20 lessons from 2020
1. Invest in good Sleep
When in doubt, sleep more. Sleep fuels most efforts in life. Want to get more out of your workouts? Sleep. Want to improve your memory and focus? Sleep! Looking to manage stress and anxiety better? You guessed it, sleep!!!
Doing anything with less than well rested brain is like diffusing a bomb with boxing gloves on. If you want to invest in a single thing with benefits across all spheres of your life, invest in good quality sleep.
2. Healthy eating doesn’t have to be painful
I recently adopted the slow carb diet after realising how much Covid weight I’d put on. I discovered the diet while reading Tim Ferriss’ 4 Hour Body and the rules are simple; no grains, no potatoes, no dairy or fruit but you can eat all the veggies and protein you want — no calorie counting. The diet is easy to adhere to since you aren’t hungry all the time. My favourite part is the obligatory cheat day on the 6/7th day where you can eat anything you want — The Rock eating a table of pancakes style. The biggest takeaway from the diet has been my ever-improving relationship with food. I now see food as fuel for changing my body’s composition and for enabling the kind of fun I want to have.
3. Move your body every day
I cannot overemphasise the importance of moving your body!! Our bodies evolved for the purpose of exploring and succeeding in our environment, not to sit for 9 hours at a time. Move around for 30 minutes every day and take standing breaks for every hour spent sitting and working, and you’ll thank me a thousand times over for the lack of back and neck pain.
In June/July while the gyms were closed and everything still felt risky, I bought a bicycle, and if I were to map out my happiness through the year it would go up and down with the amount of cycling and exercise in my life. 11/10 would recommend.
4. We don’t show ourselves enough kindness
I’m very big into self development and lifelong learning; I am deeply drawn towards self mastery and becoming a polymath. In order to move closer to these ambitions, I try to lead a life of accountability and a constant stretching of my limits.
The unfortunte side effect of this has been missteps and disappointments along the way, which in the absence of kindness leads to crushing and demotivating emotions; Persistence in the absence of kindness sours the effort. It’s taken a while to get here, but I now understand that kindness and accountably are 2 sides of the same coin.
5. Make time for yourself
As much as you can be lonely in a room full of people, you can spend the whole day on your own and spend none of that with yourself. This became apparent to me once I was unable to leave the house for walks or go to the gym — these are the occasions when I would listen to a podcast or audiobook, giving me time to drift into thought and daydream.
In the absence of these activities I didn’t feel quite like myself. Once I noticed this and started making an effort to meditate and journal regularly or simply having uninterrupted time by myself, this went away.
6. Make time for loved ones
We might’ve been locked in 24/7 with loved ones in 2020, if we were lucky enough to share a home with them, but it doesn’t mean we spent time together. A single focused dinner is more valuable than a month of simply being in the same space. A habit my wife recently introduced to our home is instead of asking “how was your day?”, we instead default to “what was the best part of your day?” A small change, but it makes you think a bit more and offers an opportunity to connect on a deeper level.
7. The right team and company are out there, join them or put them together
Although still early into it, I’ve spent a decent chunk of my career in search for a company culture that puts people at the forefront — a place where I can be human and bring forth all my knowledge and experiences. After being retrenched early into Covid, I found just that sort of company.
From the conversations I’ve had about ways of working, I am certain that many people are looking for just this. It might seem impossible that there’s a group out there that match your brand of weird, but trust me, they’re out there, and if push really comes to shove and you can’t find that company, build your own.
8. Learn something new often
Our brains thrive on novelty. With massive amounts of information at our fingertips — YouTube, books and all the forms of social media — it’s a true shame to deprive ourselves of something just off to the left our usual browsing.
9. Your information diet determines your thoughts
The conscious mind only accounts for around 10% of your brain function, with the rest being handled by your subconscious.
Imagine how much of the information that you passively consume is lingering in your subconscious, causing anxieties and negative thought loops? I used to scoff at the gossip magazines I’d see the aisles, only to turn around and pump it straight into veins with Twitter and YouTube.
If you don’t curate your online experience, someone else will. Someone will profit from your paranoia and procrastination.
