Learned #41: 2019

In which we make some predictions.

Happy new year!

Welcome to 2019. Ready to make grand pronouncements and extreme resolutions? All set to change your life and yourself into the person you’ve always wanted to be? Ready?

Yeah, me neither.

I really enjoy New Year’s here in Japan. It’s a very relaxed, peaceful time to enjoy family and stupid t.v. specials and traditional foods. There is no talk of resolutions or goals and that is a fantastic thing all by itself. It takes the pressure off.

That said, while I don’t really go in for resolutions, I do like to take the time to look at my goals and the processes I’m using to try to achieve them. In other words, it’s time to take stock and figure out what I want to do in the next year and how to go about doing it.

In this issue:

  • What We’re Learning: Resolution, Smesolution

  • What We’re Reading: Getting To Done

  • Down the Rabbit Hole: Predictions

Let’s get to it.

What We’re Learning:

Resolution, Smesolution

Let’s start with a big question: Where did the practice of making New Year’s resolutions come from?

History.com says that the practice of making resolutions can be traced back almost 4,000 years to the ancient Babylonians. During the planting season, they would make promises to repay debts and return borrowed items and so on. Those ideas make their way through several centuries and cultures until…

For early Christians, the first day of the new year became the traditional occasion for thinking about one’s past mistakes and resolving to do and be better in the future. In 1740, the English clergyman John Wesley, founder of Methodism, created the Covenant Renewal Service, most commonly held on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day. Also known as known as watch night services, they included readings from Scriptures and hymn singing, and served as a spiritual alternative to the raucous celebrations normally held to celebrate the coming of the new year

As the practice grew, the resolutions themselves changed:

New Year’s resolutions have become a secular tradition, and most Americans who make them now focus on self-improvement. The U.S. government even maintains a website of those looking for tips on achieving some of the most popular resolutions: losing weight, volunteering more, stopping smoking, eating better, getting out of debt and saving money.

There’s nothing wrong with any of those resolutions except that unless they’re paired with achievable goals, we won’t be able to stick to our resolutions.

Here are three takes on making and keeping resolutions:

The New York Times Smarter Living says resolutions should be:

  • Specific

  • Measurable

  • Achievable

  • Relevant

  • Time-Bound

Psych Central adds three key concepts:

  • Keep it Simple

  • Receive Support

  • Put Yourself in Charge

And Fast Company gives us a little bit of a counterpoint in making three more negative sounding suggestions:

  • Find Motivation

  • Make Failure Painful

  • Plan for Setbacks

Here’s the thing - all eleven of those steps are how you achieve any goal, resolution or otherwise.

The temptation is always to aim big: I’m going to lose weight! I’m going to get in shape! I’m going to write a novel! I’m going to hike the Appalachian Trail in one trip! In fact, here’s Wikipedia’s list of the most common resolutions. See if you can spot yours!

  • Improve Physical Well-being

  • Improve Mental Well-being

  • Improve Finances

  • Improve Career

  • Improve Education

Hands up, who’s looking for the all-of-the-above checkbox? Just me? The truth is, all those things are possible if you plan correctly and thoroughly. Which is the real challenge.

Looking Back

So, how to plan out a resolution, or set of goals, or a goal, that has a chance of being met? For me, the key is in looking back and I’ve got a couple of tools I’m going to recommend.

Year Compass - The Year Compass is a lengthy (seriously, it takes a couple hours to do) set of worksheets designed to help you decide what is most important to you, right now, and to help you brainstorm your way towards setting those realistic, doable goals that will ultimately achieve your over-arching one. It’s free and it’s available in both to-print and digital forms.

Gameplan 2019 - Essentially the same idea as Year Compass but a little more gamified. Once you’ve finished answering all the questions, an email with your agenda is sent to you. And, of course, you should sign up for their app so you can track your progress. I don’t like this one quite as much as I like Year Compass, but it’s still a good tool, especially if you live and die by your calendar.

Multi-year Journals - Keeping a diary is one of the best forms of self-care and self-therapy there is. Finding the time to keep one is a struggle for all of us. One product that’s emerged in recent years is the multi-year diary. Laid out in three or five or ten year increments, you can see how you were feeling and what you were doing on this day a year or two before. It can help you find roadblocks and places where you’ve just been spinning your wheels; it can help you find places where you need to let something go or move on from something so you can do something better, or at least different in the future.

So that’s that. A little bit about the history of grand, New Year’s resolutions and how we can keep them. If you feel the need to set one in the first place. My goals haven’t really changed: get into shape, make creative things, study better, learn more. How I go about these goals, though…well, I’ve got some worksheets to fill out.

