The Groundhog Day Resolution Process

Yep, I still haven’t posted my Groundhog Day Resolutions, but they’re coming! It’s my belief that a good set of Groundhog Day Resolutions help guide me toward a more-awesome version of my life. In short, a good resolution should be grounded in working principles and produce measurable, tangible results over time. What’s even more important (to me, anyway) is that my true aspirations are woven deeply into the phrasing of each resolution; otherwise, they’re just one more thing that I “have” to do, and they are easily ignored. A great resolution, by comparison, should generates a feeling of joy through practice.

While I didn’t actually get to writing the actual resolutions, I did write down the process I’m following. Here it is, for people who are going through a similar phase in their life.

The Investigative Process of Designing Resolutions

I’ve scoped the admirable qualities of a well-crafted resolution above, so I need to answering the particulars in more detail:

  1. What does “more awesome” look and feel like? Without these details, it’s impossible to form an actionable strategy because I don’t know where I’m going.

  2. What are my actual underlying aspirations? This is the “why” beneath the “what” of question 1. It comes from self-knowledge, which includes an awareness of what strengths I genuinely enjoy exercising the factors that contribute to a sense of accomplishment and well-being.

  3. What motivates me to work? These are the practical rules of thumb that, when practiced, create the conditions under which my aspirations can come to fruition. Conversely it also means figuring out what conditions lead to procrastinate. A misalignment of my work with the ideas behind questions 1 and 2, I know, is one such contributing factor.

  4. How do I measure the fruit of my efforts so I feel like I’m making progress? The whole point of a resolution is, after all, to produce a positive change. I think it’s pretty simple when I just follow these two steps: first create something that is tangible, then show it to someone. When I focus on producing tangible things that have persistence in my world, they are what I end up measuring.

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p>When it comes down to the actual craft of writing a resolution, it’s important to word them so each question here is addressed. They then because self-contained mantras that are capable of reminding, guiding, affirming, and assessing my progress toward awesome. At the same time, it’s important to realize that resolutions are a work in progress; to coarsely paraphrase Stumbling On Happiness, we can imagine a future that we think we’ll like, but we won’t know if we will really like it until we get there. Therefore, I am pretty flexible about dumping resolutions when I determine that they’re not quite as wonderful as I’d imagined.

1. Let’s Start with the Story

Ok, enough putting off the inevitable. First I need to visualize the “more awesome” version of my life. Over the past few weeks I’ve been writing and telling my friends little stories about what it might be like. In public, this is slightly embarrassing because I automatically feel that people calculate the odds for and against desired success, but overcoming this hesitancy is crucial; the development of a strong mental picture gives me something to work directly toward, and it also thickens my skin against negative-but-critical feedback.

So here’s the basic story I am telling myself:

I’m chilling out with some creative friends at home, and I get a call via the website that there’s a company somewhere in the world that has an interesting workflow challenge. As it turns out, I’m already remotely collaborating with some people in that country, which also has an ancient mechanical bell tower that I’ve wanted to see in person, so it’s a no-brainer to move shop for the next month and rent a place. I have money socked away and coming in from various goofy projects, and my office fits neatly into a roller bag, so I decide to head out. I call the cat sitter and round up available travel companions. I let people in the target country know that a bunch of us are swooping in, and impromptu gatherings are in the making. The company that contacted me, excited that I’m now planning to come see them and their country in person, suggests some excellent places for a long-term stay. On top of that, I get to meet the people I’ve been collaborating with remotely, and an in-person work session is guaranteed to give us a huge boost in productivity on our side projects. When we get there, I spend my days doing some on-site work and writing articles for the blog related to the processes and objects that catch my eye, further enriching the offerings on davidseah.com. I get to sit in the sun a lot and practice making friends with strangers, something I have never been that comfortable with, but am learning how to do. I encounter some intriguing cultural differences and have interesting conversations with random people, sparking the idea for a new form, process, or product. Caught in the moment, I quickly draft the idea out using my design software and send it to my trusted printing and DIY fabrication sources; the product is available for sale within 24 hours, and plans for making your own version for free is available for download. This is how I fund my crazy independent enterprise for myself and a selected group of similarly-minded nutjobs.

