We’ve all heard that the journey is more important than the destination. And the most important part of the journey is the next step. But how does this apply to New Year’s resolutions? Below is a simple guide to nixing the lofty end-goals and re-centering around continuous improvement.
Your brain on resolutions
Run a marathon. Learn beginner guitar. A classic resolution names exactly the outcome you want. It gives you a mountain to climb, literally or metaphorically. While it’s nice to have a vision to work towards, these kinds of goals can often have negative psychological effects.
First, lofty goals can dampen your self-esteem. When you set a goal, you place yourself in an immediate state of failure, by definition. And since most resolutions relate to self-improvement, this may provoke feelings of inadequacy. Second, we are particularly susceptible to “false hope syndrome” when making resolutions. A variant of the planning fallacy, we can assume that achieving a goal will be easier or faster to achieve than is realistic. When reality sets in, we give up or experience de-motivation.
“False hope syndrome is characterized by a person’s unrealistic expectations about the likely speed, amount, ease and consequences of changing their behavior.”
Third, a narrowly-defined goal may lead to de-motivation once we achieve the goal. We can mentally disconnect the goal from its underlying aspiration or principle. That’s why most dieters quickly regain all their lost weight, and then some. People who decide to adopt a healthy lifestyle, by contrast, often sustain success.
But how do you hold yourself accountable for self-improvement without a resolution? By changing your mindset to focus on the journey. That means prioritizing continuous improvement over specific milestones.
For the last few years I have swapped out resolutions for annual themes. C.G.P. Grey describes themes as something you want more of in your life, a principle that you will use to make decisions. For me, last year was the “Year of Intentionality.” I wanted to do fewer things better. I wanted to avoid weaker interests that might crowd more important areas of my life. This theme gave me the grace to “Marie Kondo” my life. I said “thank you and goodbye” to the things that I like doing but didn’t have space for. And pandemic not withstanding, this was my most successful New Year’s resolution yet.
From planner to navigator
It’s an unpredictable world out there. Having detailed life plans that you regularly scrap or revise can feel like a waste. Of course an initial plan can provide a valuable starting place. Plans can help you test assumptions and approaches. And the goal you are mapping towards can give you an inspiring vision and a sense of urgency. But the scale of the plan directly relates to the probability of success. A plan to get from your couch to the front door is more likely to succeed than a plan to get from your couch to Times Square, which depends on whether your E train became an F or your Q became a 2 train.
“Plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”
General Dwight D. Eisenhower
If resolutions are truly meant to help improve your life, themes are much better suited to the job. They provide clear decision-making principles that enable you to plan your next step, no matter what life throws at you. And because the locus of control is with you, in a year’s time, you will look back and see visible growth.
This summer, as we broke out of our quarantine cocoons, we all became nature enthusiasts as we sought out wide-open spaces. The air was sweet and social distancing was easy. But as the leaves are changing, so is the COVID case count trend line — and not for the better. Seeing the Wall in the north signals the worst, and we must be ready for it. Like any epic sequel, we have learned a thing or two since facing the last big bad. Consider last winter’s self-isolation a practice round. This time, you’re going to be ready. With this survival kit, you can stay healthy all winter long, body, mind, and soul.
Your physiological well-being is tier one on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Here are three things beyond sheltering in place that will keep you healthy this winter.
If the pandemic has showed us nothing else, hygiene and health go hand-in-hand. The Roborock S6 MaxV robot vacuum and mop literally does all the dirty work for you by keeping your floors gleaming. With the bad germs gone, you can fully enjoy the Great Indoors.
Whether you love working out or hate it, Fitbod really does fit any user. It generates custom workouts based on (1) how often you want to workout, (2) your available equipment, and (3) your freshest muscle groups. You can also adjust the suggest workout modules as you go, so it can truly fit the time you have available and your fitness level. Because of Fitbod, I exercise more than I ever have before: three times a week for 20 minutes. My mother would be proud.
Baldor is a New York restaurant supplier that started delivering direct-to-consumer at the start of the pandemic. It’s higher quality than Whole Foods, yet less expensive. You can buy European, preservative-free canned tuna and Hudson Valley farm CSA boxes. Their “peak season” and “local” buttons point you to the freshest food available and help you support local businesses. The minimum order size is $200, which isn’t hard to meet if you freeze some of your order. Watch out for item sizes — some SKUs are definitely intended for high-volume restaurants!
