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Personal Theme, Habits and Objectives for 2021

Inspired by Cortex Podcast hosts CGP Grey and Myke Hurley, I selected an annual theme in 2020. The theme was “momentum” and it served me well as an inspirational compass over the past year. I wrote about it in my Personal Theme, Habits and Objectives for 2020 and in My Year in Review for 2020.

I enjoyed the annual theme approach so much, that I’ve opted to do it again in 2021. After considering several possible themes, I eventually settled on one that resonated with me, “thoughtfulness.”

You might be wondering, “what is an annual theme?” An annual theme is a guiding principle that serves as a kind of guiding star for many of the habits and objectives a person might want to engage with over that year. The annual theme is distinct from the more familiar “New Year’s Resolution” in that it is expansive and flexible. You can use the theme to motivate and inform any number of potential activities. Here’s a video from CGP Grey that explains the practice in greater detail.

As for my theme, here’s the dictionary definition:

Thoughtfulness (noun)
1. The state of being absorbed in thought.
1.1. Careful consideration or attention.2. Consideration for the needs of other people.Source: Lexico/Oxford Languages

I’m particularly keen on the dual-nature of the thoughtfulness—one aspect being inward-facing, the other being outward-facing. The expansiveness of the word gives me a lot to work with on both the personal level and the interpersonal one.

I believe a theme should be backed up by real-world application. Thoughtfulness without attendant action or reinforcing behaviors is rather hollow. I have a modest starting slate of practices meant to foster more thoughtfulness in my day-to-day life. Over the year I’ll revise this list as I gain more experience with the theme.

Here’s the initial list:

  • Thinking: I’m blocking 30 minutes of daily “thoughtful time.” This is an opportunity for contemplation, reflection, and note-taking. I want this time to be open-ended without the imposition of explicit outcomes or goals.
  • Meditation: This is something I did regularly in the past, but has fallen out of practice. Short 5-10 minute sessions in the morning are the initial goal. My son also wrote me a nifty “calm down chart” (which I describe in Newsletter No.17). I’ll be using it to complement my daily meditation.
  • Family: As a parent, I need to do a better job of giving my full attention to my children when spending time with them. This means putting away my phone, being present and being a better listener. The specific times I’ve carved out are mornings before school (when I read with my son) and dinner and the early evening when I spend time with my boys.
  • Listening: I need to make a concerted effort to listen more and talk far, far less. Practically speaking, this means keeping my trap shut despite my desire to offer an opinion or prove the perceived correctness of my ideas.

I recognize that some of my intentions are still a bit vague. I’ll plan to work on coming up with specific practices where applicable and objective measures for success.

In addition to the above habits, I have a few other areas with specific objectives:

  • Writing: The goal in 2021 is more resonant and thoughtful writing. To accomplish this, I need to improve my writing. I’ve joined a writer’s group to see if engaging in two-way feedback and idea-sharing with like-minded people will prove helpful.
  • Journaling: My journaling habit took a hit in the last few months of 2020 (when I dropped from diligent daily practice to weekly entries). I’m going to reinvigorate the habit in 2021. Instead of journaling the way I have for the past few years, I’m going to try Matthew Dicks’ “Homework for Life” strategy. Dicks is an accomplished storyteller, and his recommendation is that you maintain a spreadsheet of daily entries. Each daily entry contains one interesting thing that happened or that you thought about that day. The entry consists of 2-3 sentences. One can revisit any entry later to flesh it out, but the initial goal is just to capture interesting observations, memories, or stories in a manageable way.
  • Piano: I’m focusing on sight-reading in 2021. I’ve worked on sight-reading in the past, and improvement requires diligent, consistent effort (much like any other kind of practice). I’ll begin by working through the Bach’s 371 4-Part Chorales.

Regarding the blog and newsletter, I do have some specific audience growth goals for both. The metrics are a secondary goal for the site, but expanding readership is a nice side effect. For the newsletter, I hope to build my list to 10x its current size, that’s roughly 2500 subscribers. For the blog, I hope to double the traffic to 25k monthly uniques and 50k monthly pageviews by year-end. Given those targets, I might need to rely on channels beyond organic search engine growth. I’ve been fairly resistant to social media to date, but might consider a thoughtful foray into one or two platforms the coming year (if such a thing is even possible).

Regarding reading, my 2021 goal is my usual 50 books (this seems to be the “just right” number for me). Some of my book selections will be focused on introspective topics (per my annual theme). For instance, I have a quartet of books on Stoicism that I’m planning to work through. I’m also planning to read James Nestor’s “Breath”—highly recommended by multiple newsletter readers—in the hopes that it might inform my meditation practice.

I’ve kept the plans for 2021 low-key, given the pandemic situation in the USA. Normally, I’d be planning another epic road trip in the summer with my boys. We had been planning to tackle the drive from California to Alaska (via the Alaska Highway). I have a cousin in Skagway and an uncle in Kenai, so I thought that would be a fun summer-long excursion. I’m putting that on hold until 2022.

Overall, I’m ok with a low-key 2021. If there’s been a small silver-lining to recent events for me, it has been the chance to slow-down, pause, and take stock of my life. I’m not going to let that opportunity slip even if it wasn’t the opportunity I was originally expecting.

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