This feels about right. Now that the story is there, it’s time to pick everything apart and figure out how to make it happen. If I was lucky enough to have a disapproving aunt, I could try telling her the story and write down all her objections in a notebook. Lacking such a resource, I’ve had to develop the disapproving aunt persona in my head and berate myself. This analysis can be quite lengthy; for an example I’ll dissect just the first sentence:

I’m chilling out with some creative friends at home, and I get a call via the website that there’s a company somewhere in the world that has an interesting workflow challenge.

Auntie says:

  • What makes them so creative? Are they your real friends? And why do you waste your time hanging out with them?
  • How does a company find your little website? And why on earth would they call you? And long distance to boot…expensive! What if you’re not home? What if you mess up?
  • What is “workflow”, and why do they need YOU to be challenged by it? Why is it even challenging to you?

In the process of raising every possible challenge and coming up with a justification, I develop a greater sense of what it is I want to do, why I want it, and how I’ll do it. And I usually start seeing recurring patterns in my responses; these often contain the seeds of insight that help me through the next three steps of the investigative process. I’ll save people the trouble of reading all these justifications now.

2. What are my Aspirations?

If question 1 is about the “what I want to do”, question 2 is more about the “why” of it. In my case, the ultimate justifying “why” is that I want to feel good about what I’m doing, and not be all stressed out. I’ve written about this subject a lot over the past few years, so I won’t bother to go through the derivation again. Instead, I’ll just tell you what’s important to me right this moment:

2A. Find positive-minded, conscientious, self-empowered, kind people. 2B. Create, explore, design tangible things with those people literally by my side. 2C. Sustain myself through original products and authentic writing. 2D. Develop the courage to seek new experiences that drive the process of discovery creating, and sustaining.

I distilled these aspirations by noting what experiences tended to make me feel energized or drained. I also noted certain patterns when I was procrastinating or otherwise feeling frustrated in starting a project. Lastly, I acknowledged that I have some uniquely personal values and hangups; working with them and expanding my comfort zone has been one of my continuing life themes. Sometimes I just have to accept them and move on.

3. What are my Work Motivators?

Over the years I’ve found that there are a few productivity tricks that seem to work for me if I’m not overexposed to them. This can be any dirty trick that seems to work consistently; the idea is to make a list of techniques that you know you can rely on to produce results. There’s a reason why your mom nags you…sometimes it works! However, I’d like to keep to positive motivators as much as possible and use the negative ones to symbolize a failure of my own character.

Anyway, here’s the list that came to mind; there’s no particular prioritization or order:

  • Watching “Saving Private Ryan” makes me feel like I’m not appreciating my liberty; it’s good for pushing myself to start almost any daunting project. They died protecting our freedom, and here I am whining. I do not want to be a whiner.
  • When someone asks me a genuine question, I am compelled to find some kind of answer. Especially if there is an emotional/aspirational element behind the question.
  • When it fulfills someone’s dream (not my own, though).
  • When there is a pretty girl involved. I’m a guy…sue me.
  • If I can think of a novel, inspired, and somewhat crazy way of getting something done. Heh heh.
  • If I’m making something to give or share with someone else, and I want it to make a perspective-changing impression.
  • If I haven’t tried it before, and the insight I get from the activity can’t be gotten except through direct experience.
  • If there’s at least a two-for-one advantage that can be gleaned. I love it when I can meet multiple goals with just one burst of effort.
  • When I’m working side-by-side with someone, it’s a lot easier for me to get started and work. Possibly because I like brainstorming and am fascinated by how people make decisions.
  • When I get immediate and continuous feedback. Especially from other people.
  • When I can make the justification that the task has a moral/ethical imperative that must be immediately met.
  • When I see an immediate and rather clever way of doing it, if I do say so myself.
  • When it might be funny AND useful.
  • When someone needs to step up and no one else is doing it. This is something I do more reluctantly now.

Likewise, there are approaches that hold zero motivational power over me:

  • It’s something I know would be good for me, but I have to work on myself. Too abstract.
  • When I don’t have the information I need to make a decision about something I don’t particularly care about.
  • When the source material is so poorly organized that I get distracted by just how bad it is, and am consumed with the desire to rewrite it for them.

And then there are environmental factors:

  • When there’s no one around to talk to about the project.
  • When it’s too cold, and/or too dark.
  • When I have eaten too much and get too sleepy.

