Yearly review – 2021

Here’s the review of my entire year of 2021.

The idea of making public reviews of my own life comes from James Clear’s annual reviews. The goal of these public reviews is twofold: to keep myself accountable by sharing my goals and actions; and to provide useful information and perspective to those embarked on similar journeys.

Warning: this might be very boring. I think these reviews are mainly useful for myself.


My goals were still the same of 2020:

I didn’t achieve any of my three goals during 2020 or 2021. But, as I said last year, I am still making progress on all three and confident that I’ll get there sooner or later. While I could have done a better job at many things during 2021, it was by no means a lost year. Part of me is somewhat discouraged by not achieving any of my goals yet; but seeing things in a five, ten, or twenty year perspective helps me appreciate my continuous (if imperfect and faltering) work towards big goals.

Ove the course of this review I’ll see what worked, what didn’t, and what I will change.


I spent a lot of time and energy this year focusing on physical habits. Partly it is because of my first goal; but for the most part, the reason is that I want to set a strong physical foundation that I can rely on for the rest of my life. Put another way, I want to set certain physical habits in place that will give me a lot of steady energy in years to come and will clear up mindspace to focus on other things.


I started taking sleep quite more seriously than last year. I re-read Why We Sleep and made notes on it. I kept on tracking sleep. While I’m still undersleeping, I’m doing better than in 2020.

My average sleep per day was (including naps) 6.4 hours in Q1, 6.6 in Q2 and Q3, and 7.0 in Q4.

I’m now building a triple sleep habit: stop caffeine consumption at 13, stop looking at any LED screens at 22, and lights out at 23. This comes straight from the book on sleep I just mentioned, which states the importance of a steady bedtime, as well as the disruptiveness of stimulants and LED screens. If I can comply with this habit 5-6 times per week, I’ll consider myself satisfied.

My long term goal is for my average sleep to be at around 8 hours per day. I’m still a long way from it but building on the triple sleep habit I believe it will be possible.


2021 was the year in which running became huge in my life.

Since my early twenties I was vehemently anti-running, even repeating advice from others that said that running long distances, such as marathons, was outright harmful for anyone’s health. Not that I ever read any peer-reviewed articles about this subject.

But somewhere I later got the notion that weekly running a distance like a 10k was a good way to keep your conditioning up, and the idea appealed to me as something to be done in the future.

In April 2018 my friend and cofounder Tom visited me and encouraged me to go for a run. After 5k, my legs screamed enough to make me stop and walk back home. Despite the pain (or perhaps because of it?), a seed was planted. Four months later I started running occasionally with Leon (a friend who’s an inveterate runner and a fantastic running partner) towards running a 10k in less than an hour, which I finally did in June 2019. After this, I aimed to keep on running once per week, usually about 10k and usually in a bit over an hour. At this point, I told another friend who ran with me that “I would never run longer distances than what I currently do, because that’s just bad for your body, and also addictive“. Despite saying this, I was already thinking of running a half marathon, and perhaps one day running a full marathon.

(It is interesting how my developments with running are all related to friends. I find this encouraging and it just makes me happy.)

In 2020 I started running with another friend who took her training very seriously. Running next to her, I did a half marathon in slightly less than two hours, at the very end of 2020. I decided that a four hour marathon could be reachable in 2021 or 2022.

Nothing however hinted at how much I’d come to love running during this year. I should have suspected something because during 2020 my 10ks would sometimes extend closer to 15-17ks. The turning point was in April. With a friend, we had resumed our Friday morning tradition of taking dips in the (cold) sea every Friday. The beach is ~11k from my house and one day I decided to ditch the bike, leave earlier, and run instead – I would take a bus for the way back.

But after the energizing dizziness of the cold dip, I figured that maybe I could run part of the way back. In the end, I didn’t take a bus. And from that point on, I just started running about 20ks most every Friday. Running increased both the length and the intensity of the adventure. I started to really look forward to every Friday morning as an adventure, no matter what the weather was like. An essential part of this was to run somewhere, rather than running in circles in a park.

Some Fridays I went for longer, one-way runs to other nearby cities, coming back by train. Each of them was memorable. By August, I was already booked to run a marathon in my hometown. I was already dreaming about reaching a level where I could run a 40k every Friday morning, at a decent clip, like an everyday thing. This was due to a very bad influence, Dean Karnazes, whose books I devoured this year. In Dean’s words, I started dreaming about running marathons as training runs.

I finally ran the marathon in October, in 4:04, and despite missing my 4 hour target, I was ecstatic and very grateful for the experience.

Despite a couple of small overuse injuries after the marathon, I ended the year running a few other 35-40ks, always on Fridays. I am now officially addicted to running and I look forward to doing two runs per week, one long and one short.

