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My Year of Small Large Changes

Johannes cum Grano Salis
United States
Finger Lakes
New York
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"It's not hard to design a game that works, the real challenge is making one that people want to play again and again."--Martin Wallace
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Microbadge: "The reward of a thing well done is to have done it." -- Ralph Waldo EmersonMicrobadge: Swimming fanMicrobadge: Parent of Two Girls and One BoyMicrobadge: Innovation fanMicrobadge: "Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify." -- Henry David Thoreau
I am not sure if I've ever accomplished a New Year's Resolution, truthfully. I have made resolutions, though I don't know how long I lasted with my new plan before habit got the better of me and I reverted to pre-resolution form. One of the reasons resolutions typically fail is because they are too much of a wholesale change, and that adopting the new routine or new behavior is so counter to established normalcy that too much willpower is expended, stress happens, and then: failure. A better way to make resolutions is to not do it all at once if the desired change is too drastic. Make smaller changes first, gradually adopt each one and make it a habit before adopting the next, and so on. Habits are hard to break (this is probably what got you into trouble in the first place), and by deliberately encouraging good habits, you make it a bit easier for yourself to succeed. It's satisfying to make it to the end of a sequence of microgoals, but it's also mentally frustrating to attack a bigger resolution with some bee sting-sized assaults over a long period of time.

Earlier today I made a list. This list can be read as either a list of goals, or a list of how I can correct everything I find unpleasant about myself: your pick. Most people think they have above-average willpower and can stop doing any habit they have; they just choose not to. This is a nice protective position to take. I have no doubt that people could accomplish a lot of great things by challenging themselves, but I think we all suspect that "I can do it if I want to" is often a deflection rather than a decision to not test oneself through some patently obviously and inevitably successful standoff.

My wife tells me I'm hard to shop for; I'd like to think that means I'm equal parts "discriminating taste" and "satisfied with what I have," but the truth is that, for years, if I wanted something badly enough I'd just buy it. So the reality is not that I'm discriminating, but that I'm too impulsive for gift-giving to make sense because family members know my state of "needing something" lasts about an hour before I log on to the Intertubes and lo, a transaction occurs, and my need is met, and my sister still doesn't know what to get me for Family Secret Santa (result: I got a lot of gift cards this year).

This year, overall, I bought less than I normally do. Partly because my son has cut into my leisure time, yes, but also because I have no real need for new things because I'm not done with the old ones yet. My wife and I spent more on experiences than things (well, we also replaced our driveway; that was both a thing and an experience), and we've already talked about keeping that going.

All this is to say that, for the first time in forever, I have a Resolution List composed of smaller changes to habits I already have in-progress. So while a lot of this might sound hokey ("you can do it! Just $29.95!"), I can attest that it actually does work if you feel stuck trying to get yourself to change in some way. But among the usual self-improvement stuff that creeps onto New Year's lists, there are also some gaming/purchasing changes that might be of interest to others, which I'll share here:

1. I'm going to use my gift cards today or tomorrow, and then not buy any new books or games for the year. This is the big one. My 2013 game purchases will consist of the Deep Thought Games order from December of 2011 that still hasn't shipped, and I'll try to get a Winsome 2013 Essen set this summer when that window (briefly) opens. That's it.

2. BGG less. The other night I caught myself watching a 15-minute video review of a game I already own. No disrespect to the reviewer, but What. The. Heck. By running Rescue Time on my laptop, I know what my normal time spent on the site is, and I've been slowly cutting back. Cutting back even more is not a dramatic change. I've spent a lot of time here researching what I own, so it'll be nice to focus more on playing than investigating. I've more or less stopped buying games anyway, so I don't feel this is a looming failure and public humiliation ("Yeah! Tell us another one, John!"). And frankly #2 will help with #1 automatically; I can't be tempted by a game I don't know about.

3. The other night I printed a pdf of some public-domain sheet music by a composer I like (Fernando Sor) and in about a week have worked my way through the whole piece. But it was free. I have a lifetime of music already in my house, more if I include the Internet (which I should). I'm adding music to my Forbidden Purchases list.

4. End the year with less. By the end of 2013, I'll have two full years of play log data (I plan on keeping that going). At that point, I'll have an even clearer idea of my available time to game, and I expect some heads to roll.

5. Spend more time with my Decktet and with my Penguin Encyclopedia of Card Games. There are a lot of potential games there, but as one NBA basketball player once so eloquently stated, "potential just means you ain't done sh*t."

6. As always, keep playing things with my wife, keep playing 18xx through Rails/Dropbox, enjoy my real life groups as much as I can, and play over lunch whenever possible with my neighbor.

I have plenty to amuse myself with during 2013, as I've long since reached Distraction Saturation. I've been pointing myself towards purchasing changes for a while, slowly. Reading about, thinking about, and talking about change is quite pleasurable, but often those are things we do in place of the actual change, unless of course your resolution is to read about, think about, or talk about a topic. 2013 is, therefore, my year of small large changes. I've never had resolutions seem so achievable before, and it's probably no accident that I've never achieved a resolution, either.

Wish me luck, and good luck in all your resolutions, as well, both big and small. Happy New Year.
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