2019 Yearly Review: Divided Brain Reconciled by Meaningful Sobbing

My recent yearly reviews have gotten very long & complex. For 2019, I’m just going to reflect on a few major learning arcs I went through.

The post is structured as an expansion of the six-word story in the tweet above (“divided brain reconciled by meaningful sobbing”) which I’m first going to do in paragraph form before elaborating one layer deeper:

Essentially, I came to understand that the major oscillation I’ve had in my mindset learning process over the past few years can be characterized as being due to my right hemisphere understanding things that my left hemisphere doesn’t, and not knowing how to relate the two perspectives coherently. That produced major changes but there were still some core fears that kept driving me back into the old perspective. I then did some intense work illuminating & transforming those emotional schemas, using techniques from the Bio-Emotive Framework and other systems, and I feel a lot more spacious now.

Iain McGilchrist’s Brain Hemisphere Model

Back in February, I watched an interview of Iain McGilchrist talking about a new model of what’s going on with brain hemispheres. This is a topic that’s gone out of fashion since the misguided oversimplified models of the 1950s, so it took a psychiatrist being fascinated in his spare time for 2 decades, for someone to come up with an actually useful overall model (as opposed to just “well, these modules are in the left hemisphere, those modules are in the right.”).

The basic jist is a shift from asking “what do the hemispheres do?” to instead asking “how do they see the world? what kind of world is it, and what kind of relation do they have to that world?” This, not incidentally, is more of the sort of question a right hemisphere would tend to ask, as it orients in a naturally relational way vs the detached stance of the left hemisphere.

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Reviewing the choices I made in 2018

I’ve been experimenting with something new for my new year’s reflection: typing in the dark with my screen off, answering the question “What choices did I make last year?”

I’ve got over a hundred lines, each starting with “I chose”.

I think it’s worth reflecting on the impact of the choices as well, but I’ve started just by listing them. Maybe I’ll go back and try to think about the impact of some of these choices, but of course it’s very hard to actually run the counterfactuals, including what would have already needed to be different such that I would have made the other choice?

So far it’s been a very rich process. This article has two parts: first I’ll remark briefly on my experience doing this private reflection, and then I’ll share five choices that I made last year. The latter section represents my 2018 Yearly Review blog post, and also has some in-depth reflections on relationships and productivity.

Things I’ve noticed from reviewing these choices

Some periods of weeks have no notable choices in my memory, even though everyone is always making choices continuously. Other times, I’m very aware of a dozen choices I made on just one very intense day or weekend.

Some choices need to be made continuously & ongoingly, such as the choice to maintain a habit or to achieve something that takes a lot of planning or preparation

Some choices didn’t feel like choices at the time! This has a few variants:

  • I reacted to something before I even thought about it
  • I didn’t imagine any other alternatives
  • I vaguely imagined other alternatives but didn’t really feel into what I wanted
  • Other alternatives were explicit but I couldn’t really fathom taking them. (like how if offered chocolate vs praline ice cream, I would always choose chocolate and it wouldn’t occur to me to prefer praline.)

Some choices were very historic/monumental: they really felt like they could have gone either way and my life is forever changed because of what I chose.

Other choices felt inevitable but there was still a moment of the choice becoming real. (eg when someone says “I do” at a wedding altar… by the time they’re there they’ve already chosen, and yet it’s still meaningful to enact it with that speech act)

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12017 Yearly Review

It’s January 31st, 12018, as I type this. I told myself last night that I would either write a yearly review today, or not at all. It feels hard to figure out what to say about my past year. My life is rich and complex and wonderful and challenging and… hard to summarize.

Yet I feel like I don’t want to break my chain of yearly review blog posts quite yet. So here I am, writing… something. If I were to ask myself, “Aside from breaking the chain, why does this yearly review post feel important?” …the main answer is that there are things about my life that my blog readers don’t know, that might be valuable context for anyone who is following the story of my life.

