Podcast Episode 1: “Servant Leadership.” Interview with Scott Wurtzbacher, Team Leader at W Realty Group

In this (first ever!) episode of the New Year’s Revolutionary podcast, I had the privilege of interviewing Scott Wurtzbacher, Team Leader at W Realty Group here in Charlotte, North Carolina.

To listen to the episode, click here.

Scott and his wife Maria have sold over 1,000 houses and grown their business from a small husband and wife operation to one of Charlotte’s top selling real estate companies as recognized by Charlotte Business Journal. My wife works at W Realty Group, and ever since I met Scott I’ve been impressed with his insights, work ethic, and dedication to client service.

I always wanted to know the story about how it all got started. During this conversation we get into that, along with a wide range of other topics including:

  • How W Realty Group got their first listing [7:45]
  • Scott’s transition from his job as a management consultant at PwC to W Realty Group full-time [10:17]
  • How Brian Buffini’s coaching program helped W Realty Group navigated the Great Recession [16:13]
  • What W Realty Group looks like now, and what differentiates their team from a traditional real estate brokerage [22:16]
  • Differences between the listing agent role and the buying agent role [24:30]
  • How technology has changed the realtor role [28:55]
  • Scott’s approach to leadership and team management [32:02]
  • How the “W Realty Group Book Club” got started, and Scott’s approach to internam meetings and development of their team’s core values [33:49]
  • Getting Things Done by David Allen, how Scott has used the system to get to “inbox zero” [39:38]
  • Scotts philosophy on “follow up” including a great definition for leverage he picked up at a Tony Robbins event [44:11]
  •  Scott’s approach to consuming nonfiction [47:57]
  • Scott’s Q&A with Brian Buffini the day before our interview, and the one question he asked Brian after being a part of his program for over a decade [55:25]
  • Scott’s experience at Tony Robbins’s Unleash The Power Within event [59:31]
  • Personal productivity, morning routines. [1:02:03]
  • Running, dealing with injuries, training at Elite Functional Performance (EFP), and completing a marathon [1:09:33]
  • Opportunities and challenges of working with your spouse [1:16:18]
  • Parenting, getting one-on-one time with your kids and being spontanious [1:22:18]
  • How Scott plans to do better this year [1:29:00]


Working Out: How Many Pullups Can I Do?

When I was in high school we had a summer strength training regimen for football, a three day rotation with each day focusing on a different power lift. There was squat day, clean day, and bench day. I remember our coach explaining to us the importance of each lift:

  • You have to do squats to develop speed and strength.
  • You have to do cleans to develop explosiveness and coordination.
  • And you have to bench so you can tell other guys how much you bench (you can tell girls too, but in my experience they don’t usually care as much as the guys).

I guess that’s why it seems like every day is chest day and there always seems to be a line for the bench.

But there’s never a line for the pull up bar.

I find pullups to be the most psychologically demanding exercise I perform. No other exercise am I more likely to quit early, to cheat, or come up with an excuse for underperformance. I’m not entirely sure why, but I have a few ideas:

  • With pullups, you don’t really have time to think. Granted, in most exercises you’re maintaining some sort of tension throughout the motion, but with pullups you are always dangling your entire bodyweight. So once that inner monologue starts, you’re done. On days when I go as fast as I can I usually do more, but is that the safest approach?
  • You can cheat, and it’s very hard to see when I cheat. I shorten the range of motion ever so slightly, and it usually happens towards the late-middle of my set as I’m approaching my last reps. I don’t usually cheat on the last rep, making sure to go all the way down and get my chin above the bar. But the ones leading up to it… it happens. I guess I’m trying to get my pullup count up and conserve energy.
  • External factors like my mental state and rest intervals really matter for some reason. I’m not an expert in this but it seems like just an additional 30 seconds or so of waiting gets me significantly more reps, a bigger difference than with other workouts. I check my watch and see my 1:30 is up then see somebody else eyeing the bar, and say something like “Oh hey, want to work in? Be my guest. Take your time.” I go get some water. And if I’m just in a bad mood, I do less. No great explanation for that.

The thing is none of this should matter. I should be going in and doing pullups for one purpose – to strengthen the muscles involved in doing pullups. But I’ve been tracking my workouts for years now, and that can really mess with your head.

My brother runs marathons, and one day he and I were talking about his workout plan. Marathon plans tend to be very structured as you work your way up to longer and longer distances. Having run a marathon before, he still had his notes from the previous workout plan. And he talked about how, as he reviewed them, he could see exactly what he was able to do last time. He described it as “chasing a ghost” and drew a perfect comparison to Mario Kart 64.