I could go on and on, but I’ll cut to the chase and distill the above insights about myself into a couple of master motivators for 2009:

3A. I need to have people in the room with me for my creative process to function at its peak, side-by-side. 3B. My urge to create is driven by my interest in the dreams and aspirations of other people. If I don’t sense that energy, I don’t give a crap. If what I’m doing does not yield an exchange of that energy on an individual-to-individual level, I am not motivated at all.

On a side note, these were tough pills for me to swallow, and I’ve tried for years to overcome them. However, I’ve come to realize that this need for people energy and camaraderie is the essence of my personality. I can stretch it a bit, but I can’t fight it forever and expect to be happy. What’s funny is that since I was an introverted and shy child that went into engineering as a career choice, my assumption was that I didn’t like people. WRONG. I suppose the move into engineering was based in the need to first gain some control over my environment in a way that felt credible, and the first endeavors I gained control over were writing and computer programming.

4. Counting the Fruits of my Labor

My favorite part of this process is figuring out the stuff you get to have. That’s because I find there’s something VERY SATISFYING about having a collection of things that you really, really like. Having the right stuff on hand can be a tangible reminder of what’s important to you. And the more of it you have, the better you feel. Whether it’s photo albums, gold coins, fountain pens, Kinder eggs, Chogokin, Hummels, or stockpiled toilet paper, the stuff you choose to collect can be deeply symbolic and affirming.

Likewise, the resolutions I’m designing are also symbolic and affirming. To make them “real”, however, they need to manifest tangible experiences. I have not yet had the pleasure of experiencing the future I can imagine, so to avoid the sense of being cheated I need something now that will help remind me, without a doubt, that I’m getting there. For me, it helps if it’s something I can count: visible, tangible, something I can hold in my hand and contemplate. And the more such artifacts I collect, the more I will feel that I’m making headway; having “stuff” that’s related to the fulfillment of my resolution is the proof that I’m living it.

If you follow what I’m saying, then to fulfill a resolution means acquiring (or making) stuff that can work as an agent of change in your universe. Not everything falls into that category, but I think there are two general forms that do:

  • Physical objects that have value or are the tools that will help bring about the change you want. Show it!
  • Positive impressions and memories you create in other people and yourself through direct action. Connect and Act!

These are, of course, the underlying principles of the Concrete Goals Tracker form design.

Even if you are the type of person who has the discipline to just do what you think you should do, you need to do something and show the results to people for anything to happen. If no one sees what you’re doing, no one will react or reach out to you. People won’t share that piece of knowledge that you were missing because they didn’t know what you were doing. You won’t remember you were looking because you don’t have a collection of artifacts to remind you what you really love. Remember:

  • If you can align what you create with appreciative people, that opens unseen doors to success. It’s a foundational skill.
  • If you can align what you create with what you value in life, you may find your calling or passion. I’m still working on this; these Groundhog Day Resolutions are designed to hopefully chip myself onto the green.
  • If you can demonstrate your passion by showing the world what you’ve made, you open yourself up to opportunity.
  • If your resolution is more about changing a personal relationship, then the “stuff” you’re making is called action. Actions are visible, tangible, and memorable. Empty words and good intentions are not.
  • Each resolution that I craft needs to identify a tangible object or action. This is the proof that the resolution is being followed, and the accumulating pile of memories contributes to the sense of progress.

So, figure out a way to make stuff. Make impressions on people with that stuff. Make memories with that stuff.

With this in mind, it’s relatively easy to figure out which stuff I really want by searching the previous three lists for objects, and picking the ones that seem critical. Some of the stuff mentioned is gear that helps me overcome a challenge. Some are consumable resources that bankroll or otherwise support the endeavor. And some stuff can be seen as momentos of achievement that help you remember the particular actions and paths of opportunity that you took.

The ones that matter are the ones that I think I would value the most; I can always change them later. Generally, they are:

4A. People of the type I’d like to hang out with. 4B. The writing and design work I do to attract those people. 4C. The means to find those people, and derive income from what I create. 4D. The action of landing an international client, traveling to their country, and being able to pay for it with other income.

Getting Specific

I’ve described a detailed yet fairly general set of guiding criteria. There are hundreds of solutions that potentially fit, so the challenge is to commit to a few strategies and see where they go.

I still haven’t crafted the master resolution statements specifically, but I have enough to chew on while I’m flying to California tomorrow. The goal will be 10 resolution statements that can then be bundled into a concrete goals tracker form; this is exactly the sort of thing that the form was designed to encourage.