2021 Planning

Review & Planning

  • Since there has to be first time for everything, I figure 2020 was as good (or bad) a year as any for a first yearly review. I figured I'd make it public to clarify my aims for the coming year.

    A note about goal-setting

    Communicating your goals may decrease your likelihood of achieving them (Gollwitzer et al. 2014)1, so the conventional advice is to keep your goals private. I'm doing the opposite because I believe that having a public ledger of my intentions will hold me accountable. I don't want to be the sanctimonious productivity proselytizer who doesn't heed his own advice.

    Still, I'll prefer focusing on habits over goals. The former are more sustainable and compound over the long term.

The short

For those who can't be bothered to read an essay on some other guy's goals for 2021 (which I hope is most of you) and who don't really care to relive 2020 (which I know is most of you), here's the plan for 2021 (habits in italics; goals without):

  • πŸ„ General
    • Move back to North America.
    • Start following the GTD workflow.
  • 🧠 Mind
    • 🧘 Mindfulness
      • Meditate daily. Try a (β‰₯) week-long meditation retreat.
    • πŸ‘« Relationships
      • Find a community of friends and professional acquaintances wherever we end up moving. Engage in local politics.
    • πŸŽ“ Learning
      • Continue growing my SRS and second brain.
      • 1 book a week. Read through the works of Twain, Orwell, and the Stoics. Read β‰₯5 non-English books.
      • Italian to B2; German to B1
  • πŸ«€ Body
    • 🏊 Movement
      • Continue daily mobility and flexibility exercises. Reach at least 6 months without injury.
      • Experiment with breathing techniques (Wim Hof, Buteyko, etc.) and find one that works for the daily meditation practice.
      • Start jump-roping daily (or do some other cardio). Bring my resting heart-rate down below 70.
    • πŸ₯— Consumption
      • Do a prolonged fast every 3 months. Start with 2 days and work up to a 5-day fast (or with a fasting mimicking diet).
      • Write about the environmental and health consequences of my eating patterns. Adjust accordingly.
  • 🏭 Output
    • πŸŽ“ Masters
      • Get a β‰₯9.0 (out of 10.0) on my thesis and an award (any award).
    • πŸ“¬ Blog
      • Write weekly and develop a course (likely about workflows for academic research) for passive income.
    • πŸ’Ÿ Health Curious
      • Achieve consistent growth with Health Curious. Get into YC S2021.

The long

If you're the kind of person who gets off reading other people's reviews/plannings, this next part is for you.

**πŸ„ General **

The biggest anticipated change of 2021 is that my partner and I are planning to move back to North America after we finish our masters. The particular location will depend on COVID, whether we get accepted to a startup accelerator, and the whims of our wills. We might end up anywhere between San Francisco or Costa Rica.

Perhaps the second largest change I hope to make is to be less of a spaz when it comes to organizing my time. To adopt a workflow like the GTD to make sure that reviews like this one are part of a regular and self-reinforcing practice.

🧠 Mind

I'm no mind-body dualist, but the distinction can be useful enough in practice. Let's further subdivide "the mind" into:

  1. 🧘 Mindfulness
  2. πŸ‘« Relationships
  3. πŸŽ“ Learning

🧘 Mindfulness

Unfortunately, "mindfulness" has been appropriated by the juice-cleansing-horoscopist yogis of yuppiedom. But I've sampled enough of the psychedelic spectrum to know that there really is something in "mindfulness" worth pursuingβ€”a simple presence of thought and awareness of self, the opposite of distractedness and muddled thinking. It's about training the ability to focus.

And I've listened to enough Sam Harris and co. to know that meditation is the most direct path to this mindfulness thing. So I've been on and off meditating between 10 and 20 minutes a day for the past two years.

The problem is that meditation hasn't really stuck yet.

Of the mindfulness arsenal, I much prefer the more dynamic yoga and cousins (pilates and calisthenics) to standard Vipassana meditation. I can't say the thought of more sedentary time excites me. Still, I'm not quite ready to give up on meditating.

This coming year I'd like to try a meditation retreatβ€”COVID allowing. Maybe even a silent retreat. I'm not too excited about the anti-scientism endemic in mindfulness circles, but I can put up with it for the benefits of the digital and dopaminergic fast.

