I don’t usually do New Years resolutions. I’ve dabbled with them in the past, but they’ve always been vague ideals that I didn’t write down, didn’t track, and had no help of understanding my progress towards, let alone achieving.
This year, I’m going to try applying SMART criteria to the process. For the uninitiated, this means setting goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. They’re a technique used in project management to make sure tasks and goals are framed in a way that makes it easier for people to meet them.
I’m going to pre-commit to these goals publicly here in the hopes that this will help me to stay focused. In a Rimmer-like move, I will probably also devise a carefully laid out and colorful calendar or visualization to track my progress.
Without further ado, here are my goals:
Exercise – Gym
Getting more exercise is the quintessential New Years resolution. I already have a gym membership and have an approximately quarterly cycle of getting enthusiastic, starting a rhythm of going once or twice a week, letting life getting in the way, and finally recriminating and doing nothing for a month or two. 2019 was a pretty bad year, in that I only went eight times in total, though past years have been better. This year, I want to get 25 gym trips in. That’s about once every two weeks. When I’m on a roll I go much more often, but realistically, I know that interruption will occur.
I have a pretty clear idea of what a legitimate gym trip looks like, and 25 seems like an achievable target that’s a marked improvement from 2019. I’ll aim to hit 8 trips per quarter (which takes me well over my goal) so that I stay on track.
Goal: Go to the gym 25 times in 2020.
Exercise – Walking
When I’m in New Zealand, I tend to be highly motivated and effective at going on walks. I usually manage 2-3 substantial weekend walks and 4-5 evenings walks over a five week period. It’s much easier when I’m there because I have a community of friends who also like to go on walks, close access to good walking options, and a Facebook group that makes it easy to get organized.
I want to do more walking while I’m in the US. I’m setting myself two goals, one for longer (3+ hour) walks of the sort I would do on weekends, the other for shorter (1.5+ hour) walks that I can fit in during evenings. To facilitate this goal, I’m also going to put some effort into community-building so that I can start to have some of the same support I get from my friends in NZ.
To qualify, a walk must meet the minimum time requirement, be substantial and discrete, be something that I do deliberately, and ideally get me out in nature a bit. A couple of hours wandering a convention doesn’t count, nor does running around the place going to meetings. I’m also excluding walks that I do in New Zealand. A given walk can only count towards one category.
Goal: Go on ten 1.5+ hour walks in the US during 2020.
Goal: Go on five 3+ hour walks in the US during 2020.
The other side of an exercise goal is usually a weight goal, often vaguely phrased as “lose some weight”. I got myself into the habit in 2019 of recording my weight daily, collecting it in a spreadsheet, and calculating a 15 day moving average. This has been effective in grounding my weight management effort in data and has become a habit that I barely need to think about now.
When I started this practice, my average weight was up around 221 pounds. Through the year, merely as a result of knowing the numbers, I’ve rolled my weight down to an average around 216, though it’s up a bit at around 218 at the moment, presumably as a result of Christmas and the many dinners and BBQs I’ve had with friends while in NZ.
To be effective, this goal needs be based on a sustainable change in behavior. That is, I’m not allowing myself to rely on a crash diet or any practice that I do for a short and intensive period then stop. Change needs to be sustained and habitual, not something that requires constant willpower to keep it going.
Goal: Get my average weight down to 210 pounds.
Goal: Do not allow my average weight to creep back up. More than 3 pounds above the lowest level recorded from Jan 27 2020 will count as a forfeit.
I don’t generally have a problem with reading enough, but I do have a problem with reading the right things. I tend to have several non-fiction books on the go at any time along with magazines and fiction. In 2019, I read a book on the history of fashion, a textbook on geology, a book on decision theory, several on Anglo Saxon history, and many more. I don’t want to cut back on this diversity, but I do want to be a bit more deliberate about it. There are six books I’ve identified that I want to prioritize this year. I won’t go into the why of them, but here they are:
Goal: Read the following books:
- Business Dynamics, by John Sterman. A tome that has taunted me from its shelf for many years
- The VR book, by Jason Jerald. I already started this but keep getting distracted.
- Artificial Intelligence for Games, by Millington and Funge. I’ve been browsing this with intent for some time
- Design Patterns, by the Gang of Four. I’ve referred to this many times but never sat down to read it.
- Getting to Yes, by Fisher, Ury, et al.
- A Philosophy of Software Design, by John Ousterhout.
- C# in Depth, by Jon Skeet. I’m well into this, but I want to finish it before I get into the others.
I value input from other people on how I’m doing. The problem is that getting feedback is harder than you might think. It’s easy to signal to people that you only want praise, not criticism, to get caught up in the complaints of negative people, or to be misguided by people who have priorities or an agenda that doesn’t align with yours.
I’ve laid out a plan for myself to identify and engage with a set of people who I want to get more feedback and coaching from. For privacy’s sake, I won’t go into a lot of details here, but the idea is to get input from different perspectives onto my work in different areas as well as into some personal interactions. I’ve written up a plan for this that I’ll be working to execute.