In Mario Kart Time Trials, you can actually race against your “ghost”, an image of yourself running the race before demonstrated below (with Yoshi in the center racing against Ghost Yoshi on the bottom left):

Image result for mario kart 64 time trial ghost

It’s amazing how easily you can improve if you can see exactly what you did before . You can shave off a corner here, pick-up a little more speed on a straightaway there, despite feeling like you did a really good job the first time. And it’s incredibly frustrating when, despite your best efforts, you can’t seem to catch the ghost.

And when it comes to working out, maybe it’s not fair to race the ghost. The ghost is younger than me, after all. Being alive is great, but the big catch is that you get older the longer you do it. But that excuse is based on two assumptions:

  1. My body is deteriorating at such a rate that I physically can’t do what I could do a year ago, and
  2. A year ago, I was pushing my body to its absolute limits.

The first one I’m hoping isn’t true and the second one I know isn’t true. I’m pretty sure there’s still a huge gap between what I’m doing and what I can do, in pullups and in life.

How many pullups can I do?


Working Out: What Counts As A “Workout?”

This week I decided to sit down and try to come up with some basic contingency planning to keep myself on track to complete 300 workouts when life gets in the way. For example:

  • What if I’m traveling for a work and the hotel gym doesn’t have the equipment I need?
  • What if I’m sick and have to stay home?
  • What if something comes up in the morning and I have to workout late at night when my gym is closed?
  • What if I get injured?

Back when I first wrote about going to the gym this time last year, my buddy Phil commented on one of my posts and made a very good point: the gym isn’t the only place to be active. But as I tried to come up with some contingency plans, I kept running into the same question:

What counts as a “workout?”

I’ve structured an entire goal around a workout count, so it stands to reason that I should havea clear definition of what a “workout” actually is. If the family decides to go for a hike, is that a workout? If I get down and do 100 pushups, does that “count” as much as running six miles? What about 50 pushups? What about taking the stairs at work instead of the elevator? What about a single pushup?

I’m relying heavily on this workout count number, both for motivation and for accountability. So I need to protect the integrity of what I’m measuring. At the same time, if I’m in a situation where I literally can’t do any of the pre-defined workouts I have available to me, I still want to do something. Even though putting something in my spreadsheet can be very motivating, it can be just as demotivating when I consider the prospect of doing something physically demanding that I’m not going to get “credit” for. If it’s not going to make it into the spreadsheet, what’s the point?

I don’t have the answers to these questions, yet. Even if I did have them for myself, I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t be the same for everybody. Nope, as usual you’re watching me in the process of trying to figure it out. I have come up with a few thoughts:

  • All of my workouts involve at least 20 minutes of physical activity, so that’s probably a good benchmark for making something “count.”
  • Running probably has the fewest barriers to entry – I can run any time, anywhere (weather permitting).
  • One of the kettlebell/burpee workouts I do regularly can actually be performed at home if the gym is closed or if I’m sick.
  • Swimming is a good option if I miss the morning workout – there’s a gym with a pool between my office and the bus stop, and I can swim/shower after work before heading home for the day.
  • I’m a member at the Y, and I’ve never gotten any pushback signing in as a guest at a facility in a different city for no charge (for example, working out while visiting Liz’s family in West Virginia).
  • With a little bit of research, I can probably identify several “at home” workouts which target the same muscles I’m scheduled to target using the gym equipment I’m acustomed to using.
  • If I have an injury, I can ask my doctor for guidance on what exercises I can do, and have those workouts “count” until I’m back to full strength.

As I write these out, I can feel the excuses losing their grip on me. If I’m going to care about the number of workouts I do, I expect I’ll always be trying to strike a balance when deciding what “counts.” But giving myself some outs to navigate challenging times will hopefully help keep me on track.

Working Out: “Rehab.”

Last year, my goal was to workout 150 times over the course of six months. This year, my goal is to workout 300 times over the course of a year. As I’m writing this I’ve worked out 9 times in 10 days, averaging 6.3 workouts per week, which means I’m ahead of schedule.

I’m feeling strong.

But come on, it’s only Week 2! It’s easy to feel strong in January. I haven’t been traveling, I’m healthy (aside from this dry cough that I’ve pretty much accepted is part of my life now), and the gym is full of patrons as optimistic about the future as I am. The problem is I’ve seen this movie before, and I know how it ends. In February 2018 it was a back injury. In July 2019 it was my shoulder. So what’s the setback going to be in 2020, and is there anything I can do to stop it?

Since starting the blog, I’ve gotten tons of book recommendations from readers. However, the most recommended book by far was The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, which I’m reading now:

image-119Biggest takeaway: most of the activities we do in our day-to-day life are simply habits we’ve formed over the years, and habits are developed based on a three-step loop. From the book:

First, there is a  cue, that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Then there is the routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional. Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering in the future.

