Sabbatical Journal: Building a Foundation of Habits. Part I.

The Need for Reliable Habits

My 9-month sabbatical technically runs from August 2018 to May 2019. But with three-month summer breaks on both ends of that, it is practically a 15-month sabbatical that started as soon as I submitted Spring 2018 grades.

I have accomplished some things that took a lot of work and discipline, but the deadlines were always imposed by an institution, the same institution also imposed a lot of useful structure, and the stakes–both positive and negative–were always high. I have had a few summer breaks where my ambitions were high, but I have never used them well. So there is certainly a possibility that I waste away a lot of time this year.

To make the best of this time, I have thought a lot about the cultivation of my habits. I have nearly turned Aristotle’s theory of virtue-building into my personal non-theistic code. The basic idea is that rather than focusing on goals and accomplishments, I first consider what habits are needed to work toward those goals, then go about focusing on the cultivation of those habits until they are firm and require relatively little effort to maintain.

What Habits Should I Cultivate?

Most of my habits in the past few months have been alright in some areas, and problematic in others. On the one hand, I am very satisfied with my habits of violin practice. Coming up on the first year anniversary of my first lesson, this is something that has had a lot of ups and downs. But since early March, I have had consistent practice and have improved a lot. The violin habit is a model for what my good habits should be: it was not institutionally imposed. Although I had a violin instructor that could often tell when I wasn’t practicing, I could have walked away or stopped practicing at any time without any real consequence. My chief motivation was simply to work on cultivating my skills, and that was enough. Thinking back on how I began, the causes of my failures and the causes of my successes, serves as my chief model for how I can build good habits at this stage of my life.

Writing: My biggest project over sabbatical is to write a draft of a book. Unfortunately, my writing habits of the past year have been very poor this past year. In fact, this blog post is one of the longest things I’ve written in the past six months, second only to my sabbatical proposal. That was an 8-page single-spaced document that came out like an explosion over the course of two or three hours with a few hours the next day of review. But that sabbatical proposal was not evidence of a habit: merely evidence that I can write a satisfying draft of a few pages if I put my mind to it. It’s not the sort of writing that will get me to a 200 page draft though.

Reading: Although my primary project is to write, reading lots of difficult books is essential to that goal. And I should be spending much more time on reading books than on writing. My recent habit of reading is at odds with this, and has been the worst it has been in a very long time. By the nature of my job, I often read. But I don’t always read whole books or challenging academic essays. I have read plenty of longer essays and excerpts from challenging books. But the only two full-length books I have read cover-to-cover since New Years were a couple of action science-fiction novels. There are times of my life where I am compelled to read: I find joy in it, it is easy to focus, and it is painful to set down a book. But my current state is quite the opposite: it feels like an unpleasant chore. The moment I pick a book up, I start to think of other things I could be doing.

More Violin: It’s been great, and there’s so much more to do. Enough said.

Running, lifting, going to the gym: It’s embarrassing how rarely I’ve gone to gym these past couple years. It’s even more embarrassing that I’m still paying for it. I have been better at running, and at home doing squats, curls, push-ups, and pull-ups. But I am always strongest and feel best when I have a good gym habit. I have gone both yesterday (first time in months) and today. My goal is to make it there every day for the next month–even if I don’t do anything.

Study Latin: About four or five years ago, I took it upon myself to start learning Latin. I want to be able to read Spinoza’s Ethics in the original, which is a sort of revived classical Ciceronian Latin with Dutch influences. I was pretty good in my studies for awhile, going through ups and downs for 18 months similar to learning violin. But then it came to a halt. There is no better time to get this going again.

As an aside, I want to spend a lot of time this year reading and thinking about the philosophy of language. Which means I should think about language. As someone who is basically a monolinguist, this is difficult. I’ve found studying Latin is useful in thinking about how language affects our thinking.

Study Farsi (Maybe): A language that I’ve known a little bit of for my entire life. I would love to get this into the mix, but for now it is not my priority.

Study Logic (Maybe): Likewise, I have always wanted to take my study of logic further and deeper. I’m going to focus on the other goals first and see how it goes.

In tomorrow’s post, I will write a bit about how I am planning to instill these habits into myself. For now, I’m headed to a coffee shop (a supporting habit I want to start) to start cultivating my reading and Latin habits.

2 thoughts on “Sabbatical Journal: Building a Foundation of Habits. Part I.

  1. I came across your blog after I left the classroom at the end of one particularly interesting lecture of yours. There is something about an intelligent grown man being as candid as you are in your writing. I’ve really enjoyed going through your posts. Your writing seems to always have some melancholic tones, and yet, feels soothing.

    I wish you came back to the blog completely. I think your path has equipped you with very interesting points of view. I find your ideas very intriguing, even, or especially, the ones I don’t agree with. I find fascinating how people tend to try to steer you towards god or some other personal belief, and how you respond.

    I wish you the best in your sabbatical, and hope to read you soon.

    1. Thank you for the message. It was very nice to read. I will make it a point to start writing here more often. I have been writing–just not posting. Thanks for reading!

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