WHY NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTIONS FAIL -
AND HOW TO MAKE YOURS STICK
With the new year, most people are eager to make positive changes in their lives and adopt new resolutions. Yet, come the end of February, the vast majority have abandoned them. It’s happened to me too, quite a few times, even on things I really wanted…
Given my irrepressible need to understand, I had to figure out why and found four main reasons for our failures: realism, “full-being” decision, visualization, and support. You’ll definitely recognize at least one of them, and maybe all. I know I did.
People often tend to make ambitious resolutions or goals for the new year, with major short-term goals: go to the gym every day; lose 30 pounds in two months; double their income in a quarter; etc. The bigger the leap between your current situation and what you want to accomplish in the short term, the more likely it is that your resolution will fail.
Let’s say that you want to exercise more. If you are doing very little exercise right now, chances are you won’t stick to going to the gym every day. So keep the goal, but change the path to getting there. Instead of such a big change, start with something small, such as organizing your life to walk more (parking the car at the spot farthest away from your office or the store door; using the stairs instead of the elevator; walking for 5 minutes a day), then grow what you do until you get to your goal.
There are several kinds of decisions: the intellectual kind, the emotional kind, and the “full-being” kind. Only the last one leads to resolutions and goals that become reality. The spark that leads to it may be brought on by a thoughts, or an emotion such as anger, but you need your mind, your heart AND your gut to be in agreement - a “full-being” decision - for your resolution to hold. This is why so many people who resolve to lose weight, for instance, fail. They intellectually know that they should lose weight, but emotionally the comfort they get from food, or the enjoyment of immediate gratification, get in the way.
I wish there was an easy recipe to make “full-being” decisions, but there isn’t. However, here is a proven way to get closer to it: Look at the bad results of not following through on your resolution (the ‘pain’). Then look at all the good things that will happen if you do follow through on your resolution (the motivation). If the pain is something you can live with, and/or the motivation is not strong enough, your decision to stick with your resolution will not be a “full-being” one. Find other pains and motivations, that spur you to action more. This may mean re-framing your resolution, for instance from ‘I want to lose weight’ to ‘I want to be able to run with my children and catch up to them’, ‘I want to still be there when my children get married’, or ‘I don’t want to have the poor lifestyle-based quality of life my parents have when I reach their age.’
If you don’t have a picture of where you want to go, of what the results of your resolution will be, it’s hard to stick to it. After all, without a clear destination, it’s tough to get there, no matter how strong your ‘full-being’ decision is.
For instance, it’s not enough to say that you want to organize your office and finally have all your papers in order. You also have to be able to visualize what it will look like, feel like, be like, and how you will feel having this new environment. If your goal is a completely new experience for you, it may be easier to picture yourself in someone else’s shoes who’s already done it, such as a friend who became organized.
Lack of support:
A sad truth of resolutions is that willpower will fail you at some point in your journey to making your resolutions a reality. It’s just human nature. If you don’t have a support system, chances are that you will not get where you want to go.
If you examine all great success stories, you’ll always find at least one or two people who were unfailing cheerleaders, and often professional mentors as well. Many of my clients told me that they wouldn’t have made it through the change from disorganized to organized, from frazzled to peacefully productive, without me. So find your support system, hire one if necessary. It’ll make all the difference.
Now that you know why New Year’s Resolutions fail, and how to make them successful, what will you do differently this year? Will you work on making your resolution a must rather than a should (‘full-being’ decision)? Will you create a support system? Will you spend more time visualizing the results of your efforts? Let me know by clicking on “Ask Karin a Question” at the top of this page and posting your comments.
SEVEN REASONS YOU WANT TO GET ORGANIZED THIS HOLIDAY SEASON
Most people think that the holiday season is the worst time to get organized because of the added stress of the season. However, this holiday season is the best time to get organized because:
Being organized gives the mental availability to enjoy the holidays.
Organizing for the holidays, planning for home and work tasks allows people to reach the holidays having done everything they needed and wanted to do, able to relax and enjoy the season.
Eliminating the stress of disorganization results in better productivity and health.
Disorganization generates high levels of stress. Stress, in turn, affects one’s ability to concentrate and think effectively by reducing blood flow to the thinking and decision-making part of the brain. It also favors illness by depressing the immune and digestive systems and increasing blood pressure. Being organized, by completely eliminating this source of stress, allows people to be more productive at work and at home, to be healthier, and thus to reach the holidays themselves in much better shape and spirits.
