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My 2016 Goals (and the Impermanence of Plans)

January 13, 2016 — by Matt

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None of us know what’s in store for us.

I mean, we’re only two weeks into 2016 and I’ve already been hit with surprises that affect the goals I wrote down for this year a few weeks ago. I’ve had some wake-up calls about some of my approaches and some of my behavior. I’m even more sure not that I don’t really know anything – I’m just figuring it all out. We all are.

But of course the lack of knowledge shouldn’t stop us from taking action, trying things, and to some extent, leaping without looking. We try, we fail, we learn, we adjust, and we try again. It’s all we can do.

So when I was reviewing my 2016 goals prior to to writing this article, I thought it important to make clear both to you all and to especially to myself) that our plans our impermanent. We don’t know everything going into a year, or a new opportunity, or a new project, or an adventure. We should go in with a plan, with some goals in mind. But we should be aware that unexpected things happen – both good and bad. And to adhere to our original plans instead of adjusting course when these unexpected things occur is lunacy.

With all that said, I still believe in goals. They’re still important to have. And I still believe that working in a specific direction is infinitely better than working without aiming toward something bigger. I just know that being dogmatic and inflexible in those goals can be equally harmful. So I will work toward my short-term 2016 goals with an eye to make sure that larger, more important goals like smiling, and having fun, and experiencing love and connecting with people, don’t take a back seat. (In fact my next article will be my “non-goals” for 2016. More on that later).

My 2016 Goals

These aren’t the end-all and be-all of what I want to do in 2016. They’re not all-encompassing. They’re simply the things that I’d like to shoot for in the few areas I was thinking about when I took the time to think about them. I’m including them here for some sense of accountability and to keep myself and others energized in following their passion.

One other note – these are my personal goals. I’m a part of some groups that have separate group goals that I’m not including here. I also won’t go into too much detail on why each one is important to me as I expect to write more about many of these as the year goes on.

Writing

  • Publish at least 50 articles in 2016. This is about one week with a little fudge room, and potentially more if I meet my next goal.
  • Get published in at least three other online publications. I love writing here but in order to get a larger audience and get more feedback on my content, I want to expand my reach a bit.

Music

  • Release one instrumental/rework/remix project. The barriers to this should just be my own willpower and abandoning my perfectionism, as they don’t require coordinating any other artists. The one I’m working on now is pretty exciting too!
  • Get at least 5 beat placements. I’ve stopped sending artists beats in the last few years but I love working with artists and hearing what they come up with. I’ll ramp this back up this year.
  • DJ at least 6 events. I’m keeping the definition of “event” fairly loose right now.
  • Get a song played on Beat Haus radio. One of my favorite internet radio shows, I’d like to produce something of high enough quality to be featured on one of their episodes.
  • Record at least one complete song in a studio. I love the convenience of recording at home, but miss being in the studio. I’ll return there this year.
  • Get at least one paid DJ gig. Although I already technically have my first one lined up, it’s a group event and I won’t be paid directly.
  • Release at least 5 DJ mixes. I released 3 in 2015, and with the events I’ll be DJing, this should be a piece of cake.
  • Make some money from production. I don’t care if it’s $10, I’d like to experiment with charging for my production services.

Art and Other Creative Endeavors

  • Complete one video project. I love working in video even though I’m not particular skilled, and I have tons of ideas. I’ll make sure to bring at least one of them to life this year.
  • Complete at least three paintings.
  • Sell one painting. Are you seeing a theme here? I’d like to start making some money from my creative passions – mostly to prove to myself that I can.
  • Build a creative portfolio/CV site. It’s time to stop thinking of my creative pursuits as a “hobby” and start identifying myself as my ideal version of myself.

Financial

Note that I have some additional financial goals here but for whatever reason I’m not yet comfortable sharing the details on the internet. Here are the ones I am comfortable sharing.

  • Eliminate credit card debt.I made a great dent in this in 2015 and expect 2016 to land the knockout punch.
  • Sell my car. This will not only be a big win for my wallet, but also for my peace of mind.
  • Increase my savings safety net. I won’t put my specific figure here, but this is a big thrust in 2016 for me. I’ll write more about the systems I’ll use to help meet this goal.

Startup

I’d like to take a deeper dive into the world of startup and determine my appetite for it. These goals are a bit fluffier right now because I don’t know what to expect – but I’ll refine them as I learn more.

  • Attend at least 5 startup networking sessions. This will help me determine what I need to know or if this is even an avenue I want to pursue.
  • Detailed write-ups of top 3 ideas. This is my “just show up” step to get the ball rolling.
  • Run my ideas past a focus group. This is my “ask for help” step.

Travel

  • Travel to at least 5 countries. This one is pretty simple, but will force me to travel more this year. That said, I’ll try to prioritize meaningful travel to a few places rather than frantic, touristy travel to many.

Health, Wellbeing, and Growth

  • Make meditation a habit. Meditate at least twice per week in 2016.
  • Make exercise a habit (again). Go to the gym twice a week (to start). Adjust this to include other activities as the year goes on and the weather improves.
  • Attend one class or seminar on something that interests you. My post-collegiate education has been mostly self-directed, but I’d attend a class on something in which I’m interested.
  • Improve your handwriting. It’s abysmal. Like, the worst. I’m not sure what the actual target is here but it’s something I want to work on, so I’m including it.

