Today is Groundhog Day. As many readers might remember, I do not make New Year’s resolutions. I make Groundhog Day Resolutions. I also avoid goals for my Groundhog Day Resolutions but instead focus on habits, or in the words of Scott Adams, systems, that I wish to focus on developing or strengthening during the year. Each month on the double number day, where the day of the month is the same as the month of the year, I’ll evaluate. Sometimes I even remember to blog such reflections. After the final reflection on 12/12, the Resolutions are done for the year. The remainder of the year is to be enjoyed with no resolution planning through 1/1 of the next year.
This year I have three habits on which I will focus. However, I think I’m going to stop thinking of them as habits and more as identities. I am not a “person who does $FOO”. I am “$FOO person”.
Inspiration shows up at a specific time of day. That time is 9am. –
The first identity, I am a calendar person. A calendar person is someone who uses a calendar to schedule their day in order to not only miss appointments but to also get more done. Historically, I have had few appointments so I have not developed habits around using a calendar. What I have learned in the past few years is successful people, on average, make much more use of a calendar than they do a to-do list. Many high-end people schedule not just meetings but actual work activities. As a writer and musician, with professional aspirations in one and following people in both, I hear all the time you need to work to a schedule.
One of my habits reinforces this calendar concept. “Organizing tomorrow today” has reached the “I’m not very consistent but I feel guilty when I’m not” level since I read the book of the same name two years ago. It is a variation on the “what are the $X number of things you must accomplish tomorrow.” I have done it one and over for over a decade, but it really took when I read the book of the same name. The book provides a set of habits to be mastered one at a time, including OTT. The book’s version of OTT spends some time advocating for scheduling the tasks early in the day, which implies that the tasks are scheduled for a given time of day and the day.
Another habit from the book is “Maximize Your Time”, which is about using the previously scheduled time that becomes available. It is the habit of saying, “whenever I have $X minutes, I will work on $TASK.” Of course, for this habit to be meaningful, you can’t have a day full of empty time. Instead, you have a workday, at least, tightly scheduled and a built-in contingency thing to be doing when blocks of a minimum size open up.
The final reason to become a person who uses a calendar is that I screw appointments up all the time despite having only a few. Yesterday I missed a heart test and then a cardiology appointment because I’d convinced myself they were scheduled for today. The lost money in missed appointment fees is embarrassing enough. The fact that I’m missing a cardiology appointment barely three months after open-heart surgery is quite another.
The second identity is I am a writer. What do writers do? They write. What individual writers write varies. I’m the kind of writer who writes blog posts (both my own and guest), newsletters, short stories, novels, fiction in between those two definitions, poems, and who knows what else.
The odd thing is writing is also sporadic and easily affected by mood. My most reliable writing period was probably 2008-2011, between being laid off in the financial crisis through coming to Atlanta. I was writing almost nothing but blog posts back then at the first iteration of People to Be, my blog about roleplaying games in general, focusing on old school D&D.
The last substantial reliable spurt was in 2015. I got inspired to write Queen Takes Knight. It lasted through November 2018, when I finished Return from the Naked Stars, not only my only NANOWRIMO win but my only completed novel. For many people wanting to become pulp speed writers, NANOWRIMO sets the habit of writing daily in place. I burned out instead of having the right everyday habit cement. Writing since then has been sporadic. I’ve quit twice out of hopelessness, and this GHR is my official unquiting from the second.
I will work on not caring about the reaction to what I write, including if it is read or not. I loved getting comments on People to Be back in the day. However, what I loved most was getting ideas I cared about out on paper, broadly defined, for anyone who wanted to read them. I was more attached to the saying of things than the hearing of what I said.
I need to recapture some of that to be able to write consistently. A writer is a person who writes, not someone who is necessarily read.
The final identity I will focus on this year is “I am a person who invites luck.” While the activities that underlie this identity are straight forward, I took a bit of time formulating how to phrase the identity. While luck was part of it, I was stuck on words like “create” for a long time. They did not capture what I am after.
This habit’s genesis is a blog post, “How to Be The Luckiest Guy on the Planet in 4 Easy Steps” by James Altucher. I got there from another of his blog posts, “The Ultimate Guide for Becoming an Idea Machine.” I got there from N. A. Turner’s book How to Write a Short Story, specifically avoiding writer’s block. I consider finding the post itself a stroke of luck as it was one of those things that just resonated with me. It brought where I was in life and why it wasn’t exactly where I wanted to be into a well-defined focus.
First, Altucher’s goals in life struck me, especially the third. His third goal is “I want every day to be as smooth as possible. No hassles.” No hassles is key. He didn’t say no difficulties or challenges. He said, no hassles. What is the difference? I’m working on the “Modular in a Vacation” project. Building a preliminary version of a circuit on a breadboard to figure out how it works and modify it to do what I want to do is a challenge. It will expand my knowledge of electronics and music and what I want out of my modular synth.
Realizing I need a specific value of resister only to find I’m out of that size while prototyping, or worse, while building the finalized circuit and having to stop work to order some and wait until they are delivered is a hassle. It is a hassle worse today than two decades ago. In 2001 I could still go to Fry’s or maybe even Radio Shack and get them the same day, or the next day at worse if it was too late in the evening. Now, even if I can get them on Amazon, it’s a two-day work stoppage.
So, how do you reduce hassles in your life. Altucher recommends a daily practice with four parts. TheThe parts are pretty broad and easily tailored to your life. The first is physical, doing some form of exercise. Next is emotional health. I’m tempted to call it friends based on the description. The third is mental, exercising the mind. He writes down a minimum of ten ideas a day. This is the one where I started, and I’ll come back to it in a second. Finally, there is spiritual, where he offers a broad selection from prayer to mediation to reading.
If I’m even minimally observant about my faith, number four will take care of itself from several directions. Indeed, two of the three pillars of Christian Orthodox life, prayer and fasting, provide daily spiritual refreshment. Well, perhaps days where no abstaining is required on food, do not via fasting. Or maybe they do because the mind is still focused on it.
Exercise is easy to meet the minimum.
Now, ideas are what got me here. Altucher’s advice is the most transparent to me here. It is also why I finally choose the word ‘invite’ instead of ‘creates’ or ‘prepares for’. When Altucher discusses creating ideas, he makes a point to mention he doesn’t file these lists or do anything intentionally to save them. I see them as a short form subset of morning pages. The other parts of morning pages, such as working out blocks due to prior criticism or feelings of inadequacy, are in friends and spirituality for the most part. Exercise might contribute a little. The idealist, though, is getting the dust off and warming up part of morning pages condensed into a list that fits on one of those cheap waiter’s pads.
Warm your brain every day. It will reward you with better ideas just as surely as a body you exercise regularly will reward you with a better time on a 5k.
“Friends” is the most difficult one. I need to reread him some on it as he does call it emotional. It includes my favorite admonition in the entire essay, “I never do anything I don’t want to do.” The irony is, this goes against some strong principles I have about duty and honor. I think the statement resonated with me in that while I think living that as an absolute view is the sign of an immoral relationship with all of humanity, failing to do it is a sign of an unhealthy relationship with everyone you know. When you see your life as nothing but a series of obligations that consume all available time, you will burn out at best. At the worst, you become resentful and angry.
So, inviting luck, writing, and using a calendar seem like a pretty ambitious year. Come back on March 3rd to see how I’m doing.