Goal: Execute my feedback plan as written
I’ve become very task oriented, which means that I’m not amazingly great at forming strong relationships, at least partly because I don’t have a lot of time to spend on hanging out. In New Zealand, I have a deep support network of friends based on a couple of decades of shared experience and a tight social group. In the US, I don’t have this. I have been a part of a few networks through which I’ve made good friends, notably FIUTS and the UW international student community, my gaming group, and, more recently, the Seattle VR/AR community. Unfortunately, though, with limited time and time spent mostly on group activities where more personal connections are harder to form, I don’t have as many close relationships as I’d like.
In 2019, I tried doing better at this by arranging more one-on-one time with some of my close US-based friends. In 2020 I plan to continue this and have devised some mechanisms to help me out.
It seems both uncomfortable and inappropriate to instrumentalize relationship building with friends in public, so I won’t go into detail here. Briefly, though, I’ve identified eight existing friends that I want to work on my relationship with and am deliberately planning more activities of the right kind with them. I’m also setting myself a goal to spend time with a set of people I don’t know as well because it’s always important to keep meeting new people. Finally, because I want to be careful not to alienate other friends or leave them out of my life either, I’ve set myself some goals around maintaining those existing relationships. This all feels a little weird to me, but I have to start somewhere. I expect that, like my feedback goal, I’ll learn a lot from this year’s attempt which will inform what I do next time.
Goal: Execute my social plan as written.
Growing up, I studied lots of languages. Unfortunately, living in a predominantly English speaking place, I didn’t have a lot of opportunity to practice them, and so they slipped away. In October, I started using Duolingo. It has its flaws, but it’s been effective at helping me reconnect with those languages and extend my knowledge. It’s particularly good at getting me to do a little bit every day.
I’ve tinkered with the Latin, Norwegian, Russian, and Japanese courses on Duolingo so far, with at least 2000xp in each. Duolingo awards between 12 and 15 points per set of exercises, with each taking about 5 minutes to complete (longer if harder and shorter if easier). That implies about 180 xp an hour, or between 10 and 30 hours spent on each of the above languages.
I’ve chosen to narrow my study this year and focus on Japanese and Norwegian. I’m aiming to get to 20,000 points in each of Japanese and Norwegian. I’ll probably also keep tinkering with Latin, but I’m not going to track that, largely as the Duolingo course for Latin isn’t very well fleshed out.
Goal: Get to 20000xp in Japanese
Goal: Get to 20000xp in Norwegian
I’m also looking at a couple of books and some other language learning tools with different focuses like reading texts or having conversations (rather than the vocab and grammar focus that Duolingo has), but I’m not far enough along in using these to be able to set reasonable goals.
I always mean to write more blog posts, but it’s easy to get distracted and hard to find time to sit and write. I’m setting myself a fairly simple goal here, of writing one significant blog post each month. I typically find that starting to write is always harder than continuing to write, so I think there’s a reasonable chance I’ll exceed this goal if I’m able to get on a roll.
To count, a post should exceed 750 words, excluding quoted material. I have a lot of opinions, so length shouldn’t be a problem.
Goal: Post at least one significant blog post each month, beginning with February.
Scoring and Pre-Commitment
I want to be able to assess myself at the end of the year. While I’m trying to set goals that are all achievable, I’m certain I’ll fail at something. To raise the stakes and give me a reason to avoid that, I’m hereby pre-committing to giving away $1000 to charity based on how I do. This will be beyond my already planned charitable giving for the year (more info to come in a future post).
I will calculate the exact amount based on points I’m awarding myself for completing the various goals. Since many of them have stages that have merit in themselves, I’m going to award points for progress, biased towards getting more points as I close in on the actual goal.
|Exercise – Gym||0 points for the first 17 gym visits, then 5, 5, 10, 10, 15, 15, 20, 20 for the remainder.|
|Exercise – Walking||0 points for the first six short walks, then 5, 10, 15, 20 points for the remainder.|
0 points for the first long walk, then 5, 10, 15, and 20 points for the remainder.
|Weight||0 points for reaching an average of 215 and 214, then 5, 20, 30 and 40 points per pound until I reach 210.|
-20 points every time my average goes 3 pounds above my current best base.
|Reading||10 points per book, excluding C# in Depth (as I’m already so far into it).|
|Feedback||No scoring plan|
|Social||No scoring plan|
|Language||5 points at 15000xp, 10 at 17500xp, and 20 at 20000, scored independently for each language.|
|Writing||5 points per month with an article, excluding January.|
There are 500 points available. Each point I fail to acquire will require that I donate $2. Funds will be donated to GiveDirectly, a charity whose focus is simply to put money directly in the hands of the poor.
At the beginning of next year, I’ll review this process and hopefully have lessons I can share with others as I prepare for my next round in 2021.
Wish me luck!
 – There are in fact many different interpretations of the SMART acronym, but they all lean in the same direction.
 – I’m using awful Imperial units because that’s what the scales I have show. I’m planning to replace those, however, and will likely switch to kg when I do.
 – Baumeister & Tierney’s book Willpower helped me a lot in getting this practice going and explaining to me how work done to make small but significant changes into habits is generally far more effective than bigger changes that require constant willpower to maintain.