So for example, my cue is putting on my running shoes. I only wear them for running and going to the gym, and so everything about them – how they look, how it feels to put them on, the sound they make when I’m stumbling around in the dark of our condo trying not to wake anybody up while I sneak out in the morning – I associate all of these sensations with one thing: working out.

Working out is the routine. This is the positive habit I’ve worked to cultivate by consistently applying the cue and the reward.

The reward is the act of putting my workout results in the spreadsheet. There are lots of other benefits to working out, but the immediate gratification that comes from putting the stats in the spreadsheet and seeing my workout count autopopulate gives me a nice little hit of dopamine.

But eventually something happens that jams up the loop – the cue, the routine, or the reward gets compromised, and I start to get off track. It can be something innocous like traveling, or something more serious like an injury. Is there anything I can do to stop this from happening?

At one point in the book, Duhigg references an experiment conducted by a British psychologist involving orthopedic hospital patients who had recently undergone hip or knee replacement surgeries. The purpose of the experiment was to better understand why some patients stuck with rehab while others gave up. Back to the book:

“Recovering from a hip or knee surgery is incredibly arduous. The operation involves severing joint muscles and sawing through bones. While recovering, the smallest movements – shifting in bed or flexing a joint – can be excruciating. However, it is essential that patients begin exercising almost as soon as they wake from surgery. They must begin moving their legs and hips before the muscles and skin have healed, or scar tisue will clog the joint, destroying its flexibility. In addition, if patients don’t start exercising, they risk developing blood clots. But the agony is so extreme that it’s not unusal for people to skip out on rehab sessions.”

The psychologist then split the patients into two groups. After three months, the second group had started walking almost twice as fast as the first group. That’s a huge deal! So what was the difference?

She had the second group write out their plans.

She included 13 blank pages in the back of their rehab schedule for patient in the second group to detail their goals for the week. How can 13 blank pages be so effective? Back to the book:

As the psychologist scrutinized the booklets, she saw that many of the plans had something in common: They focused on how patients would handle a specific moment of anticipated pain. The man who exercised on the way to the bathroom, for instance, knew that each time he stood up from the couch, the ache was excruciating. So he wrote out a plan for dealing with it: Automatically take the first step, right away, so he wouldn’t be tempted to sit down again.

It’s contingency planning, and it sounds like it works. So that’s what I’m going to work on this week. While I’m feeling strong, I’m going to try and come up with some concrete plans for what I’m going to do when I’m not feeling so strong, and hopefully avoid getting completely derailed in the future when life throws me a curveball.

Working Out: “The Disney Incident.”

Let me start by saying that Disney World is, without a doubt, the most magical place on earth (even if my selfie skills don’t quite capture it).


And when I tell this story, there are times when I might sound like I’m complaining about Disney. But the truth is Disney delivered in all respects. That said, even Disney couldn’t protect a stumbling buffoon of a father from, well… himself.

I had the opportunity to attend a work conference in Orlando in 2019. I brought the family, and we stayed an extra two days for a short vacation. The story starts Wednesday night, the last day of the conference and the night before our only “full day” at the park. That evening was amazing – we were staying at the Disney Yacht Club Resort which is immediately adjacent to Epcot, it was literally a 10 minute walk from our hotel door to entering the World Showcase (hands down, my favorite part of Disney World). We checked out Anna and Elsa in Norway, watched the Reflections of Earth show, and went to bed.

Quick note about the beds at Yacht Club – our unit had two queens, and the mattresses were both noticeably high off of the hardwood floors. I remember putting Lucy, my oldest, down in one of the queens and worrying about her falling out. My youngest Lottie was in a pack ‘n play between the beds. Liz and I laid down, exhausted but happy.

Then Lottie started crying.

She cried and cried – it was my shift, so after going through the usual troubleshooting checklist I started bouncing and shushing her for about 45 minutes. She was clearly uncomfortable, and at that point I started thinking I was kind of uncomfortable, too. It was hot – I went and checked the thermostat and saw it was like 80 degrees. Annoyed, I tried to adjust it and got an error message: “door ajar.”

It took a few minutes of staring blinkingly at the blue LED screen to realize what happened.

Someone had left the door to our balcony slightly open, and the AC wouldn’t engage while the door was ajar. I don’t know who left it open; it was either me, my wife, my two year old, or my one year old. I’m not going to do any more research into who did it – to quote Rafiki, “it doesn’t matter, it’s in the past.” I closed the door and immediately heard the AC turn on. A few minutes later Lottie was out and I went to bed, drifting to sleep beneath the cool air.

Then I woke up – I’d felt something.

