As of today (August 20), this blog has an exact life expectancy of 3,421 more days. The Big Decade concludes on December 31, 2025.
For some inexplicable reason, the prospect of such sustained activity fills me with energy, and my interest is doubly piqued. Does publicly journaling some aspect of life not only help underpin it (“I’m naked so I’d better behave”), but also doubly enrich life by adding reflection?
Does the reluctantly photographed walker seem happy? He is and his mind inevitably ponders a hiking big year, loads and loads of walking from January 1 to December 31. Call such thinking premature, for 2017 and 2018 are most probably loaded with very different obsessions (but who can tell, part of the pleasure is in weighing momentous choices), but the mind enjoys playing with plans.
Spur-of-the-moment big years, scribbled down a year ago, incorporated not one, but two big years:
- Long Hikes Big Year. 12 months away from home doing pilgrimage-like walks, the best known example being the Camino.
- Tough Hikes Big Year. Target the arduous: Grand Canyon, Western Arthurs, Corsica, Tour du Mont Blanc, the canyons of Utah.
But neither of these is as yet well-formed. Neither channels everyday effort. I had this insight while day walking in Wales: the Long year should target X,000 kilometers of distance; the Tough year can target Y,000 meters of ascent.
Up high in the Dolomites later this week, how’s about I take this insight further? Such fun!
Do we need an app for everything? Spare me, spare me. But maybe we need one more . . .
My two 2016 big years were launched in my head based on little more than a mad impulse. I scribbled some plans in a notebook, waited for January 1, and began. The challenges have been, and very much remain, motivational: why oh why today.
But planning and monitoring were always part of my geeky attraction to the concept. I knew woolly-headed annual goals, such as “shouldn’t I try to inculcate a regular exercise habit,” would sink without a trace. Birders, my role model, know on January 1 precisely what species to aim to see, and they keep careful “I saw this” lists. How then should I organise a Big Year?
A while back, I opined that my jogging app, Strava, “is magic. I know exactly where I am in any day in relation to my big year target. Unfortunately not everything worthwhile in life is covered by an app.” Pedal Pete was onto me in a flash:
There is nothing else worthwhile in your life that cannot be recorded in Strava
So . . . is a Big Decade app worth developing? Intriguing. But no – the journey, half a year old now, seems to be more complex than any software can handle, and the unfolding journey is quite the point of the whole exercise.
Image: Visual Hunt
Maria Popova at Brain Pickings muses about “James Baldwin on the revelation that taught him how to truly see” and includes her amazing gathered observations:
“The art of seeing has to be learned,” Marguerite Duras wrote in 1984. Many legendary artists can trace their creative path to a single moment of revelation in which they were suddenly able to see the invisible dimensions of the world — for what is art, after all, if not “a dynamic contemplation” and what is the task of the artist if not to see beyond the seeming realities of the world?
For Patti Smith, that revelation was a glimpse of a swan when she was a little girl; for Virginia Woolf, a gardening epiphany; for Pablo Neruda, a hand through the fence of his childhood home; for Albert Einstein, his first encounter with a compass.
Such small items to trigger lifelong work! I can’t recall what drove me to wish to write in the first place, as a teen, nor indeed what motivated me to give up lucrative day jobs to take it up again later in life (with such dim prospects, as has been demonstrated). But I’m still vulnerable to the effect of small moments. A while ago I posted about Pedal Pete (see “What then in the presence of greatness“). If I hadn’t recorded that sequence of my thoughts, it would have been lost in the soup of mind chatter, but I did, and it still strikes me as revelatory. It says something real about people (for me, how to write characters) but also about time’s arrow (the old saw of “live for the day”). It says more but what?
My stack of index cards is virgin, untouched. After 3 writing days in Suffolk, 3 in Como, those cards are meant to be covered with plot points for Chapter 5. Why a day’s deficit? Travelling dramas and a fall haven’t helped but the main reason is the following photo. Who wouldn’t be a bit languorous under a 27-degree Italian sun?
Celebrating my 60th a year ago, I improvised a vague, seemingly silly notion of a Big Decade. Now I wish I’d thought of it a couple of decades earlier. The idea is quirky, geeky and probably suitable for just one person – me – but I can say it’s a real blast!
No jogging companion. 1,151 kms. Another perfect running day but could barely move for some reason. Slow and slow and slow. Dodging gelato-licking tourists and pigeons, I tripped over a seat and fell, a bruise and some blood. 10 kms but a pace of 6:16 mins/km compared to yesterday’s 6:05. For some damned reason, I couldn’t stop grinning.
Now I understand why people have always loved the Meditteranian climate. 4 PM, blue sky, balmy without humidity, 1 km down to the Lake, then 4 kms along the superb waterfront, dodging tourists, return the same 5 kms. I only snapped the first town part, not the lake part, because a young Italian man caught up with me and insisted on chatting for the next 8 kms. 22 years old, he forced me along at a pace I haven’t run since Melbourne, and by the end I’d managed 6:05 mins/km instead of the 6:20 or 6:25 I achieved in Wales. Wrung out but happy.
The other day I tried to summarise what I reckon Smarter Faster Better is about. What should I do? I hereby exhort myself to work on five of his eight points:
- My “morning cave” idea – rising early and working, nothing else, until noon – has added much to my efforts. It fits nicely into Duhigg’s Motivation chapter, giving me control in a meaningful context. Don’t ever stop!
- Each morning, tell stories about the day, before, during and after, a la Duhigg’s Focus chapter
- Follow his Goal Setting chapter and religiously use a To-Do list that goes big and small
- Ramp up the fever! Get emotional, be as desperate as I should be to finish the book, switch tack to edit from another angle. This is the kind of approach Duhigg says, in his Innovation chapter, works for highly creative groups
- Be bolder in turning my over-voluminous research data into useful book knowledge, using my pen, plot points and index cards.
Of course just writing such earnest thoughts down won’t guarantee they happen, but I’m enthusiastic.
Duhigg writes so sweetly, so clearly and with fine narrative control. Smarter Faster Better could be summarised in many ways but let me muck around a bit and rephrase it in gonzo terms.
First, you can see where he’s going with his eight chapter headings: Motivation. Teams. Focus. Goal Setting. Managing Others. Decision Making. Innovation. Absorbing Data.
How do I sum up these eight in my terms (I guess I’m modifying Duhigg’s points somewhat by restating them, so if you want a Cliffnotes summary, get one or read the book)?
- Boost motivation by taking control and invest everything with meaning
- Lead teams by establishing safety
- Tell yourself stories to boost focus
- Fill To-Do lists with both “stretch” goals and small measurable actions
- Manage others by trusting them
- Explore probabilities all the time
- Create by getting inside yourself, ramping up desperation, and critiquing from a wildly different perspective
- Change data into knowledge by writing it out yourself
There is something rather captivating about all this but what does it mean for me? I’ll reflect.