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Birthdays, Self-Reflection, and a Better Year Ahead

Birthdays, Self-Reflection, and a Better Year Ahead

Birthdays, Self-Reflection, and a Better Year Ahead

    I recently had a birthday. As I’ve gotten older, birthdays have become for me a time of intense self-reflection: where am I in my life, where do I want to be, what could I improve? They don;t depress me, like they do so many others, but they do make me think.

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    Birthdays are also natural times for me to make new resolutions. New Years Day has never felt like much more than an accident of the calendar, but birthdays – especially with mine falling right at the start of the academic calendar that has dominated most of my life, when I really am making a new start in much of my life with the dawn of a new academic school year – seem like a natural time to start making choices about the year ahead.

    Now, I said “resolutions”, and we all know resolutions fail. My fellow Lifehack writers have written about the failure of resolutions over and over again, as for instance in Steve Errey’s post entitled pretty unambiguously New Years Resolutions Don’t Work – Here’s Why. But I think we need to reframe the idea of resolutions, to think about them not so much as goal-setting but as problem-solving.

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    When we think about resolutions, we tend to think of them as a matter of resolve, that is, of willpower. “I resolve to do x, y, and z.” Of course, if we had the willpower to work on our novel, pass on rich desserts, or be more outgoing at social events, we wouldn’t need to resolve those things in the first place. And so yes, they fail – and often leave us bitter and disappointed with ourselves.

    But what if we thought about resolutions not so much as a matter of resolve but of solutions – that is, as a re-solution to life’s problems? My father, a great collector of quotes, likes to repeat Einstein’s dictum that “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results”; it seems to me that most of life’s problems remain with us because the solutions we’ve adopted don’t really solve them – and so we try the same solutions, over and over, harder and harder, thinking eventually those problems must give ground.

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    Consider, for example, this situation which many of us are or have been in:

    • Problem: Your aren’t advancing in your chosen career.
    • Resolution: Work harder, put in longer hours, apply for higher positions more often.
    • Re-solution: Are you still committed to this career? Maybe you don’t have the passion and drive you had when you entered it ten years ago. If money weren’t an issue, would you still want to do what you do? What would you do? Inventory your skillset and your passions today and start looking into changing careers.

    Maybe that isn’t how you’d address the problem, but you get the idea: a real re-solution needs to address the problem not in terms of what you aren’t doing often or well enough but at the very core, questioning the assumptions that the problem itself is grounded in. If you’re stalled out in your career because you no longer have any passion for it and are just putting your time in to collect a check, then a career change may well be in order – and if so, then it no longer matters that you’re stalled in your current career.

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    Let’s try applying this to a personal matter:

    • Problem: You’ve been dating for months/years/decades and can’t seem to find someone with whom you’re interested in a relationship.
    • Resolution: Get out more. Join an online dating service. Visit a professional matchmaker.
    • Re-solution: What are you really looking for in a partner? Maybe you’re spending too much time and energy dating people because you should be interested in them, not because you are. Or Maybe you’re dating anyone who seems interested in you at all “just in case”. Take time to figure out the pattern in your past dating life and then act to consciously break that pattern.

    Again, this may not be your re-solution, but the principle applies: whatever you’re doing isn’t working, so don’t do more of it, do something entirely different. And you can’t know what to do differently without really examining not just the behaviors that make up your current practices but the reasons you are behaving that way in the first place.

    For the last few weeks, that’s exactly what I’ve been doing – re-thinking my goals, my choices, and my habits to see what simply isn’t helping to solve the things in my life that I’m not quite happy about. And, at the same time, the things I am – this  isn’t about self-flagellation, but about an honest inventory of strengths and shortcomings, so that the one can be applied to the other.

    Two years ago, that process led me to embrace a fledgling second career as a writer; last year, it led me to seriously rethink my approach to relationships and what I wanted in a partner; this year, who knows? I think I have some answers I didn’t have a month ago – and I have another 12 months to figure out what to do with them.

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    Last Updated on March 31, 2020

    Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

    Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

    Procrastination is very literally the opposite of productivity. To produce something is to pull it forward, while to procrastinate is to push it forward — to tomorrow, to next week, or ultimately to never.

    Procrastination fills us with shame — we curse ourselves for our laziness, our inability to focus on the task at hand, our tendency to be easily led into easier and more immediate gratifications. And with good reason: for the most part, time spent procrastinating is time spent not doing things that are, in some way or other, important to us.

    There is a positive side to procrastination, but it’s important not to confuse procrastination at its best with everyday garden-variety procrastination.

    Sometimes — sometimes! — procrastination gives us the time we need to sort through a thorny issue or to generate ideas. In those rare instances, we should embrace procrastination — even as we push it away the rest of the time.