10. Give mastery a chance
Another symptom of having swaths of information available to us to skipping from one thing to the next, which is okay in moderation, but if it’s your default mode you wind up robbing yourself of the depth and confidence offered by mastery. On the quest of mastery there are many lessons about ourselves and the world to be discovered. Pick a topic of interest and see how far that rabit hole goes.
11. Commit to working on fewer things
This goes hand in hand with mastery. I’ve been prone to overcommitting my energies to many things at the same time, and it never ends well. The things I work on suffer, and as do I; burnout has entered the chat! Going forward I’m committing to only working on a single thing (per sphere of my life) and giving it my full attention — going deep until I deliberately divert my attention.
12. Spend money, not time
As someone who writes software for a living I’ve fallen into the trap of wanting to build the tools that I need, even when there are versions of them — often more thought out and polished — out in the wild. The first time I allowed myself to pay for an App, my whole overview changed.
Instead of spending hours making tweaks to an excel sheet in order to track my expenses, I paid R40 a month for an App that synced my expenses from my bank and let me keep track of multiple wallets and budgets. Not only did I save time, the improved experience made keeping my finances in mind a fun activity.
13. Deeds, not words
“I’ve always had a horror of words not turned into deeds” — Theodore Roosevelt
How many of the virtues that we claim to value do we practise? This is the question I’ve asked myself many times as the year neared its end. Philosophies not practised are wasted. What you don’t use, you lose — worse yet, you never gain.
Are you courageous if you never put it to the test? Do you value temperament if you’re always losing your cool in traffic? “Show me, don’t tell me.” is my new motto.
14. Giving is more rewarding than receiving
“No one has ever become poor from giving.” – Anne Frank
There’s something to be said about rewarding yourself with little trinkets of appreciation, its an important part of self-love, but gifting others is uniquely rewarding. You’ve been blessed, bless others. Gifting a friend a book, a coffee or a message of appreciation does so much for the soul. For those close to me, expect more gifts going into 2021.
15. Mindfulness is the best cornerstone habit
If I had to pick a single habit from a list and throw the rest away, I would pick some mindfulness practice — meditation, journalling, breath-work, yoga etc… I used to underestimate the value of mindfulness until I was a month removed from meditation, leaving my mind in a constant swell.
10-15 minutes a day of silence can change your life. Mindfulness gives you the keys to yourself. Your thoughts, emotions and beliefs laid out before you. Empowering to take the lead on your life.
16. Go back and look through your captured moments
I have an aversion to taking pictures of myself. Even when I owned a large DSLR I mostly took pictures of buildings and landscapes. I never saw the point of it all. I was made privy to the value of capturing these moments while watching how my wife goes through her gallery and relives her favourite moments of us. The impact of doing this, especially while stuck indoors, was truly immeasurable.
I’ve now adopted this habit, and not only do I enjoy taking snaps while out for dinner and random moments out of our home, I enjoy going through them and picking my favourites. 12/10 would recommend.
17. Not all states need resolution
In western society the thinking around many emotional and psychological states is to get rid of them and be singular. Do away with the tension. In eastern philosophies there is a well accepted duality to things — the Ying and Yang. You can be more than a single thing at a time. You can hold contradicting truths without diminishing the other. I can both accept and celebrate myself while committing to improvement.
18. Review, refine, remove. Often.
Hindsight is 2020, haha. When we fail to look back at our experiences we miss out on the opportunity to learn and grow from them. Looking back doesn’t need to be a long and painful exercise, those often get in the way, a once week 100 word diary entry can do the job just as well.
Every week take some time to search through your mind and observe where your energy is going. Are those tasks still important? Put more effort into them. Something no longer serving you? Let go of it.
Without regular introspection we fall into the pit of an aimlessly complex life.
19. Habits > Goals
Goals are good, they function as a compass, but a compass alone cannot get you to where you need to go. Habits are the turbines to our ships. Your goals point the way, while your habits move you closer.
Going forward I’m making the effort of translating any important goal into a habit that I can repeat regularly.
20. Have Fun
“Don’t take life too seriously, nobody makes it out alive.” — Van Wilder
Fun is the salt of life. It provides longevity and adds flavour in times of difficulty and ease. Commit to serving yourself, your family and your greater community, but please, don’t forget to have fun along the way.