I’ve been thinking about why I love running and why it has evolved so well over the past year. What works about it that can be extrapolated to other areas of my life?

Except for the third item, all of these can be extrapolated into other habits: set clearer moments for when they should happen, increase the sense of adventure, and piroritize freedom over achievement.

I have no strong conclusions on this area yet. It’s something I’ll mull over, also when running.

For 2022, I want to keep doing two runs per week, a long one and a short one. Over the course of the year, I’d love to find out if it’s possible to have marathons as training runs, as a normal thing. But above all, I want to keep enjoying running as much as I do, so I will approach this goal as an exploration, rather than a trudging.

Runs per quarter: 6, 12, 18, 19.


In terms of workouts, it’s been another solid year, building up on 2020. Up until the end of May, I kept my structure of having five bodyweight workouts, one per weekday, followed by a run on the weekend. Some Fridays, however, I resumed going for cold dips in the sea together with a friend, which counted as a workout. By Q3 I decided to do two runs per week and four workouts. That’s the structure I will keep for 2022.

Workouts per quarter: 64, 51, 36, 50. Planned workouts per quarter: 65 for the first two, 52 for the last two. As a general rule, I didn’t miss workouts because of laziness or excuses – it was because of holidays, work trips or days with extreme time pressure (particularly the case in Q2). The habit is very ingrained by now.

As a general rule, I decided to keep on working out on vacations, as much as possible. It’s much better to rest from work, even work that I love.

If I didn’t struggle with workout consistency, I did struggle with two other things: 1) getting to do it earlier in the day; and 2) being excited about them and progressing further.

I stumbled onto the solution for 1) thanks to running, at the beginning of Q4. I realized that, to a great extent, I love running because I run outdoors. So I decided to start training at a calisthenics park that is close to my house. While this requires about 20 extra minutes to go there and back, I now go there first thing in the morning. Once there, the workout happens. Working out outside of the house had the unintended consequence that morning workouts became possible with no extra willpower. This was next to impossible at home, where I could always rationalize doing something else first (productive or otherwise). Because of the relatively mildness of Dutch winters, this can probably be done year round.

Regarding 2), also at the beginning of Q4, I found this incredibly motivational video interviewing Tony The Legend, a man who’s making amazing progress in calisthenics in his seventies! This video, which I cannot recommend highly enough, made me fall in love with calisthenics as a life-long path. As a result, I’ve changed my focus from mere bodyweight training to the training of calisthenic skills, such as handstand, L-sit, muscle up and planche. Seeing people in their 60s and 70s working and progressing towards skills (and being in unbelievable shape not just for their age, but for any age) provided a motivation I was lacking by just increasing the reps or the difficulty of pushups and pullups.

During 2022, I will continue to train calisthenics 4x week, outside, working towards four calisthenics skills at a time. I’m working on two skills per workout. Besides this, the workout has a stretching/mobility component and a leg/cardio component. Each part of the workout is about 20 minutes, for a total of an hour.

I also want to thank Chris Heria for his amazing videos about calisthenics; almost all of what I’m doing in my workouts, I take from him.

Fat loss

The bête noire of 2021! In no area of my life I spent so much energy as in this; and in no area I reaped such bad results! I got very close to my goal in March, at 11.4% body fat, and then after a series of ups and downs I ended up the year where I started in 2020! (about 16-17% body fat).

Despite a lot of effort and mindshare, this goal did not happen. I’ll do my best to understand why in this section.

My first conclusion is that eating is a highly emotional aspect of my life. I use food not just as nourishment, or even fun, but also as comfort and as an escape valve. While I’m not alone in this, I now realize my relationship to food is more fucked up than I thought. For me, becoming and staying lean is not just a goal that can be achieved with planning and execution. It is an emotional process that requires a lot of self-awareness and emotional work. I now understand that well. These two books helped me a lot to understand this.

While this makes the goal harder, it makes it more valuable. If anything, the 10% body fat goal is really about developing a healthy relationship with food; and if I realize that the goal precludes the latter, I will give up the goal. However, I’m convinced otherwise: a healthy relationship with food brings you to being lean as a mere consequence of it. What I’m really looking for is not to be lean, but to be at peace with how I eat.

The entire year was spent in a constant tension between wanting to get to the goal at all costs, vs giving up because I was making life too hard for myself and taking away too much energy from enjoyment and achievement in other areas.

After trying and failing on Q1 to get there through weeks of intermittent fasting, I started to focus on ways to get and stay lean that emphasized a sustainable relationship with food. My question was: “can I do this as easily as I do other ingrained habits in my life, such as working out?” I oscillated between the all-out run and the sustainable approach. However, the sustainable aspect eventually became prevalent. If I was getting leaner, it would have to be in a way that would be natural, not forced.

