This is the first time that I am doing an annual review since this is blog is still in its fledgling first year. I hope that I would make this a practice to reflect on every year, by God’s grace.

Ali Abdaal, a YouTuber I absolutely admire, had released a few prompting questions in his weekly newsletter for an annual review. (I highly recommend you sign up to it!) I thought that they were quite good questions, and so I’ve decided to incorporate them into this rambling post.

  1. If you had to teach one thing you learnt this year that would improve one’s quality of life, what would that be?

I’ll list a few things that have been extremely beneficial in growing this year:

The most beneficial has been reading books. It has been through reading that has led to many paradigm shifts in perspective this year. In hindsight, I think it was having read the Bible in a semi-stable routine (see ‘Maiden Voyage of Scripture‘) which acclimatised me to ease into reading books.

As mentioned in ‘The Value of Books‘, this is the year that I finally started to take reading seriously as a hobby, as I absolutely spurned reading as a kid. This year, books have progressively grown to become a part of my daily routine. It is not only books, but also audiobooks too, in which audiobooks have opened a new dimension of productivity. Audiobooks have been able to supercharge any menial task, make it hyper productive and in doing so make the task at hand infinitely more enjoyable. For example, I would listen as I mop the floor, wash the dishes, do a workout, drive or even vacuum (you’ll need some pretty good ear muffs over your earphones). Although audiobooks are much more difficult to absorb as compared to an actual book (it is quite troublesome to go back and forth on the audio to ponder on a particular passage), the flexibility that it unlocks has been absolutely tremendous. Without audiobooks I definitely would not have been able to read as much as I have this year.

The next thing that has been quite beneficial has been the importance of journaling – or at least writing things down. I came across this quote in a YouTube drum lesson by Larnell Lewis:

The shortest pencil is longer than the longest memory.

Mark Batterson

Writing is a lot more powerful that I realise. After all, it is in the very act of writing things down that humanity has been able to progress. The medium of pen and paper has allowed knowlege to be passed down from generation to generation with remarkable clarity. It doesn’t really matter what you write, but the very act of writing things down forces you to reflect and ponder the past and the present, which can serve as a great springboard in terms of the direction one should take next in the future.

An analogy that I would use is that reading is like breathing in, and writing like breathing out. Reading is input into our brains, where our brains wrestle with concepts we have read and we hopefully arrive at new insights. Writing is output from our brains, in which the insights learnt can be synthesised into words. In this way, reading and writing function as a collaborative ecosystem, where both are quite vital to each other – like each breath in and out. If we don’t write but read all the time, we essentially are constantly breathing in. Our heads would be too full of thoughts, and inevitably we will forget the insights that we have learnt over time. If we don’t read but write all the time, we constantly breathe out in which our writing would become repetitive as we do not have many new insights.

The final ‘hack’ that has been very beneficial is improving my typing speed. (If you have not watched Ali Abdaal’s video on this, you really should!) It was in year 10 of Highschool that I began attempting to improve my typing speed, where I managed to hover to around 90 WPM (words per minute). Using websites like TypeRacer and 10fastfingers this year, I have managed to average around 100 to 105 WPM, where the highest score I received this year was 121WPM. Although only being a 10% to 15% improvement from high school, it has felt like a gargantuan leap from an efficiency standpoint as university work requires constant use of the computer. It will definitely be on my list of goals to average 120 WPM by next year.

  1. What kept you up at night with excitement this year? Was it worth it? Would you want to do more of it?

This year made me realise the power of routine – having realised this by reading ‘Atomic Habits‘ this year. It was eye-opening to realise that what one does repeatedly on a daily basis should be what you hold as most important in your life. As an illustration, let’s say I watch an hour of YouTube every day (which I have done on many days) and we do this for a year. We have 365 days a year and so we spend a total of 365 hours on YouTube. By a quick google search, the average audiobook is 10 hours at x1 speed. So, we arrive at a conservative estimate that I would have been able to listen to 36.5 audiobooks in that year, had I substituted this time of watching YouTube with reading or listening to audiobooks. In 3 years, this would add up to more than 100 books worth of time that is unknowingly procrastinated away. This was quite eye-opening as something as trivial as a bad habit can have lasting ramifications long term.

