2018 Primary Focus

New Year’s came and went, so it’s time to set our sights on 2018!

Why Choose a Primary Focus?

Many people choose a New Year’s resolution and then promptly fail to stick with it after a few weeks or months. But the real surprise is that they fail to restart the resolution after they fail. The common MO is to just quit and wait for 1/1/20XX to do it all over again.

My preferred alternative is to choose an activity or area in my life that is going to be my primary focus for the next year. This means that you aim to achieve your biggest goals in that area and modest ones in the rest of your life. It’s a decision on how to allocate the bulk of your time and resources. It doesn’t mean ignoring everything else.

It’s less clear than a resolution, but it’s easy to remember. Deciding on overall goals for that area and next steps requires more careful planning. Those choices can be made separately and I suggest reviewing them monthly. I decide on specific goals and daily habits regardless of the day of the year and review how I am progressing on the first of every month. Monthly checks allow me to see if I’m still aligned with my primary focus and course correct if I strayed too much.

How to choose a primary area of focus? My recommendation is to pick something that you always wanted to do, something that was on your “someday/maybe” list for too long. Alternatively, you can assess the areas in your life and rate it on a scale from 1 to 10. Then pick the one that’s most lagging behind. Here are some suggestions for breaking your life down into different areas:

  • Work/Contribution
  • Friends/Relationships
  • Diet/Fitness
  • Education/Skill building
  • Travel/Adventure
  • Arts/Creativity

If I imagine my life as a video game, I would view this as a decision on how to level-up my character at this stage. What new skills could I add? Which ones can I improve? What weakness could I eliminate? This perspective is a reminder not to take myself and life too seriously.

And to finally get to the point of the article, this year I will put the bulk of my free time to exploring: Meditation.

Meditation and Mindfulness

I’ve always been interested in meditation and dabbled on and off during the years, but this is the first time I’ve decided to go full throttle. The biggest reason why I chose it as my primary focus this year is my obsessiveness with self-exploration and figuring out how my mind works from the inside. Meditation is the best way I know to turn down the volume of the cacophonous jungle between my ears and pay attention to what happens in there.

Among the oft-cited physiological and psychological benefits of meditation, I’m very interested in widening the gap between stimulus and response, and more deliberately deciding how to act in various situations in life, instead of being reactive and emotional about it. As a free bonus, diving deeper into meditation allows one to explore altered states of consciousness, and who wouldn’t want to try that?

What pushed me over the edge was discovering (mostly Western) online communities focused on practicing secular Buddhism. Buddhist are interesting to me because they have developed the best maps for experientially exploring how the mind works. And I dig their try-and-see-for-yourself attitude.

My primary resource will be The Mind Illuminated. The clarity and attention to detail put in this book are astounding. It’s like a Ph.D. course in meditation. The process is divided into 10 stages, each with its own modifications to the practice, common pitfalls, and antidotes to those pitfalls. There’s a free overview of the ten stages on the author’s website.

I also plan to supplement my formal sitting practice with daily mindfulness exercises. More specifically, I’ll be following Shinzen Young’s See Hear Feel. As this is where the biggest part of my attention will go this year, you can expect it to feature on a lot of future posts on this blog. 🙂

Further resources:

James Clear on How to Actually Stick to Your Goals This Year

Secular Buddhist Association

The Mind Illuminated subreddit

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