Three Year Resolution: Year Two

I know I did "2015: Year in Review" already, but I want to look at it again through the lens of my resolution. There is much data to examine, so by interpolating some insights, I can extrapolate to this upcoming year to be more successful in being happier.

I feel proud for the simple fact that I've taken this resolution seriously enough to think about it all year.

Looking Back (Again)

An idea that's gripped my mind lately is how life has a lot of two phase cycles:

  • Tick, Tock
  • Wind Up, Swing
  • See-Saw
  • Heave, Ho
  • Lather, Rinse
  • Breathe in, breathe out
  • Sunrise, sunset

In the TELUS Calgary Innovation Centre in 2014, we cleaned out garbage, which created room for the table in the middle, two EITs, a 3D printer, 4K TVs, etc. My life played out this way in 2015 too. By saying no to one thing, I was able to say yes to another. By deleting some room from my hard drive, I could fill it with whatever I felt like. This step was the critical step that started my recovery. I was always driving forward without ever really filling up my tank. Maybe I'd only pump $5 of gas, then head out again. Needless to say, I was in a pretty bad cycle of never really resting up.

I was on a war path to world domination, then my mind and body gave out on me, several times. I don't want to seem like I was super wise or something. I learned the hard way. I felt like my mind was tearing at the seams and my body was giving way in the lead up to my resolution. I'm not sure I snapped, but I felt pretty darn close.

One field of study I learned about from counselling and Carrie's schooling was Narrative Psychology. We construct our narratives based on our subjective reality and experience. Our lives are often governed by these narratives, and it can be hard to edit them mid-flight.

"Stick to the script"
"Run the play, just like we practised"

There are a lot of narratives that we hang onto for dear life, and sometimes we lash out at others who try to change them, including ourselves. Here are some examples. Spot the ones that aren't always true:

  • You need to go to school to get a good job
  • Family honour is the greatest virtue
  • Only males can succeed at an activity
  • If you haven't achieved your goal yet, just use brute force and try harder
  • Society's comfort is more important than your well-being
  • People of a certain skin colour know best

We're the experts of our own lives, and to change our narratives, we have to deconstruct them first before rewriting them. My narrative prior to my resolution was that only a successful career would make me happy. I had to scam my way into Silicon Valley because I wasn't good enough since I didn't go to the right school. In fact, I had to be unhappy for a really long time before I could find career satisfaction, and by association, life satisfaction. I do think it's true for everyone in a general sense that career satisfaction takes sacrifice and momentary unhappiness, but I ran out of things to sacrifice. I didn't allow myself to be happy with a lot of my life that would be big achievements for others and for myself. I got a degree in engineering, I married my best friend, I was renting a great place, and I had a good group of friends. But I wasn't happy that my life dream wasn't achieved by my 20's, so I was a failure.

By declaring my resolution, I deconstructed the various elements of my narrative and rejected certain parts. In return, I got my life back. Then my mental health issues raised their hands for some attention. It's funny how we need to "process" these thoughts and feelings. Sometimes just saying them makes them disappear. Otherwise, they're just crammed into storage, then you don't have room for any new feelings, positive or negative. Myself, I'd been pushing down a lot of feelings about my family, my career, my self-image, pretty much everything. Writing about them somehow just gets it out of my body, and I don't know where they go. Into your minds, I guess? In the original Karate Kid, there's a scene where Daniel-san gets his own bonsai tree. Mr. Miyagi tells him to look inside, clear his mind, concentrate, and think only of a perfect picture of the tree. Daniel asked him "How do I know if my picture's the right one?" Mr. Miyagi replied "If come from inside you, always right one." In the same way, our thoughts and emotions need to be processed by expressing them externally.

One big lesson I learned and practiced this year was the Pomodoro. It's a productivity technique where you work for 25 minutes and break for 5. It's an alternative for people who think productivity is better in bursts of 8 hours. "Hey Siri, set a timer for 25 minutes." Do three cycles, then on the fourth, take a 15 minute break. It's great: single tasking (unitasking? monotasking?); turning off notifications/turning on Do Not Disturb; and maybe putting on some headphones to cut out other distractions. Makes any kind of work more bearable when you give 'er for a set amount of time, and 25 minutes isn't long. Viewed another way, I learned about containment in counselling, where you don't need to feel all the feelings all the time, which is the principle that Pomodoro operates under as well. I think I'm going to continue this pattern. When it's game time, engage. When it's time to rest, take care of myself. This may not be very deep for most of you, but it's profound for me. I still have to resist the urge to "go hard and never stop."

