The last thing I wrote in 2019 was a speculative piece about how I would approach the new year. It seemed logical to identify 20 things I’d be trying or doing more (or less) of in the coming year. It was predictably full of good intentions and high hopes.
I doubt that 2020 has unfolded in quite the way that anyone expected — it’s certainly taken me by surprise. I thought it’d still be interesting to revisit these resolutions as we approach the mid-point of the year.
I imagine I hoped for favourable and supportive conditions as I set my intentions and goals for the new year. It’s striking though just how much the unexpected conditions and events of 2020 so far have proven to be positive and encouraging.
In this piece, I want to share the high-level goals and evaluate how they’ve unfolded so far. Some are less significant than other but they’re all included nonetheless. The full details are in the original piece.
1) I’ll be mostly following a slow-carb diet
2019 was a year like many others before it — my diet and exercise regimen had followed the usual cycle of boom and bust. I was resolute that I’d take this in hand in 2020 and strictly follow a diet that was effective when I stuck to it.
Lockdown and the occasional scarcity of food and provisions in supermarkets have positively encouraged us as a household to be less choosy and less wasteful of food. We’ve had to cope with little in the way or restrictions in real terms. Nonetheless, each meal is now planned rigorously and we waste very little.
As far as my commitment to slow-carb for weight management — that’s been my default and for the most part, I’ve stuck to it, experiencing the desired weight loss. I occasionally stray, but only to consume food that would otherwise go to waste. That seems a better reason for wavering than out of a weakness of willpower or resolve.
2) Eating more plant-based meals (mostly for environmental reasons)
Not all my resolutions were related to diet but perhaps I was hungry when I wrote the original piece!
Inspired by the movie The Game Changers but also slightly skeptical about the rigour of the science behind it, I undertook to be more environmentally conscious regarding my dietary choices.
In line with the first resolution, being more mindful about the availability of food and avoiding waste has been a forced feature of life generally. I feel this has been a positive effect coming out of lockdown.
3) Meditating (using an app besides Headspace)
I was keen to continue meditating but having clocked up 11,000+ hours of time on Headspace I felt I was going through the motions.
There has never been a time when the apocryphal benefits of meditation seem more appealing. While I’ve carried on with the practice (I now use Calm to guide my experience) I still don’t feel like I’m as focused on the practice or as rigorous in doing it daily as I could be.
I keep on doing it and am certain that even 10 half-hearted minutes on a daily basis is better than nothing.
4) Journaling (as a means of helping to clear and calm my mind)
Put simply, I’ve failed at this one.
My last journal entry was some time in March when I was trying to process my feelings as a lockdown looked inevitable. One of my daughters was still away at University in Europe. My sister was on the opposite side of the world trying to get home. I was debating whether to go on a ski trip that had been planned for a while. The world seemed to promise new levels of chaos.
The processing of each of these ‘big’ things seemed to be apt candidates for journaling-upon as I tried to figure out how I felt. I’ve no idea why the habit ceased once each of these matters were resolved.
I’m equally convinced that if I’d maintained the habit then it might have helped me to maintain momentum in terms of my wider writing which has also slowed to a near-standstill in recent weeks.
Maybe this reflection will be the prompt for me to restart the journaling process?
5) Exercising regularly (a mix of weight training and running)
This has been the real win to come out of lockdown for me and my wife. While my gym has now been closed for 3 months and in-person training sessions are a thing of the past, we’ve reached a pinnacle in terms of the regularity with which we exercise and in our fitness as individuals.
There have been numerous reasons for this. Free time to exercise is plentiful, for one. We’ve used money that would have been spent on socialising and gym memberships to buy home exercise gear and to subscribe to online training programmes. We’re also driven by a desire to be as fit and well as possible in a bid to prevent getting sick or limiting the impacts if we succumb.
Each day I plan what workout I’ll complete and what additional exercise I take. A typical day involves HIIT training, weight lifting, and some cardio too (ranging from long walks to running).