    Why We Procrastinate After All?

    We procrastinate for a number of reasons, some better than others. One reason we procrastinate is that, while we know what we want to do, we need time to let the ideas “ferment” before we are ready to sit down and put them into action.

    Some might call this “creative faffing”; I call it, following copywriter Ray Del Savio’s lead, “concepting”.[1]

    Whatever you choose to call it, it’s the time spent dreaming up what you want to say or do, weighing ideas in your mind, following false leads and tearing off on mental wild goose chases, and generally thinking things through.

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    To the outside observer, concepting looks like… well, like nothing much at all. Maybe you’re leaning back in your chair, feet up, staring at the wall or ceiling, or laying in bed apparently dozing, or looking out over the skyline or feeding pigeons in the park or fiddling with the Japanese vinyl toys that stand watch over your desk.

    If ideas are the lifeblood of your work, you have to make time for concepting, and you have to overcome the sensation— often overpowering in our work-obsessed culture — that faffing, however creative, is not work.

    Is Procrastination Bad?

    Yes it is.

    Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you’re “concepting” when in fact you’re just not sure what you’re supposed to be doing.

    Spending an hour staring at the wall while thinking up the perfect tagline for a marketing campaign is creative faffing; staring at the wall for an hour because you don’t know how to come up with a tagline, or don’t know the product you’re marketing well enough to come up with one, is just wasting time.

    Lack of definition is perhaps the biggest friend of your procrastination demons. When we’re not sure what to do — whether because we haven’t planned thoroughly enough, we haven’t specified the scope of what we hope to accomplish in the immediate present, or we lack important information, skills, or resources to get the job done.

    It’s easy to get distracted or to trick ourselves into spinning our wheels doing nothing. It takes our mind off the uncomfortable sensation of failing to make progress on something important.

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    The answer to this is in planning and scheduling. Rather than giving yourself an unspecified length of time to perform an unspecified task (“Let’s see, I guess I’ll work on that spreadsheet for a while”) give yourself a limited amount of time to work on a clearly defined task (“Now I’ll enter the figures from last months sales report into the spreadsheet for an hour”).

    Giving yourself a deadline, even an artificial one, helps build a sense of urgency and also offers the promise of time to “screw around” later, once more important things are done.

    For larger projects, planning plays a huge role in whether or not you’ll spend too much time procrastinating to reach the end reasonably quickly.

    A good plan not only lists the steps you have to take to reach the end, but takes into account the resources, knowledge and inputs from other people you’re going to need to perform those steps.

    Instead of futzing around doing nothing because you don’t have last month’s sales report, getting the report should be a step in the project.

    Otherwise, you’ll spend time cooling your heels, justifying your lack of action as necessary: you aren’t wasting time because you want to, but because you have to.

    How Bad Procrastination Can Be

    Our mind can often trick us into procrastinating, often to the point that we don’t realize we’re procrastinating at all.

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    After all, we have lots and lots of things to do; if we’re working on something, aren’t we being productive – even if the one big thing we need to work on doesn’t get done?

    One way this plays out is that we scan our to-do list, skipping over the big challenging projects in favor of the short, easy projects. At the end of the day, we feel very productive: we’ve crossed twelve things off our list!

    That big project we didn’t work on gets put onto the next day’s list, and when the same thing happens, it gets moved forward again. And again.

    Big tasks often present us with the problem above – we aren’t sure what to do exactly, so we look for other ways to occupy ourselves.

    In many cases too, big tasks aren’t really tasks at all; they’re aggregates of many smaller tasks. If something’s sitting on your list for a long time, each day getting skipped over in favor of more immediately doable tasks, it’s probably not very well thought out.

    You’re actively resisting it because you don’t really know what it is. Try to break it down into a set of small tasks, something more like the tasks you are doing in place of the one big task you aren’t doing.

    More consequences of procrastination can be found in this article: 8 Dreadful Effects of Procrastination That Can Destroy Your Life

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    Procrastination, a Technical Failure

    Procrastination is, more often than not, a sign of a technical failure, not a moral failure.

    It’s not because we’re bad people that we procrastinate. Most times, procrastination serves as a symptom of something more fundamentally wrong with the tasks we’ve set ourselves.

    It’s important to keep an eye on our procrastinating tendencies, to ask ourselves whenever we notice ourselves pushing things forward what it is about the task we’ve set ourselves that simply isn’t working for us.

    Learn more about how to fix your procrastination problem here: What Is Procrastination and How to Stop It (The Complete Guide)

    Featured photo credit: chuttersnap via unsplash.com

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