First Commitments

Cal Newport recently wrote about the idea of Root Commitments:

The solution to these issues is simple: maintain a single root commitment, that you’ll stick to no matter what, which will in turn help you get the most out of all the other productivity commitments that come and go in your life.

To be more concrete, create a single page document that describes the key productivity rules, habits, and systems (which I’ll summarize as “processes” in the following) that you currently follow in your life.

This is an idea I've been implementing in my life for a long time, with varying degrees of success. There's a whiteboard next to my desk, and on it I'll often keep a list of primary focuses (not unlike the "Now" page, or sometimes even a series of daily rules (e.g. meditate 20-minutes a day, sit in the chair for two hours each day, lift four times a week, etc.). 

The real struggle for me has never been what to commit to, but how to avoid the things that distract from those commitments. After reading Cal's advice, I sat down to reevaluate my own Root Commitments, and instead I solved, at least for myself, the distraction problem: 

First Commitments

Not Root Commitments, but First Commitments. I.e., what, in every area of my life, am I committed to pursuing before the alternative (which, the alternative, is usually a distraction)? In some cases this means eschewing (to the best of my ability) the alternative altogether; in others, it simply means doing something before the alternative; and in some cases, the alternative is only a substitute, engaged in sparingly.

Some examples from my own list, which, like everything, will evolve:

  • The Work — before play
  • Sleep/Rest — instead of overwork or overplay
  • Books — before TV, most movies, video games
  • Paper — as apposed to digital
  • Long-form journalism — instead of tweets, soundbites, breaking news
  • Real sex — with real people, instead of pornography and masturbation (note: this is another way of saying connection instead of loneliness, except sometimes it feels good to be lonely)
  • Meditation/Breathing — instead of stress, worry, anxiety, distraction
  • Growth — instead of stagnation
  • Movement/Fitness — before inactivity 
  • Rationality — before outrage
  • Love — instead of the other thing

2016: A Brief Personal Review

Ask just about anyone and they'll tell you 2016 was a terrible year. We watched a disasterous election unfold before our eyes. We lost thousands to religiously motivated terrorsim. We lost heroes (Leonard, Carrie, Alan, The Artist Known As . . .). On a personal level: I didn't speak to my parents, not even once; I struggled through boughts of crippling depression, anxiety, and self-doubt on what sometimes feels like a weekly basis; I abandoned, at 90,000 words, a novel I'd been working on for over two years, realizing I just wasn't ready to write it; etc.; etc.; etc.

But, damn, 2016 was still a great year. In 2016 I: 

Meditated every day save for a small handful.

Read 64 books

Saw the release of a documentary I contributed significantly to the production of. 

Published a short story. Had another one accepted for publication (keep an eye out for it in February).

Wrote 80,000-plus words of a different novel, one that I hope to finish within the next few months and publish next year. (It's about sex magick, YouTube, open relationships, and depression—if you're a literary agent or publisher interested in reading the manuscript, get in touch.)

Oversaw the publication of a wonderful new book from Asymmetrical Press. 

Started training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

Added 42 lbs to my squat.

Added 94 lbs (!) to my deadlift (this is the accomplishment that, upon realizing it, most made me think Holy shit!).

Began or deepened several important relationships. 

And there are probably several other achievements, large and small, I'm not recalling, achievements that get lost in the rememberance of the bad things. 

So a lot of people will say "Fuck 2016". If you're hip and cool, you'll say it too. But what about 2017? 2018? 2030? Maybe 2016 wasn't a good year for you—I'll give some people that—but some upcoming year will be a good year, even a great year, and, since time is (arguably) linear and all, you'd never get there without 2016.


The 64 Books I Read in 2016

I read an eclectic mix of 64 books in 2016, surpassing my goal of 52 (i.e. one book a week). Fiction, nonfiction, graphic novels, sciences texts, sci-fi, fantasy, treatise on masculinity (all of which I found lacking), Norwegian memoir disguised as a series of novels. 

Below is a list of the books I read in 2016. Bolded titles are the books I highly recommend, books I will reread at some point in my life, likely more than once (in fact, a couple of them I read more than once just this year).