Is that it?

Of course not. There are areas of my life that are equally or more important than what is listed above – my happiness, my relationships with my friends, family, and significant other, seeking adventure, exploring, deep connections, peace and presence, and so much more. In my next article I’ll talk about these larger concepts, and how making them a bigger part of my identity in 2016 could trump some of these more specific goals – or, how it might make them easier to accomplish.

So although there are bigger things at play and I, like you, have no idea how the year will shake out, this is my starting point for 2016 in these very specific areas. If some monumental shift occurs in a month or two, I won’t hesitate to adjust or abandon any goals that no longer make sense. That doesn’t mean these goals aren’t important to establish. It just means they’re directional, aiming toward them as I barrel through 2016, until the target is hit, it becomes less important, or a (truly) more important target presents itself.

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My 2015 Annual Review

January 5, 2016 — by Matt

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2015 has ended, and 2016 is but a few days old. Ah, what a bittersweet moment.
Not really. I’ve never put much importance on the changing of the year. New Years Eve celebrations are typically overrated, as are traditional resolutions. I write the date wrong for a month or two after before my brain finally registers the new year, and life goes on.
But this year I decided to use this time to retrospect on what did and didn’t go well in the past year with the goal of setting myself up for an even better 2016. My hope is that evaluating where I’ve been will help focus where I’m going, and identifying areas in which I could have done better will help me conquer similar obstacles much better in the future.
So without further ado, my 2015 Annual Review!

A Year In Review

2015 was a year of discovery and foundation-building. Much of what I hoped to accomplish didn’t happen, but I built a stable framework to make meaningful change, more so than I have in any other year. I learned a lot about what drives me, how I work best, and where I have room to improve. The stage feels set for a great 2016.

What Went Well

This is my favorite part of the exercise. I’m typically overly-self critical and compiling this list reminded me of all my victories. It was incredibly motivating!

Travel

I rang in 2015 on a beach in southern Thailand, 1/4 of the way through a life changing solo adventure. My Thailand trip taught me so much about my resilience, what I could do without, and was a major factor in convincing me to finally start this blog. I’ll write more about this trip’s lessons in future posts.
Beach in Krabi, Thailand
A beautiful sunset on Ao Nang beach in Krabi, Thailand
Travel the rest of the year was sparse, but very rewarding. In June my girlfriend and I spent time in Puerto Rico, exploring Old San Juan, the beaches, and the rest of the island. In August, I traveled to Montreal with a crew of buddies for our second Osheaga Music Festival, which was a blast. September rid me of my multi-year aversion to camping through mountain climbing, hiking, and the most beautiful views of the coast of Maine and the untainted night sky I’ve ever seen. I traveled a decent amount for work too, but nothing super noteworthy. So although overall travel was on the light side, the trips I took were fun, reflective, focusing, and in the case of Thailand, life-changing. And I’ve already got my first trip of 2016 booked – Cartagena, Colombia in late January!

 

Art and Music

2015 was the year I ramped up my DJ skills. Although I didn’t DJ any major events, I got comfortable behind the decks and at parties, logged some serious hours, and dropped 3 DJ mixes on SoundCloudFumesco and I produced and released a fun dance track at the beginning of the year. I also made two radio appearances thanks to Uncle Sam at LFOD Radio and performed on stage once as well.
I tried my hand at video production and editing in 2015, putting together a promo video for Bad Decisions Collective and a Jake and Amir spoof. Although it was fun to do, it’s something I’ll likely outsource in the future. Speaking of Bad Decisions Collective, we set the stage for some fantastic events and music for early 2016 which I’m excited to see through.
Finally, I started painting again. Although it’s definitely a side hobby, I’d like to use painting as a change-of-pace activity when I hit a wall with Writing or Music, instead of turning to Netflix.

Writing

I launched this site, Boring Grownups, in July. An idea that had been on the back-burner for too long, I finally bit the bullet, finished the site design, and posted my first few articles. Although I didn’t post every week, I’ve posted a stream of content so far and sparked some great discussions with friends are readers. I hope to do even better in 2016. And I got my first article published on another blog!

Career

2015 was a big year for my “9 to 5” career of Software Product Manager. In the late summer, I was part of the group that helped orchestrate the acquisition of my company, performing due diligence, giving demos, and traveling across the country to ensure the deal went through. It was a great experience filled with lessons that will be invaluable no matter my future path.
And in October, I finally made the move from that company to a new company in Boston. The commute to to my job in the suburbs north of Boston had been difficult for over a year and I finally kicked myself in the ass got over my fear, and made the move. Not only that, it’s with a startup doing some super exciting stuff, and I’m already learning a ton.

Financial

Although I hoped to do a better job saving this year, I did nearly eliminate my credit card debt, lifting a huge weight from my shoulders. I still have a little way to go with debt in general (car payments etc.) but I didn’t realize how much progress I had made until I saw my debt turndown from Jan 1 2015 until now.

Social/Relationships

This is an important category that I sometimes struggle with – I love my solitude and sometimes get lost in my introverted tendencies because they often spark my creativity. Throughout 2015 I tried to form deeper relationships with many of the important people in my life. Although I didn’t do great in some areas (see below) I did connect with many friends on a deeper level, had some great conversations, and fostered some important relationships.
Most importantly, I started a wonderful relationship with a beautiful, intelligent, creative spirit. I’m so excited to see where our relationship goes as we continue to grow together.

