My 6 Areas of Focus for 2015

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Last February, I wrote a book about living the curious life. In my manifesto, I make two basic admonitions:

  1. Broaden Your Interests
  2. Challenge Your Beliefs

Today, I live up to my standards in the latter by retracting my convictions on the former. In 2014, I think I was–brace yourself for it–too distracted. I researched dozens of topics that had little to do with my everyday life and, in doing so, felt a sense of aimlessness. I saw all the gorillas, but I scarcely noticed the basketball. In other words, I think I kind of missed the point. As a result, 2015 will be all about focus.

My mind has the natural tendency to wander. My head and my feet are rarely in the same place. My goal for this year is to focus exclusively on the here and now–on what can improve my life within the next 12 months. If it doesn’t matter now, it doesn’t matter at all–at least for 2015. Even the books I read as part of my 1,000 Books Project will be books that have practical application.

But, hey, I’m not completely trashing my vision of “broaden your interests.” Even in narrowing my focus to the here-and-now, I recognize that there are several areas of my life need my attention. In fact, there are seven…

1. Interpersonal Communication and Relationships

Depending on where and when you know me from, this may come as a shock to you but I am not–by nature–a people person. Although I may not always appear to be, I feel socially awkward most of the time. Part of the reason, I think, is simply because I’m an introvert. I would typically rather me in my own head than in another’s company. It’s just my personality–I am extremely independent and usually enjoy time to myself.

But, if I’m honest with myself, I would have to admit that a good portion of my asocial tendencies can be chalked up to fear. I have a huge problem with intimacy and emotional vulnerability. I struggle with rejection so, to avoid getting hurt, I simply don’t open up to people. And, if I had it my way, I would probably just save myself the risk of rejection and hide away in a cave somewhere.

But, alas, I cannot build the life want for myself and my wife from the inside of a cave. I need people. I need to be able to relate to them, get along with them, and even influence them. I need to be comfortable around people. Because it doesn’t matter his much I learn about the world; if I can’t connect that knowledge to the people who love in it, it’s not going to get me anywhere.

In the past, I’ve made considerable strides in improving my social and emotional intelligence. I studied books, blogs, and podcasts for the sole purpose of finding out his to better connect with people…and I even attempted to apply those principles in my everyday interactions. Lately, though, I’ve been regressing into my shell. In 2015, as much as I am able, I will learn to become a people person again.

2. Productivity, Organization, and Life Management

This area covers a whole lot of things and I struggled with exactly how to classify it. But it all has to do with being more on top of things in my everyday life. Getting household chores done, paying bills, keeping more thorough financial and legal records, etc.

But this area also has to do with exploring things that help me live a better life on an everyday basis. For example, I want to learn more about the local community in which I live, study up on new technologies that are coming out, and monitor new releases in music, movies, and other entertainment sources that my wife and I are interested in.

Focusing on being more productive in the minutiae of my everyday activities is really all about living with intention. I often get into the habit of whimsically bumbling through my life without bothering to make any plans or provide myself any sort of structure. This year, my plan is to take back that control that I’ve given up in the past.

3. Health and Well-Being

This one is sort of a natural progression for me. For several months, I’ve already been consumed by trying to live a healthier lifestyle–physical and emotionally. In November, I completed a massive dieting project in which I lost 30 pounds. Last month, I developed a model to determine the things that improve my mood. And this month, I started an exercise project that will last through May.

The older I get, the less invincible I feel. If I wait too much longer in life to develop the habits that can help me live better and longer, it will never happen. I want to start preparing myself to age well and maintain the maximum amount of energy and stamina for as long as I possibly can.

For the first time in my life, my body is very important to me. I no longer brush it off as the shallow, inferior underling of my mind. I’ve come to believe in a strong mind-body connection. I want to be healthier in and feel more satisfied with my whole person. What’s good for the body is good for the soul.

4. Professional Development

I have always been interested and growing professionally, making myself more marketable, and discovering how I could change the world with my work. But at this time last year I was struggling with that that meant.

As I finished up my MBA, I decided that my true passion was in doing marketing research (rather than in the consulting and copywriting that I has been doing as a freelancer). So, I decided to apply to a nearby PhD program in marketing with the hopes of becoming a Professor and doing research in consumer psychology.

Well, I didn’t get into the program but, quite serendipitously, I had taken a temporary job at company that designs and distributes home organization products. A full-time position became available, and I seized it–telling myself that I would complete a doctorate in the evening at another university and still go into marketing research.

