Tag Archive: #resolution tips

Stop To Smell The Christmas Roses

As I mentioned in my very first post, I am going to be trying out all the happiness-inducing tips or suggestions that you would find in magazine articles, newspapers, blog articles, etc. and then write about my experiences with them.  You’ve run across these articles from time to time and so you know what I’m talking about.  But before I sit myself in front of the Google pond and throw out my line to catch my first piece of advice, I am going to just make one up and write about it – you know, as kind of a practice round.  Because it is the season, I figured I would make my first happiness-inducing step related to Christmas.  What I am going to do is…stop and smell the Christmas roses.

What do I mean by that?  Well, I am going to take some time each day to do something, watch something, hear something, related to Christmas.  In other words, I am not going to let the Christmas season go by without taking time to enjoy it.  I am not going to take down the Christmas tree with regret wishing I had done a little more to get into the spirit of the season, that I had watched…..hold on, the gate outside my house is open and squeaking as the wind blows it back and forth.  I don’t mind it, but it’s probably driving my neighbors crazy.  Give me a second………………………………….all right that’s better.  What was I talking about?  Oh yes, I do not want to regret not doing the little things that make Christmas memorable such as sitting down with my kids to watch a Christmas special, walking around the neighborhood looking at decorations and other such things.  So, during the Rose Parade on New Years Day, I will stop to ask myself…did I smell the Christmas roses?

 

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Resolution Tip #6 – Get It Into Writing

The last thing….well, I shouldn’t say last because I might think of something else later on but it is chronologically the last step in making resolutions…the last thing is to get it (or them) in writing.  I’m sure a psychology professor could give you a detailed explanation of why getting a commitment in writing is important to following through on that commitment and cite a number of studies to back it up.  All that this financial analyst knows is that it works.  There is something about writing your resolutions down that increases your sense of obligation to see your commitments through.  That sheet of paper bears witness to your commitment and is a tangible reminder of it.  A commitment that is strictly in your mind can be forgotten or ignored more easily than something tacked to a bulletin board or taped to a bathroom mirror.

Once you have written or typed everything out, sign and date it.  That essentially makes it a contract – a document making your commitment(s) official.  Easy enough, right?  Great!

Well, in the words of Forrest Gump, that’s all I have to say about that.

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Resolution Tip #5 – Set An End Date

In my last two blog posts, I wrote about allowing for failure and about setting reasonable goals.   Failure to do either of these things will likely lead to discouragement, which leads to resolution abandonment.  Another discouragement-inducing element to inject into your resolutions is making your resolutions eternal.  This is something that we don’t often think about when making resolutions and it is not something that we do deliberately.  But when making resolutions that involve doing something repeatedly (daily, weekly, monthly), we may not specify the length of time that we are obligated to our commitment.  If you have made a resolution to exercise three times a week, at what point have you fulfilled your resolution?  July?  December 31st?  Once we have sailed far from the January 1st shoreline, how do we know when we have reached our destination?  This leads us back to Resolution Tip #2 that tells us to be specific.  The more specific we are with our resolutions, the more likely we are to follow them.

You are more likely to exercise regularly when you know that you are only obligated to your commitment for a fixed length of time.  Knowing that there is a finish line and knowing where it is located makes it easier to run a race well.  An open-ended resolution is more likely to be abandoned mid-year than one that has an end date.

You may say, “But, how can resolving to change my diet be temporary?” or “How can a resolution to pray everyday have an end date?  I should always pray.  I should always eat well.”  These things are true.  However, the goal with your resolutions is to get the fire going.  Resolutions are temporary arrangements that you make with yourself to change something.  The goal with resolutions is to stir up motivation so that you naturally desire to do the things that you are resolving  to do.  The eventual goal is to eat well because you want to be healthy, to exercise because it makes you feel better, to give to charity because you like making a difference in people’s lives.  Resolutions are the way to kick start you on that path.  Actions before feelings.

Now, what if you reach your end date and determine that you are still not naturally motivated in a particular area?  Renew the resolution or rewrite it in a different way.  The key is to give yourself a stopping point.  Stopping points are important in life.  That is why holidays and vacations are so important.  You need to have those markers, milestones and breaks to break up the monotony of life.  For me, the knowledge that the world will slow down for a couple weeks at the end of December and will come to a complete stop on Christmas Day provides an emotional anchor for me and reminds me that I’m not a hamster on a wheel continually going until I burn out.

