New Years Mottos

I stopped making New Years resolutions several years ago for all the reasons people usually enumerate. Mostly, ya know, because they don’t work.

For the last five years I’ve instead started having a New Years Motto. Rather than goals, it is a guiding principle that I return to throughout the year. The aim is to pass decisions through the filter of a motto to gradually change behavior, rather than attempt to hit arbitrary benchmarks.

2017’s motto is “doing over thinking.” Clearly, thinking is important. But my default state is thinking. I don’t need to remind myself to think — it’s automatic. I need the motto because I do it too damn much.

Am I reading making-games twitter instead of making a game? Am I reading about writing instead of writing? Am I watching people play video games on Twitch instead of playing them myself? When I observe myself engaging in something I simply ask “am I thinking instead of doing?”

A New Years Motto is pretty unsexy. You can’t close your eyes and fantasize about The Life That Will Be at the end of next December. Also, my motto last year was the same as this year. Whereas having the same resolution multiple years in a row is an indication of failure, maintaining the same motto probably means it’s working and you’re giving yourself an opportunity to dive even deeper with it.

From 2012–2015 my motto was “one thing at a time.” At the start of this period I was working a full time job while also trying to pursue side projects. It helped me accept my constrained time to actually ship small side projects rather than let my excitement carry me from project to project (always quitting at the point when things actually got hard). From there it also helped me stay focused as I went indie and became solely responsible for making sure I finished projects. It was also aimed at the micro — don’t look at your phone while eating dinner, don’t read your email while programming, blabla etc. One thing at a time.

Of course I sucked and still do suck at doing one thing at a time. The critical difference, however, is that passing everything through the filter of “am I doing one thing at a time?” became enough of a habit that I could move on to “doing over thinking.”

A common misperception in meditation is that you’re messing up when you notice your mind is wandering. In reality the entire practice of sitting is about that moment of observation. As far as I know there is no meditation practice that says “well after one week you should be able to focus on your breath for 15 minutes without losing focus.” True change takes time and is a constant process of reorientation at whatever tempo that takes. The challenge is maintaining consistent intentionality, not hitting certain arbitrary goals. A New Years Motto hopefully acknowledges this reality takes a similar approach to change.

So, yeah. New Years Resolutions. I mean, if they worked I’d probably be some kind of millionaire triathlete at this point. So give a New Years Motto a shot. Worst case you forget about it in a month and don’t feel bad next January 1st because you didn’t fail to live up to some bad goal.


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