I can honestly say I’m in the best shape of my life — my only fear is whether the gradual return to normality will interfere with the new routine?
6) Signing up for at least one sporting challenge (for accountability)
This hasn’t happened. It’s not that I’m not keen to do so but there simply aren’t any events happening nor do they look likely in the near future. I know though that I’m race fit as and when the opportunity presents itself this year or next!
I can say though, that the lack of formal events to train for hasn’t prevented me from committing to the training!
7) Stripping social media and smartphone usage from my life (further)
This has been another colossal failure on my part. I was resolute that I’d use social media for professional purposes only (to promote my writing and grow my following). Instead, my smartphone usage has escalated significantly, and I often get sucked into a vortex of Twitter outrage and mindless Instagram scrolling.
I alternate between kidding myself that I’m seeking to be better informed about current global events, and then towards distracting myself from the feelings of rage and anxiety that strike as a result of the former activity.
The intention remains and I need to enact it more than ever before.
8) Getting up early (more consistently)
Not having to commute for work means that I get more done during the hours presented by each new day. I routinely get up at 5:45 am on a workday, and sleep in a little more at weekends. I’m free of guilt about this as the extra exercise justifies the rest. I finally seem to have found a balance that works.
Again, my only fear is whether this model of living will be sustainable once elements of the ‘old normal’ creep back into daily life.
9) Drinking less alcohol
My intention regarding alcohol was to find a better balance, not to quit alcohol entirely but to feel more contented about my drinking in a controlled and moderate fashion.
The renewed focus on health and fitness has generally made it easier to accomplish this goal. The occasional lapse has only served to reaffirm to me that a night on the beers tends to result in lessened dietary resolve on the night as well as an exercise-preventing hangover the day after.
These are good reasons to give booze an even wider berth which has made it easier to stick with the goal!
10) Being less sarcastic
I was determined at the outset of the new year to tame an acknowledged sarcastic streak in my personality. I can only report at this time that I don’t think I’ve made much ground on that front.
I don’t know if it’s down to trying to find the irony in the craziness that prevails in daily life, or whether perhaps it’s some sort of personal defense mechanism or comforter. Taming my sarcasm remains something that I have yet to achieve in 2020 — much to the annoyance of my wife and kids.
11) Be a better friend and more sociable
One of my biggest goals in 2020 was to be a better friend and make more of an effort socially with the limited number of friends that I have. Lockdown has placed a pretty immovable block towards me achieving that goal and right now, I’d settle for even being able to have a socially distanced visit with my closest friends who live too far away to make that viable.
The trend towards Zoom and FaceTime hasn’t been something I’ve adapted to easily in my social life. Much of my job (which was always done from home) now involves video calls via Microsoft Teams and I feel a certain exhaustion about having to video call friends too.
That said I have managed reasonably regular phone calls with my closest friends — those who I vowed to see more frequently in 2020. As such I’m making a little ground against this goal, if not in the way or to the extent I imagined I would.
12) Reading and listening more
This has been a major accomplishment in 2020 and I’m pleased that I’m wasting less time than ever in watching TV and finding much more enjoyment from reading and listening to music.
For many of the previous few years I’d existed on a reading diet of non-fiction and self-help content — I now read fiction in parallel too. The early days of lockdown were accompanied by unseasonably warm and sunny weather in the UK and I ploughed through at least 3 fiction novels in the first month — all praise for Jack Reacher!
13) Living gratefully
It could be argued that with Coronavirus wreaking havoc around the globe and political and societal chaos reigning in the streets, there may seem to be little to be grateful for. I disagree though.
Aside from the obvious fear and anxiety prompted by the virus I’ve found myself feeling enormously grateful for all the blessings of my life.
- My job has survived (so far) and I haven’t lost a day of work to illness or to being furloughed.
- My family and friends all seem to be healthy and have access to everything they need.
- My kids are safe and are each respectively keeping their education on track thanks to pragmatic and supportive schools and universities.