If you intend to keep a resolution going perpetually, then schedule a time when you are allowed to take a break from your resolution.  Knowing that there will be a break and knowing where that break will come will help to keep you on track, will help you keep your sanity and will help you to avoid discouragement in keeping a resolution.

Specify the break!

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Resolution Tip #4 – Be Realistic

Okay, on to my next resolution tip.  There is a Bible verse in the book of Proverbs or Ecclesiastes (I can’t remember which) that says the man of God will avoid all extremes.   And then there is Billy Joel, who lamented, “I don’t know why I go to extremes.”   This principle can be applied to resolution-making as well.  Set the bar too high and you stand a good chance of failing.  Set the bar too low and whats the point?  However, setting the bar low (but not too low) is a very good thing –  as I illustrate later.

You may be thinking, “Okay, well…didn’t your last post say to expect failure?”  That is correct.  But that principle is for those who are setting reasonable goals.  Setting a goal that is unrealistic will usually result in discouragement and eventual abandonment of the resolution.

What is an unreasonable goal?  That is something that you will have to decide for yourself.  But if I had to give you a definition, I would say that it is a goal that you will fail at most of the time.  If I set a goal to get up at 5:30 a.m. each day to exercise, I will likely fail for a number of reasons.  First of all, I am not a morning person.  Second, I have a schedule that makes it difficult to get to bed at a decent hour.  Third, I have young children and my 2 year-old still has the sleeping habits of a newborn.  Fourth, the phrase “each day” means I do not get to sleep in for any reason whatsoever.  Yes, I can follow Resolution Tip #3 and allow for failure but I will end up following the contingency plan for the entire year and while that is okay (because I’m doing something), it is going to be such a far cry from my original goal that I will ask the question, “What was the point?”

With regard to the resolution above, I would be better off with a resolution that says “I will get up 1 time a week at 5:30 a.m. to exercise.”  This resolution will still be difficult for me to follow but I know that I can buckle down and do it one time.  I can plan to go to bed early the night before and mentally prepare myself for that one day.  And if something happens during the night that will make it difficult to get up, that is okay.  I will just save it for another day.  But here’s the key.  That one day each week that I follow through on my goal will get my feet wet and exposed to the joy that comes from getting up early, watching the sun rise and the satisfaction of having my workout done before most people’s day has even got started.  After awhile, I can increase my goal to two times a week.  I may even reach a point where I start getting up early even if I don’t have to.

One year, I made a resolution to read two books – one fiction and one non-fiction.  I had a whole year to read two lousy books.  The non-fiction book was easy.  You just go out and buy an autobiography of your favorite athlete or a memoir of your favorite rock band.  The fiction (at least for me) was difficult because I’m just not drawn to that sort of thing very easily.  So, November rolled around.  I was on a plane headed home from Wisconsin at the end of Thanksgiving weekend and took out the book Left Behind which people had been talking about.  With nothing else to do, I began reading that book and got very into it.  The added element of the story partly taking place on an airplane made it all the better.  It didn’t take long for me to reach that wonderful point in the book where I couldn’t put it down.  It was a feeling I had not experienced since I was a kid.  I quickly finished the book and that one book was all it took.  I was excited about reading again.  I went on to read the rest of the Left Behind series and then decided to take on the Lord Of The Rings series, starting with the Hobbit.  I only got through a portion of the Fellowship of The Ring book before life got really busy and my Lord of The Rings-reading goal fizzled.  However, since that time I have read a number of books (mostly non-fiction, but some fiction) and enjoy reading again.  One easy goal was all it took.

My New Year’s Resolution last year was to prepare my family for emergencies.  Conceptually, it was a great goal.  But the criteria of what preparing my family for emergencies meant for me was so extreme that it was ridiculous.  Last December, I read a book called Surviving The End Of The World As We Know It.  Caught up in the spirit of the book, I was not only preparing my family for power outages and other minor emergencies but was also preparing them for a late 2013-apocalypse…with no money.   Later on, I heard a seminar about how to prepare for “The Coming Storm”.  The first step the speaker mentioned was to get out of debt.  I thought to myself, “Yeah, I should probably focus on that first before building my underground bunker.”

