Cody R. DeHaan

Depth Year

It’s the time of year when many people are bracing for the onslaught of their New Year’s resolutions. I’ve previously written about some strategies that can make these resolutions more effective.

However, this year I’m not setting resolutions for myself. Instead, I’m setting a theme for the year (inspired by David Cain and Leo Babauta). The idea of a theme is to work in a particular direction in your life, and pursue multiple strategies throughout the year that fit within that theme.

I am making 2019 a “Depth Year.” In other words, I am aiming to go “deeper, not wider” in my hobbies, material goods, and focus this year. I think David Cain explained this nicely:

No new hobbies, equipment, games, or books are allowed during this year. Instead, you have to find the value in what you already own or what you’ve already started.

You improve skills rather than learning new ones. You consume media you’ve already stockpiled instead of acquiring more.

You read your unread books, or even reread your favorites. You pick up the guitar again and get better at it, instead of taking up the harmonica. You finish the Gordon Ramsey Masterclass you started in April, despite your fascination with the new Annie Leibovitz one, even though it’s on sale.

The guiding philosophy is “Go deeper, not wider.”

For me, this means reading through my backlog of books before seeking out new material—and when I do want new books, I’ll try the library first instead of immediately buying it. I’m going to build up my current meditation practice, instead of trying new methods. I’m going to avoid buying new possessions unless necessary, because I already have most things I need. I’m going to try to work more deeply, with less time spent on shallow and unrewarding activity.1 To quote David Cain again:

Ever-branching possibilities make it harder for us to explore any given one deeply, because there’s always more “newness” to turn to when the old new thing has reached a difficult or boring part.

There’s a freedom that I think this theme will bring. It will save me from the inevitable process of picking out a next book, and instead I’ll just move to the next one I already have. It will free me from the habit of looking for new methods to achieve my goals, and instead allow me to focus on honing the methods and skills I already have. And because there’s no rigid resolution, I can avoid a common pitfall: when I fail for a day or week in achieving my goal, I can adapt and recalibrate to work toward my theme, instead of feeling like I’ve failed and giving up.

This is an experiment, and I’m not sure how well my “Depth Year” will go compared to any other year. But having repeatedly failed with any sort of resolution, I’m excited to give this a go.

Further reading:

  1. Cal Newport wrote an excellent book, Deep Work that covers this topic well. The idea is that expertise and deep knowledge is valuable, but most of us spend our time on shallow work that doesn’t benefit us. The book offers strategies for making more room for deep work in your life. ↩︎

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