Being organized can give as much as a week of extra time.
People, on average, waste between one and two hours a day to disorganization and poor time-management skills, or a full week over the holiday season. Being organized is an easy way to reclaim that time.
Being organized results in a relaxed end-of-year and readiness for the new year.
A result of being organized for the holiday season is that, since everything is done on time, or even early, the holidays become a time of relaxation, even vacation. This, in turn, gives the focus and availability to fully focus on the new year and get started effectively.
Being organized results in added respect at work.
Organized people tend to get more respect and admiration at work during the holiday season, because they are the calm in the middle of the end-of-year storm, poised, on time, ready for everything. Since annual reviews are usually done early the following year, this calm, organized attitude has been known to result in promotions.
Being organized saves money.
Being organized saves money because the risks of buying duplicates, having to rush and grab a gift for more than expected, or being tempted by all the offers and activity in stores into spending much more than intended, is greatly reduced, and easily adds up to hundreds of dollars saved per person each year.
Knowing how to plan for the holidays is knowing how to plan for everything.
The skills learned by getting organized this holiday season easily transfer in any other area of personal or professional life.
And the bonus reason: The benefits of doing it once last forever.
Once a plan is set for the holidays, the decorations are organized, and an end-of-year schedule is created, keeping it in a binder means that the full planning will already be done for the next year, and the year after that, leaving time to refine, create, invent more things ― or not.
A SIMPLE TOOL TO BOOST YOUR SUCCESS IN ANYTHING
Recently, a client called me for a session because he had trouble sticking to his goals. We talked about creating habits rather than goals. We talked about making the process itself enjoyable. We talked about motivation, and about keeping a symbol or picture of his goal in front of him at all times, to remind him of the why of his goal. He implemented all this, but it still wasn’t enough. It was hard for him to resist, on a day-to-day basis, the temptations of immediate gratification (or apparent gratification). It also was very easy to give in to the discouragement he felt when he apparently wasn’t making any headway, or had slipped up in his daily actions.
After some brainstorming, we found the problem: he was missing what I call the “success habit”. He was so focused on what he hadn’t yet done and where he had failed, that he wasn’t able to see his progress, which demotivated him.
This, by the way, is a tendency that most of us have – I know I did (and am still working at eliminating). We are trained, from a very young age, to focus on our mistakes – to correct them; on our weaknesses – to strengthen them; on our failures – to avoid them. It is perfectly appropriate to look at what we did or missed and draw the lessons from our experience, but the relentless focus that tends to be brought to our failings when we’re children often ends up becoming a pattern of focusing mainly, or even only, on what’s not working, which prevents us from seeing our progress and successes.
Thankfully, this habit is easy to break (even if it can take a little while), by creating a “success habit”. All it takes is a notebook, and a few minutes at the end of every day, to create a success journal. So go ahead, and create your own:
There are several versions to make a success journal. The one below is one that is inspired by the method proposed by Craig Ballentyne, of Early To Rise, with a couple of my own twists added in.
Take a notebook, and at the end of every day, write the following:
Write down 3-5 things you have accomplished today: a project you completed or brought to a milestone, or the 5-minute walk to took today, as per your program to build a habit of fitness in your life. (SEE BELOW FOR LAST MONTH'S ARTICLE FOR MORE INFORMATION ON THIS)
Write 3-5 things you are grateful for today. It can be as simple as a sunny day when you had to walk to an appointment, or as significant as the birth of your first-born child.
Write down 1-5 opportunities that came your way today. It could be a referral that came in, a project you were offered, the suggestion that you should become a PTA officer.
Finally, write down 1-5 people you appreciate today. It can be the person who held the door for you when you were rushing in the building under the rain, the barista who welcomed you with a smile when you ordered your coffee, or the person who gave you that referral.
Do this every day, and you will start to notice more and more the good things that happen in your daily life, changing your focus from the negative to the positive, from your failures to your successes. Like my client, you’ll find that this change of focus makes it easier to stick to your goals and your routines, and achieve what you really want.
