New year, new me?

Resolution. It’s a word we hear a lot these days, in the weeks leading into and out of January 1st. We pledge to exercise more, to eat healthier, to spend more time with family, to be more mindful, to express gratitude more often to the people in our lives…the list goes on and on. But what really is a resolution? The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as, “a firm decision to do or not do something.” Used in this way, the word resolution has been around since at least the 1790s. For some time, surely, this definition was an accurate one. But as all aspects of a language do, in some way or another, over time, words like resolution tend to lose their fervor over decades and centuries of use. Perhaps not unlike the word “awesome,” which surely once really meant what it implies — something awe-some, awe-inspiring, something to take your breath away — which has by now been so sorely mis- and over-used as to be flattened out and dulled, and used to describe anything from a mediocre rock concert (“This is awesome!”), to a third-grader playing soccer (“You were awesome, honey!); yes, perhaps not unlike that, the word resolution has, as I think we can all agree, become more akin to a hope than a firm decision; more of an, “I’ll try,” than an “I will.”

It certainly doesn’t help that our New Year’s resolutions tend to be far too vague to be actionable. Exercise more, eat less, be more kind, have more patience. What is more? What is less? What do kind and patient look like? Part of the problem, I think, is that the term resolution has become elusive enough to make a game-plan seem superfluous. In reality, it may be time for a new framework with which to think about change — be it on January 1st, or any other day of the year. What we need going forward is a paradigm shift: away from flimsy resolutions, toward resolute convictions. Real, concrete commitments, with visualizeable outcomes and a planned-out path to the success.

Indeed, statistics show that only approximately 8% of us actually stick to our New Year’s resolutions — and that by early February, the majority of us have already given up. Depressing, isn’t it? Well, it doesn’t have to be. The thing is, these failures are not the result of some inevitable part of the human condition. They are also probably not, in most cases, the result of laziness. Instead, these failures boil down to flawed processes, unhelpful frameworks for thinking about change, and a fundamental lack of preparation for the “goals” we set for ourselves. Rather than setting resolutions — essentially, hopes — we can and should be setting convictions.

Before I go any further, it is certainly worth mentioning that this change in the way I think about change was by no means an act of original genius. Rather, it was a confluence of books and podcasts, mainly by Tony Robbins (The Tony Robbins podcast, Awaken the Giant Within, etc.), but also by Dave Asprey (the guy behind Bulletproof products and the podcast BulletProof Radio), that got me thinking about how to make decisions and changes that stick. If you find this compelling, I highly recommend that you first pick up a copy of Tony Robbins’ book, Awaken the Giant Within. It’s a quick read and, if you’re anything like me, it may change the way you think about your aspirations and even your future; and second, download those two podcasts and have a listen on your way to work tomorrow.

The key differentiators between resolutions and convictions, as defined by me, are threefold: their level of precision, the existence (or lack) of a game-plan, and the degree of certainty that one has regarding his or her success.

1. Precision. Our convictions must be specific and visualizeable. Where your resolution is to “exercise more,” your conviction is to get to the gym or go for a run five times per week. Where your resolution is to “prioritize family” your conviction is that you will show up to X and Y holidays, help your parents move next month, call your sister once a month, send flowers to parents on their anniversary— whatever it is, make it as specific and action-oriented as possible. Ambiguity breeds hesitation. Give yourself an unfair advantage by being clear about your goals and what they look like.

2. Game-plan. No, this is not a game that we can improv. Convictions require game-plans that can be committed to. To use one of our previous examples: our exerciser will want to calendar in their workout sessions, perhaps decide which days they’ll go to the gym, or out for a jog, or to a yoga class. They’ll want to enroll in whatever gym or exercise program they plan to do beforehand (if you’re late on this, don’t worry — January 1st is certainly not a hard and fast start date for anyone.) They might make a note on their phone to record workouts and to make sure they’re keeping up with five workouts per week.

An important, if slightly tangential note: one rule I live by is that if it’s not in my calendar (for me, this means Google Cal, for you it may mean iCal or an old-fashioned planner), then it isn’t happening. Don’t be afraid to calendar in seemingly silly things — sleep, exercise, meals, “you” time, even journaling or meditating. Putting these things in there simply ensures that they will happen, and that you begin to treat these things like priorities, like every other meeting and appointment on the docket.

3. Certainty. Now, for the tough one. You want to make a change in your life. Maybe it’s about spending more time feeding your mind, or transforming your health, or being a better person for your family, your friends, your students or your employees. Maybe it’s not the first time you’ve made this resolution. Maybe it’s not the second time. Maybe it’s the third, the fourth, or even the tenth time you’ve (unsuccessfully) tried to make this change. Don’t be discouraged — those first ten tries were only that: tries. It’s about time to swap trying for doing; to stop hoping that we will follow through on our self-promises, and to become certain that we will.

