mind over matter,

New Year's resolutions

Mahesh Mahesh Follow Jan 01, 2018 · 4 mins read
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2018 is actually here (and that’s bad because it looks like time is crunching through years faster than I would like). And that also means it is time to set new year’s resolutions.

Image above: Hiking up Koko crater trail in Oahu, Hawaii

Setting realistic goals

For 2017, I had decided that I will do 250 miles of hiking. Given that there are 56 weeks in a year, this leads to a total of 250/56 = 4.46 miles per week. But that should be pretty easy to hit, right? This is where most people make the mistake: they don’t take into account that life comes in between. There are weeks where you may be out of town, or you are sick, or there are a hundred other things that you need to take care of. So realistically, let’s say that I can go out for hikes for only 50% of the weeks. That means I will have to hit 9 miles every time I go for a hike. And since 9 mile hikes sounded reasonable, I decided that 250 miles might be a good goal to keep after all (I realized that I should have also set an elevation goal too, but thankfully my hiking friends made sure that I didn’t always go for low elevation hikes). In fact, this is kind of what happened. According to the spreadsheet I maintain, I did exactly 28 hikes in 2017 (27 hikes got me to the goal of 250 miles). Of course a lot of them were towards the end of the year.

My friend had set a goal of 25 books to be read last year. How many did he actually do? According to Goodreads, only 4. Sure, he probably forgot to update, but it is very unlikely that he hit 25, especially given that the previous year also he had read less than 10 books. I did a similar mistake once by setting 18 books to read in 2015 and I barely managed to do 12. So for 2017, I had decided to set a smaller and more realistic goal (embarrasingly I didn’t hit my goal; I read only 10 books and didn’t want to count several of the other half read books).

The point being that one shouldn’t set extremely unrealistic goals (for example, I knew that I can do 10 miles in a single hike, so my hiking goal felt realistic; and since in 2016 I might have done only 50 miles or so of hikes, 250 miles was definintely a worthy pursuit). In fact, I felt that setting goals based on number of books is problematic. I found that towards the end I was trying to search for small books so that I can bump up my numbers faster (and thus I read “Animal farm”). This is why I think instead of setting a goal on number of books that I have read, it is a better idea to set a goal of number of minutes to read. Put another way, it is meaningful to set a goal of reading half and hour everyday.

I didn’t finish the 12 books that I wanted to read. But I did spend quite a bit of time doing a course (on Neural networks at the beginning of the year), and reading some papers (towards the end of the year; though I need to increase this a lot more), and reading other stuff.

My resolution for 2018

I know for a fact that my communication skills can use a lot more improvement. While I still need to figure out what I am going to do to improve my verbal communication skill (meetups?), I have decided that I will write as much as possible to improve my written communication skill.

So there you go. My 2018 resolution is going to be to write. But what good is a goal if it cannot be measured? I can either set a goal of say writing 1 hour every week or set a goal in terms of the number of words written. While, it is tempting to go with the former, I can totally see myself twiddling my thumb for an hour in the pretext of writing something. So I am going to decide a goal based on numbers. I am thinking of writing a total of 50,000 words publicly, and a total of 100,000 words privately (diary etc.). This actually means writing roughly 1000 words publicly every week.

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Written by Mahesh Follow
I think and read about Technology and the Human Mind. I am currently an ML engineer at Google, but the opinions here are my own and do not reflect that of my employer. Read More »