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2021 Recap

Matt Fish
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Personal
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Jan 2, 2022
Shark Fin Cove, California

2021 was definitely an interesting year. I finished my two undergraduate degrees with distinction, played my first game with a professional rugby team, secured a new job at a great company, and got offered a position in one of Canada's top startup incubator programs.

While that all looks nice on a self congratulatory LinkedIn post, I wanted to keep it a bit more real for the rest of the post - 2021 really felt like a year of stagnation for me. COVID shutdowns continuously meant that there were months that I went without seeing many (if any) people outside my family, and rather than using all that extra time on productive endeavours, most of that time was wasted on consuming mindless media - I watched a lot of Twitch, binged countless Netflix series, and did that thing where you get bored of scrolling Reddit so you close the tab and accidentally open a new tab of Reddit because it's your reflex move for boredom. I bought myself a bunch of workout equipment, and then would alternate between weeks of high effort intensity, and then weeks of complete ignorance of the weight's existence. I got a new camera with the idea that I'd start making videos, and then would balk at the idea of recording anything when I thought of an idea. I didn't do much coding/learning during my final semesters of online school, and cruised my way off into obscurity in online classes.

The nice thing about hindsight though, is that it's indeed 20/20. If you want to improve yourself, the best place to start is to look at what worked and what didn't work. That's going to be the first part of my post.

Habits in Hindsight

When I look specifically for when I found success in the past year, it boils down to consistent efforts towards goals put in over time. And when I look at my failures, it's about consistent avoidance over time. In both cases, habits were what dictated success.

I had about a three month period where I was consistently watching videos until 3AM every night. It became a routine: stay up incredibly late, wakeup at noon the next day unmotivated, scroll on Twitter for a couple hours, watch some sports highlights, eat dinner, call my girlfriend or chat with friends online, then watch videos all night. It became a vicious cycle of habits that formed through the path of least resistance. Every choice I made was the easy one, not the one that necessarily would be the best for me.

No Zero Days

What got me out of this funk was the implementation of No Zero Days. The concept is that every single day you progress towards goals you set out, no matter how minuscule the effort might be on that particular day. The important thing is just getting something done. If your goal was to read more books, even picking up a book and reading for 5 minutes counts as a non-zero day: you've made some effort to build the habit of reading. Chances are once you've created that habit, the duration of the reading sessions and your ability to focus will improve the longer you stick with it

Only way to the top of the mountain is one step at a time - Banff, Canada

For my own goals, I split it into categories: Reading, Employment, Startups, Athletics, Limiting Consumption, Sleep. In each of these areas, I tried to make some step forward every single day. And the shocking part was the immediacy of which I started to see results. Those things that I bragged about at the beginning of this article - playing professional rugby, getting job interviews and offers, and getting interest in my startup - all happened in the first month of this shift of mindset.

If I had one criticism of myself in this though, was once I no longer felt as disgusted by my lethargy and started finding success, I went back to being complacent rather than continuing to strive for excellence. I've always been someone who needed an external push for motivation to do something - whether it was an explicitly laid out competition with a peer, a bad grade giving a wakeup call to study harder, or getting punched in the mouth in order to play rugby with full aggression. The way I'm trying to avoid this dilemma is through personal accountability in writing. Every day, I write down what I hope to accomplish for the day, then review it at the end of the day to determine how successful I was, and identify where I went wrong. This segues nicely into the next concept - Eating the Frog.

Eating the Frog

I didn't have any frog photos from this year, so enjoy this squirrel instead - Lakes Agnes, Canada

This was an idea that a first year business professor introduced me to (If I'm honest, it may be one of the only things I remember from the lectures!)

Eating the Frog refers to starting your day with the task you are dreading the most - just like you might dread eating a frog. But once you've eaten your proverbial frog, you no longer have that looming over your head for the rest of the day, and you're free to pursue the things you are more excited to do. For someone who's not fit, exercising might be their frog. If they're able to put in that effort right at the beginning of the day, they can enjoy the rest of their day without having to worry about how terrible it will be to exercise at the end of an exhausting day, or even worse, skipping the activity entirely.

When I was job hunting my frog was inevitably always the filling of online applications. The repetitive nature of having to duplicate everything from your resume into a parseable format for every damn companies internal systems had me banging my head against the wall. When I first started out, I was guilty of many days looking at jobs, and writing resumes, but then skipping the actual filling of applications and sending them off. Part of this was pure laziness, and part of it was a fear of rejection. There were times where I'd send a resume off, and get an auto-response 15 minutes later declining my application. I'd then take that rejection as a confirmation of my inadequacy for employment, and stop trying for the next few days. When reading recently I came across a quote of Ralph Waldo Emerson that seemed to describe how I felt

If our young men miscarry in their first enterprise, they lose all heart. If the young merchant fails, men say he is ruined. If the finest genius studies at one of our colleges and is not installed in an office one year afterwards in the cities of Boston or New York, it seems to his friends and to himself that he is right in being disheartened and in complaining the rest of his life.

The funny thing is this is a quote from 1841, yet the words hold true in today's college graduates. I finished top of my class with multiple degrees, but as soon as I tasted my first bit of rejection I became disheartened. Social media and professional networks like LinkedIn don't help either, where the click of a button leads you to a never ending scroll of people boasting of their successes, while nobody dares announce their shortcomings.

There's a second part of the quote that I want to take into 2022 with me, as a mantra of how to approach things:

A study lad from New Hampshire or Vermont, who in turn tries all the professions, who teams it, farms it, peddles, keeps a school, preaches, edits a newspaper, goes to Congress, buys a township, and so forth, in successive years, and always like a cat falls on his feet, is worth a hundred of these city dolls. He walks abreast of his day and feels no shame in not 'studying a profession,' for he does not postpone his life, but lives already. He has not one chance, but a hundred chances.