πŸ‘« Relationships

I was pretty antisocial this year but then so were most. It's just that I didn't really mind being antisocial (and even encouraged the introversion). But that's probably because mine was not a true isolation. COVID provided the impetus my partner and I needed to move in together, so oxytocin and vasopressin still flowed pretty liberally.

But I could be a little more social this year. And once we're there it'll take active effort to rebuild a social network. Needless to say, I'll take the renewed sociability way too seriously (e.g., draw up timetables so that I stay in touch with my friends at the right intervals, put people's names in my Anki with pictures I've lifted from LinkedIn, and organize cult-like bonding dinners).

More broadly, I'd like to become more civically active. To know the elected representatives of my community and lend a helping hand.

But let's avoid setting too many social expectations because COVID is still in full swing.

πŸŽ“ Learning

This year, I drank the second-brain Kool-aid. And I've had a serious relapse of Anki addiction after being clean for almost two years. My main hope for this coming year is to feed those addictions.

But we can be more tangible. Much of my learning is oriented towards output (the last of my three major life themes). E.g.: learning for a masters thesis, for this blog, and for business. We'll come back to those subjects at the end of this review. But there remains a part which I pursue more for the pure pleasure of learning. Particularly learning languages and reading fiction.

πŸ—£ Languages

This year, my language-learning focus was Italian. Though it's speculative, I'd say I've gone from beginner to about B1. My aim for the coming year is to get to B2 in Italian, then reach B1 with German. I made a bet with a friend two years ago that I'd read Faust in the original language by my 25th birthday (and hand him a book report in the same). Time's ticking.

πŸ“š Reading

In 2020, I averaged a book a week if you include audiobooks. In 2021, I'd like to average the same excluding audiobooks (because my brother's critique that audiobooks shouldn't count to my goodreads total hit a sore spot). As for what I'll be reading, my next projects are the complete works of Orwell, Twain, and the Stoics. And I'll be trying to up my non-English reading.

πŸ«€ Body

As for the body, we'll subdivide into the food that goes in and the movement that comes out.

  1. 🏊 Movement
  2. πŸ₯— Consumption

🏊 Movement

You can reach a contented mind with a broken body, but it's easier when your body complies. My body's doing alright, but it's a little more injury-prone than I'd like. Over the years, it's suffered a runner's knee (though I've never been a runner), a tennis elbow (though I've never been a tennis player), an emacs pinky and something like carpal tunnel (I have been a heavy emacs user), and a sprained right shoulder. It probably has something to do with the horrible sedentariness of the information economy. And my general aggressiveness at the keyboard.

Some of my interventions have been material: a standing desk, a laptop stand, an ergonomic keyboard, an ergonomic mouse, barefoot shoes, and most recently a set of foot pedals. Which have had some effect on my injury susceptibility (and considerable effect on my intimidation factor at the computer). But the real difference has come from interventions in movement.

Instead of focusing on strength- and muscle-building, my only concern has become well-being and injury prevention. That has shifted my regimen to more work on mobility, flexibility, stability, and balance. I'm in it for the long haul: strengthening the connective fascia, tendons, and ligaments takes much longer than strengthening the muscles. So I have many more months in store of recuperative exercise before I'll again entertain vain thoughts of muscle growth.

My biggest corporal hope for 2021 is that the saunas reopen. I find the whole meditating thing easier when you're up against 80ΒΊC. Sort of the same way that minor distractions while walking bring out the most creative thoughts. In the same vein, I'm interested in trying a wider range of breathing techniques to see what kinds of meditation work best for me.

The other aim for this year is to adopt some kind of cardio. I worry about dying earlier because I'm tall (and every 10 cm of height increases your odds of cancer by 10%, Nunney 2018) sometimes to hypochondriac proportions (my resting heart rate is above average, 80-90, and every 10 bpm increase in resting heart rate is a 10 to 22% increase in mortality, Jensen et al. 2013; knowing this generally increases my heart rate even more). Not to mention the increased risk of chronic lower back pain (Hershkovich et al. 2013).

πŸ₯— Consumption

The same longevity paranoia plagues my eating patterns. In pursuit of immortality, I've been intermittent fasting (16/8) for three years. This past year, I tried my first (successful) one-day and two-day fasts (a past attempt while traveling led to me fainting in front of the TSA, but that's a different story). This coming year I'm interested in pushing the limits further, and maybe even try something like Dr. Valter Longo's five-day fasting mimicking diet.

