2016 Check-In

Angus ZooHappy Beginning of 2016.

A quiet urge nudged me to come back and provide a State of the Phillip address. So here I am. It’s a new year, which of course means it’s time for the requisite resolutions that we rarely keep.

So why do we rarely keep them?

I see two obvious problems:

  1. It’s generally known that people don’t follow through past the first month (if that), so there isn’t much social or personal cost to quitting. It’s expected.
  2. For those folks that do take their resolutions seriously, they make the mistake of committing to something that would be better treated as an experiment and beat themselves up for not making it to the end of the year.

I’ve experienced both of those gotchas before, so as to avoid them again, I instead present to you key ideas that I’ll be experimenting with and adjusting course as needed. These are goals that I’ve formulated organically over the past month or two, all in response to my life in 2015 plus what I’ve found myself reading/thinking about. Without realizing, I noticed they encompass the tripartite of the human — mind, body, and soul.

1. Self-awareness – As many of you know, I experienced major burnout toward the end of last year. My general outlook resembled the blackened marshmallow that had been hovering over the campfire a few seconds too long. The irony is a part of me knew it was coming, but I fought myself every step of the way. I gave in to the sunk cost fallacy. I told myself that I had invested so much time and energy to my routine of overcommittment, stopping now would be the worst thing I could do. If I could just get through today, it would all be worth it.

This has been a pattern throughout my adult life, but maybe I’m finally growing up a little. I researched occupational burnout and CNS fatigue and recognized every sign. Something clicked. I finally understood the need to detach and evaluate, to remember that I’ve been down this road before and I know where it ends. In essence, I’d better do something about it now and not wait for the inevitable meltdown.

My goal is to not only become more mindful of what my body and brain are telling me, but to take action.

2. Discipline – Grit. Mental toughness. Whatever you want to call it, I’ve been quickly discovering that discipline equals freedom. When I’ve managed to overcome the gamut of small to massive mental challenges, the psychological win is huge for me. I just feel really. damn. good. The best part is that every win increases the chances that I’ll overcome the next hurdle. I have a track record I can reflect on.

Now, you may be thinking that this goal contradicts what I was saying up above regarding self-awareness. I should keep going when everything is telling me to stop, right? That thought creeps into my mind occasionally. But then I remember that by listening to my body and overcoming the voices in my head calling me “quitter,” I am employing discipline. To stop being hardheaded, stubborn, and any other synonym you can come with for getting in one’s own way…for me, that requires grit.

Of course, the nice thing about discipline is that it’s a broad concept that can be applied to all aspects of life; not just for my own selfish goals, but for something so simple as resisting picking up my phone when I’m with family and instead, actively engaging them and sharing a moment of togetherness. That’s not to say that aren’t times when Angus and my wife are engaged in their own thing and really don’t want my attention (perish the thought!), but this goes back to being aware of myself and the situation.

So how am I working toward building discipline? Here are a few aspects:

  1. Waking up at 5:15AM six out of seven days. 80% of the time, I have to break down some mental barrier that wants to keep me under the cozy blankets. Overall, this has gotten easier (it used to be a struggle 100% of the time), but I feel especially good when I “win” the hard mornings.
  2. Exercising six days a week. Four of those days include being in the gym by 5:30am – first I focus on resistance training (fancy way of saying “lifting weights”) and then cardio (I’m halfway to jogging three miles non-stop). I get huge mental wins on these when I’m able to get in one extra rep or one extra minute of running, because by that point, my brain has told me that to do so would be suicide. Just this morning, I had to run twenty minutes non-stop and my mind was already telling me I was finished after seven — the classic case of the brains giving out before the body. Sometimes, it really does pay to ignore that guy, because I made it to twenty and felt like a million bucks (minus the sore legs).
  3. Learning Spanish (or I should say “re-learning” four years of high school classes). This has been on my to-do list for awhile, but it takes real dedication. My wife and I have been using Duolingo as our main teaching tool and so far, it’s been great. I also live in an area with a lot of Mexican/Latin American immigrants, so shopping in the little tiendas and ordering food at the carneceria gives us an opportunity to actively practice.
  4. Reading every day with Angus. The kid loves books. The only problem is he loves to eat them. He has no time for trying to actually read them, so attempting to engage him with reading is difficult. That being said, I want to continue to try and build the habit, no matter how fruitless it seems at the moment. I’m hoping that by us continually sitting down and attempting to read, it will keep him in the mindset of wanting to do so.
  5. Thanking someone every day. Who doesn’t like to be thanked for something? And I don’t mean soulless, smarmy thanks. I mean a sincere appreciation for someone and something they’ve done. This has been so wonderful for me so far. The simple act of giving thanks generates good will and good feelings at ten times the amount of effort it takes.

It’s my hope that I can continue to build from this practice of discipline, and if it’s in the cards, eventually come back to writing fiction. If it’s not and I’ve discovered that I just don’t care enough about it to give it the attention it requires, so be it. I’ll be happy to have learned that, chalk the past five years up to a grand experiment, and move on!

3. Ownership – Taking ownership of everything in my life. Sounds horrible, right? I mean, can we really fault ourselves for things that are out of our control? How can I possibly be responsible for everything? Am I trying to drive myself insane again?

