‘Tis the season to be reflecting. When I was a young professional, my list of new year resolutions usually gathered dust — it was a Santa Claus list. I tended to list goals meant to be three-to-five-year out — but I wanted instant gratification.
Since then, I have started making progress and found how to make a more helpful list. And it is much different.
I am no longer mired in the anxiety of achievements, and able to put passion over desires and experienced superior results. Theodore Roosevelt boldly left his position as Assistant Secretary of the Navy to become a soldier in the Spanish American war. His heroism in the war led him to become a governor and then president. He followed his passion and took a step back, not worrying about achievements, which led to even greater success.
My 2019 list helped me think in a more balanced way and consequently helped me grow. Its items included:
- Do not look up and do not look down: These words of the famous Indian philosopher Sadhguru have done wonders for me. It has helped me to lean on my own intellect while leaving myself open to learning from others. I now have more meaningful conversations — peer to peer — and am able to forgive myself even when I make mistakes.
- Do not blame: Whenever I feel insulted, blamed or hurt, I am reminded of this. Feelings of hurt tend to linger and drain our energy. Daniel Kahneman, a behavioral economist, and Nobel Laureate says, “if you are not getting the response you want, think how you can make it easy for the other person to give the desired response.” Whenever I am angry or in a blaming mood, this is what comes to my mind.
- Perfection is not necessary but laziness is not acceptable: It comes handy in many small and big ways. Every day can be more productive when I am not lazy. And then, when I am feverishly trying to meet the deadline for my article, a reminder not to be lazy makes me get up early to start writing and deliver my message the best way I can. I no longer worry about how many views and “likes” I get because I know that I have given it my all.
These statements have helped me overcome old thinking patterns and incorporate new useful ones.
Habits are hard to break, but biases are even harder to shake. If we can overcome both we can keep progressing towards our dreams.
Biases are mental cobwebs. Because of them, our decisions remain suboptimal or flawed and we stay stuck in personal and professional ruts, unable to move the ball of life closer to the goal.
My 2020 new year list is more difficult because it is an attempt to become more aware of my biases but also includes changing habits. It will include:
Consciously trying to remain in a reflective state of mind. I like to catch myself, for example, when I am using superlatives or being chatty — having conversations without feeling them. In a reflective state, I experience my own thoughts, I am extra eager to absorb and learn more. Even small improvements feel transformative. The longer I can stay in this state, the more likely I am to discover and work on my hidden biases.
Giving myself permission to change my mind. It implies being more receptive to new ideas and people, becoming mentally nimbler. Charlie Munger, the legendary investor and Warren Buffet’s partner in Berkshire, likes to say, “A year you do not change your mind on some big idea that is important to you, is a wasted year.” Mental rigidity hampers internal growth.
It is OK to be angry but not to be irritated. Irritation is caused by annoyance while anger by unreasonableness. The idea is new and intriguing. I have experienced “we can stay in an irritated state of mind for years, but anger, when expressed, dies out fast”, as Sadhguru agrees. Does it mean I should get angry when I am irritated? How do I convert irritation into anger? Who do I take my anger out on and how will that person react?
Constructive-tension of the mind is the underpinning of being resolute. It needs concentration to keep minds engaged in behavioral changes or to lift the fog. For me, concentrating at the bridge table for a few hours can be challenging. Sometimes it takes poking and provoking.
New Year’s resolutions can improve the way we connect things in our head. In this way we can become more aware of our flaws, detect and fix them. We can then develop new subroutines to change habits — like new releases of computer software. Sometimes we need a faster CPU to improve our learning capacity and increase our energy.
My goals are not about what I want but about what I care about. In 2020 I hope to sharpen my mind so that I can continue to surprise myself and reach new heights.