My eyes focused and, to my horror, I saw Lottie at my feet, about to crawl off the edge of the bed which, as I mentioned before, was noticeably high.

I sprang into action, flipping away the sheets and jumping toward the front of the bed like a goalie, trying to keep her from falling onto the hardwood floor. My arm swiped at nothing, and I landed with all of my weight on my shoulder.

It felt like it was dislocated, but all I was thinking about was my sweet little girl falling off the bed. I did a quick pushup and winced as my shoulder seemed to squeeze back into place. I didn’t see her on the floor and moaned to my wife, holding my throbbing shoulder.

“Where’s Lottie? Is she ok?!”

“What the hell are you talking about???” Liz asked, using that very specific combination of whispering and snapping that adults learn how to do when they become parents.

I looked around. Liz was sitting up in bed staring at me, bewildered. Lucy was clutching her toy duck in the queen bed, dead to the world. And there was Lottie, snuggled up in the corner of the pack n’ play, right where I’d left her. It had all been a dream.

Except the “me falling out of bed” part, that happened. It sounds funny, but guys my shoulder REALLY hurt. And I was facing an entire day at Disney World. Not Epcot, mind you. We were going deep into the belly of the beast – we were going to the Magic Kingdom. It was 90 degrees in July, we would be pushing a double stroller, and we had a fast pass for It’s A Small World After All that expired at noon.

This was a challenge.

After the ride (which they loved) we decided enough was enough and took our screaming girls to the First Aid area for water, diaper changes and to get some Tylenol before we retreated to our hotel. It was a low point. This was the best picture we got:


Our new hotel also had noticeably high mattresses, and now I was paranoid (over an incident which, if you’ll remember, didn’t actually happen) so I spent 15 minutes trying to put together these toddler rails on Lucy’s bed before finally giving up and just stacking throw pillows on either side of her and laying down to try and nap while we all watched Puppy Dog Pals which I’d never seen before and sorry to all you fans out there (including Lucy) but it’s just not the strongest show in the Disney queue. But I couldn’t sleep anyway, because I knew what was coming. After just a few hours it would be 5:00… and we had to return to the Kingdom.

Because we had dinner reservations at Tony’s Town Square Restaurant. So we powered through what ended up being a 2 hour dinner full of shenanigans. This was the best picture we got:


Then we stepped out into the cool of the evening and watched the fireworks, and I danced with Lucy in the street. It was magical again.

We flew home the next day, and after dropping off the family I drove straight to OrthoCarolina to have someone look at my shoulder, where I got to tell the story several times. The receptionist was indifferent. The x-ray technician thought it was hilarious. The doctor nodded patiently, took out the x-ray results and put them on a screen. It looked bad. I prepared for the news, that I was going to have to spend the next few weeks with my arm in a sling, explaining to everyone how I fell out of bed trying to save my daughter who wasn’t actually there.

“Your shoulder is fine.”

“What?” I replied.

“I don’t see anything wrong here, and your mobility appears to be normal.”

“Oh… so it didn’t dislocate or… anything?”

Good doctors are perceptive, and this was a good doctor. From the tone of my question he could tell – I’d just spent the last 48 hours complaining about this damn shoulder to my wife and I needed something, anything. I couldn’t go back and face her with a clean bill of health.

“Well um… there could be some inflammation that the x-ray isn’t picking up, I guess it could have popped out and popped back in,” he said mercifully. “If you’d like I can perscribe you a mild anti-inflammatory? Just try not to put too much strain on it for the rest of the month.”

That was all I needed. I went home and promptly told my wife that my shoulder most likely dislocated from the fall but I managed to pop it back in, and that I can power through it without a sling as long as I take my prescribed medication and don’t go to the gym.

So why am I starting out this the year writing about this story?

Well, I wanted to start the year off talking about Working Out. And the reality is that I was doing pretty well last summer, right up until this trip. I’d worked out an average of six days a week for 6 months and was performing at the highest level I’d ever experienced in all areas of fitness. But after The Disney Incident, I didn’t just take off the rest of July. I took off about four months. Because “my shoulder hurt.”

But again, to quote Rafiki, “The past can hurt… but the way I see it, you can either run from it, or learn from it.”

Let’s try to learn from it. Let’s talk about setbacks next week, and how we can try to avoid them, work through them, and get past them.

NYR 19-12: “Do Better Next Year.” Have A Morning Routine, Be More Mindful, Do Better Next Year

In October, I tried to Have A Morning Routine.