Not surprisingly, I changed my mind. In trying to help my company grow, I discovered something even more fundamental underlying my obsession with marketing research: statistics. Do I love psychology, marketing, and consumer behavior? You bet I do! But what really gives me a rush and can make me interested in anything is looking at a set of data and trying to explain from that data set why something is happening or how to change it. I found my calling (for now)–and it’s data analytics.

5. Religion

So, I’ve been a professing Christian since high school. I don’t write about it a lot on here because my faith is deeply personal to me and if we’re going to have a conversation about religion, I would rather have it face to face. So, take notes, this is the closest you’ll ever get to a sermon on this blog.

Last month, When I measured dozens of variables to determine what makes me happy, the number 2 most influential variable on my mental state was my faith. In times of doubt, when I felt that God wasn’t there, my mood was negatively affected and, in the moments that I felt God was with me, my mood improved. Faith is infinitely important to my mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. I have always known this intuitively but seeing the data really clarified it for me. I need a strong faith.

In 2015, I will place a greater focus on my faith. I will be more active in my church, study more of the scriptures, research history as well as current issues in religion, and–most importantly–spend more time in prayer. I believe that communion with the Divine is the only thing that can keep me grounded in such a chaotic world.

6. Writing

So, did I mention I wrote a book?

I have always been a writer. In high school, I wrote poems and short stories. As an undergrad, I wrote an unpublished novel. Around the time that I enrolled in my MBA program, I started blogging and have been doing so ever since. Then, last year, I wrote and published my first book.

I have also been writing professionally for the last several years. I was a freelance copywriter, and I kept a few clients for which I’m still doing work on a monthly basis. Whether through fiction or non-fiction, paid or unpaid, I have always enjoyed communicating thought and emotion through the written word. Over the last year, though, I’ve really let it fall by the wayside. I’m not a writer because I’m a writer; I’m a writer because I write. In 2015, I want to become a writer again.

I want to continue doing well for my clients–though I’ve been pretty good about staying on top of that. And I only really want to wrote blog posts when I feel there’s something I want to say. What I really want to do is write more books. I want to have the discipline to crank out a book a year. I want to create a body of work that could fill an entire shelf. 2015 will be a step in that direction.

To sum it up, my intention is to disregard–for a year–all of the intriguing yet impractical strains of intellectual thought of which I am so fond and pay unilateral attention to these more pragmatic categories. If it doesn’t fall into one of these buckets, then it will have to wait until 2016.

My 7 Big Goals for 2015

By limiting my field of interests for the year, I plan to tackle some major projects in the important areas of my life. Here are 7 monstrous goals I hope to accomplish. If I can hit all ten by the time 2016 rolls around, it will have been a successful year.

  1. Receive a Certification in Data Science. I plan to take a series of courses through Coursera taught by statisticians at Johns Hopkins University to become a certified Data Scientist. Sounds all fancy-shmancy, but it’s really just a vehicle for learning R–a statistical programming language that I think can make me extremely competitive professionally l, and also help me better understand the world and myself.
  2. Take Acting Lessons. I want to be a movie star…Okay, I’m just kidding. But I have read a lot about how acting can help you improve your social skills. Really, being an engaging, empathetic, and likable conversationalist has a lot to do with being “in character.” I’ll probably end up taking an Improv class through the Beck Center for the Arts.
  3. Write a Biography on Daniel Starch. Daniel Starch was a Psychologist, entrepreneur, and pioneer in the field of marketing research. I don’t know what exactly about him sparks my interest so much, but I’ve decided his life is my next big writing project. Writing the biography of a semi-obscure historical figure that passed away over 40 years ago is more fun than it sounds. It’s a lot like being a detective–not that I know what’s like to be a detective (I never dawn a black mask and cape to go out in the middle of the night fighting crime. That isn’t me, I swear).
  4. Finish Teaching Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. In August, I picked up teaching the chronological Bible with the book of Exodus in the Sunday morning Bible classes of the church to which I belong. As a Christian, I know far too little about the theological and historical roots of my faith, and completing these three books in this ongoing study is going to be huge in building my foundational knowledge.
  5. Drop Below 15% Body Fat. I’ve already found out how to lose weight. Now, I’m using HITT workouts to test how to build muscle at the same time. If all goes according to plan, I’ll be at 15% body fat by June. The trick is going to be staying there through December.
  6. Write a Novel. In addition to the biography I want to write, I’d also like to publish my first novel. I’ll probably do this for the NaNo event in November.
  7. Pay Off Credit Cards. I’ve had a decent amount of money tied up in credit cards for years. That ends in 2015.

So, that’s it. No resolutions, just areas of focus and some goals that come out of them. Now, it’s time to get busy. My life won’t improve itself…

The Curiosity Manifesto: Investigate

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