This itself is a sort of strange experience. I know who some of the readers of my blog are—some friends, my housemates & other Upstart collaborators, and of course my parents—but I don’t know most of you. And yet even the people I know most closely still learn a lot about me from reading my blog, which suggests that if you’ve been reading most of my blog posts the past year or two, you also know a lot about me.

And if you haven’t? This is a challenge I face in all of my blog posts: to what extent can I assume that people will have read the previous ones? Or to what extent will they have remembered it anyway?

For instance, I didn’t remember until I re-read it just now that during last year’s review I said:

I’ll tell you if/how [using the Holocene calendar] affects my thinking during next year’s yearly review, after I’ve been using it for awhile.

So I guess I’ll do that. (For context, the Holocene calendar is like the one you’re used to, but starts 10,000 years earlier, making this my 12017 review instead of my 2017 review.) The short answer is that I don’t think it’s affected my thinking very much, and I found it to be not at all something worth creating extra confusion publicly, so it’s mostly a thing I’ve been using in my personal notes. I continue to enjoy it aesthetically though. I do think that when I first started using it it gave me a dramatically increased awareness of something like [where I am in history]. And now using “2017” to indicate the year feels like one of those graphs with the scale lopped off in a confusing way. “12017” of course also lops off most of the past, but it at least doesn’t lop off much history.

One thing I have often written about in my yearly review is what I learned that year. One of my biggest learnings of 12017 has already been thoroughly covered though, in Transcending Regrets, Problems, and Mistakes. That article tells the story of how I spent the year learning a very core skill: not imagining that the past should have gone differently, or even in some meaningful sense could have gone differently. Similarly, I could point you at Towards being purpose-driven without fighting myself to indicate a milestone partway through another major learning arc in the past year (disarming my internal conflicts) but I want to write about that in more detail in its own focused posts, so it doesn’t make sense to focus on it here. Nearly all of my blog posts in the past year have some sort of learning like that.

I notice, as I’m writing this, that I almost feel kind of defensive. As if I’m writing this post in an attempt to prove that it’s impossible for me to write an adequate yearly review.

Maybe I’m overcomplicating things, and a simple chronological approach would allow me to say whatever needs or wants to be said, on a month-by-month basis. I’m sure lots of things will yet be missed from this, but it seems better than nothing, and I don’t feel so defensive about it! 😀

January

The first major project that Benjamin and I did after he joined Complice was we ran two Goal-Crafting Intensives, which went awesomely. It was a great proof-of-concept for running events like these, and we’ve since planned and executed three more a year later, and are planning some other workshops in the future.

We then participated in » read the rest of this entry »

12016: A Year of Co-Responsibility

I was having a lot of challenge figuring out where to start this one. For some reason, the Object/Process/Meta structure I used the past three years doesn’t feel like it makes sense this year. Maybe because this year a lot of the object-level “stuff I did” was itself process- or meta-level.

The first thing I need to get out of the way is that as of last week, I’m using the Holocene calendar, which means that instead of writing my 2016 CE review, I’m writing my 12016 HE review. It’s the same year, but I’m experimenting with living in the thirteenth millennium because (4-6 years after) the birth of Christ is a weird start time for a bunch of reasons. Better is about 12,000 years ago, around the start of human civilization. There might be a slightly more accurate year, but the nice thing about just adding 10,000 years is that it means you don’t have to do any math to convert between CE and HE: just stick a 1 on the front or take it off. This in turn means I can use it in public-facing works and while it might be a little confusing, it’s still easily-understood. Here’s a great YouTube video on the subject. I’ll tell you if/how this affects my thinking during next year’s yearly review, after I’ve been using it for awhile.

Okay, 12016. » read the rest of this entry »

2015: A Year of Freedom

Another year, another yearly review blog post.

I was kind of nervous when I thought about writing this one: some of my numbers or more objective measures of life-quality or performance have gone down this year (e.g. pushups, books read). Did my life get worse? Or did I implicitly switch to measuring my life by different means?

I had a fantastic year, with several notable milestones, so I think it’s more-so the latter. But one must be careful of moving the goal-posts after the ball is in motion!