I’m starting this post the Friday after Christmas, and it’s 3:36 in the morning. I’m writing on my phone with one hand, the other cradling my daughter in the glider, my phone screen set on the lowest brightness setting so that I don’t disturb her. She’s been having coughing fits for the past hour – I gave her some honey which didn’t help much. The next step is to take her into the bathroom and run a hot shower – the steam seems to help with her congestion, My wife has done that for her a few times. But for now, rocking seems to be working – the coughs are becoming less frequent, I think because she’s more upright. My wife is out of commission – her temperature has been fluctuating the past 12 hours, she’s had chills and sweats and we’ve agreed she’s going to urgent care in the morning. I’m trying to hold back a sneeze because my daughter seems to have finally nodded off. I’m just praying my other daughter doesn’t wake up because I really don’t know how I’d prioritize if she did. For now I’m just going to keep rocking, hoping to get an hour or so of sleep on the couch before everyone starts waking up. Probably more details than you’re interested in, but my point is this:

None of this was part of the morning routine I described in October.

Ok I’m back now – still writing in the glider, but I’m on my laptop, it’s Saturday and it’s naptime. My daughter is in her bed and I’m just standing guard until she falls asleep flipping through her books. Liz officially has the flu – we’re keeping it together, but my “perfect morning” – waking up early, working out, meditating, planning my day – doesn’t look like it’s going to happen today, tomorrow, or any time soon.

And that’s ok.

If I’m going to do better next year, I need to understand that some days I’m just not going to have the control that I want, in the morning or at any other time of day. Things happen – the important thing is to not get discouraged and, when conditions improve, get back in the game. Someday soon (hopefully) everyone will be healthy and sleeping through the night again, and when that time comes I’ll try to remember just how hard it was when everyone was sick, and take advantage of it rather than fall into lazy habits.

In November, I tried to Be More Mindful.

I learned that meditation takes many forms. Once I hit my 180 streak goal for using Headspace I started experimenting with other rituals – most recently I’ve started taking a five minute break a few times a day to read a short chapter from a book.

I also discovered that I like practicing meditation more than I like writing about it. I don’t know if it’s just that I’m too lazy to take the time to really articulate my thoughts, or if meditation is just one of those things where you tend to drift away from the experience the more you analyze and expound upon it (kind of like comedy).

If I’m going to do better next year, I need to figure out where meditation lands on my list of priorities, how much time I’m comfortable dedicating to it, and what the practice looks like to me. In short, I’m still lost – which seems odd considering it’s probably the Resolution I’ve dedicated the most time toward over the last few years.

In December, I tried Do Better Bext Year.

And here I am, writing the final post of 2019. I’m still processing that – it’s crazy to think about. Back-of-the-napkin, I’ve published over 35,000 words over the course of a year. In December, I wanted to take time to really think about what I did each month, and plan for the future. And it’s been fun to flip through the old posts.

But I’m also tired and sick – it’s a little disappointing because for months I’ve pictured myself writing this post and arriving at some big conclusion, some insight that I could pass on to my readers at the end of the year, a distilled version of everything I’ve written.

What did I learn?

I learned that sharing your thoughts is scary at first but gets easier, and that once you start genuinely sharing your thoughts people notice it and start genuinely sharing their thoughts back. I learned that taking a disciplined approach to something helps keep you going during the hard times, and that ideas never turn out exactly how you planned.

A lot of people have asked me what my New Year’s Resolution is going to be next year, and it’s going to be the same as it was this year: Do Better This Year. And now I have the data to do that in a measurable way. For the most part, my plan is to try and move the needle in the right direction in all aspects of my life, doing a little better than the year before. What more can I do?

I’m still working out what that looks like, but I know it’s going to need to include one thing, something so important that I can’t picture myself having any type of success without it:


In truth, the biggest thing I’ve learned is that I can’t do any of this stuff alone. Y’all have provided me with more love and support than I ever could have expected, and I’m very grateful. Next year, I’m going to try to be more engaged with my readers. I’ve got some ideas.

Thanks for everything, looking forward to 2020.

Marley was dead, to begin with.

I’ve always been a huge fan of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. I try to read it every year during the Christmas season – for the longest time I would read a worn out paperback I’ve had since high school, until last Christmas when my mother-in-law got me this beautifully illustrated hardcover:


I just finished it last week, and once again it’s got me all fired up for Christmas.

A Christmas Carol has been retold and reworked countless times. And Scrooge, one of the best characters in all of literature, has been portrayed by everyone from Michael Caine to Bill Murray. If you’re not familiar with the story, stop reading this post (where spoilers abound). Go to the library and grab a copy. It’s a quick read – you can probably knock it out in two nights, finishing on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, which is perfect timing.

