Frankly, I’ve never understood the antipathy toward New Year’s resolutions. They are simple bargains you make with yourself or others toward self-improvement…what’s not to like? Perhaps many take them too seriously, in which case, I refer them to Captain Barbossa and urge: “They’re more like guidelines, anyhow.”
So as I begin to assemble my list of resolutions (I tend to go big or go home and thereby complete about 30% to 40% of them, to be even more frank), I thought I’d review some key lessons learned in 2017.
Never Let Your Bias Cloud Your Judgment
It is no secret that I still detest President Trump and much if not all of what he stands for. Even if disaster hasn’t materialized yet I still believe he is incompetent, unfit for office and a poor example. Those sizable caveats aside, I must admit I think his administration (which may or may not be really led by him) has made some more laudable moves: at least a few decent judicial appointments, more explicit support of the recent Iranian uprising and actual commitments of support to Ukraine. The verdict on the tax bill is still out, as frankly it is quite complex and I haven’t had time to delve into it fully, and given the extent of Republican dominance one would have expected even Trump to be able to do more. But as has been made manifestly clear, any administration is capable of making some good decisions, and one shouldn’t let one’s bias prevent recognition of said good occurrences. (I could go on and on about this with regard to personal investing, but this is supposed to be a brief reflection, not a manifesto.)
Work & Personal Life Shouldn’t Be a Balance, But a Cycle
Work and personal life shouldn’t be a zero-sum game. People all too often view time as a fixed quantity, when one should view it bimodally: Time’s finite units have variable productivity, and thus really can expand or contract in all practicality. Being fortunate enough to enjoy most of my job, and as 2017 was my most challenging year professionally to date, it became a valuable learning experience of prioritization. I found that to still enjoy work, I had to keep exercising to reduce stress and attend most meaningful family events such as birthdays or reunions. Such events are useful for grounding perspectives. It’s not about taking time off to just rest per se, but switching activities so dramatically from your workday’s typical roster – going without screen interaction, for example – it is a corrective to your normal cycles. And you can indulge in such resets all the time. Take a different bus or drive to work. Take a two-hour lunch. Use 15 minutes during some downtime at work to read a non-work-related book or article, or finally renegotiate that Comcast bill you’ve been putting off. (Everyone does this, but indulge it in more meaningfully as no halfway decent manager expects you to really work all eight hours of a given day.) Work 10 hours one day and then arrange to work six the next. Experiment with no headphones for the first couple hours of the day. Grab lunch with a random friend or family member you haven’t seen in a while close by to your work. Humans thrive fairly comfortably on change sufficiently large to excite and yet sufficiently small so as not to be painful.
Recognize When You Cease to Be Effective
Rather than suffering burnout, take more time off than you need. Perhaps one of my most frequently repeated mantras to my colleagues is “Recognize when you cease to be effective.” It’s very tempting to pull long shifts and feel virtuous about your persistence and fortitude in working a 12-hour day, but you are likely ineffective for much of that and essentially banging your head against a wall. Worse, you may well be slowing others down with your inefficacy. So learn to recognize when your rate of productivity is not improving or even entering a plateau, and take a break.
Willpower Isn’t Truly Finite
Willpower is finite. But you can let habits do the heavy lifting, thus making deployment of willpower variable. This year I made some significant mistakes both personally and professionally, primarily because I hadn’t made good habits take up the slack of willpower deployment at work and thus ran out too early in a given period of time. A key focus in 2018 will be letting habits do the hard work. In the end, it’s about being constantly honest with yourself – radically candid if you will – and identifying when you are prone to which personal failings.
Use Your Personas Wisely, But Always Be Cognizant of Why
Personality is such a fluid construct that people deploy different facets of their personalities at different times via what can be called personas. In a professional setting, for example, most have a set persona. It can evolve over times, or be markedly different from the personal persona, or be quite similar. I am notorious for a fairly bombastic, extroverted, exuberant persona at work – which is amusing, because like many I am neither introvert nor extrovert but a blend of the two. I don’t care much for personality tests or similar fairly rigid boxes of self-identification, but I know that I am far more introverted than many of my colleagues may suspect. By virtue of my role and because I enjoy indulging in certain other facets of my personality at times, however, my extroverted persona became more useful over time. It’s only critical to recognize that carrying on in just one persona all the time can be rather exhausting, and thus you should always be cognizant of why you are utilizing those particular characteristics of your entire personality.