What Didn’t Go Well

Despite the growth, there were a few areas of stagnation and some to which I just didn’t pay enough attention. In the moment these may seem like failures, but the purpose of this exercise is to reflect on them, make peace with them, and then learn from them so 2016 can be even better.

Art and Music

Despite DJing a bit more last year, I didn’t make and release a whole lot of new music. I found myself distracted, starting many projects but finishing very few. I fell victim to the “Resistance” Steven Pressfield wrote of in The War of Art. It took me a long time to recognize it and even longer to push through it, and as such my creative output stagnated in 2015.
I also could have better taken advantage of my network – something I’ve never been good at. I must remember that there’s making art, there’s getting it out there, and that both benefit from involving others in the process. I don’t have to do everything myself for it to be authentic. I’m vowing to get better about collaboration and asking for help and advice in 2016. I’ll be writing more about this struggle in an upcoming article.

Health

2015 was probably my least-in-shape year in a long time. I could point to a lot of factors – an extended commute, a brutal, snowed-in winter, conflicting priorities, or just plain laziness – but I hit the gym with far less frequency than I’d like. Since physical health improves mental health (and vice-versa), it’s time to get back on the grind.

Finance

I made a significant dent in my credit card debt but my saving was sub-par. Automated transfers to my savings will help, as will cutting out my commute and gas prices. But I’m not yet at the level of non-retirement savings I’d hoped, and will auto-pay myself more each paycheck in 2016.
My biggest financial hit this year was having to buy a new car. I was vehemently opposed to owning a car a couple of years ago and was forced to buy one when my company moved out of Boston. So when the Boston winter and generally poor maintenance required me to trade it in for another, newer model earlier in 2015, I was not a happy camper. More debt, larger monthly payments, and the ache in my heart of making what I considered a goal-divergent mistake AGAIN was a tough pill to swallow. But on a positive note, that same ache helped me get over my fear of leaving that job, and I’m looking forward to being carless again soon.

Travel

As I mentioned above, although the trips I did take were very meaningful, my travel schedule was a light in 2015. What with work, job search, and paying down debt, my priorities skewed toward staying home. Although my 3-years-ago self my have expected me to be location-independent and traveling the world at this point, in reality I don’t consider this an actual loss. I’m working on building a life in which that level of travel and true location-independence is sustainable. Work I put in now will make those things a part of my life for the long run.

Social and Lifestyle

I’ve had issues balancing work and social life in the past, and this year was no different. I romanticize the notion of becoming a recluse in a cabin in the woods somewhere for months on end making art, but too often I do the former without the output of the latter. I’m getting better at recognizing this and I’m working harder on finding a balance between going ass-to-chair to make art, and living a life worth making art about.
Due to time constraints I also had to end a long-stranding volunteer activity I had been participating in for years before. It was sad to call it quits as it was very rewarding, but as I work to find more balance in my energies I know I’ll find something similar.

The Next Step

So… that’s my year in review. Even as I type of this list I’m reminded that small measures of progress are possible all the time – and that these measures add up to big change. Even though I set a grand vision for myself, I have to remember not to be discouraged by its enormity, and to make consistent small steps toward. With the right focus, a year’s worth of small changes can result in a major shift.
And that’s the aim for 2016. In my next post, I’ll outline some of this years’ goals and how I’m treating them as guideposts on a journey rather than destinations themselves.
Have you done an annual review? If so, I’d love to read it and share notes! If it’s online, leave a link to it in the comments. If you’ve done it informally and want to share anything, please do. We get stronger when we share ideas and I’m excited for all of us to get stronger in 2016.

BalanceExplorationProductivityTools and Systems

The Power of the Annual Review

December 29, 2015 — by Matt

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“It’s so difficult, isn’t it? To see what’s going on when you’re in the absolute middle of something? It’s only with hindsight we can see things for what they are.”
My day job is in computer software. At the end of a 2-week sprint (working period), right before we release a new version of our app, we hold a Retrospective. It’s a meeting with the whole team, and its purpose is to look back at the last 2 weeks and identify what went well, what didn’t, and what we can do better next time.
It can get lousy with complaints and gripes, but it can be cathartic to release frustration about the process or the roadblocks that were hit. It can also be very satisfying – at the end of a sprint, when everyone’s tired and stressed from trying to meet deadlines, identifying and celebrating the team’s victories is a nice reminder that some real good work was done. And finally, it’s prescriptive; if done right, the grievances from the start of the exercise turn into guidelines for how to improve next time.
This same concept can be used for our personal journeys – either for individual projects or for life in general. And what better time to conduct a retrospective than at the end of the year?