The effects of this are twofold:

  1. By taking responsibility for something, it’s up to me to formulate a fix. When my first instinct is to place blame elsewhere (we all do it), I have no incentive to find a solution – it’s someone else’s problem and I can be mad at them all day because of their refusal to make me feel better. By taking immediate ownership, I force myself to at least think through the problem and know that I’ve done my part. How I choose to feel is under my control.
  2. The most bass-ackwards thing I’ve discovered about this crazy concept is the effect it has on the other party. They perceive me as being responsible and humble, not playing the victim or behaving arrogantly. And by viewing me that way, the rule of reciprocity dictates that they’re more likely to take ownership for their part of the problem.

The idea for this comes from a book I’m reading — Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babbit. It’s written by a couple of ex-Navy Seals and is meant to translate leadership skills they learned as active-duty soldiers in Iraq to a business environment. Don’t dismiss the principles based on that though, as I’ve been applying them to every aspect of my life and have seen some great benefits.

If you have the inclination, you may find some of the inspiration that I have through Jocko’s podcast. It’s because of him that I’ve begun to take both discipline and ownership seriously.

4. Charisma – I think sometimes of the great connections and potential friends I’m missing out on because I’m afraid to speak up or approach someone. I’ve always been naturally shy. I overthink what I’m going to say and so when I do say something, I stumble and stutter because the conversation never matches what’s in my mind.

So one of my big goals this year is to be more charismatic, and by doing so, meet more like-minded people and expand my professional network. I think it’s a learnable skill. I’ll let you know how that develops.

That about covers where I’ve been and where I’m at these days. I honestly can’t recall the last time I’ve had so much energy and a positive outlook for the future. Are all my days like that? No way. But a lot more of them are than have been in the past, and for those bad days, I’m finding them easier to turn around.

I hope you guys are doing well. If you made it this far, thanks for sitting through the update. I’ll see you around!



19 thoughts on “2016 Check-In”

  1. I really think these all sound good. I would add a small caveat and that is there is no black sliding only corrections. If you fail one time it is not the end of the whole program. Happy New Year Phillip.

  2. Really enjoyed reading through your thoughts and resolutions, Phillip. I especially liked your second point under “Ownership.” That’s so true, isn’t it? Nice to see it spelled out like that, and it makes a lot of sense.

    I love that you’re reading to Angus even if it’s not really about the story for him yet (more fun to chew, right? 🙂 ). But even if he doesn’t seem to be paying attention, reading to him has so much value. It’s helping his vocabulary, and it will likely enhance his own reading skills down the road. (But I know you already know that. ) So kudos to you.

    Happy 2016 to you!

    1. Thank you Carrie. I keep reminding myself of those benefits you pointed out. He loves to flip the books open and turn the pages, and he seems to be wanting to eat them less and less, so it looks like we’re making progress! 🙂 Happy 2016!

  3. It’s so great to hear from you, Phillip. I think you’ve got a good strategy in place for the new year.
    Like you, I rise early each day. It’s so tempting to stay under those covers, especially when the morning lows are in the 20’s, but once you’re up and moving around, it’s all good.
    Happy New Year to you, my friend!

    1. Thank you Jill! I should have figured that you were an early riser with all that you’ve accomplished, but I can’t imagine having to face the low 20s, so you definitely have it a lot harder than I do. Happy New Year to you as well!

  4. What a great line: “the blackened marshmallow that had been hovering over the campfire a few seconds too long.” I have definitely felt like that marshmallow … a lot! I totally get where you are coming from and where you want to go. You are an inspiration to me, Phillip!

  5. I love the idea of Ownership; the world would definitely be a better place if we all jumped on board with that. And I’m also encouraged that you’re continuing to work with Angus on books. My son is 11 months old and has reached the squirmy monkey stage where he doesn’t want to sit still for anything, but I am also keeping at it with the book time in the hopes that one day he WILL sit still for over ten seconds and actually get caught up in the story. 😉

    1. I think you’re right about the idea of ownership, Lauren. 🙂 And don’t fret too much over your son’s behavior…when looking at the big picture, I can see that Angus has gotten a little better over time with “reading.” I think a big part is picking the right time to do it. Sometimes they’re just balls of energy and the reading should probably wait for them to calm down a little. 🙂 Happy 2016 and best of luck with the little guy!

  6. It sounds like you’ve got a great philosophy for moving forward. And many kudos for hanging in there while Angus tries to eat the books! 🙂 Not only will it help with the language skills, but you’re establishing a pattern of quality time spent together. Those benefits will last a lifetime!

  7. I had a feeling I needed to check your blog. And I find a post here! Missing you, Phillip. So glad you’re sticking to your goals. I had Duolingo, but deleted it. I probably need to get it again. 🙂

  8. Wow – major goals. You can do it! But also, like you mentioned in your first point – be mindful. If something is not working, change it up. Have you considered doing something other than running? Running on a treadmill kills me. But one year I joined the local running group and that was way more fun. I ran more and looked forward to each outing.

    1. Thanks for the support Nila! Yeah, I much prefer running outdoors vs. the treadmill as well, but the gym is convenient for my schedule. I was looking into taking a martial art as an alternative conditioning exercise, but again, ran into classes that didn’t fit into the rest of my schedule. I think when Angus is a little older, we’ll try that as a family!

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