2011: Year in Review

Time, I think, to look back on what happened, what worked, and what’s been difficult in 2011. It’ll be a personal perspective. I could talk about the financial crisis, the Christchurch earthquake and the Arab Spring, but plenty of other people are already talking about those.


My most important achievement in 2011 was starting How to Be Amazing in May. Numbers are only a finger pointing at the moon, but as I write there are almost 200 members of the site, 36 fans on Facebook, and there have been just over 6000 visits in total. That’s modest, but promising.

Much more importantly, I’ve had comments and emails from some great people talking about how the resources I’ve shared here have helped them. That’s what it’s all about for me.

Also in blogging, I ran an epic series of 26 posts about How Not to Change Your Life on what I now think of as my previous blog, Living Skillfully. (I will still update that blog from time to time, but my focus has shifted to here.) I wanted to address the reasons we don’t change. It’ll be a book eventually, but so far I haven’t seen enough demand for that to be high on the priority list.

On the whole, I feel like this year I’ve been calmer and, at the same time, have taken more risks and been more confident. I went to a climbing wall for my birthday in July, for example, something I would once not have even considered doing.

I did an improv course earlier in the year, which was great for confidence, and have also joined Toastmasters. Even though I’ve not been going there for very long, I’ve already noticed how much more fluent and confident my speaking has become – for example, in my latest video.

What’s worked

What else have I done that’s worked for me this year? Simple, regular practices, I’m convinced, are the best path to personal development. I’ve tried a few, and kept the best ones.

I’ve been doing a very simple meditation almost every day since early March – just paying attention to my breathing for 10 minutes. It’s always difficult to say how much something like that is contributing, but I feel it has a lot to do with the other progress I’ve made this year.

I’ve also started serious and deliberate exercise for the first time. I’ll talk more about that under what’s been difficult, but the part that has really worked is very simple. I park further away from my day job and walk.

I started out parking 500m away, then moved to a different carpark 1km away (that’s twice as far, if you’re American, and about six-tenths of a mile). At the moment, my wife is in hospital and I’m visiting her every day, so I park across the road from the hospital and walk down to work, then walk up again in the afternoon. That’s about 3km a day of vigorous walking, without really having to think about it or make special arrangements.

I feel really good on it, and people keep spontaneously telling me that I look great. My mind is clear, I have more energy and my mood is improved. I seriously recommend it.

My kayak at Waikowhai

I’ve done a good bit of kayaking (none so far this season, but it’s in the plan once the weather gets less windy), and enjoyed how that connects me to the natural world and my own body and senses.

I’ve also recently started writing fiction again, which is great. I need to have some creative outlet going on, something less practical and purposeful than personal development blogging, to balance out my life, and it’s a side that I’ve been missing for a while. I’m enjoying the process without worrying too much about whether anyone else will like what I’m writing (though I think they will).

There’s one other thing I’m doing which I’m convinced is doing something, though I’m not sure what. It sounds odd, and I kind of hesitate to mention it (though I did say something about it here in another post, I think). I’ve been chanting on a regular basis.

For a couple of years now, I’ve been listening to a set of recordings of the choir of St Paul’s Cathedral in London chanting all 150 psalms. I have them divided into daily playlists on my iPod and listen on my morning commute. I’ve started humming, or, when I know the words, singing along with them, and also doing a couple of other chants.

It sounds New Agey, and if you’ve read my stuff you’ll know I’m at the very furthest corner from New Agey in the personal development space. But it’s an ancient Western practice that seems to have real benefits for health and vitality. As I say, I’m not sure what it’s doing exactly, and I have no idea how it’s doing it, but I’m convinced it’s doing something positive.

What’s been difficult

I’ve had a fitness goal for a while now to pass one or more of the US military fitness tests for my age. I nearly passed the Navy one (which is in some ways the easiest) earlier in the year, and then, having discovered a better method of running training in the Couch to 5K, decided to switch to the Army version. (The Army run is longer.)

Unfortunately, I injured my shoulder around the middle of the year – while exercising, though I blame bad desk ergonomics at one of my contract sites – and have struggled with it ever since. So I haven’t been able to work on the pushups element of the tests, and situps have sometimes been a bit painful too. Gradually, I’ve let my pushups/situps/Couch to 5K routine lapse, and replaced it with the daily walking.

I’m conflicted now. On the one hand, the point was to be fit, and the reason for doing the military test was mainly so that I could say, “This is how fit I am.” On the other hand, I don’t like to be beaten.

The shoulder is still giving me problems, though, with no real resolution in sight, so I’m not sure whether to declare the goal abandoned, change the goal (maybe to the Marines test, which has no pushups but requires the back to be strengthened, something I’m sure would do me good), or just continue to hold it in my mind as “paused, but I intend to get back to it”.

The other difficult thing is that my wife, who’s had rheumatoid arthritis since she was a little kid, has had to go into hospital and have her hip replacement removed because of an infection. She’s still there (being well looked after), but we’re still hoping she can come home for Christmas. We’ll find out tomorrow.

This is the kind of thing that will take months of recovery, and in the meantime I don’t have as much time or flexibility. That’s difficult for my face-to-face practice, and has affected my blogging, as well.

Ultimately, though, as I said in an interview the other day, if my life is easy and smooth, what can I say to other people about personal development? I’m sure I’ll learn a lot from facing these unasked-for challenges as well as the ones I’ve chosen deliberately.

Seasonal wishes

I have readers from all over the world, of many different religions (and none), so I know that not everyone is necessarily celebrating, or celebrating the same thing, over the next couple of weeks. But if you are, have a good one, and stay strong.

And may your 2012 and mine build on the wanted and unwanted events of 2011, and become, day by day, more and more amazing.

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