Creating that certainty requires some solid groundwork: i.e. the right reasons for desiring the change. Like anything in life, in order to stay motivated when the going gets tough, we need real, strong reasons for doing what we’re doing. In the interest of brevity, I won’t go too far deep here into creating certainty. But again, for those who are finding this compelling, do pick up a copy of Tony’s book. For one, he can talk about it far more eloquently and powerfully than I can. Also, it’s less than 2 hours on Audible, which means you could likely listen through it in less than a week’s worth of commutes.

Below, I’ll include a brief introduction to my own 2018 New Year’s Convictions. If you find any of them inspiring, feel free to join me on the journey (there is no such thing as “stealing” here — as Emerson says, in every work of genius, we see our own rejected thoughts). If you don’t, please do your own thing, and run with it! At the very least, I hope this may help some of you who have expressed interest in this idea to start creating your own game-plans.

In 2018 I will…

  1. Read 52 books (one per week, on average).
  2. Pass proficiency exams in three languages (French, Spanish, Mandarin).
  3. Practice gratitude.

Let’s take these one by one. For each, I’ll share my why (the reason behind my certainty), my game-plan (what specific steps I am taking or will take), and a precision check (is the conviction specific enough?). Here goes…

1. Read 52 books (one per week, on average).

My why: Books are a brilliant thing: in a sense, they can compress what is often the result of decades of research by someone else, into something you can consume in a few days (or in my case, a single week). I mean, how efficient is that? And while I tend to be a non-fiction junkie, fiction can be equally magical, in particular the classics, the plot and themes and characters of which somehow seem to grow increasingly relevant as time goes on. I haven’t been reading nearly as much as I would like, often distracted by other (less productive) pastimes. I’m putting an end to that in 2018.

My game-plan: I’ve created a list of the first thirty-five books I’ll read, and calendared each one into my Google cal. The remaining twenty will be filled in on a Google doc throughout the year (I want to leave space open for new recommendations, or further readings inspired by those on my 35-book shortlist).

Precision: check! 52 books, 35 of which have been pre-selected. My reading schedule is in my calendar and ready to go.

2. Pass proficiency exams in three languages (French, Spanish, Mandarin).

My why: When I was little, I dreamed of speaking seven languages. Part of this is due to a natural passion for language and linguistics. The other part has much more to do with my ultimate why — how I see myself serving others and contributing in an increasingly globalized world. I live to communicate; learning new languages is, at the heart of it, about expanding my linguistic Venn diagram, creating the potential for more diverse interpersonal interactions and relationships across geographical, cultural and linguistic boundaries.

One of the most spectacular gifts I’ve been afforded through the Fulbright program is that of a true immersion experience. Unfortunately, as these things go, I feel my French and Spanish slipping as I immerse my mind in Mandarin’s tonal sounds and beautiful characters. I am committed to reversing that trend, while also expediting my progress in Mandarin. Which brings me to my game-plan.

My game-plan:

Part one: I use Glossika, a program that offers access to practice in unlimited languages for one set price (a monthly subscription). This allows me to practice all three languages at once. My regimen: one lesson per day of Mandarin, one per week of French and Spanish (for now, using French as the source language and Spanish as the target language.)

Part two: In the morning (minus Mondays), I listen to the news in French.

Part three: Once per week, I work with a private Mandarin tutor.

Part four: Spanish Mondays! On Mondays, I can only listen to Spanish (Spanish music, Spanish podcasts, the news in Spanish).

Precision: I am focusing on these three languages this year. My hope is to take proficiency exams in all three at the end of 2018! Next up: Japanese, German and Italian.

3. Practice gratitude.

My why: Right around the time I moved to Taiwan, in August of 2017, I started a tradition that has, in many ways, transformed my daily routine, my reaction to seemingly dire situations and setbacks, and my interaction with my friends, colleagues, students and strangers alike. This tradition is my gratitude log.

My game-plan: I have a small, separate pocket-journal where I log three things (or people) I’m grateful for, each morning, at the end of my ten-minute meditation (thanks Headspace). This gratitude logging is, indeed, scheduled into my Google calendar as a daily recurring event.

Starting this month, I am also resuscitating an old practice of mine, also borrowed from a friend, of semi-regular thank you notes. I’ll be writing one note per month to a friend, colleague, family member, or any other human really, whom I appreciate. Sharing gratitude feels real good. I highly recommend this one.

Precision: Two main tasks: daily logging and monthly thank-you-noting. Check!

That’s all for now! If you have questions/comments/want to chat about any of the above, feel free to leave a comment here or shoot me an email at I’m also happy to share my 2018 reading list for those who are interested. Happy New Year (新年快樂!), and may you have a brilliant, bold and transformative 2018.

And finally, a few snapshots from my New Year’s. I spent the weekend with a few incredible Fulbright ETAs in Taitung, a city on the East Coast of Taiwan. I was fortunate enough to attend a truly beautiful ceremony of the Puyuma tribe, dip my toes in the ocean, hike among the trees, and watch the very first sunrise over the island. 2018, here we come!