- I have everything I need in life, and 2020 has helped to refine that idea — that what we need and what we want are often completely different things.
All in all life is good and I’m grateful for that.
14) Worrying less and being less affected by other people’s dramas
My goal in this respect was to try and be less affected by factors outside of my control — 2020 has served up more than enough reasons to feel uncomfortable and to feel unhappy if I reacted in a certain way.
That said, I don’t seem to have suffered unduly with the musing, hypothesising and the concocting of worst-case what-if scenarios that used to plague my peace of mind.
Perhaps the severity of incidents in 2020 has reminded me that dealing with these practically and pragmatically is what I really need to focus on. The stoic principle of striving to manage emotional reactions to events around me is a skill that I’ve strengthened out of necessity during 2020. Goal accomplished.
15) Moving and living more quietly
My intent for 2020 was to free myself from the noise, the clutter, and commotion that is so often a byproduct of daily life. The events of 2020 have been conducive to achieving this end.
Lockdown immediately limited the volume of traffic on the roads and in the air. The world seemed quieter, suddenly able to breathe again, birdsong was more noticeable and a sense of peace seemed to envelope the world.
Forced confinement at home with two kids home-schooling and demanding their share of the wifi as I worked online too could have been burdensome and ‘noisy’. Instead, we seem to have found a respectful balance where none of us gets under each others’ feet too much.
Opportunities for shopping for leisure purposes suddenly ceased, and the needless accumulation of excessive material clutter naturally waned.
All in all, 2020 has encouraged me in achieving this goal. Once again my fear is that as traffic ramps up and shops and businesses open up again, the hustle and bustle (and noise) will return. Only time will tell.
16) Sleeping more
As discussed previously, I’m now in an established pattern of getting as much sleep as I need to support me in all my other goals, and for the optimisation of health and wellbeing.
17) Getting back to avoiding the news
I’ve failed at this one — badly.
Knowing the daily death toll and the numbers of new cases has felt like a responsibility rather than a choice. As I grow weary of waiting to give family members a hug once again, the news seems like essential viewing in the hope of an announcement of the slackening of lockdown measures. I feel it’s my duty to read of events around the world and feel the appropriate mix of despair, shame, outrage, and disgust depending on what I see.
For all these reasons I’ve found my consumption of the news to be increasing rather than declining.
In line with my intention to use social media less this goal will need to be given renewed focus in the second half of the year.
18) Writing daily
I’ve certainly not managed to keep this one up and my output has diminished to one or two articles weekly. I’m reasonably okay with that and have focused on making sure that as much as possible I turn out quality to compensate for the lack of quality. Berating myself seems futile.
The year has definitely reaffirmed that writing daily is an essential part of growing as a writer and of making the creative process as easy and natural as it can be. I won’t flog myself towards achieving this goal but I am determined to keep working at it as concertedly as I can.
19) Being more diligent in my daily work
The role of my day-job within my life was a source of consternation at the start of the year. I was bored and dispassionate about what I did for work and frustrated that my side-hustles weren’t close to allowing me to escape.
Since Coronavirus emerged I’ve counted my blessings daily that I have a job that’s a secure as any can be, that I can work successfully from home and that I’m still able to support myself and my family.
I’m enjoying a new sense of vigour and reward from the work too — it’s like I’m finally allowing myself to take a sense of accomplishment from it and believing that I can do this for the longer term.
Long may this continue.
20) Live that I may live forever
This goal was driven out of a desire to live congruently with my ethos and my aspirations — to get the most out of life, striving for greater things but not at the expense of being present-in and grateful-for the here and now.
A rampant global pandemic has turned out to be a strong reminder of the merits of such an approach to life.
It’s plainly evident now that we simply cannot take for granted that life will continue on showing up in the same way as it used to, day-in, day-out. For this reason we owe it to ourselves to take the most joy and feel the most gratitude that we can in each and every moment.
That feels comfortable and intuitive to me now. It’s a goal that I’m committed to striving for in each and every day. It continues to underpin each of my other goals too.
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