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How To Go Deeper In 2020

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Taped to the door of my friend’s apartment, right at eye level, is an Anais Nin quote: “Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.”

Think of a good friend, and picture the moment you met them. They might have been a stranger, a co-worker, or a friend’s friend. However that moment went, the unique quirks and qualities you would one day love about them were already there in the room with you, but you had no idea they even existed.

The potential energy was there, but the world of that friendship hadn’t been born in you yet. Likewise, your favorite book was just another book until you read it. The worlds of Dune and Jane Eyre didn’t become yours the moment the cashier rang them up. Only the pages did.

It may not feel like it, but we live surrounded by many such as-yet-unborn, life-deepening new worlds, which we may or may not make real. I got a hint of this feeling when I read Michael Heron’s recent account of his Depth Year.

After resolving to enjoy and explore what he already owned instead of making new purchases—the original Depth Year premise—he read A Canticle for Liebowitz, which he’d owned for decades, and it became one of his favorite books ever. The same thing happened with a movie:

“I’d owned the movie Inside Out for years and when I actually finished with it it was like finding a piece of myself that I didn’t even know had been missing.”

The hidden world of an unwatched Pixar movie might not seem that significant a piece of oneself. But imagine if instead of missing out on a favorite movie, you missed out on a favorite friend.

We’ve all probably missed several. Over the years, hundreds of acquaintances have passed through the periphery of your social life, and surely some of them would have been great friends if, in certain moments, one of you had gone a little deeper. If someone had asked, “Hey why don’t we do something together?” or “Do you need help with that?” a world might have been born.

The “Compass” Question

The focus of my own 2019 Depth Year was to go deeper with my relationships, and let fewer of these worlds pass me by. I focused on reaching out where 2018 David would not have, saying yes when he would have said no, and speaking up in conversations when he would have stuck to the sidelines. I used a simple question as my compass: “What would it mean to go deeper here?”

This strategy worked. Acquaintances did become friends. I became closer with more people, and I have a richer social life overall.

Not only were these little worlds of connection waiting beneath my feet the whole time, they weren’t very far down. Uncovering them wasn’t a matter of great effort, just applying the effort in the right direction. I just stayed on the lookout for places I could go deeper—attending the party where I might not know anyone, telling the story that might fall flat.

Today, the “surface” of my social life—its status quo—is deeper than it was in 2018. Presumably, there’s more untapped social wealth and value lying just below this new surface. In 2020 I’ll find out.

What Traditional Resolutions Miss

This is a new kind of progress for me. The depth metaphor, in the two years I’ve been using it, has worked much better for me than traditional New Year’s resolutions ever did.

Traditional resolutions tend to peter out, because they depend on momentum, and the desire for long-term rewards. You want to get fit. You want to save money. So you start a regimen on January first, and you try to keep going, rewards in mind. Sometimes you reach critical momentum. Usually not.

What’s missing from this approach, and what the depth metaphor provides, is an ongoing focus on the actual moments that make the difference. My intention to go deeper with relationships made me interested in how it feels to speak up despite my initial hesitation, or to meet up with someone when I know there might be nothing to talk about.

A resolution to “make plans three evenings a week” might have forced some of those discoveries, but the focus would have remained on the outcome, not the moments in which change actually happens. A New Year’s resolution gives you a target, but no map. Depth gives you a lens for looking closer at the twists and forks in the path formed by your choices.

Say your resolution is to practice guitar daily for 30 minutes. You may or may not fulfill that standard. Even if you do, you’d probably practice the same way you always did, and find it to be the same slog it was when you quit last time.

If you instead looked at your playing through the lens of depth, you might discover precisely where things tend to break down. Ah, I avoid using my pinky, instead of getting comfortable with it. Ah, I flub my way over tough chord changes instead of focusing on them.

In my experience, looking for these little forks in the road beats “eyes on the prize” every time. Asking yourself “What would it mean to go deeper here?” achieves so much more than commanding yourself, “Just do what you said you’d do.”

When you drill down where you normally plow forward, you discover new worlds. Learning to use your pinky opens new worlds in guitar, just as learning not to fear unanswered invitations opens new worlds in your social life.

New worlds you will one day consider a part of yourself might lie only inches deeper than places you’ve been many times. They could wait there for years, just beneath your feet as you wander the same familiar surface.

[Original Depth Year Post]  [Last Year’s recap] [Depth Year 2020 Facebook group]


Last Chance to Catch The Relaxation Train

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Lisa December 30, 2019 at 7:26 am

This really spoke to me … a tool for life
Looking for depth … and so true about the guitar playing LOL
So helpful David .. your ability to bring clarity and perspective is truly a gift.
I do t always comment but get something out of all your blogs
Thanks so much :)

David Cain December 30, 2019 at 9:04 am

Thanks Lisa. Best to you for 2020.