SMALL CHANGES IN YOUR SCHEDULE MAKE A BIG DIFFERENT IN YOUR QUALITY OF LIFE AND THE TIME YOU HAVE FOR YOURSELF
Did you know that small changes in your schedule can and do have a big impact on your productivity, sometimes adding or removing hours to your day? Yes, it’s true. Sometimes, the things we do are so unproductive that we lose several hours a day, when we could instead enjoy them and do something we actually want with them.
This lesson was driven home to one of my clients in a very strong way once we started to work together.
Although my client had initially hired me to deal with the large amount of paper clutter she had, as we chatted it quickly became clear that she was living a nightmare every day. A single mother and a doctor, she had very busy and tiring days. In the evening, she tried to devote her time to her four-year-old son until he fell asleep, then do some of her personal chores and study for her upcoming board exams. That was the plan anyway.
The reality was quite different. Almost every night, dinner, then getting her son to bed was a nightmare. She tried to do everything the books tell you to do, but somehow her son never fell asleep before 10:30 or 11 pm, by which time she often fell asleep as well, exhausted by her day and the evening battle.
I asked her to describe in detail her evening routine, and I suggested a small change. She implemented this change. In three days, her son was peacefully asleep by 8:30, and she had a solid two hours to herself before going to bed.
The change I asked her to make? Move up dinner to the first thing she did with her son when she got him back from day care. You see, she was getting her son around 6 pm, would play with him, then give him his bath, and only then serve dinner. By then, it was close to 8 pm, and both mother and son were starving and tired, a recipe for a very difficult time thereafter. Having dinner immediately allowed both of them to interact on a full stomach, in a much happier way, and my client could better modulate the amount of play time so that her son was in bed by 8:30 at the latest.
You are like this mother, whether you are a working mother or a single male: like her, you have habits, routines, ways of doing things, that are costing you enormous amounts of time. completely unnecessarily. So examine your schedule and your habits. Where can you move things around to make them flow better, be more efficient? What can you change in your process to make it more effective?
THERE WAS A FIRE IN MY BUILDING
Last year, there was a mid-night fire in my building. At 1 am, my husband woke me up because he heard the fire alarm. We quickly checked and saw that the fire wasn’t anywhere near our floor, so we took the time to get dressed quickly, grabbed our emergency bag, and left the building. It turned out to be a stove fire that the firefighters extinguished in less than 5 minutes, but it could have been much more devastating had the building fire alarm been less sensitive.
Our experience is common. The insurance industry has calculated that one American in three will be affected by a fire - not necessarily because a fire in their home or office proper, but because of a fire next door or in an apartment or office above or below them.
What massively disrupts people’s lives when a fire affects them is that they are not prepared for it at all. They walk out with their lives, and then spend weeks trying to get things back in working order, trying to prove to the insurance company what they owned, often unsuccessfully, and getting all the pieces of their work or home lives back together. It’s however easy to make a few plans that will limit the amount of disruption you will experience. Every case is different, but my own preparations will give you some guidelines for yours:
First, I protected my ability to run my business: all my files and ideas are backed up remotely, using dropbox and evernote, two systems I love. This way, I can work from anywhere, using any computer. Should I not have the time to retrieve my computer before leaving, I can go to the library the next day and work as if nothing had happened. My phone line is set up so that I can have calls forwarded anywhere, so again I’m not dependent on my physical phone line for people to reach me. As long as I have access to a phone, I’m fine. For some of my clients, who have inventory, it meant scanning the important documents they needed and make sure that they had good insurance that covered both their loss of property and loss of business for the time their business had to remain closed.
Then, we protected the things we really love. For us, it meant scanning all the photos we would be sad to lose and put them on dropbox as well, so that, should our stuff disappear, we can always print them again. Some of my clients opted to have originals of paintings they didn’t want to lose in a safe deposit box, with high-quality copies, or simply print-outs, on the walls - they usually did this for sentimental rather than financial reasons, by the way. It’s a little harder to keep objects you care about safe, but one thing you can do is take pictures of them, so that the memories attached to them are still accessible.
While we were at it, we also made an inventory, supported by pictures, of everything we have in the house, and also stored it on dropbox. Some people prefer to make a running film, with commentary describing every item. Either one works, you simply want to have proof of what you own for insurance purposes.
Finally, we prepared the all-important emergency bag that we stored inside right by the fire escape, so that we can just grab it and go without wasting any time. (We keep it out of view, though - who needs a daily reminder that bad things can happen?)