 

The Annual Review

The annual review is not a new idea – lots of people do it – but it’s not something I’ve ever formally done. I was turned onto the concept of a personal annual review a few years ago by an article by Chris Guillebeau. He explained and espoused the benefits of the annual review better than I ever could – so check out his first post on the subject here. (His 2015 multi-post annual review is also a good example of how deep you can get with the exercise, and I found it particularly inspiring).
Each part has value, but it will differ for each person. For example, I never have any trouble reminding myself of the ways I (think I) fucked up, or missed opportunities, or didn’t work hard enough. But I don’t take enough tie to recognizes what I did get done, the barriers I did surmount, and all my victories. So for me, that part is one of the most important.
The last part, the “what can I do better” section, is equally important. No matter your stance on “New Years Resolutions” (I’m not the biggest fan in their most traditional sense) I think that if something (even a time of year) inspires you to make some changes for the better and build toward a life of fulfillment and happiness, then it’s useful – as long as the follow-through is there. And that’s the goal with this exercise; doing it is important, but what you do after going through the exercise is what really matters.

 

My Annual Review

I’ll be doing my very first year in review exercise this week. I’m excited for what I’ll discover and how the lessons of 2016 will impact my plan for 2016. I might even share it here. If you’re writing a year in review yourself, let me know – I’d love to share ideas, lessons, and get stronger as a community!

BalanceExperimentationExplorationTools and Systems

Moderation vs. Abstinence

December 18, 2015 — by Matt

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I like giving stuff up.

No, not “giving up on stuff” but “giving stuff up” for a while. Going without. Sacrificing.

I’m not totally sure why, but I have some theories. I think I like knowing that I don’t need a thing to get by. That I’m not dependent on it. That if I didn’t have it for a while I’d be just fine and I shouldn’t be scared of going without it. I also believe that sacrifice is a muscle you need to work out just like anything else. Going through life without having to sacrifice anything can make you soft and less willing to sacrifice when it really matters – like giving up your superficial comforts for a while to put your goals first. And finally, on a deeper level, I think I like giving stuff up because it makes me feel in control.

So when I gave up alcohol for the month of October, I felt great afterward – not just because I had challenged myself and won, but because it honestly hadn’t been too difficult.

But then I started to think – why hadn’t it been that hard? Was “giving something up” not the real challenge? Were some of my “sacrifice experiments” just me trading one extreme for another. After a friend brought up a similar concept in conversation, I wondered if abstinence wasn’t the real challenge I thought it would be. Maybe the real challenge was learning moderation.

Struggles with Moderation

“Everything in moderation except whiskey, and sometimes too much whiskey is just enough.” – Mark Twain

I’ve never been good with moderation.

Sometimes this has been a gift. If I’m excited about a new idea, I tend to go all out in pursuing it. Getting a new song idea might lead to pulling an all-nighter with no regard for the clock or work the next morning. It’s extreme – but I get my ideas out, and I make progress. (On the other hand I sometimes burn so hot on a new project initially that I fizzle out and give up on it, so there’s still a place where moderation should probably come into play).

Sometime’s it’s a curse. If I get home exhausted after a long day, I might put on an episode of a TV show on Netflix to wind down before I write or work on music. But one episode is just a taste, and 7 episodes later I’m way past my window to get a good night’s sleep and haven’t gotten anything creative done. And I had more than a few nights out in my 20s where once I got a few drinks in me, moderation went out the window.

In a way, binge watching Netflix, getting addicted to a game or a drug, or becoming a “workaholic” is not much different than completely giving something up. Yeah, the results of one extreme are often much more positive than the results of the other – but they both hold so much weight.

I know for me, a little moderation would go a long way. If I could watch one episode of TV, work on music for an hour, and go to bed at a reasonable time, I might get more done. I might be happier. I might be less frazzled, anxious, or stressed because I’m more balanced.

Or maybe not. I mean, is being “extreme” always bad? Most of us live and work in this limbo state, not straying too far from our comfort zone. Aren’t trips into the edges, jaunts into the extremes, and journeys into the Danger Zone necessary to test your boundaries and make big changes?

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I have no answer, no lesson. I don’t know that there is one place on that spectrum between complete abstinence and complete abandon that’s “healthier” than any other. I think both “going extreme” and “practicing moderation” have their place in life. Always doing one or the other isn’t “the way”, but there are no rules as to when each makes sense either. I guess we just try to find what works for us in different situations. The alcoholic might decide that their best approach to alcohol is extreme – give it up forever, for good. The writer may find that when brainstorming, locking themselves in a cabin for days (extreme) works – but when refining their first draft, an hour a day (moderation) delivers the best results.

It’s up to us to find where we are at our best for each situation, because when we do, we set ourselves up for greatness.

What do you think? Do you struggle with moderation, or do you struggle to make big changes? If you’ve recently found the place on that spectrum that works for you in even the smallest area of your life, I’d love you to share it. I have a feeling we are all trying to find that balance.

ExplorationTools and Systems

Weekend Reads: Articles that Challenge my Thinking

November 20, 2015 — by Matt

“The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.” – Albert Einstein

Anyone who tells you they’ve figured it all out is lying or delusional. Even if we get some aspects of life, love, ambition, passion, or whatever “figured out” to the level we’re happy and energetic, it’s still in our best interests to always be exploring other approaches.

Just like everyone else, I’m trying to figure everything out. I try things, I do experiments, I read the stories of others, I find things that work or don’t work for me and I adjust. So when I stumble across an approach that flies completely in the face of my own assumptions or preconceptions, I’m elated. I get to explore another alternative! There’s the potential to find something in there that works for me!