Let’s try the object-process-meta structure I used the last two years, roughly “what did I do?” “how did I do it?” and “why did I do it?”

(Edit: Great Scott, the Object-level section is looooong. I won’t blame you if you want to jump to the Process-level section, which contains more reflection and less “here’s what I did”)

Object-level: what did I do in 2015?

Okay, the first exciting thing to announce is I graduated from university. Bachelor of Applied Science, Systems Design Engineering. I went to school at UWaterloo, so like the rest of Engineering grads across Canada I got an iron ring with an interesting story in addition to my diploma.
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2014: An Objective Year

I just re-read my 2013 review. What a year. It was by far the best year of my life… until 2014. I think 2015 can be even better. Who needs regression to the mean, anyway?

I like the object-level + process-level + meta-level structure I used last year, and I don’t have an obviously better structure to use this year. So here it goes again.

(FYI: I am both the maker of and a power-user of a productivity app called Complice. To help make things clearer, I’m going to use “Complice” to refer to the business or the app-with-me-as-maker and “complice” (lowercase c) to refer to the system-with-me-as-user. In most cases it’s obvious from context, but it’ll be helpful to know that I use it two ways.)

Object Level

Object level is just like… stuff. Stuff I did. Accomplishments, or events I attended. It’s the “what”.

Rebranding

The first big thing that I was focused on was redesigning my site. This is a great example of a tangible goal that complice helped me achieve. A year ago, my site looked like the left/first image, below. shudders As of last February, it looks like the one of the right! So much more me! And with a new logo 🙂 I have new business cards too, that I get lots of compliments on.

oldsitenewsite

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2013: A Year of Connection

In 2012, when I did my yearly review, I called it A Year of Projects, and suspected this one would be a Year of Text. Well, it wasn’t, and… I couldn’t be more delighted. This blog post is long, so feel free to skim it or jump around.

I set out to do this review in the form that Chris Guillebeau does, with a “what went well” and “what didn’t go well” (with an added “what went weird”) but then I realized that this was prompting me to write about tiny wins and significant life-changers at kind of the same level. Instead, I’m going to structure this post around object-level things, process-level things, and meta-level things, which are kind of like “what”, “how”, and “why”. Click on the levels to jump down.

Object-level

Object-level things are just things I accomplished. According to Remember the Milk, I ticked 938 things off this year, and that’s not counting other todo lists, but I’m only going to talk about big object-level things.

The first big one is launching my 3.0 update for FileKicker, which contains ads and has made me a bunch of passive income over the course of the year. This has had a huge impact, such as allowing me to afford the event in the next paragraph, and it’s crazy to think that I could have easily put it off for another day, another week, another month… another year. As it was, that launch was delayed by months, and I think precommitment could have been really helpful: “I commit to releasing my update by Oct 1st or I’ll pay you $200.” My lost ad revenue in those few months was worth more than that.

I went to an Applied Rationality workshop in January. One of my best decisions to date. I went on to volunteer at 3 more workshops and have gotten immense value out of not just the material itself but also the alumni network. At that workshop, I released some pent-up angst I’d been holding against astrology, and learned about physiological stress response in the process. Watch me get really worked up then calm again over at this post.

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2012: A Year of Projects

The year ends. 366 days. 527,040 minutes. (Leap-years always have the worst RENT.) As I thought about how I might measure this year, the word that came to mind was “projects”. My year entailed a large quantity and wide variety of projects, that I’d like to reflect on.

The Mind I’m Lost Inside – the album project

I’ve wanted to record an album for years. In fact, I even vowed in 2010 that I would, but it didn’t happen for a variety of reasons—mainly lack of commitment. Fall of 2011, I bought Seth Godin & Zig Ziglar’s Pick Four, a workbook for completing goals. When I bought it, I knew one of my goals would be to create an album. I didn’t know what the other three would be, but in mid-February I finally committed to them (album, mindfulness, startup, fitness) and starting working every day to reach them.

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A portrait of Malcolm Ocean

I'm Malcolm Ocean.

I'm trying to figure out how humans work so I can help make humanity work. More about me.

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