A resolution that will have you asking yourself, “What was I thinking?” several months later is not the way to go.  Be realistic and reasonable with your goals.  Don’t be afraid to set the bar low.  It may be just enough to motivate you to jump even higher.

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Resolution Tip #3 – Prepare For Failure

I know what you’re thinking.  “What?!  I came to this website for some motivation!  Prepare for failure?  This is the exact opposite of what I need!!”  Bear with me.  When you choose to make resolutions, are you addressing your areas of strength or weakness?  Exactly.  I find it somewhat amazing that when the clock strikes 12 on New Year’s Eve, resolution-makers suddenly expect perfection in the very areas of life where they are the weakest!  So, what happens with many people is that they will make a resolution (usually one that involves quitting something) and as soon as they have broken their resolution, they lose motivation to continue on with it because, well….it obviously didn’t work out.  The expectation was that they would quit smoking but they finally caved and had a cigarette.  They were going to start exercising three times a week but sometime in late January, they got off track.  The new diet was going well until the two birthday dinners over the weekend.  But somehow they got derailed and now all they have is a broken resolution…and broken resolutions aren’t easy to keep.

This response is natural.  We had a goal.  We didn’t achieve it or have suffered a significant setback.  We become discouraged.  Or the perfectionist within says that the resolution was broken and that’s it.  Another unfulfilled commitment.   There is also another natural human response and that is that once we give in to temptation, it is easy to give in again.  “One more couldn’t hurt”.  “Well, I screwed up.  I might as well continue.”  “My expectation was that I would do this or not do that, but I failed.”

Part of our response has to do with the fact that we made a covenant with ourselves that we would act a certain way and we did not live up to our commitment.  We broke an agreement.   When we break a resolution, the resolution becomes less meaningful, less important, less sacred.  Part of this response also has to do with the fact that we had expectations of ourselves that we did not live up to and can’t live up to.  When making resolutions, we often give ourselves one or two times to succeed and if that doesn’t work, then we assume we’re just not ready yet and shelve our goals for a future year.

When making resolutions, it is critical to allow for failure.   When making resolutions, it helps to make a contingency plan for when or if you do fail.  This is something that I learned how to do over the years.  It is actually simple.  Make resolutions within a resolution.  As part of the resolution, make a rule that if you don’t follow the main resolution action item, then you will do something else.  And then make a rule that if you fail to do that, you will do something else.  Make sense?  Not necessarily?  Okay, I’ll give you an example.

Let’s say my resolution is to quit smoking.  Knowing that I am weak in this area and knowing that my level of resolve will fluctuate throughout the year, I will structure my resolution to allow for the possibility of failure.  So, here is an example of a resolution to quit smoking:

1) I am going to quit smoking this year.

a) For every cigarette that I smoke, I will do 25 push ups within a week.

b) If I should violate that rule, I must spend at least 15 minutes reading an article on the dangers of smoking.

c) If I should violate that rule, I will purchase a book on the subject of smoking (can use for the 15 minute readings above).

d) If I should violate that rule, then I will find someone to hold me accountable to my resolution (within one month).

The above is just an example but illustrates what I am talking about.  In this resolution, you can fail on occasion to keep your main commitment but still keep your resolution.  Psychologically, it gives you the assurance that you are still following the resolution.  And the things in your resolution that you are required to do when you fail (your “built-in consequences”) are geared toward getting you back on track with your main commitment.  These extra steps within your resolution do not have to be difficult or time-consuming.  They are meant to be mild deterrents and they are extra guard rails to keep you from falling off the cliff.  You can be creative about how you create your contingency plan.  You can set up as many guard rails as you want.  The bottom line is to allow for failure and don’t let failure sidetrack you from fulfilling a resolution.

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Resolution Tip #2 – Get Specific

All right, here we go with the next resolutory piece of advice.  Is resolutory a word?  Probably not.  But as this website will one day be the final word on resolutions, I am going to take some liberties ;-)  The next tip on resolution-making is to get specific.  The more specific your resolution, the more likely you are to follow it.  Conversely, the more general the resolution, the less likely you are to follow it.