Even if I don’t end up agreeing with or adopting any part of the advice or approach, seeing an issue from another angle is always beneficial. But more often than not, as long as I can keep an open mind, I’m likely to find something of value in there.

The following two articles really challenged my ideas on two topics about which I’ve recently posted – the value of writing every day, and defining the type of person you want to be.

Maybe there’s a better thing to write down each day?

One Research-Backed Way to Effectively Manage Your Stressful and Busy Schedule – by James Clear

A few weeks ago I wrote about how writing down on positive occurrence each day helped break me out of a funk and reframe my thinking toward positivity. I then wrote about how being challenged on that approach made me reconsider whether there were other equally effective methods more making a habit of positive thinking.

Well, leave it up to one of my favorite bloggers James Clear to challenge my thinking yet again and use a research-backed approach to take the idea further. In this article James highlights a study in which students tied their own personal values to their daily journal entries and saw a marked improvement in health, attitude, and energy.

It makes a ton of sense. Just like you’ll make a more emotional connection with your goals by focusing on the type of person you want to be (an idea that was, admittedly, heavily influenced by James’ writing), tying your underlying values to your journaling should make those journals more impactful in the long run. My approach changes your mood for the day or week; James’ sets the stage for fundamental changes in your attitude and approach.

Do you really need to “find” your passion?

Screw Finding Your Passion by Mark Manson

A friend sent me this article. She said she thought I’d enjoy it and that it fit into the themes about which I was writing. Boy, was she right.

I love so much about this article. Without spoiling it, the article posits that most of us trying to find “our passion” are really overcomplicating it. We know what we enjoy doing and what we’d spend our time doing if we had no commitments or expenses. So… is there much more to it than that? I’m trying to figure it out myself, so I’m not sure – but I loved the approach Mark Manson took in his post.

More than just challenging my thinking, this article challenged my approach to this blog. This article does what I originally wanted to do with this blog – pointing out how adult complacency can hamstring our growth and how sometimes a more child-like approach will identify what’s important to us faster. I did it in my intro article but looking back, I haven’t highlighted that concept a whole lot – and I think it’s a compelling one. So I’ll make more of an effort to take that angle in future articles.


 

Got any article that have shook up your opinions or thinking lately? Post them in the comments below!

ExperimentationExplorationHealth

What I learned from giving up alcohol for a month

November 5, 2015 — by Matt

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In late September (what seems like months ago now but is just over a month) I decided I was going to give up alcohol for the month of October.
I’m far from the first person to start such a challenge, or to write about it (check out links to similar articles at the bottom of this post). Nor is it the first time I’ve done it – I ditched the sauce for about a month and a half last year leading up to my birthday.
But as September drew to a close I felt the itch to do it again. And something about October felt like the perfect time to give it another shot. It’s not quite hibernation season, the only really big holiday is Halloween, and there’s even a cool name for it – “Ocsober” – that is popular in Australia as a fundraiser, similar to Movember.

So why did I do it?

I’m not a recovering alcoholic; although I used to be quite the drinker throughout my 20s, I’ve slowed down quite a bit since then. Mostly it just felt like something to do. But there were a few goals I had as I embarked on my 31-day challenge:
  • Challenge: I like a challenge and to test myself. I think that challenging ourselves is a good way to remind ourselves of our strength and avoid falling into complacency.
  • Freedom: Being able to give up something you’re used to – be it alcohol, certain foods, physical possessions – is an expression of freedom. If you remind yourself that you are not a slave to these external factors, you’re also expressing your freedom from them.
  • Sacrifice: Similar to Challenge and Freedom, I believe it’s important to exercise our Sacrifice muscles sometimes to prove we can give up stuff if we need to, and to prime us to sacrifice when it really matters in the future. I’ll explore this concept more in an upcoming article.
  • Health: The last time I gave up alcohol there were some definite health benefits. I was excited to reap these again.
  • Money: Even with a lower appetite for alcohol, I have some expensive tastes and I was looking forward to the financial benefit giving up alcohol would bring, especially as I worked to build up my financial safety net.
My original plan was to write a week-by-week summary of how I felt, but I soon realized that this would be boring and unnecessary. So here’s the long-story-short: I did it. I’m glad I did it. It wasn’t too difficult, but there were some cravings. And I did learn a few lessons.

What I learned

Here’s what I experienced (and learned) during my month of sobriety.

It’s much easier if you make it part of your identity.

Just like when defining your [personal pillars], I find much more success when you make your goals part of your identity. I just said “I don’t drink in October”. Not “I’m trying to stop drinking” or “This is a challenge I’m doing”. To me, it was just a fact. It wasn’t a thing I brought up, it just was. Making it that matter-of-fact made it surprisingly easy to not drink – it’s just something I didn’t do.

Doing cool stuff together is cool!

Before I started Ocsober I posted my plan on Facebook and a few friends actually decided to join me. So I set up a Facebook event and we shared our stories, successes, and observations. Even though I didn’t see too many of these friends over the course of the month, the online conversation and support made it feel like we were in it together.

Putting your intent toward a healthy habit feeds into other healthy habits.

One thing I learned from my friends is that many of them also decided to adopt some other healthy habits for the month. Some of them gave up caffeine. Some of them cut down on sugar or adjusted their diet. Even I put more focus on eating better. I think it’s because keeping one healthy habit top-of-mind makes you think about other healthy choices as well. One choice (healthy or unhealthy) can start a snowball effect of other similar choices However…

It doesn’t fix everything.

