This year I greet you stuck in our Beijing apartment trying to avoid Coronavirus. Offices are closed for safety, so I'll be working from home until the outbreak dies down. Flora and I are fine—if a little stir-crazy—we’re more concerned for folks in Wuhan and other places whose livelihoods are threatened by the disease. Nevertheless, the quiet is an occasion to reflect.
For the first year in a while, my world lacked enormous changes. Flora and I lived in the same place and worked at the same companies as we did in 2018. Moreover, I wasn't filled with thoughts of a looming school application or major career change. It’s welcome stability, but our days were still jam-packed. Work brought me to a dozen Google offices around the world. I gave over thirty presentations helping mobile app and game developers grow their businesses in new countries, and started building a small expertise in the space. Flora and I even managed an escapade to London just in time to also say we visited the EU.
An adage Steve Jobs once shared is on my mind: "In the first 30 years of your life, you make your habits. For the last 30 years of your life, your habits make you.” Your habits make you. Scarier still, they often trigger one after another, like pressing play on a music playlist. Mistreatment Playlist switches on when you feel emotionally hurt: first a shock period, then a spiral of rumination, and after a while an adjusted mindset and amusement at how you felt so bad. Euphoria Playlist starts when you experience something you really enjoy: savor every detail in the beginning, then start expecting those details, and eventually no longer feel the joy you once did. And many more.
Now that I’m past 30 and life seems to be settling down, are my habits set in stone? Am I doomed to old mental playlists repeating forever? I don’t think it’s that simple. We might not be able to transform all our habits, but we can frequently short-circuit a bad one or enhance a good one. Meditation helps (I use the Headspace app), as does studying human behavior (Behave by Robert Sapolsky is my favorite nonacademic work on the subject). Whenever I go to the gym after a lapse in exercise or pause to enjoy a great cup of coffee, I try to remember that such are the beginnings of great change.
It’s in our power every day to start changing. So, do yourself a favor. Finish clearing your email inbox and take a crack at one habit today (especially if you're past 30). And, if you remember later, send me an update to celebrate.
Have a great 2020,