Manifesto Reflection

In 2013 I wrote a Change Manifesto, which I dug up a couple of months back when I was adding some of my old websites blog posts into the archive. I didn’t have enough time to reflect on this back when I got to it, so I’ve kept it unpublished until now. The reason being that I didn’t just want to link it on social media under #ThrowbackThursday or #FlashbackFriday, without explaining where I’m at five years after originally making my vows public.

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I used an exercise similar to what Dr Jordan Peterson talks about, where I deconstructed my ideal future, based on my interests and conscious then identified the problems I felt were stopping me from actualising that. The following are the four aspects I wished to change:

What must I change?
  • Bad habits; smoking, junk food, alcohol, drugs, excess spending.
  • Attitude towards loved ones; they need to be treated better, shouldn’t be wound up or toyed with for my own amusement, make sure I speak to or see them.
  • Work ethic; this is my dream, I need to work tirelessly in pursuit of it.
  • Time management; knowing how much time to spend, figuring out what is most important.

In retrospect, I’m definitely still in an ongoing battle with my bad habits, but I feel I’ve made significant strides in the right direction. However, my attitude toward my vices has flip-flopped between moderation and abstention over the years and I still slip up sometimes and end up climbing into bed at 6 AM from an excessive night of drinking. Which, when coupled with an unavoidable surge of chain-smoking that suppresses my hunger, will break my productivity streak as I’m usually a write-off the next day. Though, as my partner would agree, at this age I’m somehow a more outgoing, kind and fun father when I’m hungover, as I often take that day to do something nice with the kids. Still, this is not the best way to do it but the infrequency of it means we can get by with it happening a couple of times a month.

Sadly I still haven’t always shown my best attitude when I’m sober, particularly when I’m dealing with my loved ones. Being a father while graduating university and developing a startup adds to and compounds a whole bunch of new stresses that can test my patience and resolve. However, despite this, I’m proud to say that I tend to present a more calm and balanced persona on most days. I certainly feel that I’m more aware of when I’m being a dickhead – which I can attribute in part to mindfulness meditation – and I find that I can often interrupt my negative moods and defuse situations with through realisation and apology. It was also helpful for me that my partner and I have agreed that we should try different conflict management strategies, such as mutually separating ourselves for a while if an argument was escalating. Most of all it’s been important that I’m honest with myself and those around me, and by speaking the truth and not hiding my intent or emotions I’ve found I’ve begun to surf through the ups and downs of life with less will-breaking tension and motivation paralysing anxiety.

Thanks to these changes my work ethic is greatly improved. It’s true that I still find times when I lapse into extended bouts of procrastination but at least now I’ve replaced shirking my duties all day with small busy work that’s measurably contributing to some aspect of my personal development, be that; video game design or production research/experiments, building business links and knowledge, improving my online presence or minimally distracting myself while my subconscious works on problems. With these changes, I’ve become productive and self-organised in ways that I would have never imaged before. Having so much on my plate to contend with has forced me to be more efficient, which means that my time management is improving.

While I know now that time management will always be hard, I definitely have a better understanding of how I should adjust my initial estimates based on a few hard and fast rules. For example, I know I should triple my best scenario estimates to get a realistic timeframe to complete a task, and that I should avoid learning new skills or developing new processes where deadlines are critical and inflexible. I’ve also developed a methodological approach that helps me to prioritise my tasks better but sometimes I’ll still find I’ve switched to less important secondary tasks if the thing I need to work on isn’t holding my interest. This signals to me that I’ve overthought or underestimated the complexity of a task and that I need to readjust and refocus my efforts. That’s OK, as I’ve generally been good at getting things done on time and no longer beat myself up about it if I have to work until the last second.

In fact, I think I may be honing in on some form of divine rhythm as I iteratively improve my work-life balance and carve away all the excess and unnecessary effort I exert on in doing so. It’s about sacrifice, no doubt. But it quickly becomes a source of great power over time.

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When I consider how we had originally planned to implement our changes I see that we had some dead ends and false starts. Some of the tools I chose (e.g. a digital schedule with task tracking) continue to provide meaningful use, while some of the tools I replaced (Google Fit replaced My Fitness Pal) or dropped entirely,  such as the e-cigarette. Looking back, it’s good to know that I’ve got tools and mechanisms to help me change the things I wasn’t happy with. Though, I feel strongly that I just needed to find the right motivations and to form new habits that would override the old, negative behaviours.

Education has been a positive driver of this change. My academic commitment was such a monumental undertaking that it provided me with the kind of extrinsic motivation that I needed to drag me, sometimes painfully so, through the rough spots and hardships towards achieving my long-term goals. Coupled with the responsibilities of raising a family I can now tell you for certain that I’m not of the belief that freedom alone is the be-all and end-all of a fulfilling and meaningful life. Having these kinds of cheques and balances in place means that I can straddle that beautiful line that divides the chaos of adolescent freedom and destruction of soul-crushing repetition of modern adult life.

I think that whatever problems you live with it’s vital that you can find the strength to say, “enough is enough, I’m going to change this”. This life’s taught me that nobody is going to do it for you. People can help you, and you’ll be surprised how much support people are willing to give, but you have to make those changes, for you. No-one will do it for you because nobody can live your life for you. If you want it, you can have it, just take that shit. Therefore, while I’m trying to change my life I’m also trying to use what I’ve learnt on my journey to help me aid others in overcoming adversity. This is something I am trying to achieve with the Protogé Initiative, which after a month of searching I now feel I have a suitable pilot candidate for.

At the time I wrote my original manifesto I pledged immediate change, and I even managed to get my partner onboard to join me on this frightfully gargantuan journey together. I even reviewed our goals after 22 days in a follow-up post and found I was making recognisable progress in some areas, even though I was still wrestling with myself in the process. I then continued to push with these changes and I struggle some but carried on with it into the new year before forgetting about my promise. Looking back on it, I don’t see that as a bad thing though. I’ve always told myself that I know what I need to do to improve my life. I just needed to actually do it. And I still think that mantra rings true, just that we don’t need to implement lots of drastic sweeping changes all in one go to be successful. Lots of small, iterative changes seem to be more effective, long-lasting and easier to adjust to.

As I’ve explained I haven’t reached my state of perfection with this approach and I never will. I know I’m an emotionally driven and insignificant little speck of impermanence out here in the vast expanse of an uncaring and hostile universe. But in no way does that stop me from pursuing the image of myself which I project from within my delicate little being. It’s in this reflection, on the path of my journey so far that I can start to make sense of it all. I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’ll always continue to grow and change over the course of my life and that hopefully, someday I’ll be able to overcome my perceived inadequacies, through resilience or reconciliation, shedding that which weighs me down and becoming the best version of myself that I can be, for the rest of my existence.

Today I burn this manifesto.

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