Now that you’ve got a plan for your physical health, it’s time think about your mind. (So meta.)
Boredom ranks as the most common quarantine complaint. But your livingroom doesn’t need to be where creativity goes to die. Below are sources of stimulation and tools that provide some of the interactive flexibility that you had when working in-person.
4. An Ipad + Apple Pencil
When you’re trying to map out an idea or ideate with a team, sometimes you just need a whiteboard. Using tools like Microsoft OneNote or Google Jamboard can enable visual collaboration in real time. And if you want to draw things other people will recognize, mouse scribbles just don’t cut it. An Apple Pencil instantly gives you the same articulation as a whiteboard.
5. Zoom virtual backgrounds
This may seem like a small one, but I think I’ve been around the world and back with all the creative backgrounds I’ve seen and employed. It keeps viewers stimulated in a time of screen fatigue.
Remember those? They are what people read before online news and Netflix. Take the opportunity this winter to rediscover what’s on your book shelf, join a book club, or renew your library card. And if you’re not afraid of endless screen time, the New York Public library has an extensive e-book collection.
Now that your body and mind are feeling like well-oiled machines, it’s time to think about the things that make life worth living, the things that feed your soul.
As I’m sure you learned in the first quarantine, operating at your best takes more than just a healthy body and engaged mind. Below are three things that nourish the soul.
7. WakingUp app
Bestselling author Sam Harris created a guided meditation platform called Waking Up. Through it, you can both practice meditation, and learn the theory behind the practice. It offers a 30-day free trial beginners course that introduces many types of mindfulness meditation, along with access to other mindfulness content. If there’s anything we all need after the crazy year of 2020, it’s help clearing our minds and centering ourselves.
Our minds are all we have. They are all we have ever had. And they are all we can offer others.
– Sam Harris, best-selling author and neuroscientist
8. Pod buddies
Introvert or extrovert, relationships are rejuvenating. I almost forgot people came in three dimensions until I started meeting a pod body every other week. And now, the world feels a bit more human.
There’s one product that offers physical engagement, mental stimulation, and soul-stirring joy rolled all into one.
10. Oculus Quest
The Oculus Quest‘s Beat Saber offers immersive entertainment, that gets you moving and brings the inexplicable soul highs of electronic music. With the Quest’s new wireless capabilities, it’s a huge upgrade from the Oculus Rift.
Ready Player One was closer than we thought, and with the state of the world in 2020, it’s perfect timing.
Ready for Round 2
Tie a bandana around your head and put on some boxing wraps, because you are ready for the next round of lock down. God speed.
Every year economists cringe at the “deadweight loss” of Christmas gifts — the monetary loss that comes from spending more on presents than people value them. And the level of deadweight loss can be horrifying for Halloween trick-or-treaters. Nerds given to chocolate lovers. And saltwater taffy just thrown in the trash. But a solution has arisen from the hallways of NYC public schools.
The youth of New York recognized the importance of a robust secondary market for Halloween candy. Markets began to formalize a decade ago, following one Brooklyn classroom’s trading flows making national news. Soon after, the New York Candy Exchange (NYCE), located in Tribeca, opened its hallways for trading. For the last five years we’ve seen heavy trading the day after Halloween, tapering off into the second week of November.
While this year has made in-person trading difficult, hall monitor Sally McCoy of P.S. 32 remains optimistic. “We’ve seen extensive preparation in primary markets to ensure continued candy supply. With this encouragement, secondary markets are displaying a real appetite to continue trading.” To reduce in-person exposure, both the NYCE and the Chicago Candy Exchange (CCE) unveiled new digital exchanges, which debuted for initial futures trading last week. Savvy children have started creating options markets for candy that doesn’t exist yet.
In one-week options with November 1 maturities, Snickers is the clear Halloween favorite. But not everyone is sweet on this option. We spoke to Johnny “Mars-slayer” Malone of P.S. 46, who had decided to short Snickers this year. “Normally I do a straddle trade, going long on full-sized Snickers and short on minis. But this year, I think it’s a bubble. The writing is on the wall.” Yes, Johnny read the notices on the lunchroom wall about peanut safety.