1. City on Fire — Garth Risk Hallberg

2. Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World — Cal Newport

3. Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies — Nick Bostrom

4. Tomboy — Liz Prince

5. The Final Solution — Michael Chabon

6. The Internet Is Not the Answer — Andrew Keen

7. Here — Richard McGuire

8. Testosterone: Sex, Power, and the Will to Win — Joe Herbert

9. Drawing Blood — Molly Crabapple

10. The Complete Maus — Art Spiegelman

11. The Sculptor — Scott McCloud

12. A Clash of Kings  (A Song of Ice and Fire, #2) — George R.R. Martin

13. Alexander Hamilton — Ron Chernow

14. Stoner — John  Williams

15. A Storm of Swords (A Song of Ice and Fire, #3) — George R.R. Martin

16. A Feast for Crows (A Song of Ice and Fire, #4) — George R.R. Martin

17. Leonard: My Fifty-Year Friendship with a Remarkable Man — William Shatner

18. Batman: Earth One, Volume 1 — Geoff Johns

19. Level Up Your Life: How to Unlock Adventure and Happiness by Becoming the Hero of Your Own Story — Steve Kamb

20. How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day — Michael J. Gelb

21. A Dance with Dragons (A Song of Ice and Fire, #5) — George R.R. Martin

22. The Evolution of Everything: How New Ideas Emerge — Matt Ridley

23. The Invincible Iron Man, Volume 1: The Five NightmaresMatt Fraction

24. The Flamethrowers — Rachel Kushner

25. Min kamp 1 — Karl Ove Knausgård

26. The White Album — Joan Didion

27. Min kamp 2 — Karl Ove Knausgård

28. Min kamp 3 — Karl Ove Knausgård

29. The Invincible Iron Man, Volume 3: World's Most Wanted, Book 2Matt Fraction

30. The Invincible Iron Man, Volume 2: World's Most Wanted, Book 1Matt Fraction

31. Min kamp 4 — Karl Ove Knausgård

32. Min kamp 5 — Karl Ove Knausgård

33. The Rules of Attraction — Bret Easton Ellis

34. The Way Of The Superior Man: A Spiritual Guide to Mastering the Challenges of Women, Work, and Sexual Desire — David Deida

35. The Invincible Iron Man, Volume 4: Stark DisassembledMatt Fraction

36. The Invincible Iron Man, Volume 6: Stark Resilient, Book 2Matt Fraction

37. The Invincible Iron Man, Volume 5: Stark Resilient,  Book 1Matt Fraction

38. Emerald City — Jennifer Egan

39. Beloved — Toni Morrison

40. The Invincible Iron Man, Volume 10: Long Way DownMatt Fraction

41. The Invincible Iron Man, Voume 9: DemonMatt Fraction

42. The Invincible Iron Man, Volume 8: UnfixableMatt Fraction

43. Invincible Iron Man: Fear ItselfMatt Fraction

44. The Invincible Iron Man, Volume 7: My MonstersMatt Fraction

45. The Invincible Iron Man, Volume 11: The FutureMatt Fraction

46. Sex Criminals, Volume Three: Three the Hard Way — Matt Fraction

47. We Were the Mulvaneys — Joyce Carol Oates

48. The Informers — Bret Easton Ellis

49. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts 1 & 2 — Jack Thorne, J.K. Rowling, and John Tiffany

50. The Rational Male — Rollo Tomassi

51. The Journal of Joyce Carol Oates: 1973-1982 — Joyce Carol Oates

52. Mindset Mastery: 18 Simple Ways to Program Yourself to Be More Confident, Productive, and Successful — David De Las Morenas

53. More Than Two: A Practical Guide to Ethical Polyamory — Franklin Veaux & Eve Rickart

54. Them — Joyce Carol Oates

55. A Time for EverythingKarl Ove Knausgård

56. Lunar Park — Bret Easton Ellis

57. Anathem — Neal Stephenson

58. Dubliners — James Joyce

59. Buffering: Unshared Tales of a Life Fully Loaded — Hannah Hart

60. Batman: The Long Halloween — Jeph Loeb

61. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man — James Joyce

62. The Girls — Emma Cline

63. White Teeth — Zadie Smith

64. Girl with Curious Hair— David Foster Wallace