These aren’t resolutions or concrete goals so much as things I’ll be trying to focus on and traits I’m looking to develop in the coming year.
Switching between focused/intense mode and relaxed/enjoyment mode on command
On the one hand there is a state of determined, focused and intense work mode and on the other hand there is relaxed, present, chilled out mode. The first one is very much “make things happen” while the second is “allow things to happen” or “let’s see what happens”.
The focused and determined state is ideal if I am alone and working on something. It involves thinking about concepts and ideas, planning into the future, and implementing by creating something to put out into the world.
But if I’m around other people and just want to relax and enjoy life, this is the last state I want to be in. In this kind of situation I want to be free of any feeling of obligation, free of any internal or external push to “get things done” or produce more. I just want to be completely *there*, letting things happen as they flow around.
I imagine these two states on two ends of a spectrum. At present I have some control over where I am on the spectrum at a given time, but I’d like to have more. Ideally I’d like to be able to switch from one end to the other pretty much on command.
Getting into a relaxed state I think is easier, at least in principle. It can be done mainly through becoming present, repeatedly, as many times as is necessary to stop thinking about the past and future and just let go into the moment. While this is often extremely difficult it is still relatively simple, and just comes through formal meditation practice and exercising mindfulness in everyday life.
Switching on an intense focused energy seems more difficult, at least without using some external aid like caffeine. But sometimes I’ve found myself in states of extreme motivation for days or even weeks at a time, with elevated mood and a kind of happy anger (determination?) that both feels great and is very productive.
It feels like I’m being pushed forward on train tracks at high speeds, having fun while getting somewhere fast at the same time. But right now I’m not exactly sure how to even get myself onto the tracks.
So I’ll be looking to improve my ability to move along this spectrum of states. They’re valuable and plenty of both, I think, is essential to living a meaningful life.
Improve clarity of writing, order and flow of ideas
This is in relation to the writing here on F&F. I would like to improve the effectiveness at which the ideas are conveyed, and I think the best way to do that is to improve the writing. For it to be clearer, have better structure, order and flow.
It also means removing unnecessary words, sentences and paragraphs. If you look at some of my old posts I sometimes repeat myself a lot and I’d like to cut that out. No more redundancy.
At the same time, I still want to convey meaning effectively and leave a mark on the reader’s mind without being boring. Writing, I think, should be as clean and simple as possible, but it still needs some soul. That’s a tough balance to strike but it’ll be my aim going forward this year.
(If you’re interested in better writing I would highly recommend the book On Writing Well by William Zinsser)
Watching how feelings manifest in thoughts and behaviours
There’s a school of thought that says all human thoughts and behaviours are, at bottom, purely emotionally based. While I have no idea if this is the case, I have noticed in myself that frequently a strong underlying emotion will manifest in particular thoughts and behaviours.
With thoughts, it seems that an emotion can arise for a reason entirely unrelated to the thought, but then the mind will latch on to or create a reason to justify that emotion.
For example, let’s say I’m experiencing the feeling of anxiety. Let’s also imagine that the basis for this feeling is entirely physiological – I’ve consumed too many stimulants too quickly and my body is just reacting in its natural way. My mind will then come up with thoughts that match the feeling, almost like it needs a reason to be feeling it.
Let’s say I’m soon planning to travel to a new country. I drink too much coffee and get the feeling of anxiety. The way this then manifests in my thoughts is that I start worrying about getting through immigration, dealing with border security and so on. I worry that I won’t get into the country, that my plans will be disrupted, and that there will be some terrible outcome far in the future.
This is all extremely unlikely, but it doesn’t seem to matter. The mind just creates a projection based on current circumstances and decides that’s what it’s going to be anxious “about”.
The thought comes after the feeling, in this case and many others. There are typical thought patterns that come up when I’m feeling euphoric, irritated, thoughtful and so on.
Behaviours arise out of these states too, in more or less obvious ways. If I feel angry, for example, I tend to just shut down more or less all outward expression of emotion. The way the feeling of anger manifests in behaviour is just to appear blank or neutral from the outside. I think this is at least one step up from putting the anger out into the world. I’m sure there’s a step up from this too, but I have yet to find it.
Ultimately I’m interested in better understanding the causal links between the different aspects of subjective experience. Throughout the coming year I’ll continue to pay attention to these processes and how they’re interrelated.
More success, less attachment
More success but less attachment. It might seem paradoxical but I don’t think it needs to be.
I do mean success in a material sense – tangible, visible and ideally measurable results in the world. Something to point to and say, I succeeded in that. In terms of this blog, for example, that means better traffic numbers, more readers, more email subscribers and the like. But then on a deeper level it’s about reaching more people on a broader scale and impacting them in a positive way.
I think generally this comes from working harder and so, embedded in “more success” is also more working harder.
Less attachment is a little more difficult to define. It’s not something you can see or measure, but rather a subjective sense of how you are relating to everything you’re doing.
Practically, insofar as it can be practical, this means continuing spiritual practice. Meditation, yoga, mindfulness – cultivating inner calm and tranquility that, at its best, is entirely separate from anything happening in the external world.
So that’s it – on one level more involved in life in order to achieve more, but then at the same time on another level somehow much less involved at the same time. That’s the idea. More success, less attachment.
Implement “some is better than none”
My thinking in the past has often been that unless I can do something fully or “properly” then it isn’t worth doing at all.
I do think this is true for certain things like comprehensive projects and large goals, or say, “the direction of your life”. But when it comes to day-to-day activities and habits, it’s not a very useful paradigm to have.
I used to think, There’s no point in writing unless I can do it in a great setting with a nice cup of coffee and at least few hours totally free of distraction.
There’s no point in working out unless I can eat the right amounts of the right kinds of foods at the right time before I go to the gym.
(Related: Stop trying to have amazing workouts and just do this instead)
There’s no point in meditating unless I can do it for a full 20 minutes in a totally quiet place with no possibility of being interrupted.
Somehow it seemed that I wouldn’t get any of the benefit from these things unless I got all of the benefit.
But of course this isn’t the case. For habits and regular activities where the benefit comes from consistency and practice, all else being equal, some is better than none.
This definitely doesn’t mean half ass activities either – it just means get it in when you can. That’s something I’ll be doing more this year.
These are all fairly intangible goals with subjective metrics. I don’t have many concrete goals these days as 1) it’s too hard to guess what’s going to happen several months in the future and 2) I’m not sure if setting goals in a formal way actually increases the likelihood of getting what it is you want from achieving them.
I generally don’t like talking about concrete goals anyway unless I’m at least part way through accomplishing them. It’s always been like this and I’m not sure why – possibly a fear of failing in front of other people.
What are you working on? Post a comment below and let me know.