If your resolution is to get into shape, what does that mean?  If somebody were to come up to you on February 12th and ask how you are doing on your resolution, you are likely to give that person a blank stare before coming up with some sort of answer.  That’s because the answer in your mind is probably “I don’t know.”  Your answer will likely change based on the mood that you are in.  Some days you feel like you are doing well.  Other days you feel like you’re not doing so well.   Your resolution becomes a moving target.  And so, without a specific destination in mind, it’s easy to lose track of where you are going.

A general resolution also leads to discouragement.  On the days where you are tired or in a bad mood, it becomes very easy to say to yourself that you have not kept up your New Year’s bargain.  That voice says, “Well, looks like you weren’t able to keep that resolution yet again.  Look at you.  Are you in shape?  How many times did you work out in the last week?  You’re not cutting it.  Just give up.”  And what is your reply?  Well, you don’t really have one.  And if you do have one, it is likely to be negative because you are already in that frame of mind.  It’s all subjective.  What does “getting in shape” mean?  In reality you may be doing a terrific job.  But on those negative days, you may be tempted to give it up because on that particular day you felt like you were not living up to your standards.  Some days, getting in shape means losing some weight.  Other days it means looking like an Olympic athlete.

So, what is my advice?  Get specific with your resolutions.  Here are some examples.  Change “I will get in shape this year” to “I will jog for at least 15 minutes three times a week”.  Change “I will be a kind person this year” to “I will compliment one person per week”.  Instead of “I will spend less and save more”, say “I will have a budget in place by March 1st”.  If your resolution is to read more, then make it a goal to have a book read by June 30th.  The above examples are just examples, but they make my point.  Specific resolutions give you something to measure yourself by.  It eliminates doubt and subjectivity.  You are either fulfilling the resolution or you are not.  If you are in fact exercising 3 times a week, the negative voice in your head has nothing to say.  It has no argument.

Conceptual resolutions are fine as long as they have some action steps along with it.  You can have “I will get in shape” as part of your resolution, but then specify how you are going to get in shape.  Set your barometer.

There is probably a bunch of psychological stuff to back up what I’m saying, but to me it’s common sense.  At some point during the year you will be tempted to say to yourself that you are not doing what you said you would do and to give up.  Vague resolutions leave you vulnerable to listening to that voice and following that suggestion.  And so I say, get specific!

My next post may be the most important of my resolution posts and that is to anticipate failure and incorporate that into your resolutions.  So, until next time…..

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Resolution Tip #1 – Plan Your Resolutions In Advance

With the new year approaching, I will be dedicating my initial posts to the subject of resolutions.  Most people make resolutions at the beginning of the year.  Out of all the days of the year, January 1st probably most represents the idea of starting over.   So many things start over on that day – calendars, a new tax year, a new fiscal year for many corporations, new legislation, etc.  It is definitely a milestone date.   It is the one day of the year where everybody fixates on a particular second of time – 11:59:59 is the old year and 12:00:00 is the new year.  It is like the gun that goes off at the beginning of a race.  So, it is a great time to make new commitments.  The more meaningful the start date, the more likely you are to take new commitments seriously.  Now, let me stress something here.  While January 1st is a great day to start new resolutions, resolution-making can and should be done at other times of the year.  I will discuss this in more detail after the new year has begun.

In today’s blog post, I want to give my first piece of advice when making resolutions and that is to set your start date in advance.   There is something that happens to you in the days leading up to your anticipated start date.   The resolution begins to build up in your mind.  Consciously or unconsciously, you begin to mentally prepare yourself for the commitment as you move closer and closer to your start date.  The new habit or commitment you will be making begins to loom larger and larger on the horizon and you are frequently being reminded of the fact that your life will be changing in some way when your commitment date arrives.  Over time, the life changes that are necessary to accommodate this new change become apparent and you begin to deal with those kinds of issues in your mind.  Also, during that time, you are likely to discuss your resolution(s) with other people and over time you begin to feel a sense of accountability to the commitment you are making and you may even get some people to join you.

