2017 Focus: End Of Year Review

At the beginning of 2017 I wrote about my focus for the year. I’ve posted a few updates throughout the year (quarter year, half year & three quarters) and now is the time to do a final review.

2017 Theme: Sabbath Year

Self Grade: 8/10

After learning in the past that having multiple goals dilutes focus and causes competition for a limited amount of time, I decided starting last year to focus my goals (challenge, habit & exemplar) around a single topic.

For 2017, the theme was centered around the idea of a sabbath year – a year of rest.

I found that centering around that topic worked really well. My efforts towards each of the three goals contributed in part towards each other and they feel very much as three notes of the same chord rather than three diverging items.

I think there is still room to improve how much of my free energy – that which excludes family care, self care & earning an income – goes towards my yearly focus. I definitely invested in a few other topic this year and think I can do better at focusing more.

2017 Challenge: Define & Launch A Sabbath Year

Self Grade: 10/10

We launched the year on July 13th which means we just about completed the first half of it by the end of the calendar year.

Completion for this task required:

  • creating a written philosophy about our family’s sabbath year practice – DONE (see here)
  • composing a plan for the current iteration – DONE (see here)
  • starting this iteration before Dec 31st – DONE (Started on July 13)

And I also had defined tiered stretch goals

  • spend <75% of 2016’s family budget during the sabbath year – SUCCESS (currently at 67% of the 2016’s monthly average)
  • the partial sabbath year that I can review by Dec 31st is, in my opinion, two standard deviations away from the standards set by the last six years – SUCCESS (Any way you slice it, this year is an outlier.)

Reflecting on the year, the heavy lifting for this challenge during the first six months of this year was centered around defining expectations and preparation logistics. While it had seemed like the sabbath itself would be easy, in fact it has presented itself with its own difficulties.

What I have learned is how important familiarity is when it comes to the difficulty of something. For a competitive marathon runner, running something like a double-marathon is not the most challenging thing – running casually with no races in mind for a whole year might be. The former follows a known type of difficulty, while the latter is completely foreign.

This year has forced me to rethink a lot about my identity, priorities and the purpose of challenging myself. Though that is not what I thought I was signing up for, I suppose it is not far from what I was after.

I am still only half way through the sabbath year, which didn’t align with the calendar year, so there will be more to come from this in 2018.

More detailed posts I wrote throughout this quarter here:

2017 Habit: Time Outside With Family

Self Grade: 8/10

My habit for the year was to spend time outdoors with family, I was aiming for at least 7 hours per week. Over the course of the year 42 of the 52 weeks were successful. Of note, six of the ten missed weeks were in the first ten weeks of the year – meaning I got much better as the year went on. I actually averaged 10.25 hours outside per week which is about 50% more than 7 hours. The peak week was 24.5 hours.

This habit also fit nicely with the theme of resting. Getting outdoors was a good way to get away from distractions and inputs as well as to make room for processing the thoughts spinning around in my head.

Along with the success of the focus, or perhaps contributing to the success, this has been the best designed goal I have ever attempted. Most years, goals that are habit-like tend to be the ones I do the worst at. No matter what, I am usually cramming in December in order to have the least-bad result when the year closes.

This year however, things feel much more organic. As a result of pushing through difficulties on a continual basis this year, I have gotten past hurdles so that certain activities are now much easier. Because of that, I think this habit will carry forward to future years with more success. Which is, of course, the real reason I do this.

Here are the collages I made each quarter showing off a few of my favorite outdoor activities.

2017 Exemplar: Eric Liddell

Self Grade: 7/10

In my second year having an exemplar, I made progress towards setting a standard for what I want this to look like, but still feel I have a long way to go.

Over the course of this year I watched Chariots of Fire, a movie about Liddell, read For the Glory, a biography of him, read The Disciplines of the Christian Life, a devotional book he wrote, visited the site where he earned his Olympic Gold Medal in Paris and attempted to emulate his approach to races.