Eat your frogs, take chances, try new things, and don't worry if everything doesn't go exactly as planned.

Towards 2022

I've always been a huge sucker for some New Years Resolutions. Sure, you can make goals at any time of the year and achieve them, but there is something about a hard reset that allows me to reframe priorities and get excited about things I want to accomplish in the coming year. I have high hopes for 2022 being a big year professionally and personally, but the resolutions I want to focus on are the building blocks that will allow me to accomplish great things - the everyday habits that when compounded, lead to success.

Journalling

I talked earlier about my need for accountability when forming habits, and journalling and keeping records is one of the strategies I want to employ. I don't expect to be writing novels every night but just feel its a good way to wrap up your evening, write down everything that is on your mind, and create a habitual bedtime routine that allows you to fall asleep easier. My initial thoughts are that I'll mainly keep a paper version of the journal, and will occasionally transcribe thoughts I wish to share onto this blog.

Reading

I've read a lot more in 2021 than I have in the past, but I really want to make this my main form of media consumption. I've always felt that a TikTok is the result of 5 minutes of thought by a creator, a YouTube video is the result of a week of thought, a movie is the result of a year, where books can often be the result of a lifetime of thought. It's the richest form of media in that sense, and provides benefits to vocabulary, your ability to get ready to sleep, and your creativity/professional development.

I specifically hope to move away from a lot of the NYT bestseller "Self Help" or "Pop Psychology" type books this year, which have often been my go-to in the past. I used them as a crux to try and motivate myself, but lately I've found these becoming increasingly self-referencing and repetitive, to the point where I no longer feel I'm gaining the necessary value out of them. I want to read more classics, more fiction in lieu of Netflix shows, and more history.

I also started a book club in the tail end of 2021, and I'm hoping to keep that going strong in 2022.

Forming Better Sleep Habits

This has plagued me over the last few years, as I'm sure many college students can relate. I personally feel the most productive and effective when I wake up early, get ahead on my day, and can collapse into bed exhausted early in the evening. However, when I don't get up early, I naturally deviate towards an extremely late schedule, where from 11pm to 3am I often find myself snacking unhealthily, wasting time, and throwing off my sleep schedule. To try and fix this, I want to set up specific times for journalling, which I will use as a signal of the end of my evening. From that, I can create more consistency with my bedtime routine, which hopefully fixes the second part of the problem, which is the morning routine.

In the morning, I have a terrible habit of setting multiple alarms, and then snoozing them repeatedly until the very last minute before I'm supposed to wake up. I hope more consistent bedtimes, along with a focus on not snoozing, will allow me to slowly improve this aspect of my sleeping, which will allow me to reclaim at least an hour of my day (whether that's an hour more of sleep, or an hour more of effectiveness).

The third portion of this resolution is investing in better sleep accessories. Shoutout to my girlfriend for getting me a weighted blanket, that hugely improved my quality of sleep (although I think it's made getting out of bed in the morning tougher!) I want to replace the pillows I have shortly, and when moving out of home (hopefully within the next year) choosing mattresses and bedframes that are high quality. You spend a third of your life in your bed, it makes sense for you to invest in it!

Proactivity in Friendships and Relationships

I've always been someone who's down to do anything, but not someone who's great at making plans or being proactive in inviting people to do things. Part of it stems from that fear of rejection from earlier, but most of it just has to do with my temperament. I need to make a more consistent effort to reach out and maintain friendships, especially now that I'm no longer in university, and because COVID has severed so many chances to catch up with people in person.

In my relationship with my girlfriend, it's adjusting to being in a long distance relationship, and making the most of the opportunities we have to be together. It's been a frustration in the past when I tend to not think far enough ahead - that sort of spontaneity is great on a road trip with the boys, not so much when trying to book dinner reservations. I want to make it a focus to be more proactive with my planning, and continue to try to find creative, fun things to do.

Relearning to Focus

This ties in with the next goal, but one of the struggles I have found myself dealing with during the pandemic has been the absolute destruction of my attention span. Through Zoom classes, a couple more years of tweaking of Instagram and Tik Tok's already addictive dopamine cycles, and a constant state of apathetic boredom, I have found myself struggling to focus on a task for more than 10-15 minutes at a time. Part of me wonders if perhaps I should get tested for ADHD or a similar disability, because I've struggled with this for a long time. In high school I used to go to the library for 5-6 hours every night in order to get work done that realistically should have taken no more than two hours. It wasn't because I found it hard, it was because I got off topic and down different rabbit holes every 15 minutes, and would have to force myself back on task.

Before I try medication however, I want to try encouraging activities like reading that led to longer attention spans, and reducing the habits I formed that led to reduced attention spans.

Reducing Media Consumption while Increasing Creation

The final goal I have is to reduce my overall media consumption. I've already made strides with this in 2021, where I effectively cut Twitch off, deleted Instagram and Snapchat off my phone, and never even downloaded Tik Tok in the first place. The behemoth that I still struggle with is Reddit however. I use the site to get information on all my favourite sports teams, to learn about breaking news, and to read about interesting tidbits from people of all walks of life. I've tried many times in the past to get off the site, but I think 2022 will be the year that I finally manage to do so. I hope in all this reduction, I'll be able to create more content through YouTube, Instagram and Twitter in ways that still encourage me to be creative, but don't require the hours of endless scrolling that I currently do.

And there you have it, some of my thoughts on 2021, and my goals for 2022! I hope I can look back at this post in a year and be proud of what I've accomplished, best of luck to anyone reading this on their goals this year as well!

Matt Fish
Matt is a product manager and photographer based out of Waterloo, Canada

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