If you’d rather see the story than read it, well then ideally you would go to Lewisburg, West Virginia to see it at the Greenbrier Valley Theatre, which is by far my favorite adaptation. If that’s not an option, pretty much all of the films are great. The 1984 version with George C. Scott is hard to beat if you’re looking for a movie that faithfully adheres to the story. However, my personal favorite came ten years later in 1994 with A Flintstone’s Christmas Carol:

I realize it’s not the most conventional choice, but I’ve literally watched this movie every Christmas for the past twenty years. Two reasons I make my family watch this movie with me:

  1. I am adamant that my little girls are going to have some idea of who Fred Flinstone is, other than just a chewable multivitamin, and
  2. It’s got a fun metastory component to it. Rather than just being A Christmas Carol with Flintstone characters, the story is about the Bedrock Community Theater putting on a production of A Christmas Carol, with Fred getting the lead role as Scrooge. It starts to get to his head, leading him to become more Scrooge-like in his personal life, and so you’ve got two redemption stories going on at once.

And that word, redemption, is why I love the story so much.”Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead. But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change.”

I am not the man I was – none of us are. People can change for the better, and that change can happen regardless of external circumstances. Because when Scrooge wakes up on Christmas morning, clutching his bedpost that just moments ago was the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, the bed-curtains are still there. Jacob Marley is still dead, Bob Cratchit is still poor. Scrooge has still spent decades of his life pushing people away, fearing the world too much. The only thing that’s changed is his perspective.

I’ve woken up from terrible nightmares, and it’s a wonderful feeling when you realize that it was all just a dream. Dickens captures that feeling, and the final chapter of the book is positively giddy, with Scrooge struggling to shave while dancing, surprising his nephew at Christmas dinner, and my personal favorite, feigning anger at his clerk Bob Cratchit for arriving late the day after Christmas before raising his salary and agreeing to take care of his family.

It’s such a hopeful story. Changing our perspective, and in turn our lives, is something that feels so elusive and yet is always within our grasp. We can be the people we want to be. And reading this book helps remind me of that. Maybe it will do the same for you, too.

“And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!”

NYR 19-12: “Do Better Next Year.” Playing More, Being More Productive, and Being A Better Spouse.

In July, I tried to Play More.

I wanted to reconnect with the idea “playing” – doing something just for fun and taking a break from all things self-improvement.

Video games seemed like a safe bet; after all, I’d spent countless hours playing in my younger days, and I think most people would agree that playing Chrono Trigger on my Nintendo DS in my 30’s probably isn’t going to do much to improve me or the world. It would be pure, selfish fun, and I wanted to explore the benefits of that.

Turns out, video games weren’t a safe bet after all.

Nostalgia is a tricky, powerful, sad sort of feeling. Try as I might, I just couldn’t enjoy gaming the same way I could when I was younger. There were a few times when I got sucked in, but once I put the controller down I found myself not really wanting to pick it back up. And I haven’t picked it up since I finished writing the post series in July.

I don’t think the story of video games is over for me – after all, I’ve got two little girls at home, and I’ve already started researching the best time to introduce them to the old Nintendo library (right now I’m thinking 4th birthday). But if I’m going to do better next year, I need to stop and think about what “playing” actually means to me at this stage in my life.

In August, I tried to Be More Productive.

I developed a process of planning, prioritizing, and executing my daily tasks, and recorded the number of days I went through the process and also the time of day when I did my planning. At this point, it looks like I’m going to close the year having planned about 50% of my days in 2019, with an average start time of around 9:05 a.m..

For most of the year, I thought of planning as a “work thing.” I didn’t want to even look at my daily tasks until I was in the office, surrounded by my monitors and my coffee and my keyboard and my team members, prepared for the onslaught that was to come. To try and plan earlier in the day would just ruin my morning, burdening my mind with tasks that I wouldn’t be able to address until later in the day.

To be clear, I do think it would be a mistake for me to crack open my inbox first thing upon waking. Having a routine where I start off with some exercise or meditation sets me on a good trajectory for the day. But once that’s done, I say bring on the planning process as early as possible. Some advocate planning your day the night before – I haven’t tested that, my main concern being that the planning process would get my mind racing and make it harder to go to sleep. If I’m going to do better next year, I want to plan more days and earlier in the day on average.

In September, I tried to Be A Better Spouse.

We have this fruit bowl in our kitchen. Sometimes it’s on our island, lately it’s been hanging out on the counter next to our fridge. I know it’s a fruit bowl, and my wife know’s it’s a fruit bowl. There’s a hook at the top where you can hang bananas. There’s no debate – this bowl exists to hold fruit.

But somehow… non-fruit items end up in the fruit bowl.

I don’t mind if it’s a sweet potato or some other food that sort-of makes sense. But sometimes it’s pens and paper, christmas cards, unpaid medical bills, children’s art projects, hats. Hats! In the fruit bowl!

