New Month's Resolution

 Introduction

Adding some amount of change and chaos to your life can be a good thing, especially if it's done in a controlled fashion.

I've been living as a digital nomad traveling around Washington State for the past year, and more recently Oregon and California. I live in a house for a little over a month at a time and then move on to the next town. Every house is different. Every town is different. The life I lead changes each time I move. Over time, I started to get into this rhythm. In the second house I stayed in, I decided this: each place I stay, I will have a new focus.

Living in each one of the small towns in Washington state has been a goal of mine for some time. I don't think everyone should do this -- but everyone should do something like this. It tells you a lot about a region, and makes you feel comfortable in every town you visit. It tells you what you want in a home, in a town, in the people that you meet every day, in a hundred little things. It's hard to get a good grasp about what life or a place is like if you only live in a few cities, especially if those cities have a lot in common.

Habits change significantly when you move every month. You find new grocery stores, restaurants, parks, neighbors, friends, etc. I find that swapping up behaviors and places puts your brain into a state where picking up new habits is easier. The less solidified your daily routine, the easier it is to add new habits into that routine.

Meta

I consider this to be a meta-routine, where I modify my behavior as its own routine that occurs less often. At the start of each month, I evaluate what I want to learn and do each month. I decide that I will have new daily habits and do my best to do them each day. Usually, a meta-routine involves multiple fairly straightforward life changes. Getting these to be too complex, inflexible or time consuming can be a problem. So keep these simple, mutable and short. Keep it short enough that you could describe it in an elevator and approachable enough that you don't need to pick up any new skills to get started on any of these.

These tasks should also be enjoyable things that you actually want to do. Forcing yourself to set up a new routine you wont enjoy will give you exactly that. Whereas setting up an enjoyable routine is comparatively easy and better in the long run.

Example:

For the month of May, I will do what I can to learn to draw. I will go on a walk outside between 1-4 miles each day. I will play a video game of a genre I haven't played in ten years.

Habits of Old

The hardest part of a meta-routine, in my opinion, is putting down your old tools. It's actually very difficult to stop doing your habits from the previous month -- or especially a previous year or more. I think it's important to accept, and even embrace this.

First off, your new habits should probably have a lot in common with your old ones. Each month I learn a new skill, but the way in which I learn those skills stays more or less the same each month. Each month I go on new walks, but the walks are of similar lengths and close to the house I'm staying in. Habit switching is very approachable, while creating totally new ones usually is a very frustrating experience.

This momentum will eventually work in your favor though. In the earlier example of drawing, if you picked up guitar the next month, you'll occasionally want to draw. Act on this. It's a good thing -- it lets you maintain those habits long term as a hobby. The more times you change your habits within a meta-routine, the more the meta-routine becomes reinforced.

Over the Barrier

This meta-routine method is effective for hobbies that have a barrier to entry. For example, when playing guitar or drawing, you're going to be very bad at it when you first start. However, by setting up a monthly meta-routine, you can build up a sense of confidence about adding new skills, since you will have several similar prior experiences to draw from. In addition to this, with a set timeframe, it gives a sense of non-binding urgency that can help push you when you get stuck, and a sense of cohesion of the skill development -- that there's a start and end point. You start thinking of what point you might reach in a month, instead being daunted by the skills of experts. Meta-routines change the frame.

While the New Month's Resolution meta-routine has worked well for me, it's hardly the only way to set up a meta-routine. A meta-routine can offer a lot of power as a framing device for developing skills or habits. When you set up your own, make sure to figure out the strengths and drawbacks of your particular approach. Meta-routines connect to your life as you grow them.

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