Our emergency bag is a packpack, which I recommend for everyone. It’s a lot easier to handle when you have to get out using the fire escape, possibly run, etc. In it we put the following:
our important papers (copies, the originals are in a safe deposit box): all ID documents; all our insurance policies; ownership proof and value for our high-value items, such as car, home, expensive furniture; wills and other documents.
the key to said deposit box, and an extra set of our home keys (makes it easier to get back in if we don’t have the time to go downstairs get our wallets and keys).
a wallet with a couple of hundred dollars in cash (we estimated that we didn’t need more than $200 within 24 hours, I’ve seen recommendations ranging from $100 to $1000) and a credit card that you keep there specifically for emergencies.
a change of clothes for everyone in the house, including shoes. Last Thursday we had the time to get dressed before heading out, but this is not always an option.
a couple of emergency blankets (the metal looking, really light blankets you find in many first-aid kits). They are quite useful if you find yourself outside of your home, half-dressed, in winter.
a basic toiletries bag with the bare essentials for everyone: toothbrushes, soap, lotion, etc.
a few meal bars to keep everyone fed for the following few hours if needed.
Depending on your specific situation, you may need more things in your bag. For instance, if you have a baby or a toddler, having a few diapers, wipes, a changing pad and formula in the bag will be extremely helpful. If you take medication, keeping enough pills for a couple of days will also make your life much easier. Think about the things you need on a daily basis and that would disrupt your life if you didn’t have them for a day or two.
Also, think about who can shelter you for a night or two, until you can get back to your place or find more long-term accommodations. We are fortunate in that we live in an urban location and can walk to friends who can shelter us in case of need, but your logistics may be a little more complicated than ours. Thinking ahead about it will make your life remarkably easier if a fire or other emergency actually affects you.
Knowing that my business would be running no matter what; that we had everything we needed to get back on our feet very quickly; that we had places to go in case of need, and that we had with us the essentials to face this potential crisis made the difference between being completely stressed and panicked that night, and being calm, knowing we’d be ok. All that for a couple of hours of planning.
I highly recommend that you take that time. It’s worth your peace of mind.
EVEN I NEED TO FOLLOW MY OWN ADVICE. . . OR RISK NOT GETTING THINGS DONE
Last Monday, I made a mistake that cost me a day of productivity. I had two major projects to move forward, but instead of writing, as I usually do, project – specific tasks, I just wrote “Website Updates” and “5-Minute Time Management Solution Book Edits”, without specifics as to which update or which chapter I would focus on that day. So my mind immediately went into “I have plenty of time” mode – after all those two projects have a whole week to get completed. And, feeling that I had all the time in the world, I meandered through the day, and didn’t get anything accomplished for my website or my book.
It’s no wonder that so many people, having similar experiences to mine, think that to-do lists don’t work (even some of my colleagues think that!) Now if you have the wrong kind of to-do list, those people are absolutely correct, they don’t work. A to-do list that, like mine on Monday, has only vague projects whose deadline is in the future, won’t work. A to-do list that is a mile-long list of all the things that you need to do at any time in the future, also won’t work for you.
Neither will help you get things done, because neither is what you really need to get things done today.
The mile-long list, known in the jargon as a running to-do list, is NOT a tool that you will – or should – use throughout the day. Its purpose is to give you a place to record all of your tasks and projects so that you don’t forget any, and to free up brainpower for more important and interesting things than remembering a given task.
The list containing projects is not an actionable to-do list either. It’s a list of the projects you need to move forward today or this week. That’s it. No more, no less. It’s a very useful list to have so you can make sure that you don’t forget to work on a project until the deadline is uncomfortably close, but, again, it’s NOT one that serves you every day, because it is not directly actionable.
The kind of to-do list that works to help you get things done is a list that contains carefully chosen immediately actionable items (in my case, as I normally would do it, “5MTMS – edit Chapter 1 and 2 as per notes”, and “Website – Review and Edit Page X”).
During the day, refer to the list, but make it a roadmap rather than an absolute to meet. Too often, I see this list used as an absolute reference, something that has to be completed or the day was a failure. However, since life – or even our days – rarely goes according to plan. So, if you look at your daily to-do list as an absolute to meet, you are dooming yourself to failure, and will soon abandon it as a failed tool.