Interestingly, aside from mentioning the fact that he didn’t run an Olympic heat on the sabbath, there wasn’t much information in the material I covered about his philosophy or approach to the sabbath. I was able to learn a good bit about other aspects of him: his disciplined prayer life, his commitment to doing what he believed God was calling him to and his ceaseless desire to serve others.

The first of those is the most relevant to this year. It is what I consider a daily sabbath – time set apart from each day to spend in prayer, reading the bible and doing devotionals. One story of his commitment to this comes from when he was in an internment camp. Despite being underfed and overworked, he would rise each morning to pray, read by the light of home made candles and quietly sing hymns with other prisoners. The direness of those circumstances and his resolve throughout them reveals a lot about his character. This was not something he did on top of the many burdens he bore for others while at the camp, it is something he did so that he could continue to bear those burdens.

His dedication to daily sabbath has served as a bit of a call out for me – what in my life is so difficult right now that I am not able to find that time as regularly as he was? – and also an encouragement – why should I think so highly of myself that I would be able to burden my load alone?

What Is Outside?

In 2017 I set a goal to spend 7 hour a week outside with at least one other member of my family. As I’ve tracked this throughout the year, most things have been pretty straightforward, but on many occasions I’ve run into a situations of ambiguity.

Am I Inside or Outside Right Now?

For example:

Reading in our living room? Easy. Inside.

Throwing rocks into the water at the beach? Again, easy. Outside.

Sleeping in a tent in a National Park? We’re sort of ‘in the great outdoors’ but we are inside of the tent. Does that thin sheet of nylon make us inside?

Sitting on the porch eating? What if the porch is covered? What if it is also screened in?

At what point do we cross over from inside to outside?

Is being deep in the woods more outside than sitting on top of a 100 square foot patch of grass in front of our house? Is a rooftop in the city as outside as a dock on the lake?

Is being in a natural cave inside or outside? Surely it was the first sort of inside that humans lived in, but being in a cave seems pretty outside-like these days.

What we’re presented with is the idea that outside is less of a binary and more of a spectrum. I’ve come up with a rough litmus test to help me define the outside-ness of an environment.

Outside-Ness Litmus Test:

  1. Can a bug, flying in the wild, come land on me?
  2. If it rains, will I get wet?
  3. If a breeze picks up, will I feel it?
  4. During the day, is natural light the primary source?
  5. Is it difficult or impossible to control the temperature?
  6. Is the area around me a biome that supports non-human but larger-than-microscopic life?
  7. Is my view of things that are primarily untampered by humans?

As the number of those statements that are true increases, so does the outside-ness of a place.

Example Tests

Thinking back to my examples from earlier in the post.

Reading in the living room – F, F, F, F, F, F, F = 0/7 = Absolutely inside

Throwing rocks into the water at the beach – T, T, T, T, T, T, T = 7/7 = Absolutely Outside

Sleeping in a tent in a National Park – F, F, F, T, T, T, T = 4/7 = Somewhat Outside

Sitting on the porch eating – T, T, T, T, T, F, F = 5/7 = Outside

What if the porch is covered – T, F, T, T, T, F, F = 4/7 = Somewhat Outside

What if it is also screened in – F, F, T, T, T, F, F = 3/7 = Somewhat Inside

Is being deep in the woods more outside than sitting on top of a 100 square foot patch of grass in front of our house? 7/7 vs 5/7. So, yes, it is more outside.

Is a rooftop in the city as outsides as a dock on the lake? 5/7 vs 7/7. So, no, it isn’t.

Is being in a natural cave inside or outside – 4-6/7 (depends how deep the cave is). So, it is outside.

How Can We Use This Litmus Test?

Aside from measuring the outside-ness of the place we are, this litmus test can also be used to help us design our inside spaces feel more outside.

I personally feel more at ease when I am outside and so increasing the outside-ness of the spaces I most often occupy would likely contribute positively to my mental well being. This makes a lot of sense, our species has spent most of its existence outside and is better adapted for that. We can’t expect to be fully comfortable in a space that our bodies are not optimized for.

Probably because of that, the idea of space that blends inside and outside has fascinated me when I’ve encountered it.