Now, this is not to say that if you make a resolution to start something tomorrow, that you cannot do it.  But, making resolutions in advance increases the odds that you will follow through on it.  I have been making New Year’s Resolutions for 15 years and I recall one year (2005?) where I came up with some resolutions at about 5 p.m. on New Year’s Eve while sitting on my recliner.  I wrote some resolutions down on a sheet of paper and made my commitment.  I don’t recall what those resolutions were and if I did act on them, it was only for a short while.  I didn’t give time for the root to grow and my level of commitment died very quickly.  I would have been better off planning a start date sometime later in January, or even February.  There is no law that says your New Year’s Resolutions have to start on the 1st anyway.  A change you are going to make during the new year doesn’t need to start at the exact beginning of the year.  For example, if me or my wife make a dieting resolution, we do not start it until after the first weekend.  That is usually when all the parties and get-togethers are over with.  You can also take a staggering approach to multiple resolutions.  Plan one to start at the beginning of the year and another one to start a month or two later.  That way you’re only focusing on one thing at a time.   Be creative.

If it makes you feel better, it is not necessary to have the details of a resolution ironed out in advance.   At least have the concept determined and you can fill in the details later.  For example, if you plan to start exercising at the beginning of the year, commit to it in November but save the details of how and when you will do it until after Thanksgiving.  Now, there is an advantage to having the details worked out early in that you may come up with better ideas of how to implement the resolution over time,  but I would say that at the very least have the basic idea of what you are going to do determined ahead of time.

What does ahead of time mean?  The longer the better but if you want something specific,  I would say 3 weeks – give or take.  Next year, I am resolving to get my family out of debt.  And when I say get out of debt, I mean getting on the path to getting out of debt.  I wish it would only take a year.  Now, the truth is I’ve been wanting to do this for awhile and have attempted to do this several times.  Sometimes it was the lack of preparation that caused my efforts to fail and sometimes it was just bad timing.  The beginning of the year is pretty calm for us.  Work is pretty quiet and there are not a lot of birthdays in our family at that time of year.  It should be a great time for us to begin budgeting our money.  So now I know in the back of my mind that January is going to mean a new way of life when it comes to how we handle our money.

Plan ahead!!

 

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Welcome!

Welcome to my latest pipe dream.  If all goes according to plan I will post a few times in the next week or so, get really busy for a few weeks, have an unusual amount of free time on a Saturday afternoon and post again, get busy again for a few days, get serious about this blogging thing again, write another blog entry, get really busy for six months, then check in again and then prompted by guilt, I will write an “I’m still serious about this – bear with me and I will be back” post before the blog fades into oblivion and winds up on the trash heap of other discarded blogs, dreams and other ideas.  I have had 1,2,3,4,5…maybe 6 blogs.  Two were for my kids and one was a Dodgers blog – all three of which were pretty decent.  The others went…well, nowhere.  This one I intend to…well, we’ll see.
So, what is this blog going to be about?  Great question!  Well, you know all those little tidbits of advice you get from magazines, newspaper articles, internet articles, books, psychologists, etc. on how to be happy, successful and better at this and better at that?  And you say “I can’t do that” or “Those are really good ideas – I should try that.” and then your eyes catch a headline about an 8-year old girl who gave birth to quadruplets on her birthday during school recess and well, those ideas are instantly forgotten until you happen to read them again in another article?  Well, this blog is going to focus on those little tidbits of advice.  You see, I am going to be the guinea pig that tries out these ideas and then I will let you know what happens.  Simple as that.  I also will share with you tips on making resolutions.  I will also post on random things as well.  That is the “Stuff” referred to in my blog title.
I have no idea of where this is headed or if it’s headed anywhere.  I’m just going to jump in and see where this thing goes.  So, here goes nothing!  Hopefully something.
Oh, and one more thing.  One more very important thing.  I am a capitalist.  What this means is that I want to make money with this blog.  I want to make so much money that I am able to quit my job to do this full time.  That probably won’t happen but I do intend to indulge my entreprenurial…uh, entreprenural….um…entrepreneurial (there we go, no squiggly red line underneath the word denoting a misspelling)…I do intend to indulge my entrepreneurial nature and try to make a buck or two…with day job likely intact.
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