year, I think the purpose of the experiment was achieved. I’ve done several things since that a 20 year old me would never have thought possible—ranging from going on a solo trip to Europe, to finding creative ways to put my money to better use.

2018 was a bust in terms of me coming up with challenges for myself. This is mainly because it has been a really busy year. December is almost done and it almost seems like I haven’t stopped working since January. I should pause and take more breaks. I think this has been the learning from this year. I did not attempt to write much at all because my stream of consciousness mode of writing has taken a hit thanks to how chaotic my attention has become. I’ve not had clarity of thought for several months now, what with being constantly exhausted mentally and physically.

However, there have been a few wins this year—small and big.

  • As part of life doing its usual Spring cleaning, I made new friends and lost some. I’ve found people who are willing to spend hours together in my presence without getting put off by it.

  • Around the end of last year, I resolved not to follow the news too closely. I’m at a point in life—geographically and politically—where me being actively involved in current affairs has no bearing on how my life turns out. So I stopped consuming news, except for whatever catches my eye on Twitter. To be honest, I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything besides the constant sky is falling rhetoric that the news seems to make me feel. Lots of time saved that can be wasted in other endeavors.

  • I figured hacking my brain into being more determined to solve problems without giving up has been a win. I would like to do more of that. There’s a one step approach I take with problems that I do not want to solve, I follow structured procrastination. If I don’t want to solve a problem, I store it in my ‘I’ll do this when I’m avoiding something else’ stack. Before I stash it there, I pop it if it already has something else and pick on that problem. This idea of substituting one problem I want to avoid with another I want to avoid equally, and producing an illusion of (limited) choice has been a great way to trick myself into doing things that I don’t want to do but have to do. One example was choosing among doing my taxes, making a spreadsheet with a finance plan for 2018, and folding my laundry—all three of them important, perhaps not to the same degree, nevertheless important.

  • I tried tracking everything I read—books, articles, long-form. Around June, I realised that I didn’t care about the things I bookmarked. So I made it a point to stop bookmarking things unless they were educational—like a programming specs, or some documentation that I know I will refer to in the future. I figured that if I don’t have the inclination to read something right now, I probably would never get it. This is not a hard and fast rule, as I’ve earmarked things for reading while I’m flying or for when I finally hit the bed. But the thumb rule of read now or never has been working quite well so far. To that end, I purged my Pocket queue and did not regret it.

  • Instead of making my attention span work for what I think I should be doing, I turned the problem upside down and started doing things that my attention span agreed with. I haven’t watched very many movies this year, nor have I read that many books. Mainly because I’ve been constantly preoccupied by thoughts and people, and sometimes, thoughts of people.

  • I would certainly like to read more this year. 2018 was a bust in terms of reading. I read may be 15 or so books. Nothing at all in the second half of the year that’s memorable enough for me to mention or write about. I stopped tracking my Goodreads goal, I dropped a lot of books. I kinda let my monkey brain dictate what was and wasn’t worthy of my attention. I think that’s a terrible idea and that I need to bring more discipline into my routines. I bought a ton of books this year, and I’ve calibrated how much time and energy I should spend on work. So here’s hoping that the post I write one year from now would involve more books and less disappointment.

  • Growing up, I had few role models to follow as I never sought out new experiences. I didn’t travel much, I didn’t do activities that would involve me meeting people that aren’t like me. It wouldn’t be a stretch if I said I grew up in a bubble. So naturally, I imbibed everything the men I had access to offered, which was mostly my dad—with some influences from my elder cousins, and some friends I’d made over time. I spent a lot of time introspecting this year and I figured I didn’t really like everything I’d learned. Though fundamentally I’m only a little bit more than what my parents are, I’ve realised I don’t want to become one or both of them. Over the next few years, I’m going to consistently unlearn certain things—behavior, emotions, and the problem solving methods—that I don’t completely agree with. I don’t want to become my father, but I’d like to become someone who has learned the good and unlearned the bad. For instance, I’d like to unlearn the inconsistent temper and anger—the qualities of his I probably imbibed at a young age and is realising after two decades of having internalised it—and focus more on the work ethic and discipline—the qualities of his that one can never have enough of. These are some hard to swallow pills I had to make myself see and acknowledge in order for me to become a better person to be around. What worked for someone who grew up in the 60s and 70s most certainly wouldn’t work for a millennial. I think I should start somewhere, and realising that this person that I am needs some work is the one of the bigger win from this year.

  • I might have found the person I want to spend the majority of my time with. This might be the biggest win of the year.

Besides the things above that I really would like to continue doing, I want to spend this year hacking my habits into making myself more productive. To that end I want to focus on reading, having more open and conversations of quality. On the personal front, I want to improve my chess this year. So I’ve set myself a goal of playing at least 100 hours of chess this year. That’s less than an hour a day, and I think I can achieve that. I failed miserably at my running goals for 2017 (yes 2017!), so I’ve punted it to 2019. Let’s see if I can meet my 300 miles of running for the year.

If you’re reading this, happy new year. Let 2019 be the time you spend with the people you most love, and the things you find most interesting.