About a year ago, I thought about making some predictions for the year ahead, though I never got round to writing much down. That is just as well, as 2020 took a turn that I certainly would not have predicted – it has been a very unusual year.
Hindsight makes it all feel inevitable, and perhaps a pandemic was, at some point. But this precise pandemic was not, with its bats and its wet-markets, and its Italian outbreak, and its lockdowns. “So does history occur: in myriad, often unconsidered, minor decisions.” This is a very particular trouser leg of time.
I’m not sure how useful it is to focus on this specific butterfly effect, when countless viruses are transferred between species without causing worldwide pandemonium. Except as a reminder that in a world of billions, one in a million chances are actually reasonable odds. We have always lived in an exceptional world; perhaps, in 2021, we shouldn’t be so surprised.
It’s the start of a new year and a new decade, which means that the internet is awash with hopes, plans and resolutions. I don’t have anything specific to share here, but I have taken the opportunity to think about goals and achieving them. I was interested to come across two different approaches of the same name – Working Backwards.
The first is the more intuitive way to Work Backwards, which is to simply think about a large goal, and the time by which you would like to achieve it, then work backwards to identify interim goals and checkpoints along the way. To take a potentially lofty goal and translate it into more short-term actions.
The second way to Work Backwards is also known as Inversion, which I came across by way of Farnam Street (a generally excellent resource). A favourite of Charlie Munger, this involves thinking about the things that might stop you achieving your goal, or of achieving the opposite:
“Figure out what you don’t want and avoid it and you’ll get what you do want” — Charle Munger
Pithily described as “avoiding stupidity” (which is “easier than seeking brilliance”), this simple change in perspective can make a problem seem more addressable, and less effortful.
Neither way of Working Backwards is a silver bullet, of course. But as I start 2020, I am glad to have both.
We are approaching the end of December, which (in the UK) means short days, cold weather and a ubiquitous festive season as the year comes to an end. While it seems in many ways a strange time to think about new beginnings (in the dead of winter, during the coldest, darkest days), a new year is often cause for resolution and reflection.
I once worked in a lab that was researching circadian rhythms, the twenty-four hour intrinsic cycles present in every one of our bodily cells, as the earth spins on its axis. I have thought quite a lot this year about the importance of rhythm for human beings, above and beyond that physiological clock. The power of daily habits, and the higher level weekly and monthly cadences required to really get things done. The magic of music, or the beautiful beat intrinsic to swimming, or running.
The turning of the seasons, and the passing of the years is the earth’s higher rhythm, and it feels just right. A year is short enough to grasp, but long enough to see change in yourself and in the world (whether you like it or not). As we hurtle around the sun, we dance to its cosmic beat.