Resolutions that Stick, Session 1: The Deep Dive

If you are just jumping-in, go here for a starter. This is the first session of three that will help you make resolutions that stick.

Part 1: Why are you Here?

Let’s be honest. Wading through productivity books like David Allen’s Getting Things Done is boring. Better stated, it feels like an incredibly adult thing to do. If you don’t normally read these kind of books, you might find yourself thinking “Look at me reading about getting my shit together! I’m being so responsible right now!” Whether its imposter syndrome, or just your inner child trying to give you a few slaps across the face, I agree with David Whyte when he calls this sentiment “false maturity”:

“In my early teens, I had looked around at the strange world of adults and saw with a kind of horror that almost all of them seemed to be preoccupied with the details of life in such a way that they had lost sight of the greater picture. Adults seemed to have forgotten basic elemental and joyful relationships with clouds or horizons or grass that seemed necessary to be a full participant in the creation I saw around me. This form of false maturity, this slow forgetting, was late in coming to me but I had fallen for it at last and it was now beginning to smother me.

…In fact my whole approach to work had become commoditized. No longer a pursuit but a kind of defensive stasis, things bargained back and forth at the outer edge with very little transacting at the center.

In my reverie over the page, I remembered the years of hard slog in sciences that got me to the Galapagos, and in particular I remembered a marine zoology professor at Bangor University in Wales who had looked at me in horror when I told him I had taken up diving. He thought it quite touching but almost unsporting to actually go down there and see the living versions of things he saw mostly under a microscope. I had walked away shaking my head; laughing to myself; but in my recent approach to work I was fast becoming a newly minted version of him.” (David Whyte, The Three Marriages, pp. 130-131)

In this moment, David was struggling to rediscover the very reason for why he became a marine zoologist:

“…I started to get close to something at the very heart of what had brought me into the field in the first place, something that had been of overwhelming importance to me as a young boy: a visceral sense of empathy with creatures and worlds that were not my own.” (Whyte, 129)

Getting clear on your purpose, and your core values and principles is impeded by your false maturity. Unfortunately, the well-meaning work of productivity authors like David Allen reinforces this mentality of false maturity.

So, like David Whyte, uncovering and clarifying one’s purpose requires you to dive deep. You have to do this kind of work before you can appreciate the meaning of the bench top work you will later do with finer instruments and dead specimens. This kind of work requires your childhood wonder and naive purpose. Psychedelics help for much of what will go on in this first session, but if you’re in your dad years like me, the occasional dérive or flânerie works too (aided, of course, by a few drams of whiskey and a good companion)!

Here are some basic questions to start you off:

  • “Why am I here?”
  • “What are the values and principles of my work?”
  • “Why am I doing what I am doing?”
  • “What was I put on this earth to do?” (You’ve only got one shot, so what is it? Well? Come on!)
  • “In what way am I living in alignment with my values and principles? How am I unaligned? How long can I go on without bringing these elements of my life and work back into alignment?” And so on.

Walk, journal, repeat.

Part 2: Where are you Headed?

Imagine a future where you are living and working in alignment with your purpose and your core values and beliefs. Continuing on the psychedelic theme, think of this as a vision quest: all of your senses should be employed. Remember, you are looking for a future where things transact at your center… your heart. Don’t just write it down. Close your eyes and imagine it. What does it taste like… feel like… look like… sound like? Go to a place that shares an affinity with this vision, immerse yourself in it (see dérive or flânerie above).

Here are some more questions you can ask yourself:

  • “What is my vision for the future? What does this future look and feel like?”
  • “What does successful implementation look like?”
  • “What is my ideal work/life scenario?” and so on.

In the 4-Hour Work Week, Tim Ferriss writes about “Dreamlining” and he has some helpful templates online to help you do it (an example of a Dreamline can be found here). You can drill down and determine your “Target Monthly Income” (TMI) for your dreams in part 3 below. For now, stay high level with some of his prompts for envisioning your dreams:

“What would you do if there were no way you could fail? If you were 10 times smarter than the rest of the world?…What are the four dreams that would change it all?”

Part 3: What am I Trying to Achieve? What am I Trying to Avoid?

Goals describe the destination, objectives are a measure of the progress needed to get there (this distinction is important). Also, don’t focus on too many goals! Keep the number of your current “working goals” small, and try framing them in a “Positive, Immediate, Concrete, Specific (PICS)” format:

  • Positive refers to motivation–your goal should be something you move toward, not away from. Goals like “I don’t want to be fat anymore” are a recipe for threat lockdown–you’re reinforcing the negative instead of using reinterpretation to change your mind’s prediction to get excited about improving. For best results, eliminate conflicts first, then move toward what you want to achieve.
  • Immediate refers to time scale: your goals should be things that you decide to make progress on now, not “someday” or “eventually.” If you don’t want to commit to working on a particular goal now , put it on your someday/maybe list.
  • Concrete means you’re able to see the results in the real world. Goals are achievements–you should know when you’ve accomplished what you set out to achieve. Setting goals like “I want to be happy” won’t work because they’re not concrete–how would you know when you’re done? When you reach the top of mount Everest, you’ve achieved something concrete in the real world–that’s concrete.
  • Specific means you’re able to define exactly what, when, and where you’re going to achieve your goal. Climbing Mount Everest on a certain date in the near future is specific, which makes it easy for your mind to plan exactly how you’ll go about accomplishing it (Josh Kaufman, The Personal MBA, pp. 263-264).

Finally, set some fears. Watch this quick clip of Tim Ferriss describing how to do this:

“Fear setting” is an important counterbalance to goal setting, because let’s face it: we can be as positive as we want with our PICS goals, beneath our conscious rationalization of all things happy is a deep and murky sea of fear.

As I recall from my post-structuralist studies of Deleuze and Guattari, and training in Vippassana meditation, desire is a two-way street: there’s your desire to attain what you want, and there’s your desire to avoid what you don’t. The latter desire is often so potent that we “don’t even want to go there” and never actually go deep on our fears. If you are afraid to even “go there”, you could start by asking yourself: “what’s the worst that can happen if I go deep on my fears?” (and you will have already started!)

Again with the questions!

  • “What do you want and need to accomplish within the next six months, the next year (or two… or three) to achieve your vision?”
  • “What concrete or specific achievement are you trying to move toward?”
  • “What does failure look like and taste like? How bad can it be?” and so on.

Now, move onto Session 2… where we’ll get closer to the everyday matters of “buckets”, projects, and actions.

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