Even though my friends found success in other healthy habits in addition to alcohol, I found myself falling into some bad habits, the most prominent of which was massive sleep deprivation. This had to do with unrelated factors (starting a new job, change in schedule, a busy month in general) but it still dulled the mental edge I hoped would be sharpened through sobriety. It’s not like I expected giving up alcohol to solve all my problems, but some of my other struggles during the month reminded me that it;s important to view health holistically.

Alcohol is expensive.

The biggest area of improvement was in my finances. Without making any other major efforts, I found more money in my checking account the days before my paycheck than I had seen in the months prior. And I wasn’t a monk during October; I still went out with friends, I still drove a lot, and due to my schedule issues I ordered much more take-out than I usually would. But I still found myself with a little extra dough just by cutting out the booze.

I’m a celebratory drinker, not a coping one.

I kind of knew this about myself already, but my biggest cravings to drink come at times of celebration. I had some rough days and weeks this October and never felt like I “needed” a drink. In fact, my only slight cravings came at times of celebration – my last day at my old job, celebrating my new job with my girlfriend, and checking out my favorite monthly party in Boston. But none of the cravings were strong enough to break me – and I took the celebratory nature of those instances as a good sign that although I enjoy sharing a drink among friends, I’m not dependent on it.
So where does that leave me? I’m not sure. But I found the exercise to be enlightening and beneficial. It feel good to prove to myself that I am not a slave to the sauce, and knowing I can sacrifice will strengthen my resolve the next time I need to.
I love 30-day challenges. Have you tried one that was particularly useful to you? If so, leave a comment – and maybe we’ll give it a try!
Other examples of 30-day alcohol challenges:

Article photo courtesy of Jason Williams.

CreativityTools and Systems

Is writing down your thoughts actually important?

October 26, 2015 — by Matt

A few weeks ago I published an article about a bad week I had, and how the simple habit of writing down one good thing that happened during the day had completely changed my attitude and set me up to tackle the rest of my week with renewed vigor.

Before I published the post I was telling my incredibly supportive girlfriend (who helped spark me to actually start this blog) about the concept of the article and how writing these thoughts down was important. After my too-lengthy explanation, she asked a question I hadn’t asked myself – “why is the writing important – can’t you just think about and reflect on the good things that happened in your day for the same effect?”

I started to launch into all the reasons why writing down your thoughts is so powerful, but then I stopped myself. Is writing inherently more powerful than other methods? I had assumed writing was better because it worked best for me. But is it really more impactful in cementing your goals or personal pillars than other methods? Why not meditate on them? Why not draw a picture?

So I decided to do some reading.

There are plenty of people out there who share my opinion on the power of writing. This article identifies writing as a tool to combat stress. This one claims it can “change your life”. And this article (which I’ve featured on the blog before) espouses the cognitive and creative benefits of writing.

I agreed with all of it. I mean, writing works for me, so of course I did. But that could just be a confirmation bias – seeking out and identifying with information in a way that confirms my own preconceptions and opinions.

I still believe writing really, truly works. Even without a purpose or a specific goal, free-writing can be incredibly therapeutic and I’d recommend to anyone to open a notebook or Evernote and start writing during times of stress, reflection, or indecisiveness. But promoting a one-size-fits-all solution in any scenario is at best arrogant and dismissive of individuality and at worst dangerous and overbearingly dogmatic.

What I realized while exploring my own relationship with writing was that the benefit was in the intent, not in the act itself. By purposefully sitting down, opening a notebook, and setting my mind to a task I was telling myself “this is important”. Taking action to write and going through the ritual itself made the writing meaningful rather than accidental, and I was more likely to write with depth and meaning. But that same concept can be applied to many types of reflection and introspection. Setting up a place to sit and think, putting on some soothing music for meditation, or opening your voice recorder to get something off your chest can be just as useful to really connecting with the thoughts, problems, conundrums, and even the gratitude that needs to be brought to the surface.

So is the actual writing part important? To me, yes – but it’s largely because that’s what works for me. My method is not the “best” method, and it might not even be the best method for me at any given time, so it’d be impossible for me to say it’s what everyone should be doing.

The writing itself isn’t the important part – the intent is. Whatever your preferred method – creative visualization, meditation, writing, or voice recording – as long as the intent is clear and you can take lessons from your practice, it’s effective.


Does writing work for you, or do you find other methods of getting your thoughts out more effective? Leave a comment below!

MinimalismProductivity

The Power of Selective Apathy

October 19, 2015 — by Matt

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This article originally appeared on We Live Limitless at http://welivelimitless.com/power-selective-apathy/

Is it ignorance or apathy?
… Hey, I don’t know and I don’t care.
– Jimmy Buffett

The world is a fascinating, interconnected place. Technology allows us to tap into a level of information and communication that would have been impossible 20 years ago. We can now chat with anyone anytime the world over. Videos, articles, and Wikipedia can serve us more information than we can consume on any topic we find interesting. We can travel anywhere in the world with relative ease, and pursue opporunities not available to generations before us. We’re more aware than ever of the thoughts, feelings, and life events of our family, friends, and even complete strangers. And we can interact with anyone, start conversations, and work collaboratively toward a higher purpose with relative ease.