With potential peanut regulations looming on the horizon from the New York Board of Education, Johnny feels confident in his position.
We reached out to Mars Inc. for comment on peanut regulation, and the Investor Relations Officer had this to say: “Everyone cares about the safety of children, but what we need is smart regulation… We recognize the frothiness of the market in these turbulent times, but this spike is supported by strong nougat fundamentals.”
But the market can stay irrational longer than Johnny can stay solvent. Fortunate for Johnny, he’s successfully negotiated favorable margin limits with Mrs. Malone, on the agreement that Johnny maintains his allowance reserves at 200% of his original trade. Johnny sealed the deal with a clause allowing Mrs. Malone to keep 10% of all discounted primary market purchases made on November 1st.
New York small businesses have seen the full financial force of the pandemic, and restaurants have born the brunt of it. Roughly 7,000 NYC small businesses have shut down permanently since the start of the pandemic. The New York Times reported that a third of these small business closures are restaurants. So when I see a tattooed old man out with his DeWalt circular saw and 2x4s procured from the Flatiron Home Depot two blocks away, building outdoor seating as structurally sound as any residential building, my hat goes off to him. This post is a homage to those who have recreated the restaurant.
Reinvention: Not just by restaurant owners
We’ve heard various narratives about the “multiplier effect” of a job. Once one person is employed, they have money to spend that helps employ someone else. The same is true of restaurants setting up outdoor seating. From local contractors to florists to set designers looking for very off-Broadway work, skilled builders have redeployed expertise for the local restaurant. Design firms like Rockwell Group and Pink Sparrow have mocked up modular, prefabricated platforms, barriers, and parklets — which they may make available as DIY kits. And of course, most scrappy New York restaurateurs literally scrapped something together.
Best of NYC outdoor seating
In celebration of NYC creativity, we’ve identified a few outdoor dining “winners” who categorically stood out.
Most creative social distancing: Cafe du Soleil, French cafe, Upper West Side
Best outdoor indoor seating: Kyuramen, ramen house, Flushing
Best use of public infrastructure: Hudson Clearwater, American restaurant, West Village
Most European-inspired: Le Zie, Italian restaurant, Chelsea
It’s not just restaurants that are allowed to apply for street seating —it’s anyone with a ground-floor store front. And it’s not just a pandemic “perk” now to dine outside. Our mayor wants to embrace our new sidewalk cafe seating year-round. While our city is evolving out of necessity, some of it will be for the better. Especially for all the new puppy owners who can bring their four-legged family members out for lunch and dinner.
On a personal note, it’s great to see the Keynsian multiplier in full effect, increasing the velocity of money and driving trickle-out economics. As in we’re trickling out into the streets.
Since being locked away, we’ve all had to spent a little more time in the kitchen. With a bit of experimentation, I’ve captured the quarantine experience in a recipe that redefines mocktail: The Quarantini.
Heavy amount social distancing 5 new face masks 4 electronic devices 3 Netflix series 2 new app downloads 1 new hobby 1 new subscription service 1 adopted pet 1 bicycle A dash of social isolation Sourdough starter A gallon of hand sanitizer Unlimited social unrest
Optional: 1 bucket of coronas 1 new escape plan
To gather all your ingredients, first walk outside. Realize you are in a real-life I am Legend scene. Walk back inside. Embrace the “Spaceship you” and decide to become a better version of yourself. Download one fitness and one mindfulness app. Adopt a puppy. Reignite your love of puzzles with a 1000-piece monthly subscription box. Read blogs about whether your sourdough baby is normal. Add a dash of social isolation that sinks you deeper into your four devices. Binge your favorite three Netflix series. Decide you’re ready to go outside, with a heavy dose of social distancing. Realize that spring fashion is all about mask fashion now. Give the evil eye to anyone not wearing a mask, making loud comments about how some people don’t know what “six feet” means until people sheepishly back off or become enraged. Stir in increasing amounts of social unrest, until the street protests are daily, and hand sanitizer flows freely as city budgets dry up.
