At the end of 2018

As 2018 draws to a close, I wanted to share a couple of personal thoughts from the year: one related to success/failure and the other on resolutions, which I’ll cover first.

Following tradition, I often make several informal New Years’ resolutions, usually involving health/fitness goals. My level of success in keeping these resolutions tends to also be traditional: stick with it for 2-3 weeks then forget about it. Last year I realised my problem is that I usually make too many resolutions, and I make resolutions that are not realistic given all my other constraints. Therefore, at the start of 2018, I made just one resolution: keep a daily record of my activities.

The format I chose for this daily record was a Google Drive spreadsheet (for easy multi-device access), with columns for various things I want to be aware of and try to improve in some way: bed time, wake time, diet related items such as fruit and vegetable intake, alcohol, time spent reading (for work), exercise, quiet time in the mornings, and so on. I’m proud to say that I kept my resolution every single day. The time commitment was low (1-2 minutes before bed), and it quickly had a positive impact on the goals of previous years.

My spreadsheet included fixed rows providing the mean so far for most columns. This was a useful guide throughout the year. I had some vague goals and the data allowed me to perform “course corrections” as the year progressed. Towards the end of the year, it got harder to affect the means, but this almost became a challenge: e.g., “can I shave just 2 minutes off my average bed time before the end of the year?”. A quick bit of programming provided me with some further data analysis tools for some interesting insight into daily/weekly patterns throughout the year: for some reason I went to bed latest on Wednesdays on average (probably cramming lecture prep)!

My resolution for 2019 is to continue, but now I have some more clear goals in mind. I also have a new set of columns. Some information wasn’t that useful, and there are other things I want to improve that are easily measured and tracked. These items can now be easily integrated into the whole process. Recently, I also realised that I could include a quick micro-journal (a couple of summary sentences about the day), which I would like to continue in 2019. As someone who has struggled to keep up daily routines and disciplines, I have found this all immensely helpful. I did not see an improvement in every column, but it did improve some markedly. I’d recommend this technique highly to anyone.

Lastly, a thought on failure. As the year draws to its end, I’ve been thinking about my successes and failures in 2018. It’s always easy to focus on the failures, especially in academia where there are often many. This year has certainly had many difficulties and disappointments, along with some successes. The thing that is so pernicious about failure is that it is hungry and it will devour as much as you let it devour. Instead, we have to try to integrate the failure into our selves positively, in a way that strengthens, in a way that teaches and informs. Otherwise, we will just let failure swallow up the rest of our success, energy, drive, creativity, joy, and everything else. So at the end of the year, I’m trying to dwell less on the existence of the failures, but more on what they’ve taught me for the future and what might emerge out of the ashes. That’s the only way forward, otherwise failure wins and eats everything else up.

So, happy new year! See many of you in 2019. I hope you have a great start to the year. I’m looking forward to travelling to Lisbon shortly for POPL 2019 where I will be giving a tutorial on the Granule project joint with Harley Eades and my student Vilem Liepelt.