Oh, what a time to be alive!
WATTBA
The downside to having so much available to us is that… we have SO MUCH available to us. Without constraints, the abundance of information and the burden of choosing what to consume become overwhelming. When you’re inundated with event invites, listicles, friends’ social media timeline rants, personal projects, internet memes, socio-political causes, pleasure reading, and the latest Netflix original shows, it’s difficult to figure out what’s important to pay attention to, and what isn’t. Everything settles into the same tier becomes white noise. And our limited attention is so thinly spread over everything that nothing gets enough attention to make a difference.

If everything is important, than nothing is.
– Patrick Lencioni

If life is like a buffet, it’s our job to decide what goes on our plate. Choosing a little of everything will leave us with too little of each dish to enjoy it, and adding more food to an already-full plate will just result in a mess.

So we need to be picky with what we consume and what we’re exposed to. Of course, this is easier said than done – it’s not like we can just choose what we want to see and nothing else with bother us – most information is thrown at us from all directions. So to effectively bat away that which doesn’t serve us, let’s try a strategy of “selective apathy”.

“I don’t care”

Apathy is generally viewed as a bad thing. The phrase “I don’t care” is a rude phrase, something to be avoided in polite company. True enough, with all things considered. But selective apathy is a powerful strategy to decide what you just don’t care about in order to give more attention to what you do. By dismissing an input as “unimportant”, you clear away a big chunk of the noise around you to more clearly see your goals, ready to be attacked.

The concept of selective apathy is readily apparent in many existing success strategies. The Pareto principle (or the 80/20 rule) works by identifying the 20% of your activities that produce 80% of your results. By saying that you “don’t care” about the other 80% of activities, you’re narrowing your focus and improving your output. Environment design forces you to construct your surroundings in a way that is condusive to your task. Anything that isn’t is ignored. The importance of “saying no”? Just another way of identifying something you don’t have the bandwidth to care about right now. And minimalists will recognize selective apathy as just another method to clear your life of what isn’t necessary.

One man’s trash is another’s treasure

It’s important to understand that choosing to ignore something does not mean that it isn’t important in a universal sense. It’s simply putting concentrated focus on a few important things in order to make a real impact or actual progress. The researcher who dedicates her life to finding a cure for ALS is not doing so becuase she believes curing other diseases is unimportant; rather, she’s doing so because a concerted effort in her chosen area of focus will yield a more powerful result.

In addition, saying “I don’t care” should really mean “I don’t care about this right now”. It’s often beneficial to ignore an input while you’re focused on something else and then return to it when you have more bandwidth to give it its due consideration. Just don’t let it take your eye off the ball in the short term and pull your focus from your goals.

Don’t just say “I don’t care” to others

After extolling the virtues of selective apathy and using “I don’t care” to keep your attention focused on the important, I’m going to give you one final piece of advice – don’t actually say it.

Huh?

In most cases we’re telling ourselves not to care as a shield to to our attention. But when it comes to other peoples’ ideas or proposals, outright saying the phrase “I don’t care” comes off as rude, and for good reason – it’ll sound like you think their interest is unimportant and unworthy. But this isn’t the case – just because you choose not to focus on something yourself does not make it unimportant to someone else or in general.

So if you’re forced to decline others’ proposals or projects in order to focus on your own, do so with gratitude – they thought of you as a valuable contributer to the conversation. Let them know you think the cause or idea has real merit (as long as you really think so!) and share with them enthusiastically what you are focused on that requires your full attention. Passion recognizes passion, and not only will you leave the conversation with mutual respect for each others’ projects, but you’ll open the door for potential collaboration in the future.

There is more information and opportunity out available to us than there ever has been before. Taking a stance of selective apathy regarding everything that isn’t important to you right now will allow you to make a real impact on those things that are.

CreativityExplorationTools and Systems

One Positive Reminder Each Day

October 1, 2015 — by Matt

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Today I've just got a short story. It happened to me early this week, and made my whole week brighter. Hopefully, a habit like this can help motivate your week this week and into the future.

We all have bad days. Days that we can’t wait to end, days in which our frustration or despair boils over. Days that, by midday, we just want to dive into bed and sleep away the remainder. I was having one of those days on Tuesday.

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It wasn’t anything especially bad – no life-altering news, no super tense situations. Just a bubbling level of stress, small frustrating events, minor annoyances that compounded into a sour mood. I got home from work and begrudgingly made dinner, then got ready to sit in front of my computer, mindlessly surf the web, and finish it off with some Netflix. It was the perfect medicine – passive, not terribly self-sabotaging but also not super helpful or productive – and one I had taken many times before.

Before I started my time-wasting, I checked my daily habits in HabitRPG, a tool I use to track items I need to do every day. I’ve been wanting to start a daily journal habit, so rather than commit to a full page or a large commitment right away, I had recently added “Write down one good thing that happened to you today” as my “just show up” first step. Of course, the last thing you want to do when wallowing in a bad mood is try to look on the positive side, but it was on my list, so I opened up my Evernote and started typing. I started with something I had accomplished ahead of schedule at work and then… I just kept typing. Soon the day’s events were flowing out of me, stream-of-consciousness.
A difficult conversation I had initiated that I’d normally shy away from.
Progress I had made on a particularly difficult task.
Some new music I had discovered that I was looking forward to exploring.
A rare momentum of financial restraint where I didn’t buy an item I wanted, but didn’t truly need.