In relationships, being around the wrong people prevents you from meeting the right people. Some people find it too hard to be single, so they date someone so they don't have to be alone. Then they wonder why they aren't happy with the partner they chose, rationalizing behaviour and creating excuses. I haven't had that experience in a romantic sense, but I've had some hard breakups before in other areas. I have 99 problems, but a bitch ain't one. Most recently, I'm not going anymore to my brother's wedding in two weeks. My whole life, I was caught in a state of arrested development with my family, where they hurt my feelings or disrespected my needs, and I would give them everything I had. That wasn't sustainable, so I crawled out from under their feet this past year. I feel great now, but it wasn't easy getting here.

Looking Forward

As a preface, 2015 featured a lot of trial and error for me. What could I handle? Not a lot apparently, so if something worked, I stuck with it. I listened to a crapload of EDM, watched a crapload of TV comedies, tried different games, ate out a bunch, blogged, and spent time with friends. Whatever worked last year, I'm gonna try to keep that going while also discovering new activities that will fit.

Mental health first, then physical health. I always tried to cram better physical health into my schedule (unsuccessfully). It never really stuck unless I was playing sports, but I haven't really played sports for a couple years. Lately, however, I'm thinking more consciously about meals and such. Physical activity is one way I need to process emotion -- yoga, stretching, boxing, dancing. No wonder I skipped classes in high school to join physical ed. We watched the Cowspiracy documentary on Netflix (we recommend it), so now I'll try to eat less meat and more plants. Boxing with Garry and Kelly is fun.

Music has been amazing for me. Rdio, Spotify, Google Music, and Apple Music got me through the year. Now I'm listening to things other than EDM. Feels like progress. I also bought the Ultimate Ears/Logitech Megaboom speaker, and it works great. It doesn't sound as good as my Pioneer A4, but I can take the Megaboom into the shower. These Audio Technica ATH-M50x headphones are still working great too.

iPhone 7 Plus. Maybe I'll sell my Apple Watch for Apple Watch 2. There are rumours that iPhone 7 won't have a 3.5 mm headphone jack anymore in exchange for Lightning port-enabled headphones. Not sure that would be an advance, but it'll be different. Feels like Jony Ive is obsessed with thinness over "better." The Lightning port would undoubtedly bring a trade-off in improved features, perhaps better sound quality, whatever "smart" headphones could achieve. I would expect Lightning-to-3.5 mm stereo adapters to abound though, even possibly from Apple. Maybe grey market value for iPhone 6s would jump in response. Think it's impossible? Lightning ports were everywhere in 2015. These were the Apple product launches which featured the addition of a Lightning port: Bluetooth keyboard, Magic Mouse, Magic Trackpad, Apple TV Siri Remote, Battery Case, Apple Pencil (a plug instead of a jack, but still). Apple bought Beats, and they are bundling headphones with purchases already. Alas, I'm anxious to find out if these rumours are true.

Writing, obviously. I'm still blown away when I discover new readers because it's such an honour that people think my blog is worth reading. (Take that, Mr. Fahlman!) This blog is an anchor for me, emotionally. It only works if you read it, so thanks for being here with me.

3D printing is huge for me right now. It's kind of like my audio hobby which got me into this mess in the first place, but I think it's different for a couple reasons. I'm not as good at 3D design, so I'm not hoping to make it into a business. It's just plain fun right now. I'm learning tons, and I like making cool things for use around the house, my cubicle, the car. More importantly, it's one of the few activities that allows me to truly escape my feelings. Remember that I engage in my healing process too deeply, and I have a hard time pulling out as it happens. Procrastinating activities aren't ideal, but they help me by bringing me into a different world. I've never really been too drawn into alternate universes like Star Wars, Marvel, DC, but I'm into the 3D universe. Historically, printing always launched a big revolution. Gutenberg with the printing press, Apple with desktop printing, personal blogging with Geocities, Blogger, Tumblr, Reddit, 4chan, the list goes on. My first major project is printing parts to stabilize my printer and to improve my prints. After that, Pokémon.

I don't know what else. Hanging out with friends and eating out, I guess.

Whatever 2016 holds for me, I'm gonna rest first, then engage. I'm sure there will be some new crisis that Carrie and I encounter this year, so stay tuned this year to find out what it is.

Jonathan Phan Lê @jon_le