I like New Year’s resolutions, although I used to think they were dumb (you can change any time of the year). Life is short, so we should celebrate when people want to better themselves. Personally, I found that I tended to start new things on beginnings in our calendar system, such as starting a new workout routine on a Monday, or a diet on the first of the month. What better time to make a life change than the first of the year?
I have made resolutions to lose weight, walk a lot, and take time away from social media. This last year was all about consistency. I had two daily goals for 2018: read and close all three activity rings on my Apple watch. The former was motivated by a desire to be a better writer and the latter was motivated by my pal Justin who is now well on his way to 500 consecutive days of working out. I succeeded, in large part, by following the same approach as my friend Ross, who wrote about his similar goals for consistency:
The basic answer is to focus on just a couple of things and to integrate those things into your daily life.
I am a numbers kind of scientist, so below you will find details and statistics about each resolution. This post is deeply navel-gazing, but I hope it might serve as some motivation for your 2019 goals.
As a scientist, I write often: manuscripts, course notes, peer reviews, presentations, proposals, and more. I also stepped out of this arena to write fiction by participating in NaNoWriMo 2018. In preparation, I read Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft. He offered this useful advice:
If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.
I have a wife, two children under age five, and a full-time job. Related to the aforementioned activity ring challenge, I also like to get in some type of daily physical activity. That is a long-winded and whiny way of saying that my time is constrained. Given my commitments, it would have been self-defeating to proclaim that I would match the efforts of some friends who read a book a week. I decided to set a goal to read an average of 30 pages every day and complete at least 12 books in 2018.
How you frame your goals is as important as following through. I allowed myself daily deviations from 30 pages by shooting for an average. Not to mention that 10,950 pages should hopefully be more than 12 books. I purposely set a low bar for an easy win in that case. On the other hand, a goal that is too vague can make success seem impossible; be specific and realistic.
I used two apps to track my progress. Goodreads is my long-term solution to tracking what books I have read, planning what to read next, and writing reviews. The service has a social component and I often find useful recommendations and additional motivation from friends. Bookly is the app I used to track my daily reading progress. I also bought the pro upgrade for its added features. I really like its interface, built-in statistics, and automation support (Hey, Siri, start reading).
I achieved my 2018 reading goals. Here are the relevant details.
My 2018 reading stats
I came across a few observations during this project. First, I am a relatively slow reader. Second, 19 (and 30% into 20) books is not very impressive, but the average length of each book (~570 pages) was above average. Finally, I read as few as 10 pages in a day and as many as 168. That last one is a good reminder that goals can be achieved through small steps, no matter how modest.
I previously wrote about my love of the Apple Watch. The Apple Watch can track fitness activity, where users are encouraged to “close” three activity rings. The Move ring is closed when the wearer burns a set number of active calories (my daily goal was 500 calories), the Exercise ring is closed after she completes 30 minutes of brisk activity, and the Stand ring is closed after she stands for at least one minute during 12 different hours.
I spend a lot of time sitting at a computer writing code, so I had to make a conscious effort to achieve the stand goal. Which is the point of the ring system; I was forced to think about about being active every day. There were a few close calls (especially during travel), but I met my goal of closing all three rings every day. Here is what a year of activity rings looks like.
My 2018 activity rings
Although I didn’t set out to do so at the beginning of the year, I also completed a few mini-streaks in 2018.
NaNoWriMo: I’ve long felt like there are some cool stories locked in my head. However, between my kids and lack of confidence, I always put off writing a novel. My pal Marissa Mohi is a writer, but more importantly she is hilarious, self-deprecating, and inspiring. Her series of videos on writing really motivated my desire to write this year. I told her on Twitter that I was thinking of participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and she encouraged me to do so. My wife, who always supports whatever hair-brained thing I want to do, did the same. Sometimes it just takes a little encouragement from someone you love and someone who is good at what you want to try.
The goal of NaNoWriMo is to write 50,000 words (a healthy start to a novel) in the month of November. This can be daunting due to the tight timeline. You have to average 1,667 words per day to reach the goal, so even one missed or lackluster day can put you way behind. Given my busy schedule, I decided at the start to focus on consistency since I knew playing catch-up would be very hard. As plans often go, I immediately fell behind in the first two days, only achieving 800 pages per day. Damn, two days in and already one day behind. I am glad that I stuck with it by distributing the needed words over the remaining days. I hit 50,585 words on November 30. Based on my time-logging app, I spent 57 hours and 35 minutes to achieve this goal. That sounds like a lot (it is!), but it is doable when broken down into small chunks.
So, what’s the book? I am not telling. For one, it is not yet complete. For another, it is in a sorry state of prose and logic and will require substantive editing. Stay tuned!
My 2018 NaNoWriMo writing stats
Water logging: This is a short one, but I started tracking water intake later in 2018 as part of my health objectives. I used the app WaterMinder and successfully drank at least 100 oz. of fluid every day for the final 100 days of 2018. I also made use of Streaks to track my progress for all of the above goals.
Thank you for enduring this post. I promise the goal was not humble-braggery, rather I know how important a little motivation can be to accomplishing your goals. As I wrote at the start of 2017, there is nothing special about me (seriously, see gashed shin). I’m a regular guy and I like to challenge myself. You can do the same. Remember: You will want to quit, so persevere; Life does not care about your plans, so adjust; Support is important, so ignore resolution grinches; You have goals, so do the work and accomplish them. As for my 2019 goals, I will report back. Until then, good luck!