By the end of my now two-paragraph-long entry, I was smiling. Hey… today had been pretty good! In reality I had just shifted my focus away from the negative and focused on the positive – but it was enough. I now felt motivated and energized, and my plans of “netflix and chill” melted into “start writing a new song”.

You don’t have to do a lot to change your attitude about your day. Most situations are not inherently bad or good – they are whatever you project onto them. Writing just one sentence was enough for me to start thinking differently about my situation. In fact, I’ve found that writing in general, with no purpose other than to jot down your thoughts, is an amazing way to show yourself what you’re really thinking – and others have found the same. I’ve also used random yammering into my phone’s voice recorder to the same effect. You’ll be surprised where it takes you – it’s like self therapy.

So next time you’re having a bad day, force yourself to write down just one good thing that happened, or one thing you’re thankful for. It might just be enough to put a smile on your face and a spring in your step.

I’ll be posting more on writing in general, journaling specifically, and how I use HabitRPG to build habits in the near future! If you’ve used this successfully or have some other habit that helps turn your day around, leave a comment below!

Bucket ListCreativityProductivityTools and Systems

Focus on Just Showing Up

September 23, 2015 — by Matt

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"Eighty percent of success is showing up." - Woody Allen

When I first left home to attend college, I took full advantage of the new-found autonomy that living at home and the rigid schedules of high school had never offered. Classes were “optional”? I could roll out of bed when I pleased, sleep in if I felt the need, and it was up to me to manage my own schedule? Freedom had never tasted so good.

My newfound responsibility quickly came back to bite me when, after my first 2 semesters, my GPA put me in danger of losing my scholarship and I was placed on academic probation. Because my school was prohibitively expensive, losing my scholarship meant I could no longer attend that institution. I had been a good student with pretty minimal effort in high school. Why was I faltering now?

When I returned for my third semester I made a small yet fundamental change to my approach that made all the difference; I simply decided to go to class. I didn’t focus more on homework or spend more time in studying for exams. In fact there was one 8AM class I must have fallen asleep in every single day. But I went – to that class and all the others.

The result? I was able to eek my GPA above the danger zone that semester and after prioritizing my attendance the next few years, I graduated with honors.

Why is “Showing Up” so important?

“Showing up” is probably the most important step to reach any goal. Whether it’s going to class, or actually sitting down to write, or opening your development environment, or simply going somewhere that inspires you, “showing up” makes every subsequent step of the process easier.

This isn’t because “showing up” is all that’s necessary to succeed – far from it. But without showing up, everything else is a whole lot harder.

Here’s an example: You need to do some design work for a creative project you’re spearheading. “Showing up” might simply involve sitting down, powering on your computer and opening Photoshop. Or better yet, you could “show up” by taking a sketchbook, your laptop, headphones, and some inspiring music to a local coffee shop. Just opening Photoshop or traveling to a coffee shop doesn’t guarantee your work gets done. But by showing up, you’re setting yourself up to make progress.

The benefits of “showing up”

The benefits of focusing your energy on “showing up” are too many to count, but the ones that have helped me the most are as follows:

It’s an easy win.

We’re often best motivated when we feel like we’re already making progress; it’s why checking an item off our to-do list gets us so amped to tackle the next item. Showing up starts that momentum with an easy win and sets the stage for you to really get in the zone.

You can use your environment as natural motivation.

“Showing up” often involves going somewhere that’s more conducive to focusing on your goals. Even if your only aim is to take 3 steps into your gym and sign in, being in that environment will probably be enough to make actually working out a reality. Taking the effort to actually go to that drawing or photography meetup can be enough to spark your creative juices and dive into your art. Show up and use your environment to your advantage.

You’ll get information and experience you wouldn’t have otherwise.

One of my bucket list items was to do a stand-up comedy open mic night, a proposition which frankly terrified me. I went to the open mic three times before I actually stepped on stage and told some jokes, but in those first three nights I learned how the list worked, the types of jokes that worked, and got comfortable with the venue. Even showing up and doing nothing else was valuable, and without it I probably would never have checked that item off my list.

It gets you moving and avoids paralysis.

The biggest benefit to focusing on simply showing up is avoiding the “paralysis by analysis” so many of us go through when starting or continuing a project. You’re much less likely to get overwhelmed by the 50 steps required to finish the project when you can first focus all your energy on step 1 – just showing up. It keeps you present in the current moment and takes away a lot of our self-inflicted pressure to succeed.

So the next time you’re searching for motivation or unsure of how to proceed on a project or goal, figure out what it means to “show up” and just worry about doing that. Once you’ve showed up, the next steps become infinitely easier.

Want another take?

After I wrote this article I did a quick search to find some other takes on the importance of showing up – and found some great ones. Check them out here:

Step One is Showing Up” – via Scott H Young

The Single Biggest Thing You Can Do For Your Career: Show Up” – via Hanna Brooks Olsen


 

Leave a comment below with a time you just resolved to “show up” and how it helped you make progress!

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