Easing Into the New Decade

Learning As I Go

It’s a beautiful day here in the Old North State. Mild and sunny as I write this, with rain coming in tonight and settling in for a few days.

With the turn of a new year and a new decade — depending on how you count your decades — there’s a cultural pull to set resolutions, goals, promises to improve our broken selves (even though you’re not broken), and to dream BIGGER!!GRANDER!!BETTER!!

I’ve done variations of this type of planning off and on: mapping out the year’s goals to quarterly objectives to monthly accomplishments to weekly routines to daily tasks. While that top-down planning appealed to my head, my heart collapsed under the weight of all that structure.

What I’ve found more useful is picking a “word of the year”. It can be an aspirational word, like LEADER, or a mindset reminder, like RELAX. Discipline is, after all, remembering what you want.

My word for 2020 is EASE. I find that I am my best self when my plate is not full, when I have fewer commitments. This does not mean that my accomplishments need to be small and mingy nor that I will do only the minimum to get by. I think I will accomplish big things this year. But, for heaven’s sake, keep it in perspective. Keep it light, easy, fun. If I’m having trouble accomplishing a thing, it does not mean I am inadequate to the task. It just means I’ve not sliced the problem thinly enough to be easily solved.

The Bottle Chapel at Airlie Gardens in Wilmington, NC

New Year’s Questions

What I find more engaging than goals are questions. Being prompted to answer an open-ended question forces my mind to recalculate and recalibrate all the conditions and variables. The answer will be fresh rather than canned.

A good gratitude question for the new year is one I found on Instagram: Remember when you wanted what you currently have?

James Clear offers these questions for an annual review:

  1. What went well this year?

  2. What didn’t go so well this year?

  3. What am I working toward?

My favorite coach, Mark Forster, has a good set of questions he offers for strategic thinking:

  1. Think back to what you were doing 5 years ago. Imagine you can go back and make the decisions you didn't make. What would you choose to change? Based on the decisions you made or didn't make, how would your life be different now?

  2. Now you're 5 years in the future, doing the same exercise. What are the decisions you'd wish you'd made today?

Write out your answers or just sit with the questions. Bringing them to your awareness and keeping them in the forefront can be enough to make small and visible changes.

Liz at Carolina Beach State Park, on the banks of the Cape Fear River

From writer Robin Sloan’s newsletter:

The analogue in Arabic storytelling to English's “once upon a time” is a phrase that translates roughly to: “There was, and there wasn't.”


  • Health: The new blood pressure med is working; my B/P is down to a better range. Weight today was 203.8 and below the line (I should probably write sometime about what “below the line” means). This week, I need to get back to the regular exercising, walking, and reduced eating.

  • Books: Lynda Barry’s What It Is. The first of her many books on art and creation, beautifully and mysteriously collaged, with poignant episodes from her childhood woven throughout along with assignments she gives students in her art classes; as the publisher says, she created this genre and owns it. I want to get back to drawing and storymaking for my own enjoyment this year and this is where I’m starting.

  • TV: We have multiple series on the boil for suppertime viewing: The Crown, Fleabag, Crashing, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Schitt’s Creek. When we’re done with Crashing, I want to bring in Derry Girls. And of course, Doctor Who, on my own time.

  • Movies: 63-Up maintains the standard of this wonderful documentary series as mortality and age make themselves known on the 12 or so subjects. While the class system is part of the story, it’s not the whole story.

    Marriage Story (Liz thought it should have been called Divorce Story) featured a dynamite performance from Adam Driver and a strong supporting cast. I didn’t time it, but it seemed as if Driver’s character got more screen time to show his struggles, whereas Scarlett Johansson’s development was sketched in afterward via dialogue.

Quote I’m Pondering

If we learn to take leaps of faith we don’t have to fight change until we understand it. We can enjoy it right away, knowing it will make sense eventually.
— George Pransky

Airlie Gardens

I’m Michael E. Brown. One of my goals with my website and this newsletter is to improve and sharpen my writing. So if you have any feedback, please send it along!

This was issue #0008 of Learning As I Go for January 12, 2020. It is published on the 2nd and 4th Sundays of the month.