What We're Reading:

Getting Things Done: The Art of Stree-Free Productivity

by David Allen

First things first: you've heard of this book. Second, the subtitle is an absolute lie. Those two things being said, this is a great read when you're thinking about goals and targets and how to achieve those things.

You've Heard of This Book

Getting Things Done is second only to The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People and, maybe, The Art of War in the productivity hall of fame. The GTD method has been developed from the initial book into a full system of productivity hacks, tricks, and strategies to make you the lean, mean, goal-achieving machine you were always meant to be. That said...

The Subtitle is An Absolute Lie

There is no such thing as stress-free productivity. The mere fact of being concerned with how much you're getting done makes the phrase an oxymoron. And that's the catch-22 with all these productivity systems - you can get so lost in trying to build your methodology that you end up getting nothing done. It's important to keep in mind the end goal and make sure that you're organizing your day and your plan to get to actual results and not just a perfectly clean desk.

But Still...

GTD is a good place to start. The methodology has been so developed and workshopped by hundreds of thousands of users that there are countless ways to tailor the core ideas to your goals. But, like with anything, you've got to start with the basics (Which probably means going back to Sun-Tzu. Seriously.) and this is as good a set of basics as any.


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Down the Rabbit Hole:


The flip-side to reflection is prediction and there's no better time to do that than at the beginning of the year. I, however, have no predictions at all. The future is a dangerous, uncomfortable place and I'd just as soon meet it as it arrives. Other people though are not so pragmatic. Here are some of the prediction lists and think-pieces I've been reading:

Motherboard asked 105 experts what worries them most about the future and what gives them the most hope about the future. My advice, read them in that order.

Most Worrying Answer:

At this point it‘s not so much a worry as a numb acknowledgement of the inevitable: Climate change will continue unchecked, eventually making life on the planet nasty, brutish, and short, if not totally unsustainable. —Brooke Bolander

Most Hopeful Answer:

The next generation is neither afraid of nor in awe of digital technologies, and better equipped than past generations (including most of our current political establishment) to make good use of them, be skeptical of and interested in, rather than complacent or frantic about, the companies behind them. It faces the question of how we make sure technological progress also delivers broad-based public benefits. — Rasmus Nielsen

Bloomberg is having a hard time being optimistic this year. Their prediction piece is Fire, Floods, and Famine: The Pessimist's Guide to 2019. The imaginary timeline that frames the piece is just as dire as the title suggests; although the “outcomes” are fictional, the piece does list a number of things that need to be taken seriously.

The heat El Niño released into the atmosphere helped push up world temperatures, making 2019 the warmest year on record.

In the Philippines, an inability to procure rice on the world market led to riots in Manila that were brutally put down by President Rodrigo Duterte.

In Asia, Australia fended off another wave of boat people, deporting them home as its offshore detention centers filled up.

(Just to reiterate, the three examples listed are fictional, but are based on possible implications from real stories in previous years.)

NPR has a good round-up from their coverage of important trends in global health and development over the past few years. They also take pains to counter each negative trend with a positive one.

Most Dire: There are increasing chances of infectious disease outbreaks, including pandemics -

"there are worrying signs that the conditions favoring the emergence of a pandemic — and the impact it would have — are ever more present and possibly getting worse."

Most Hopeful: People in need of mental help will find it on their phone -

Counselors with a web connection could learn about effective diagnosis and treatment online. They could ping their patients with online tips. People with depression or schizophrenia or substance abuse in rich and poor countries could use their phones to check in with a counselor, receive guidance or touch base with others facing the same issues.

It's hard to look forward without looking back; Isaac Asimov, a scientist and science-fiction grandmaster, was asked in 1983 to make predictions for 2019. He got a few things wrong, but what's more interesting is the ways in which he was wrong. For example, Asimov predicted that the U.S. and Russia would engage in a nuclear war. Obviously, that did not happen, but here in the real 2019, the U.S. and Russia are engaged in a very odd set of spy games with information tools and technology that did not exist 35 years ago.

Last, Quantum Run has a list that is less prediction and more scheduling. They've rounded-up 107 events across Business, Culture, and Science in a nice list format. There are some obvious ones - Game of Thrones Season 8 will be bonkers - and some less obvious items like Sony's PlayStation 5 will be released (there has been no announcement as of this writing). Not a necessary read, perhaps, but fun and interesting to contemplate.

The Follow-Up

Before we go, here are just a few more "Best of 2018" lists that came across my desk after I had already finished last week's issue:

That's it. Stay strong, stay healthy. Learn something.