The Smarter Brain
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As the New Year commences, we have a great opportunity to turn over a new leaf, break bad habits and live a better life.

In order to achieve our goals this year however, we need to keep doing what already works and avoid making the same mistakes made during the previous year, which requires quite a bit of reflection and clarity of thought to uncover. For this reason, at the start of each year, I write an Annual Review of the previous year, where I share what’s gone well, what hasn’t worked and important lessons learned.

The purpose of each Annual Review isn’t to brag or beg for attention, instead it’s an opportunity to publicly practice a few of my key values i.e. honesty and integrity, and hold myself accountable during the upcoming year.

Most importantly, I hope that by sharing my successes and failures, you’ll also be inspired to create your own annual review and achieve your goals in 2020.

With that being said, here are the three key questions I’ll be discussing in my 2019 Annual Review:

1. What went well this year?
2. What didn’t go so well this year?
3. What lessons did I learn and what changes will be made moving forward?

Feel free to use any of these questions for your own Annual Review.

What went well this year.

Here’s what went well for in 2019:

1. Exercise.

In 2019, I completed a total of approximately 200 workouts.

That’s 100 more workouts or a 100% increase in workouts, compared to 2018. This significant improvement in workout frequency can be largely attributed to my commitment to boxing training. As mentioned in previous reviews, I shifted the focus of my workouts from strength improvement to working towards amateur level boxing.

The increased clarity of why I was exercising was a huge source of motivation to stick to my exercise habit throughout the year (especially on most days when I didn’t feel like exercising).

Here’s a breakdown of my typical workout routine during the week:

Monday: Full body weight training

Tuesday: Boxing (shadow and heavy bag) training (60 minutes)

Wednesday: Rest

Thursday: Compound weight training (pull exercises)

Friday: Compound weight training (push exercises)

Saturday: Boxing (shadow and heavy bag) training (60 minutes)

Sunday: Rest

2. Reading.

In 2019, I read approximately 50 books, which is nearly double the amount of books I read in 2018.

Here are the top three books I read in 2019, including my brief review:

  • Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World : This book written by the late Stanford University philosopher, Rene Girard, was a thought-provoking eye opener on human behavior, particularly the root cause of human conflict and decision-making. The big idea is that we desire something or someone, not because we inherently want it, but because others also want the same thing. And when we can’t claim the desired object, we turn violent against the person who possesses it, until a mutual sacrifice is agreed upon.
  • Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup: This book follows the real life story of the now dissolved Silicon Valley health-care startup, Theranos, and it’s young, charismatic founder and Stanford University drop out, Elizabeth Holmes, who became a temporary billionaire, but was later charged with wire fraud. I was particularly fascinated by Holmes’ ability to leverage human psychology, particularly social status, FOMO (fear of missing out) and storytelling to strongly influence prominent politicians, experienced investors, scientists and mass media.
  • Science, Strategy and War: The Strategic Theory of John Boyd: The late John Boyd is widely considered to be one of the world’s greatest military strategists of all-time, pioneer of modern fighter jets and inventor of the famous decision-making framework called the OODA loop. Although this book is a dense read, it’s an in-depth overview of high-level strategic problem solving methods and decision-making models.

Note: By mid-October 2019, I had become disillusioned by the repetitiveness and lack of originality of the books I was reading—especially those in the self-help genre—and decided to take a break from reading books until 2020. I’ll discuss this later in this review.

3. Business.

In 2019, business growth was positive. This was largely due to the creation and sales of best-selling courses including The Procrastination Masterclass, a science based solution designed to help leaders stop procrastinating and stick to good habits.

In addition, the readership of MayoOshin.Com grew beyond 10,000 readers, and attracted over 600,000 unique visitors .

What didn’t go so well this year.

1. Writing.

In 2019, my writing pace fell from 39 articles in 2018, to 36 articles in 2019, which is 12 articles short of my 2019 goal of 50 written articles.