Now I know for a fact that I never put anything other than fruit in the fruit bowl. And it’s too high for my girls to reach so that leaves…

My wife. My wife puts hats in the fruit bowl and there have been times when I’ve gotten pretty worked up about it.

If I’m lucky enough to catch myself getting upset over stupid stuff like this, I usually try to check and make sure there isn’t any “projection” going on here. I’ve never lived alone; since graduating from highschool, I’ve lived with about a half-dozen different people. And if I were to do a quick poll… do I honestly think that any one of my old roommates would describe me as “the clean one?” Are there other areas of the house where I’m doing my own “hats in the fruit bowl” thing?

Of course there are. And I don’t know why I’m putting so much emphasis on cleaning in the first place. I think its just because its a thing that comes up with shared spaces, and we both struggle with it because we’re busy and we’re tired and our kids are young and adorable but not particularly helpful at this age and we both just want to sleep. We just want to sleep and the world won’t let us.

My strategy to do better next year: go on more dates.

NYR 19-12: “Do Better Next Year.” Learning A New Language, Being More Creative, and Being A Better Parent.

In April, I tried to Learn A New Language

I learned that just learning something, anything, is one of the most fulfilling experiences I can think of. If I learn something in the morning, it can affect the entire trajectory of my day. And even if things aren’t going that great – if the family’s sick, or I’m busy at work, or an unforseen expense comes up – as long as I’ve learned something meaningful I’ll still have a bright spot in my day to look back on. And when you’re learning something completely foreign, the wins are big and usually arrive early, which helps to keep the momentum going.

In 2019 I learned HTML/CSS. Now I find myself listening to the freeCodeCamp Podcast and reading blog entries about “coding”, and yet still trying to figure out what my definition of “coding” actually is. I’m learning that, like most disciplines, it’s a rabbit hole that runs deep. And the question is, how far should I go?

I’ve always wanted to avoid becoming a certain type of person, and I didn’t realize there was a word for it until just a few years ago: dilettante. I cringe at the idea of stumbling through life with just enough superficial interest in a subject to impress a crowd at a cocktail party, all the while looking over my shoulder to make sure someone who actually knows what they’re talking about hasn’t walked into the room. It’s harmless I guess, but still – if that’s what I want to avoid then the question bears repeating: how far should I go? If I want to learn how to code, do I have to go deeper into computer science? Mathematics? Physics?

I posed the question to my brother recently, and his answer was really helpful. I shouldn’t focus on what I wanted to learn, but what I wanted to do with what I learned.

If I’m going to do better next year, I need to decide what I want to learn, but more importantly why I want to learn it.

In May, I tried to Be More Creative.

I decided to write a blog, and now here we are. I learned that writing is scary but it gets easier, that it’s work but I enjoy it. And I’ll always be trying to strike a balance between structure and freedom when it comes to my process. I learned that having no idea what I’m going to write and knowing exactly what I’m going to write are equally bad places to start.

I’ve also learned how to manage ideas. I used to worry about losing ideas, and I’ve got piles (digitally speaking) of unorganized spreadsheets and word documents to prove it. But as I’ve forced myself to write consistently, week after week, I’ve started to realize something: the good ideas don’t really leave me as long as I’ve given them some time to sink in.

It’s surprising how many times I’ve thought of an idea, returned to one of those word docs/spreadsheets to write it down, and found that I already thought of that idea a month ago. It might be a little more refined, but the bones are the same. So now when I get an idea, one of those big ideas that has me pacing around the condo in circles talking to myself, I try to take the following approach:

  • First, I ask myself: is now a good time?
  • If so, then I think about it. I don’t try to do anything else, I just think. I really try to explore it for as long as it can hold my attention, which can be a while. This is an incredibly fun, and in some ways addictive process. Then I let it go, and trust that it will come back up when I need it.
  • If it’s not a good time, I schedule some time to think about it in the future, hopefully within the next 12 hours. Usually just a few words in a calendar reminder can get me right back to where I was, at a time where I can give the idea my full attention.

If I’m going to do better next year, I’m going to need to keep pushing myself. I don’t fear the process like I used to, and so I need to figure out how to get a little bit of that fear back, because that’s my compass – it’s how I know that I’m outside of my comfort zone.

In June, I tried to Be A Better Parent

And I left hours and hours of voice memos for my kids. Towards the end of the year they felt more like therapy sessions for me than gifts for them.

The reason I started this was because I kept running into situations where I thought to myself, “my girls are so little that I can’t really tell them how I feel right now, and I really want them to know, so I’m going to leave this for them in the future.” I imagined them listening to it for the first time, maybe in middle school or high school, and having a nice little time capsule to remember the stuff they did and my perspective on it.

