Tsuyoku Naritai

Happy New Year, dear readers (albeit somewhat belatedly). I’ve been spending most of the last month traveling and spending time with family and friends. And now I’m going to tackle the matter that is on everyone’s mind at this time of the year: New Year’s Resolutions! Aren’t you all excited?

I’ve never been a fan of making a long list of resolutions on January 1. There’s an arbitrariness to it that I’ve never found appealing. I understand the need for a New Year’s Day for practical purposes, but it is really just another day. It doesn’t even commemorate someone’s birthday or a memorable event. Furthermore, grand announcements of how we’re going to change our lives have always seemed unnatural. Most of the changes in my life (and I’ve changed a lot over the last few years) have been sequences of events, opportunities and small decisions building up over time, not sudden all-changing promises.

All that being said, I am a fan of the general notion of self-improvement. A few months ago I came across the Japanese phrase “Tsuyoku Naritai” which translates to “I want to become stronger”. The original article by Eliezer Yudkowsky is worth reading and I won’t bother repeating it here. It focuses on the idea of improvement (getting stronger) as opposed to the idea of simply apologizing for weakness (and not doing anything about it). But the concept of Tsuyoku Naritai presents an interesting contrast to the idea of New Year’s resolutions.

I have always felt that resolutions were mostly external motivations: they embodied things that we thought we should change, that we were constantly being told we should change. By contrast I feel Tsuyoku Naritai is more intrinsic. It’s not “I should” or “I will”, it is “I want”. It acknowledges that we may not have strength now, but it declares that we want to gain it.

“Tsuyoku Naritai” is more general than most resolutions. While I’m all for specificity of goals, the start of the year might be the wrong time for them. Making serious changes takes a lot of willpower – something that we have a finite supply of. Deciding to change our diet, our exercise routine, our work schedule and how we spend free time all at the same time is a fool’s errand. The need for willpower can be mitigated by making use of habit – putting things on autopilot. But setting a new habit takes about a month and in that time we’re burning precious willpower reserves. We may be able to completely change all the spheres of our life over a year, but we certainly can’t do it all at the same time. Instead of making lots of specific promises at the start of the year, maybe it’s better to pick an over-arching theme. We can pick a goal a month that to devote our willpower to and set into a habit.

This year I don’t have a set of resolutions. I do have a list of things I want to accomplish over the course of the year, but I’m taking them one at a time. But in addition to those specifics I have a more general theme of wanting to be stronger – physically, intellectually, maybe even mentally/emotionally (though I’m not entirely sure what that would entail). Tsuyoku Naritai is my theme for 2013 and something I hope to revisit as the year progresses.

I hope you all have a happy and productive new year. Live long and prosper. Become stronger.

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Sunday Selection 2012-09-02

Hello all. I’ve been on extended vacation for the last month or so. I’ve spent a few weeks on actual vacation and the rest in “vacation mode”. I’m glad to report I made it back to civilization alive and I’m looking forward to the fall. It’s getting cooler outside, I moved into a new office, I upgraded my phone and I’m looking forward to a semester full of low-level systems programming, working on a programming language (or two) and hopefully a good number of fun, random hacks.

I’ve done a good amount of reading while I’ve been gone so I have a long list of things to recommend which I’ll be working through over the next few weeks.

Around the Web

I want to become stronger

There is something about being human that drives us to improve ourselves and become better. The rise of the self-help industry in recent years has brought this aspect of our nature into the mainstream media but I’m unsure of how much positive impact it has had. Of course, self improvement is not new and definitely not uniquely Western. It’s worth looking afield for a philosophical understanding of what is means to want to be better.

Not for the sake of selfishness alone

While philosophical discussions make for interesting conversation and are worth pondering on a personal level, if we really want answers to the questions let’s call on science and technology to give us a hand. This article gives a good overview of scientific research into human altruism and its biological roots.

Depression, digging out and pursuing happiness

As much as we’d like to think that being happy is our default state, sometimes it’s not. Sometimes it feels so much easier to just crawl under the blankets, stay there and let the world pass you by. For times like that it worth’s remembering: you are not alone and there are things you can do to make things just a little bit better.

From the Bookshelf

Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes and the Greatest Race the World has Ever Seen

Humans are probably the only animals that take strenuous, energy-consuming physical activity and turn it into something recreational. If you’re a runner or athlete or have been thinking of taking up some kind of physical activity this is definitely a book worth reading. It combines personal anecdotes, inspiring stories, short biographies and hard science into a very readable explanation of why humans are natural born runners and how far running can take us (literally and metaphorically).

Software

Android Ice Cream Sandwich

Ok so I’m about six months behind the upgrade curve but I just upgraded my Nexus S to ICS and I really like it. The interface looks sharp and refreshing, it’s fairly different from iOS and the apps seem to faster and snappier. If you’re still running Gingerbread I would definitely recommend upgrading (though the path may not be easy). A longer post on the matter will be coming shortly to a screen near you.