Why did this happen? First, as I shifted more attention towards growing the business side of things, I could barely find enough time to research and write articles at the same pace (on average one article takes 15+ hours to produce).

Second, during the last quarter of 2019, I experienced high levels of mental fatigue or “burnout” in short. Not only did I lose all motivation to write, but I also lost my ability to generate creative ideas. I’ll touch more on this later.

Despite these challenges, I managed to write one of the most popular articles on MayoOshin.Com of all-time called “You’re Not Lazy. You’re Afraid.”

2. Charity.

Once again I sound like a broken record on this matter. For three years running, I’ve failed to achieve my goal of sponsoring the primary school education of at least 10 impoverished children per year. I’ve run out of excuses on this one, and I’m seriously considering giving up on this goal and taking on another approach to philanthropy i.e. volunteering instead of giving.

3. Reading for spiritual purposes.

As a Christian, I’d like to spend much more time than I do, reading the bible. In 2019, I made slight improvements from 2018, but not enough.

4. Creative deliberate practice.

As previously mentioned in my 2019 integrity report, I’ve only performed once in a live guitar music performance, and drew only a handful of cartoon strips. This is well below my desired frequency.

Much like my dilemma with charity goals, perhaps I need to take a new approach with creative goals. Instead of trying to develop creative skills to semi-professional level, maybe I need to settle as a hobbyist.

On one hand I believe that becoming a hobbyist will alleviate the guilt and disappointment of failing to practice. On the other hand, I fear becoming a hobbyist will waste my potential as a guitarist and cartoonist.

What lessons did I learn.

Here are the top three lessons I’ve learned in 2019…

1. Read for substance, not volume.

In 2019, I finally fell for the media hype that one of the secrets of exceptional leaders and entrepreneurs is their rapid reading rate of approximately 5+ books per month. And so, I set out to ‘read as many books as Bill Gates,’ and recorded 50 books read by the end of the year.

Whilst I’m proud of this achievement, it didn’t come without a heavy cost.

Instead of reading books I was curious about, I forced myself to read popular self-help and business books supposedly recommended by successful business leaders. Unfortunately, as I discovered by mid-October 2019, the vast majority of these popular books are filled with common sense, rehashed ideas and repetitive words.Not only did this waste valuable time re-reading similar ideas across different books, but it also damaged my clarity of thinking and creativity.

Once I came to the realization that reading badly written books was harmful, I took a break from reading books until the end of the year. Ironically, the most valuable books I read weren’t wildly popular, and were read in a leisurely manner.

Moving forward, I’ll take special care to find and spend quality time reading and re-reading good books with substance.

2. Delegation is not an option.

In 2019, my superman syndrome kicked into full overdrive as I tried to do it all on my own: Research, write and edit each article, design and market products, expand my network, correct web development and maintenance issues and so on.

Whenever I tried to delegate to someone else and they didn’t execute the task effectively, I’d take over and do it myself. After all, it’s quicker that way. Or so I thought.

By the third quarter of 2019, I finally ticked the boxes of the symptoms of “burnout.” My mental fatigue hit such a high point that I could no longer sit down to write, and creativity fell flat.

Since then, I’ve begun to delegate more work to others, and in 2020 I plan to grow the team to include a full-time editor and web developer.

3. Nothing ever goes to plan, so plan to change plans.

At the start of 2019, I wrote down detailed, intricate plans to achieve all of my goals. Needless to say, none of them went to plan.

Some plans went better than expected, others worse, but none exactly as planned. I’ve learned that what matters more than creating the perfect plan, is the willingness to change plans according to circumstances.

Often when we set goals, we fall into the trap of trying to predict and control the future. The truth however, is that life is fundamentally unpredictable, as the proverb says, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring” (Proverbs 27:1).

If instead, we embrace the randomness of life and plan to change plans, we’ll be in a better position to tap into new opportunities and make better life decisions.

On that final note, my Annual Review has come to a close. Stay tuned for the next one.

Wish you the best of luck with your goals in 2020.


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