As for what I eat, nutritionally I'm pretty happy. Still, I get antsy about aflatoxins in my peanut butter (Alam, Anco, & Rustgi 2020), mercury in my fish (EPA), rainforest destruction (UCS) and phytoestrogens (Cederroth & Nef 2009) in my soy, greenhouse gas emissions and animal cruelty in my meat (WRI), glycemic spikes in an occasional rice cracker, and candidiastry in my fruits (Samaranayake & Macfarlane 1982). My aim for 2021 is to better inform myself of the sources and impacts of the food I eat. To feel a little less overwhelmed by it all.

🏭 Output

I've always gotten a large amount of satisfaction from making things from LEGO as a kid to writings as an adult. So my last life theme is the work I create.

We'll into the three major projects that eat up almost all my time:

  1. πŸŽ“ Masters
  2. πŸ“¬ Blog
  3. πŸ’Ÿ Health Curious

πŸŽ“ Masters

If all goes according to schedule, I'll have my masters degree by the summer. Even though I'm not necessarily planning to continue with a PhD, I'd like to at least close with a bang. So that I can safely criticize the educational system from an authoritative position. I'd prefer wondering what I could have been to knowing that I couldn't have. It'll also make it easier to return to a PhD should I want to.

That means I'll be vying for the traditional forms of validation: a high grade and my university's thesis prize(s). Of my physics classmates, I'd wager my odds pretty good: my interests are at the perfect intersection of hype (deep neural networks) and interdisciplinarity (statistical physics + information theory + dynamical systems theory). It's just easier to win recognition with general subjects than niches like "Chern-Weil Global Symmetries and How Quantum Gravity Avoids Them" (no offense intended to the authors).

But that is going to require a few weeks/months of obsessive attention. More, I'll admit, than I've given in the last few months. But no worries, I've been here before, and intense spurts are my kind of thing.

πŸ“¬ Blog

I've already detailed my reasons for starting a blog. After finishing my masters, I'll be taking at least a year off from higher education to work on Health Curious (below) and other projects. As a financial padding and back-up to enable this year "off," I'm interested in using this site to generate passive (and active) income.

That probably means some combination of tutoring and courses, to which this this site will serve both as resume and as traction channel. Fortunately, I like teaching, and I don't feel too guilty about selling out to rich parents who are trying to raise their kids' SAT scores, so they can brag about the high-class colleges their kids got in to, then consent to ridiculous tuitions that fuel a student debt crisis that only fosters more of the inequality tearing society apart, while continuing the elite overproduction responsible for the demise of cooperation, etc. At least, I don't mind selling out for now. That's because I hope to inspire students to make a lasting difference of there own. And I think that's still possible within an educational system that's totally fucked up.

πŸ’Ÿ Health Curious

Finally, I hope to grow the fledgling product of my partner and mine, Health Curious. Health Curious aims to be Strava for coaching and health.

I agree with Justin.digital that social networks are fundamentally about building social capital through signaling. That what social networks provide is a distribution channel for signaling messages in combination with proof of work. Proof-of-creative-photo-making for Snapchat and Instagram, -video-making for Vine, and TikTok, -witty-writing for Twitter and Facebook, etc.

We want to build a social platform that hijacks our primal desire for recognition from peers to take care of our bodies and minds. Call me a romantic, but I still think we can use social networks to do something positive for people. For now, we have to keep our secrets to ourselves. But as we progress, I'll occasionally share details.

My goal for Health Curious this year is not a X number of users or X amount in valuation; my goal is a consistent rate of growth, if even 0.1% on 5,000 users.

To help us get to this stage (and also to turbocharge the transition from university to entrepreneurship), we'll be applying to YC for their 2021 summer batch. If we get in, we'll come in contact with a large number of inspired people who can help us realize our vision. And if we don't, well, we'll figure something else out.


There it is. I doubt anyone has the attention capacity to read through another person's review/planning, but, who knows, maybe it'll inspire you. In any case, good luck this year!

If you're inspired, then join me this first week of the new year in converting these year-long plans to regular milestones throughout the year. So we actually have a chance of making the big ones.



  1. Note that these studies typically have abysmally small sample sizes, short durations, and unrealistic motivations. Make sure to discount appropriately. ↩