Gina Sager December 30, 2019 at 8:06 am

thank you David! This is spot on for me today-“ongoing focus on the actual moments that make a difference”- thank you

David Cain December 30, 2019 at 9:07 am

Thanks Gina :)

Cristina Davies December 30, 2019 at 8:52 am

Perfect timing to hear this. It is time for a depth year as the stacks of books need some actual reading. But what really touched my heart was the going deeper in social realms. Here’s to discover, curiosity and connection.

David Cain December 30, 2019 at 9:12 am

There is really so much hiding not far from the surface, but our habits make artificial limits to how deeply we can connect.

Karen J December 30, 2019 at 9:45 am

Good Morning, David!
Once again, you’re pulling “Oh, yeah – I know that!” out of my heart. LOL

I always cherish your insights, my friend.

Bright Blessings on your day, and Happy New Year.

David Cain December 30, 2019 at 4:32 pm

Hey Karen. I always love seeing your swirly avatar in the comments. Blessings to you too and have a great 2020.

Chrissie Heyward December 30, 2019 at 11:19 am

Hi David, I watched ‘Yes man’ with Jim Carrey yesterday and read this today. Time for me to swallow my fear and dive in, I think. I always enjoy your posts.

David Cain December 30, 2019 at 4:33 pm

Ah… I haven’t seen Yes Man… I assumed it was like Liar Liar except instead of lying he’s bound to say “yes” — what is the premise?

Laurie December 30, 2019 at 4:30 pm

This hollers to me !!!
Over the past several years I’ve been telling myself to use/do what I already have before anything new. I’m making some progress but still get pulled away – it’s related or a process of what I am wanting to do.
So I will “go deeper, not wider” and join the facebook group.
It will also give me something to focus on on my blog which I can’t seem to let go because I know I will get where I want with it and my photography…
Happy holidays, happy New Year and keep your awesome article going. I will checkout your Patreon page.

David Cain December 30, 2019 at 4:44 pm

Hi Laurie. Going deeper is a fascinating study in what actually motivates us. It’s always easier to go wider, so we have to identify those moments in which we have the option to act in a new way.

Tyler December 30, 2019 at 7:32 pm

Great Post David. It is interesting to hear about your intention to go deeper in regards to relationships and then to consider what that would mean when applied to myself.
I am at a point in my life (and with the practice of meditation) where I am realizing the practice itself isn’t going to make things happen for me. I am about 6 years in and although the benefits are huge I am realizing action also needs to take place and is most likely necessary to bring growth.
Your post is inspiring.

David Cain December 31, 2019 at 9:57 am

Same… meditation has worked wonders in my life but it doesn’t fix everything. Action is always what drives your life. Have a great 2020 :)

Paul Keenan December 30, 2019 at 8:37 pm

Thank you David. I have been unconsciously or unwittingly moving towards this same conclusion recently. Your post has distilled the reasons that this makes sense and 2020 is the year to do this. Health and happiness for the coming year. Paul.

David Cain December 31, 2019 at 9:58 am

Thanks Paul. Same to you in 2020 :)

LanChi Pham December 30, 2019 at 11:04 pm

This post presented a powerful insight to me. I always make too many New Year’s Resolutions which peter out in a matter of weeks. Now I realize that instead of making a dozen New Year’s Resolutions to become a better person, I can just choose two or three areas of my life and go deeper to see where my stumbling blocks are located. Thank you always for your talent in making things clear.

David Cain December 31, 2019 at 10:00 am

Two or three, or even one. I believe it’s the persistent asking of that question “How can I go deeper here?” that makes the difference, and the more focused the area of life the more likely you will be to remember at the right time. Best of luck with whatever areas you choose to focus on in the New Year.

Bob Clancy December 31, 2019 at 7:31 pm

Great idea, hitting me at just the right time. Many thanks!

Jacqueline Mayfield January 2, 2020 at 3:51 am

I am grateful for this post David. You translated mindfulness into action in a very meaningful way. Bravo.

Nicola January 4, 2020 at 1:54 pm

Always amused by Samuel Beckett’s response by telegram when asked for his New Year’s Resolutions by a newspaper – Resolutions: Zero. Hopes: Zero.

Great site, by the way!

Mollasadra January 5, 2020 at 6:07 am

best article

RJA January 5, 2020 at 2:57 pm

Isn’t this a bit of a paradox though – to me it seems to be about venturing out in the unknown and saying yes to new things rather than staying with and going deeper in the known or the semi-unknown (e.g. a book one owns but haven’t yet read) and saying no to “new shiny things”?