Could I have tried harder? For sure. In the DEXA scan I did in March, I was a mere kilo of fat away from my goal. But I felt I couldn’t push much harder without incurring further imbalance in other areas of my life. Would it have been a good way to create a healthy, lasting change in my life? I highly doubt it.

For the coming year, I want to change many things:

What I want to keep in place:


Since about 2017 I’ve been having a daily block of learning – or rather, striving to. This year the habit has faltered, despite continuous effort. The learning “subjects” are reading non-fiction (and taking notes of the book), piano, Russian and Dutch. During the end of Q3 and beginning of Q4 I enrolled in Stevie Mackey’s singing class, which took over my learning block completely.

Here’s the count of sessions per quarter:

You can see the progressive erosion of how much and how often I learnt. In Q1 and Q4, my intention was to have 65 sessions per subject. In Q3 and Q4, about 50, given the singing class. Except for Q1, I’ve ben hovering between 10% and 45% for most subjects.

Two things can explain this: in a busy year, I gave learning the lowest priority, after family, health and work. When things got tight, as they often did, learning was the first thing I dropped. The second reason is that, except for reading and taking notes on books, which went very well, I felt that I got very little progress for the amount of time invested.

The good news is that by Q4, after some experimenting, I found promising changes that I think will yield a vast improvement in progress and engagement for learning of language and piano.

For language, I’ve decided to drop all learning of grammar through flashcards, and instead combine the reading of literature with flashcards. Reading literature to learn a language was my first love with Russian, and it worked very well to get me to an intermediate stage. But flashcards are amazing to retain information; however, grammar rules are so hard to retain that even with flashcards, they take way too long to learn. So I’m now experimenting with taking a work of literature, splitting it into sentences, and putting the sentences into flashcards, with gaps (as cloze tests). These full sentences carry a lot of vocabulary and grammar that can directly be used to understand and communicate the language. The clincher: memorizing elements of a complex sentence is far easier than learning a simple grammar rule in the abstract. I call this the neoclassic approach to learning a language, because the classic approach used to be memorization of literary texts in the language; and it’s neo becauses it uses modern software to improve the effectiveness of memorization.

I’ve also decided to stop learning Dutch and focus all my efforts into Russian. Given the limited learning time I have, I want to focus on one language at a time.

For piano, my main block has been in trying to memorize digitations. I don’t want to give up on this because I’m convinced by very good arguments that this is the path to mastery. The thing is, digitations for even a short piece contain a lot of information. I spent months reviewing the methods of elite memorizers for learning numbers, but I then realized that for a short piece, I would have to learn thousands of digits! Music simply has too much information to be memorized as number. To learn music as music (that is, as song) itself is more promising. So the key was to find a way to be able to sing the digitations along with the music that they play. I finally found a way to do it, which is to assign a certain syllable (consonant + vowel) for each of the ten fingers, and sing each piano voice with those syllables. I call this digital solfege.

To solve the problem of frequency, I’m not going to give learning a higher priority. Rather, I’ll lower the length of the blocks, from 20 minutes each to 10 minutes each (for a total of 30 minutes) and do it every day. Less intensity, more frequency. Half an hour is a much more palatable proposition on a busy day than a full hour. We’ll see how it goes!

By the way, the singing class was very enjoyable and I highly recommend it. I would have liked at least a little bit of feedback from the teacher, but overall the class is solid. I had a talented and supportive peer group and thanks to their encouragement I dared to share one of my songs.


As per my goals, I strive to work 5 times per week on both my open source stack (ustack) and one of my apps (ac;pic). The ideal is to work 1 hour per session on the open source stack and 1.5 hours per session on the app. Here’s how it went:

On both projects, the goal is 65 sessions per quarter. ustack didn’t get much love, I only put in 40% of the sessions, and the session length was 75% of what I aimed for. ac;pic went much better, to a great extent because I worked together with my friend and cofounder Tom. Even with a very busy Q4, I managed 80% of the sessions and 90% of the desired length. In terms of overall input, ustack was only at 30% of what I planned, whereas the apps were at 72%. In terms of achievements:

What’s coming up for the next year?

As last year, I will aim for 65 sessions per quarter, one hour long each for ustack, 1.5 hours long for ac;pic. I’m shifting around the times at which I work to make it even more likely that I will stick to this standard.


It was a difficult year with concrete and modest accomplishments. I learned a lot. I hope to keep on learning in 2022 ; perhaps struggle a bit less and flow a bit more. I’ll do my best to remember what I learned and bring my best self to every situation.

I’m grateful for having had the time to work on personal goals of all types. I thank my wife, my daughter, the rest of family, my friends and my clients, all of whom have enabled me to go through another year of my life.

May 2022 be a happy and fruitful year for all of us!