Realize that this is bigger than you and requires systems change. Break out your optional buck of coronas on the rocks, best enjoyed in makeshift outdoor seating. Mix a dash of homelessness as shelters become less safe and the eviction moratorium ends. Hatch your emergency escape plan in case the city loses its je-ne-sais-quoi. And finally, watch a man in a beret cycle by, playing gentle french music from his speakers, and remember why you love New York. Pop open one more corona and pour one for your hommies.
It goes without saying that there is a lot going on these days that feels both urgent and important. In the times of COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter, time feels more scarce, yet there is more to absorb, digest, and take action on.
As I increased my news and Twitter intake, I realized the social media siren was calling me not just to engage, but to be mindful of how I engage. I needed to reinstate my mindfulness practice. This raised a question of seeming contradictions: Could Twitter train my mindfulness muscle?
The original engagement engine
Your brain is the original engagement engines. It hunts for things to keep your interest, presenting thoughts until it hits the jackpot of something you’re willing to latch onto. Just like a Twitter feed.
Unfortunately, our brains seem to think engagement is an end unto itself. Optimizing only for engagement crowds out so many other important mental qualities and states, like peace, self-control, and clarity. Yet this seems to be the center of gravity for our brains. If left unchecked, our brains can habituate negative engagement like anxiety, anger, or other counter-productive emotions.
What Twitter has in common with mindfulness
If you have ever tried mindfulness, you may have had the experience of thoughts passing you by without you feeling attached to them. Without you *engaging* with them. Scrolling through, without clicking anything, does not count as engagement in the Twitter algorithm. You need to click, like, retweet to register engagement.
But what about when you read a toxic comment thread? Is there a way to engage mindfully even when it sets you off?
A strong mindfulness practice does not mean you will be shielded from things you consider unpleasant. The important thing in Twitter and mindfulness is that you actively choose when and how to engage. Developing a mindfulness habit means even when you engage, you do not latch on indefinitely to a thought. You can release the thought when you choose, before your brain escalates into a grappling match. You can keep scrolling for the next idea, thoughtfully integrate the good ones, and move on at will.
Embracing new possibilities
There is a way to be proactive without being over-reactive. Sometimes you can let go of the struggle. Letting go will help you, whether you want to observe what is useful and move on, or take notes and artfully act.
In this moment we can’t let the world pass us by. Neither can we let it consume us. We can and must carve a path forward on our terms. Because a mind is a terrible thing to waste — especially on negative engagement.
Comparing just three different parts of the city — Chelsea/NoMad, Flatbush, and East New York — points to very different testing trends. These neighborhoods could be fairly described as high, medium, and low income, respectively. While Chelsea and NoMad (zip code 10001) saw the total number of tests per day rising from April 1 to May 20, Flatbush and East New York (zip codes 11203 and 11239) actually saw their daily testing rate *fall* during the same period. Although the number of positive cases dropped steadily over time in all three areas, the rate of change (indicated by the line graphs) for testing and positive test cases trend downward together in Flatbush and East New York. This suggests under-reporting of cases. The Chelsea and Nomad rates of change, by contrast, show an acceleration of testing and declining growth in positive diagnoses. With bigger sample sizes and more data points, we can confidently say Chelsea and Nomad had falling R0s.
Since Phase 1: More universal testing and better results
Today, looking back on the two weeks since Phase 1 began, there are sustained signs of improvement. Across our three sample zip codes, we saw total case levels flatten while total testing continued to increase, giving us confidence that our R0 was truly falling across the different locales.
The data indicate that targeted interventions in areas like East New York meaningfully boosted the rate of testing. Whereas testing rates hovered around 30 per day for all of April and May, for one day in June, shortly after Phase 1 reopening, testing jumped to about 150.
These signs bode well. So should we be encouraged? On balance, yes. Even in our biggest recent gatherings, the Black Lives Matter protests, protesters have had each other’s backs, wearing face masks and gloves and offering hand sanitizer. There may be pockets of regression as Gen Zers flock back to bars sans masks, but with new cleaning and hygiene norms everywhere, I remain cautiously optimistic that our city will heal.
