Saying yes by saying no
There was a time in my life where the end of the year would prompt a flurry of goals to achieve in the coming year. How did I want this new year to be different from this past year? What were my dreams and hopes for the future? Two years ago, I wrote it all down, as well as look back on the previous year, analyzing what I had done incorrectly or got just plain wrong. I also listed out each goal for the coming year and steps to achieve them.
This twelve-page opus of single-spaced self-reflection saw the light of day maybe twice this year. The last time was purely by chance, as I was cleaning up one of my bookcases this past week. Rereading the words is funny and comical; an attempt at a deliberate and analytical approach to my life. I based much of it on the guide 8,760 Hours: how to get the most out of the next year. It was immensely helpful in taking stock of 2016 and understanding what I wanted out of 2017.
At the end of 2017, I didn’t do anything. I didn’t look back, I didn’t look forward, and I just let 2017 happen. I am not sure if that was a wise decision or not; I am thinking it wasn’t. But, reflection isn’t something I need to put out for the world to see1.
What I really want to think and write about: letting go.
I am inundated with about a million different things to do, to buy, to watch, to read, to learn, to eat, to do something every single day. In my job, it’s learning React. In my daily life, it’s reading an NY Times article or a Hacker News post. It’s going to eat at a restaurant or grabbing drinks with friends or binge-watching Chuck, or trying every new app, clicking on every link, scanning yet another article or YouTube video at 1.5X speed. There is just so much stuff to keep up with!
This is unsustainable. My poor, holey brainpan can’t keep it all in. The problem is, I still have reptilian impulses. I’m still going to follow the links. I’m still going to eat and buy and gorge and vomit and purge and binge again and again. Unless…unless we put some rules in place.
Maybe not rules; let’s call them guidelines. Some stakes in the ground to map out a path not yet well worn. A way to reduce the clutter and prevent more confusion from coming into my life. What will happen if I stop filling up all the empty space with vapid content and shiny confetti? Can I go from two monitors to one? Can I get rid of Amazon Prime and Netflix and use my library card even more? Can my diet consist of more vegetables and less fast food? Can I get back to basics?
My friend wrote about minimizing in a recent blog post. It is an exciting prospect to reduce one’s life to the essentials. As with my friend, I also do not have the shopping gene. I don’t often buy stuff but, somehow, I still have accumulated a lot of it. Jeans and shirts that make me feel awkward and books long ago forgotten. Endless hours spent on Instagram or Twitter, The Verge or Hacker News. All these excesses are not only physical in nature but are informational—well, if I’m being honest, a lot of it isn’t informational.
How to combat this endless stream of things to do, stuff to buy, places vying for my attention? Tether myself to a few core beliefs and concepts so that I can say yes to the things that aren’t there to suck my life away. I’m letting go of the things that add mindless consumption into my life.
The specifics are less important than the shift in thinking patterns. Rather than trying to fill boredom with another movie that I’ve already seen for the fourth time (I think people—myself, for sure—enjoy predictability, don’t you?2), I can pick up one of the many books I’ve already purchased. Rather than bring another item into my tiny space, I can instead give away something. Instead of learning another framework, let me just go back to the basics and build upon the foundation I’ve already established (I use Vim on a daily day, but I still haven’t learned as much as I could).
Letting go also plays a part in keeping a small identity. I think in this time of highly polarizing views, especially in the current American political climate that I find myself in, it is good to reduce the number of opinions I hold. There are very few topics in which I am smart enough to have a responsible opinion of. New ideas have a much less chance of making it to my headspace if I am shouting my truth to anyone that will listen. I think this boils down to “Talk less, listen more.”
2018 was a good year. I traveled farther than I ever had. I opened up to new experiences. I deepened my friendships, spent more time with family. I wrote more words this year than I think I ever have. These are the trends I want to continue in 2019. I don’t want to spend my free hours behind yet another screen, viewing curated lives. I want to remove the excess, get down to bare metal, and be more deliberate in 2019. No goals this year, just broad brush strokes and letting go, instead of piling on.
Post Note: After publishing this, I opened up my email to see an article from David Cain over at Raptitude. His post is another way to say what I said above, in a much more concise and palatable manner. Please go read.