New Year’s Resolutions

supervenes and I were discussing our New Year’s resolutions. He said he partitions people into those who:

  1. already work on their goals without NYE resolution or “wipe the slate clean” dreams — they don’t need a New Year to follow through on their goals
  2. set goals they won’t actually follow through on (like a perpetual weight-loss goal).

I feel I fall into a third category, which is not knowing what would be worth setting a goal to achieve.

I do think that

  • setting achievable goals,
  • organising your time so you make sure you do the things you want to (including have fun),
  • personal accountability,
  • writing down long-term aspirations,
  • balancing the short-term versus the long-term 1 2 3,
  • nudging yourself,
  • cutting out crap,
  • and so on

can be really effective. I’ve done those things before and I’ve felt the thrill of looking over past to-do lists and thinking “Yeah, I really did that! Score one for me!”

I tried to learn to do a flip last summer. Didn’t get there. I guess I will try again this summer and try to remember to do stretchy back-bends in the winter to prepare. It would be nice to be fast again, or faster than I ever have been. I’m not sure if I care enough to really do what it takes to be fast. I’d like to learn a lot of things. I’m not sure that’s really worth committing to either. I know if I really made it a priority, cut out  I could accomplish ≥1 of those.

But what’s really worth doing? What would make me truly, deeply happy and what’s my Engel curve on the way to there? Who would I become if I actually achieved my goals and do I want to “feed” or be that person? Those questions are beyond my ken.

Everyone around me is full of robust certitude. I alone am tentative. Lao Tzu

I couldn’t even answer simple ones, like:

  • Should I buy an iPad? They look cool so in a sense I “want” one. But from observing how I react to other computing opportunities (addictively), I think buying it would lessen my self-control and I would just end up reading a bunch more news instead of doing what I want to.
  • Should I read Steve Awodey’s book? It looks good and I could find a copy in a nearby university library. But are those 300 pages worth all the other time I would have to give up? (And how much time might that be?)
  • You never know until you try. Let’s take a longer-term goal to add even more uncertainty. “Grad school is a gamble”—if I set the goal to get a Ph.D., I barely know what I am in for, much less what I will turn into at the end, what kinds of new opportunities it would present for me, whether I would use it later, or whether that sum-total package is “worth it” to me or not. Without knowing what will result how could I say whether I want it or not?
  • Will I keep blogging? It has been a huge timesink. However it’s also very flattering to have so many people listening to my various opinions. It has felt good to get certain things out of my brain-soup. And I have met some cool people here and on twitter. Still it is a huge timecost. I’m not really sure where the balance lies. So for lack of a confident reason to choose one thing or the other, and with my natural risk-seeking personality wondering what “might” happen at 100,000 followers or what “might” happen if I finish writing down all the ideas I wanted to since before I decided to try writing—inertia will probably win and I will continue as is.

If I decided some concrete, measurable, not-too-large goal like “Run 300 miles over the year”, it could be easy to achieve. But start from a real goal like: “I want to be happier”. Well what will make me happier? I don’t know, it could be a raft of things. A complex of big & small and once-off & daily changes. I could try some and maybe they wouldn’t or would work. Maybe I would be able to tell and maybe not. Maybe I should continue what I’m doing and it will just take longer to work.

"never give up" -- nonmonotonic returns

So I’m going into 2013 without any measurable goals or definitive plans to achieve them. Yet hoping 2013 isn’t a repeat of 2012.


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