Visiting the famous Frank Lloyd Wright designed Falling Water, I was fascinated with how there was a stairway from the living room leading down to a river. At the top of those stairs, with the glass closed, the outside-ness starts at 2/7 and as you open the glass, and walk down the stairs, your outside-ness increases to 6/7.

I will periodically stumble across other images of houses that blend inside and outside, like this one, a house with a tree growing in the middle of it. It would seem that just a step, not even through a doorway or barrier, could put you from 2/7 to 6/7.

I’ve seen other houses with interior courtyards, retractable roofs, sliding walls or no walls at all. In places where the weather creates a habitable temperature, rainfall is light and bugs are rare, it might be possible to design a living space that doesn’t have very much inside at all.

Would we be happier if more of our living spaces were a bit higher on the outside-ness scale? What would the downsides and challenges be? How could we minimize them? Would they be worth the benefits produced?

2017 Focus: Three Quarters Update

With the start of a new year, I take the time to set my focus for the coming year. I believe that by focusing on fewer goals, I can achieve results that are exponentially greater than the sum of the results from doing many things.

I detailed my 2017 focus here (read that first if you want more context) & did a quarter year update & half year update as well. Here is how I’m progressing since then.

2017 Theme: Sabbath Year

2017 Challenge: Define & Launch A Sabbath Year

We launched the year on July 13th and are now three months in.

I’ve written some about the progression of my thought process, and I’m sure things will continue to change. There is more detail in the posts I’ll link below, but for now I want to sum up two thoughts I’ve had a lot lately:

  1. It is really hard to have ‘sitting-in-a-hammock-reading’ type rest when you have three kids. My expectations were that I would have a lot more of that and in practice I have very little.
  2. Though I don’t feel very relaxed in a traditional sense of the word, I do already feel reenergized to get back to my career. I’m a pretty good dad, but I really feel in the zone when I’m doing my day job. I don’t quite have what it takes to be a full time parent – I think I do better when I have other things to do as well. This is one place in my life where I think splitting attention is a very good thing.

More detailed posts I wrote throughout this quarter here:

2017 Habit: Time Outside With Family

The combination of nice weather and not having a job made being outside often very achievable.

In fact, my peak week hit 24.5 hours. Meaning I spent greater than one full day of that week outside. The average over the quarter was 16.5 hours, which is more than double the goal time of 7 hours. I only missed on one week and that was due to me being away from family for four days as I drove our van across the country. I might even have been able to hit the time in just 3 days if I hadn’t been so busy packing for said move.

While a 16.5 hour per week average seems great, and felt like a lot of outside time, that is still slightly less than 10% of the time in a week. That means I spent 90% of my time indoors. This is during nice weather, where I didn’t have a job and was trying to be outside a lot. It makes me think that most people probably spend 98-100% of their time indoors. That seems suboptimal for our species.

Here are some data about Q3.

For activities, the leaders from the first half of the year remain popular – parks, walks, & hanging out in our yard. A lot more activities were on the list though this quarter. It included over 50 different activities. I could probably group some of them a bit more, but for now here is the top portion of the list. You know its a good list when it includes things like ‘woods’, ‘raft’ & ‘pick blackberries’.

Looking at who within the family I spend outdoor time with – there were a few notable shifts.

First, all five of us outside together went from being a close second grouping to the clear leader. Not having work meant we could spend a lot more time as a family. Second, I spent a lot more time taking care of all 3 kids solo. I hadn’t done much of that prior to this quarter, so it is cool to see how I grew into it. That was made much easier by my youngest’s learning to love being in the carrier backpack, which meant she could go along for walks in the woods & park. Third, I spend a lot more time 1×1 with my wife outside. Prior to this quarter we had spent a grand total of one hour outside alone together – sad. This quarter we spent 15 hours. That included a lot of sitting on the front porch or around the fire pit after the kids went to bed.

For the last part of the update, here is a collage that includes pictures of a few of my favorite outdoor activities from Q3:

2017 Exemplar: Eric Liddell

After finishing a Liddell biography, I picked up a copy of the one book he wrote, a devotional about spiritual disciplines. Third quarter was fairly light on anything else in this area.