Today: Still worth taking a different “PAUSE”
Despite the positive recent trends, the aftershock will be felt for a long time. Nearly as many New Yorkers have died from COVID-19 as live in the 10001 zip code. But very few of these deaths were in Chelsea and Nomad. Flatbush experienced hundreds of deaths, and East New York experienced seven times the number of deaths per 100,000 that Chelsea and Nomad did.
It is worth pausing to think through what exactly needs to change in order for the darkness of a pandemic case map to not reflect the darkness of neighborhood residents’ skin.
Five new realities and seven mindset shifts to get you work-ready
You have amassed incredible book smarts in the last four years. Now it is time for you to build professional smarts. For me, as a first-generation Jamaican American, I didn’t have many examples in my private life of how to navigate the professional settings I ended up in — finance and strategy consulting firms. I had to learn that hustle, diligence, and many other things that I thought I’d learned in school all look quite different in a workplace. Below are five key differences I observed, and seven mindset shifts I had to undergo to effectively adapt.
Five new realities of how school differs from the workplace
1. The role of analytical skills
In school I gained the impression that I could think, plan, or brute-force my way into almost any opportunity I wanted. In retrospect, these tactics worked well because I was either undertaking something entrepreneurial, like starting a student group, or operating within a well-defined system, like a class scoring rubric. Most workplaces, by contrast, are somewhere in between. Systems are loosely-defined, with unspoken rules and silent expectations. Consequently, communication skills and other “soft skills”, like people skills and team collaboration, are more “make or break” than the analytical skills you learn at school.
2. The belief in objectivity
In academic courses, every attempt is made to set an objective grading rubric, to pre-define standards of what “right” is and what “good” looks like. While some companies try to come up with a trajectory map that emulates this specificity of standards, I have never seen one that wasn’t wide open to interpretation. Phrases like “produces consistent, high-quality work” on qualitative rating systems where the highest score is “exceeds expectations” are typical. These are vagaries layered on moving targets. Thus, it becomes your responsibility to manage not only your own performance and development, but also how you are perceived.
3. The idea — and relevance — of a “right answer”
When a teacher poses a question to a class, more often than not there is a right answer ready to hand. Not so in business. More likely than not, the question is being asked *because* there is no ready answer. In strategy consulting (which is essentially project-based problem-solving for companies), I’ve found there can be multiple, equally valid answers to a question. Which answer you should lead with is context-dependent. The expansive number of unknowns also means you can expect to be wrong more often in the working world. In finance, peers often told me “as long as I’m right more than I’m wrong, I’m in good shape” — and these were peers putting other people’s money and, thus, livelihoods on the line with their decisions. Still, they were confident enough to take action and take responsibility for the consequences.
4. How you engage with authorities
Without a right answer at the ready, and with a lot of subconscious expectations, many managers struggle to give explicit guidance. Instead, most managers provide general guidance and are prone to make corrections after the fact. It is up to you to figure out what you don’t know you don’t know, so you have a comprehensive understanding of your development areas and how to meet or exceed expectations. This requires you to build rapport with and learn from peers and authorities alike. You build rapport by taking an interest in how they operate and what you should emulate. Figure out how you can make your boss’ life easier and also how to gracefully communicate your and your project’s needs.
5. How you define success
In school, there is a fairly narrow path to “success,” defined by grades and how advanced or complex the subjects you study are. By contrast, career success is deeply individual. Choosing your major in college may seem overwhelming but is finite compared to the unlimited number of career choices you will have. These choices will be multifaceted. You will need to balance your goals, financial needs, passions, and strengths. Rather than be overwhelmed, you simply need to be informed about the implications of each choice for your future opportunities, and to accept that you may not have the exact perfect job all the time. Indeed, a perfect job may be mythical, as no one likes their job all of the time.
Seven mindset shifts to get “work-ready”
The above differences may sound straightforward on the surface, but they require a number of mental shifts to psychologically prepare for the working world. Below are seven “From / To goals” that will set you on a strong footing for your foray into the working world.
1. Thinking of work tasks as “assignments” → Big-picture thinking about team objectives
Rather than thinking of your tasks as things to tick off a list, you need to think carefully about how your work will be used. Questions you might ask yourself include: Who is using what I am making? What will they expect to see? Are there examples or precedents I need to model my work after? How much of this is custom content vs. standard content? How can I simplify things to make this immediately usable or actionable?