On a related note I wonder what you think about the possible conflict of getting older and learning who you are and what you like and giving up on things that you think you’ll never really like and thus perhaps enhancing the quality of your time (by spending more times doing the things you love) vs challenging and pushing yourself. One example: I strongly dislike cooking and I feel happier now that I’ve given up trying to like and learn to cook well, instead of beating myself up for not liking it and repeatedly trying to learn it and failing or trying various hacks to make it more fun. Or I tend to travel to the places I already known I’ll love rather than visit new places which most likely won’t be as good, thus the overall quality of my travels have increased. But in both cases my world has narrowed and I may lose out on opportunities. It would be interesting to read a blog post from you about these kind of dilemmas involving depth vs width, oldness vs newness etc.

David Cain January 5, 2020 at 5:06 pm

Going wider and going deeper both entail entering new territory, and different people might interpret depth differently. In my mind, there’s a difference between bringing the same level of engagement to more things, and bringing a new level of engagement to the same thing. With books, you could be in the habit of buying them frequently and occasionally reading one (wider) or you could shift your book habits towards reading what’s already here, even though it’s more intimidating than buying a new book (deeper). Width is about moving around laterally, without either asking much more of yourself or deriving much more fulfillment from what you’re doing than usual. Depth is about moving into deeper more unfamiliar levels of engagement with something, and deriving more fulfillment from it.

A big part of cultivating depth is evaluating what’s really worth pursuing. Going deeper with something takes time and energy, and if you don’t enjoy it enough to justify the additional effort, why bother? Some part of me really loves chess, and I’ve tried a few times to take it seriously, but in the end, I don’t love chess enough to want to actually study openings and make a serious effort to be good, so I just keep it casual and I’m fine with that. But I think in our consumer-society habits we tend to take up many hobbies, instruments, languages, etc, with the belief that we will one day really be good at them, and we never quite confront the fact that we aren’t interested enough to get to that level.

RJA January 6, 2020 at 4:44 am

Thanks, that’s a very interesting and helpful reply that I’ll have to ponder for a while.

I guess I have discovered that there’s a certain joy in going neither deeper nor wider but just staying with the things you know you’ll enjoy. Like going to the same restaurants and eating the same meals once a week, traveling to the same places, hanging out with your favorite friends etc. In some cases you’ll move deeper within this narrow frame but in some cases you don’t and that’s perhaps also fine. I’ve read studies on happiness that argues that one should live like this – keep repeating what one already knows is making one happy – rather than constantly seeking out new experiences, if one wants to maximize happiness in particular. Of course there are other values than happiness that are worthwhile too, such as learning new things. And it takes a bit of experimenting before one finds out what one prefers doing.

By giving up learning to cook I feel that I have both gained something (peace of mind, happiness) and lost something (ambition, possibilities for learning).

Sarah January 10, 2020 at 6:03 am

RJA, it sounds like you have reached a state of balance and contentment. This, it seems to me, is a fairly rare state. Most of us are in a state of wanting or yearning, but if you’ve found the balance that brings contentment and you don’t feel a sense of lack I’d say you’ve achieved something. It seems to me that most of humanity is searching and striving and to varying degree searching for contentment but feeling quite disconnected. While striving seems how the human race improves it self, it can lead to discontent instead of peace. Often we’re told we need more than we have so if you have found a balance where you don’t want or need more at this point in your life, it seems like you’re winning to me. Kudos! If this changes then you can examine changing things up again, but enjoying things are now is pretty great.

msbluebells January 16, 2020 at 10:15 am

Hi I am a new subscriber. Going deep reveals countless worlds to us. I think perhaps that what a sense of minimalism does for me. Allows me to go deep not always chasing after the new high. Going deep allows for a chance to fall in love, to grow attached, to build the nest, to find our groove. But to keep it fresh we must remain attentive to the nuances or we grow stale and habitual. Not to want more but to reveal more. Maybe it is a deep immersion into what is. Whether it change or stillness, Kind of the like the Tao, sitting in the center of what is. Happy New Year. I look forward to reading more!

David Cain January 17, 2020 at 11:08 am

Welcome msbluebells. It is about revealing more of what’s already here, yes. Minimalism helps us get out of the habit of acquiring, but the other half of it is going deeply into what we’ve already acquired.

Lilly January 17, 2020 at 7:55 am

This spoke to my soul for some reason. David we have not met in person, but I feel if we ever do we would end up being friends.

David Cain January 17, 2020 at 11:11 am


Francisco January 19, 2020 at 2:39 am

Great insight David. Now I’m walking around the house looking at things and thinking “hmmm, this is probably hiding a world of discoveries and growth!”

Kathi February 22, 2020 at 9:34 am

great post! What immediately came to my mind was, “well, this is awareness, no?” However, the more I thought about it, awareness is the first layer. Depth is all the layers underneath that initial awareness – in getting to know others vs. just interacting with the; in getting to know yourself vs. simply witnessing yourself. Asking the question “why” vs. “when, what, how” takes everything deeper. It’s got me thinking now of so many things. It’s given me a different perspective for my interactions with my life. Thank you for sharing your insights.

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