Hindsight 2020

If there was a better name for a historical review of the year, I’ve yet to hear it! I may have to trademark it.

This post is kinda about my New Year Resolutions, except I do them a little differently.

For me, grand goals for the year don’t work very well. It’s too much pressure. Plus there’s a disconnect between the big goals and my everyday behaviour.

Instead, it’s easier for me to focus on “Just for Today” (credit: Narcotics Anonymous). Rather than setting grand goals for the year, I want to pay attention to the little things I do each day. Over time, small changes can produce powerful results, like compound interest in a savings account.

Self-awareness

My main goal for 2020 is to continue to improve myself, one step at a time, embracing a gentle model of two steps forward, one step back.

A key component will be to continue increasing my awareness – I want to notice when I’m acting out of alignment with my best self.

I’m really grateful to Sandra Walsh. It was thanks to her coaching that I realised how important self-awareness would be for my future.

Jordan Peterson explains this process beautifully:


I’m not a fan of Dr Peterson’s phrasing here though… “Stop saying things that make you weak

That phrase may work for him personally – he’s quite a tough mofo even if he sounds like Kermit the frog – but it doesn’t feel right for me.

For me, it’s better to say something like, “Speak and act in alignment with my core values: Truth, Courage, Love and Humility.

What about you? What’s the best way for you to phrase this idea when speaking to yourself?

My goals for 2020

There are a few things I’d like to do more of in 2020, and a few I’d like to do less of.

I’d like to do more of:

  • Being self-aware – monitoring my own thoughts and behaviour (as in the above video)
  • Being more present (mindful) in everyday life
  • Meditate most days
  • Exercise most days of the week
  • Set aside more time each day for reading books
  • Having a little more structure in my day so I get the most important stuff done first

I’d like to do less of:

  • Overeating, especially late at night
  • Getting caught in dopamine feedback loops (e.g. YouTube wormholes)
  • Staying up so late at night that it makes the next day much more difficult

I’d love to hear your own thoughts about 2020. What would you like to achieve for yourself? What are your thoughts on New Years Resolutions?

Not-So-Great Expectations

Lots of our unhappiness stems from our expectations.

It’s a very human habit to form a picture in our minds of how the world should be. And then we sometimes get upset if things don’t work out the way we’d hoped.

This is such a common human experience that I catch myself doing it many times, every day.

And that’s the key – catching yourself.

It’s a bit like being Sherlock towards your own thoughts and behaviours. When you’re paying attention, you get a strong gut feeling when you’re acting in alignment with your values… or not.

I’ve found it’s well worth learning to tune in to that little internal voice, it helps you choose between right and wrong (by your own personal definition).

For me, I keep noticing that I unconsciously carry around sets of expectations about other people.

They shouldn’t have said/done that.” Or…

This event must go the way I want it to.”

Bollinger, R (2019) – busy judging other people and trying to control the world.

(Note: sometimes this kind of judgement is entirely appropriate, particularly if the other person’s behaviour is falling short of mutually-agreed standards. But my contention is that judgement like this is usually unhelpful – it’s our attempt to impose our own internal standards onto other people, without their consent.)

When I judge other people harshly, it triggers a feeling of indignant anger. It’s dangerous. Very quickly I find myself wanting to take control of situations, imposing my will and controlling the behaviour of other people.

Fortunately, my self-awareness helps to me to re-centre.

I remind myself of the Stoic belief that I can only control myself, not others.

I take a few moments to pay close attention to what I’m thinking and feeling. I try to carefully choose how I respond, rather than reacting impulsively and fanning those interpersonal flames.

I aim for peace, rather than more conflict.

A Daily Practice

I am definitely not claiming to be an expert at staying calm. But I’m getting better.

It takes consistent daily practice, one small step at a time. It’s not always easy, but it’s worth it.

“I’m not trying to be perfect, I’m just trying to improve a little bit each day.”

Bollinger, R. (2019)

A few months ago, in my blog post “Crossing The Bridge” I talked about how I’d discovered that it was self-awareness that’s the crucial ingredient for getting where I want in life. It’s the most important factor in my spiritual growth.

The cognitive technique I’ve described in this post – letting go of expectations and returning to a place of calm – that’s a great example of self-awareness in daily use.

Sometimes the stuff I blog about might seem esoteric or obscure – difficult to implement in daily life. But at their heart, lots of Buddhist and Stoic ideas are eminently practical.

We just have to practice them!