But after a while, I started picturing them listening to these when they were older, if they became parents themselves one day. I thought that, if they ever felt disoriented by the rollercoaster of ups and downs between unwavering confidence and crippling self-doubt that is “being a parent”, they might hear my words and the tone of my voice and be able to tell that, in that moment, I was going through they same thing. And that they’re not alone.

If I’m going to do better next year, I’m going to have to recognize that change is around the corner whether I like it or not. Next year everyone will be a year older (I keep rereading that sentence and thinking I should delete it because it’s pretty obvious). But the reality is that I will be dealing with two completely different girls in 2020, and I need to be ready for it.

I’m going to keep doing the voice memos though – who knows if they’ll ever need them in the future, but I need them now.

NYR 19-12: “Do Better Next Year.” Working Out More, Getting Organized, and Drinking Less.

In January, I tried to Workout More

I learned that working out consistently is easier once it becomes a habit. Developing the  habit was the hard part. That was the part that required… motivation, self-discipline, grit, whatever you want to call it. One way or another, I needed to develop a mental framework where, six days of the week, for 6 months, I had a 30-60 minute window of time where working out was preferable to any other activity available to me at that time.

I think it helped that there were a lot of different things motivating me – progress, vanity, well-being, and most of all the social pressure of telling everyone I was going to do it. Some mornings I wanted to get in the gym to set a personal record – other days I just wanted to get in so I could post about it on Instagram. Other days I just wanted to look better, feel better, and on a few days I swear I actually did it for less self-absorbed reasons – so I can contribute to society a little better, set an example for my kids and all that.

But as the weeks and months went on, the “reasons” I needed to work out faded away. It became a habit, and then it was just a matter of avoiding reasons not to work out. Things like injuries, family sickness, vacations.

And then I reached my goal in July, and everything changed.

If you go back and look at the data, once I reached my goal the wheels came off. I started skipping workouts. Now I’m lucky if I workout once a week. And if I’m going to do better next year, I’ll need to come up with a gameplan, fast. And I’m stressing about it. If I want to workout more, I have to realize that every day I’m either developing the habit of working out, or developing the habit of not working out.

In February, I tried to Get Organized.

I learned that I definitely had too much stuff (and probably still do) but that my relationship with my stuff was a little more complicated than I thought. I learned that the idea of minimalism can be seductive. It sometimes made me feel like I was better than other people, that I had it all figured out, that they were all in this materialistic rat-race chasing down symbols of “status” they thought would make them happy, and that I was above all that.

But when I looked closer, I realized that I wasn’t above the idea of “status” at all – I was simply trying to change it’s definition to suit my own circumstances. 

A clean desk can be a status symbol. An organized closet can be a status symbol. A spreadsheet detailing the pounds of stuff I got rid of can be a status symbol. And I think that’s the reason why my progress was so fleeting, why it didn’t stick. If I’m going to do better next year, I hope I can do so in a way that withholds judgement, and that comes from a deeper understanding of my personal relationship with the material world, as opposed to a trend that I’ve observed and been attracted to.

And as far as keeping a clean house with young kids… I’ve decided that it’s not a black-and-white issue. I can’t draw up a decision-tree that will tell me whether, at any given moment, I should play with my kids or pick up after them (perhaps that’s a false choice – my oldest is starting to actually contribute to cleaning in a meaningful way… fingers crossed!)

In March, I tried to Drink Less

I learned that tracking is everything, and that the DrinkControl App deserves most, if not all, of the credit for my progress in this space over the past three years. The app recently underwent a major update with lots of helpful new features making recordkeeping and data analysis even easier than before. To that end, I recently subscribed as a Patron, donating $.99 a month to support further development.

I learned that a large portion of my annual consumption could be cut out with little to no effect on my social life. I also learned that, as I mentioned earlier in this post, it’s a habit like anything else. Whether I feel like drinking on a particular day is surprisingly dependent on what I’ve done the past few days.

Right now it’s looking like I’m going to close the year having reduced my annual consumption by 20-25%. Did I have 20-25% less fun in 2019? I don’t think I did… but what about next year? Do I try to reduce annual consumption even further? Is there a “right number” for me, or for anyone else for that matter? If I’m going to do better next year, I’m going to have to look inward, really try to understand the nuances of my relationship with alcohol, plan accordingly and stick to the plan.

I have to say, the biggest surprise from writing about Drinking Less was the number of people who reached out to me saying they were trying to do the same thing, asking advice or just thanking me for writing about it. There’s definitely a lot of shame and stigma surrounding this subject, which is why I’m so grateful for Annie Grace and other writers in this space who’ve done such a great job of approaching it in a way that’s so… well… approachable.

Next week, I’ll take a look back at Learning A New Language, Being More Creative, and Being A Better Parent.