2. Perfectionism → Growth mindset
Rather than investing an infinite amount of energy into a project, you need to learn to invest the right amount of efforts to get the job done. There is no time to examine every alternative or to leave no stone unturned. This means you have to let go of any fear of being imperfect or wrong, as you calibrate with and for your team or client.
3. Expecting a roadmap → Learning to navigate
While there may be a few examples to learn from that help you make a preliminary plan or guide for your work and career, some aspect of your work will include uncharted territory. You will have to develop the skill of navigating as you go, in a way that progresses your objective as new information becomes available.
4. “Big reveals” → Bringing people with you as you produce work
Just working hard won’t necessarily win you appreciation or reward. Hoping people notice your work without sharing your progress or involving others also leaves you at risk of going in the wrong direction. Rather than revealing all your hard work when it’s done, validate your approach with your boss and pick up tips from your peers along the way. Involve your team in your journey.
5. Assuming people think like you → Listening to and managing people
Eliminate the word “should” from your vocabulary when thinking about others. Empathy is your most powerful tool for understanding coworkers and managing your boss, your teammates, and other co-workers.
6. Thinking a role is too good or not good enough → Focusing on learning and strong execution
Knowing how to execute simpler tasks inside and out means you will be competent enough to teach others and to find efficiencies. Taking on “stretch roles” that are beyond your current experience or knowledge is equally important. Don’t be afraid to take informed risks. Be confident in your capacity to learn, adapt, and step up.
7. Always sticking it out → Recognizing if an environment is unhealthy or just a bad fit
Only you know your tolerance-level for unhealthy work environments, which, unfortunately, there is no shortage of. If staying is important to your next professional or financial goal, you may stick out a job with a terrible boss or insane hours for several years. But notice how it’s impacting your sense of confidence and sense of self, and consider if there are alternatives that get you to the same place. And make sure you find a mentor or peer to talk it out with.
With that, class of 2020, I welcome you to the “real world.” I wish you a strong start, many adventures, and the confidence that comes with knowing that all of my friends from school have pretty much found their happy places.
We’ve now seen two waves of high face-mask fashion: the early-responders and the marketing-minded. Early-responders were fast acting in response to our crisis. Many early-mover brands that retooled for face mask-making, like La Ligne and Clare V., prioritized relief efforts by donating to coronavirus charities. Others simply channeled their creative energies, adapted their couture style to make face masks beautiful accessories.
The freshest wave of fashion-mask makers took a little more time to think, and have figured out different “masks as marketing” strategies. High-end designers have introduced matching outfits, with spring patterns and luxurious materials. “Free mask with purchase” has become a hook to drive sales. And branded masks, both for sale and as give-aways, are providing free advertising for masstige and boutique brands alike.
This industry pivot feels uniquely American. In countries like Korea, where mask wearing was more of a prior norm and more quickly adopted, fashionistas have focused more on eye-makeup than the actual mask aesthetic. America, it seems, is more masterful at driving spending. And looking at our annual ad spend, it’s no wonder: American companies spend 2.7x more on advertising compared to the next biggest spender, China. As they say, it takes money to make money.
American companies are also exceptionally creative at inventing new market niches. I would have expected Victoria’s Secrets to come up with the provocative mask that looks like lingerie. But Katie May beat them to it.
All in all, I tip my protective visor to the fashion industry for getting creative. One of the joys of living in New York is witnessing everyone’s self expression, and right now, the most universal way to do that is through face masks. I’ve collected a few now, with different fabrics, cuts, and patterns. It started out as a search for more comfort, and now, it’s become a statement.
In the new normal of remote work, we are still adapting to the intense amount of screen time that has replaced our in-person interactions. Perhaps you don’t feel like happy hours are as happy when you’re sitting an extra hour at your computer. Or you miss the simple phone calls that have suddenly turned video. For those who empathize, I offer the Zoom serenity prayer:
God grant me the serenity to accept the Zoom calls I cannot change; courage to cancel the video calls I do not need; and wisdom to know the difference.
Boundaries are harder than ever to set in these crazy times, but also more important than ever for our mental health and productivity. Take CGP Grey’s word for it.
Have your own remote work serenity prayer? Please share on Twitter @mbainthecity!