This year, I sought to change my habits of watching YouTube and scrolling social media to more productive hobbies such as reading books, reading the Bible, journaling, playing the piano or exercising – with variable degrees of success. At the end of the day, the habits that one enjoys are the ones that stick long term – so try to really find a habit/hobby that suits you.

Back to the question though, what literally kept me up at night with excitement was reading or listening to an audiobook while stretching and using a massager before bed. This has been such an enjoyable habit because of the fact that it has helped me wind down from the stressful events of the day, as well as to get some serious reading done regardless of how late it was.

  1. How did you have fun differently in 2020?

Starting a blog/online journal has been extremely fun, where it has supercharged what I’ve learnt this year. Having been stuck doing this for around half a year now, I will say without a doubt that everyone should start a blog. (I’ll give a shoutout to Eric for encouraging me to start, he writes a blog titled as which has been a major inspiration!)

Having set a deadline of posting once a week, it was a feedback loop that allowed me to be accountable with myself, as the post would consist the most important thing that I’ve learnt that week. The very process of synthesising and writing allows for concepts to consolidate better in my head, and I cumulatively learn more as a result. This blog has made learning considerably more enjoyable, as it has provided an incentive of sharing with what I have learnt with others. Writing a blog is most likely one of the most cost-effective ways to learn as it creates an independent system of accountability, and you get to discover yourself in the process too.

You never really know something until you teach it to someone else.

John C. Maxwell
  1. What thing(s) did you stop caring about in 2020?

The largest thing for me would be not being afraid to be an amateur – and it was precisely this that helped me remove the fear of putting myself out there and to start this blog. Austin Kleon’s “Show Your Work!” made a rather profound insight that struck me when I read it around the middle of this year:

Sometimes, amateurs have more to teach us than experts. “It often happens that two schoolboys can solve difficulties in their work for one another better than the master can,” wrote author C.S. Lewis. “The fellow-pupil can help more than the master because he knows less. The difficulty we want him to explain is one he has recently met. The expert met it so long ago he has forgotten.” Watching amateurs at work can also inspire us to attempt the work ourselves.

Austin Kleon, Show your Work! p.18

6. What new thing did you spend a lot of time on in 2020?

As Reading and Writing has been covered among the first few questions, I thought I should share about Duolingo. In an earlier post on ‘The Importance of Communication‘, I mentioned the horrible ability of my Mandarin. I could be referred to as 香蕉人 in Mandarin (for those who get it, good on you). Progress has been on and off but nonetheless it’s steady progress – I could definitely put much more effort on improving. There are certainly more enjoyable ways of learning Mandarin such as watching Chinese Dramas and so forth, which I will try to endeavor towards in 2021.

Overall Thoughts of 2020:

This year has been a rollercoaster of a year, but also a year of much growth – of which many new habits have been discovered as well as cherished – such as reading, journaling, jogging, as well as writing this blog. I am still rather astonished that I have managed to achieve my goal of reading 20 books this year (I managed to read 22), however I feel that I have not been able to extract as much as I could from each book. This year has moved very quickly, but also that I have learnt much. Lockdown has provided many positives, as it has given me a lot of time for contemplation as well as self-discovery. However, what I’ve learnt this year is only the tip of the iceberg. There is still so much to learn and improve on in the many domains that encompass life.

Goals for 2021:

  • Finish reading the Bible the 2nd time
  • Read 25 Books
  • Reach an Average typing speed of 120 WPM
  • Run a Marathon (this is extremely unlikely though)

To end, here is an apt piece of Scripture that encapsulates 2020 for me:

17 Though the fig tree should not blossom,
    nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
    and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
    and there be no herd in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
    I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
19 God, the Lord, is my strength;
    he makes my feet like the deer’s;
    he makes me tread on my high places.

To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments.

– Habakkuk 3:17-20 ESV