While the purpose of the list, while being to encourage you to get as much of it done as possible, is first and foremost to provide you with a direction and a roadmap to the desired day, so that, when thrown off track, you can get back on track at the first opportunity, and you can avoid getting off track when it’s not absolutely necessary. (That’s why I call this tool the daily roadmap instead of the to-do list.)
So what kind of to-do list are you using? A carefully crafted one made of immediately actionable items; a laundry list of tasks and projects; a list of projects; a mix of the above?
How can you modify your list to make it a useful daily roadmap instead?
I HAVE A CONFESSION TO MAKE
People, upon learning what I do for a living, often exclaim: "wow, your house must be really organized." And you know what? It is. Yet I have a confession to make... I used to be a pack rat- yes, me, Karin Stewart, Daily Master - and my "thing" of choice was books.
I had rows and rows and rows of books in my home. I've always loved reading and learning, and loved having my own books, so I bought quite a few, and once they were in my house, I simply could not part with them: "I might read this again", "I might need to refer to that later", "what if my (then non-existent) nieces and nephews come over", etc. Oh, they were all in bookshelves and organized, but I had enough of them that I probably could have opened a library just with what I owned. I loved my books, and could not imagine parting with any of them.
Then came my decision to move from my birth country of Switzerland to the US.
There was absolutely no way I could ship all my books across the Atlantic on my academic researcher salary, so I had to make hard choices. At first, it felt completely impossible to cull my collection. After much hand-wringing (I really tried to come up with every way I could think of to keep my books, believe me!) I eventually got started, and something fascinating happened: I realized that most of my treasured books were actually just clutter in my home.
This was such a freeing realization! Suddenly, it was ok for me to let go of them. Not only was it ok, it was easy. And I ended up coming to the US with 40 or so treasured books, leaving the rest to live their lives in my hometown's library. To this day, I still have most of the books that crossed the Atlantic with me, and I go back to them regularly, with joy. Those were the real treasure, not the hundreds I left behind.
That's what your stuff - even your papers - should be: something you go back to regularly, either because you love it, or because you actually use it. The rest is just clutter.
This is one of the first things my clients and I talk about: that it's ok to let go, that letting go has a very specific process you can follow, and how easy it is, so that you too can have your own aha! moment and be free of all this stuff you've been accumulating and that's choking your space and your life.
RECLAIM YOUR BOUNDARIES
Years ago, I tried to help a loved one through a depression. Instead of getting him out of his, I almost fell into depression myself. That day, I learned a very important lesson: taking care of yourself first is not a luxury, it is a necessity. I had given him all my energy, and then some - too much. By not pulling back and taking care of myself first, I almost got both of us in trouble (he pulled through, by the way).
What is it in us that makes us breach our boundaries like this to care for others? And not just in extreme cases like mine, but most often in small ways, by saying yes when we really want to say no, by keeping in our lives people who drive us crazy because we would feel like the ‘bad guy’ if we took them out of our lives, by always putting others ahead of us.
We’re doing the equivalent of putting the oxygen mask on others before putting it on ourselves, and while the sentence for this is not possible damage from oxygen deprivation or death, breaching our boundaries and giving people more energy than we have is not without consequences. Yet we still do it, because we often don’t realize the consequences until late in the game, when they get severe: burn out, depression, illness…
Do you find yourself breaching your boundaries, and giving more energy (mental, physical or emotional) than you really have available?
First, remember that taking care of yourself is a necessity, not a luxury. You can’t give what you don’t have, or at least not without consequences. Taking care of yourself allows you to replenish your energy so you have more to give to your children, your family, your friends, your work, everyone.
Then, take action to reclaim your boundaries and your energy:
- Identify those people who suck the life force out of you, and put some distance between them and you. If you pay attention to it, you’ll find that some people leave you energized, while others leave you drained - I call the latter energy vampires. Eliminate or at least reduce your contact with the time vampires. If you can’t stop seeing them altogether, put boundaries. For instance, one such energy vampire was a family member, so I made sure to see him only at family events, rather than one-on-one, since the latter left me completely drained. This allowed me to use my energy for myself and people who genuinely needed it. Simply doing this will give you more energy, and will give you a lot more time too (it seems that the energy vampires take time as well as energy).
- Start setting time for you, and keep this time as sacred, not to be disturbed no matter what. You wouldn't even think of canceling an appointment with a friend to see another one (unless there is an emergency). Why do you do it when the appointment is with yourself? Start treating yourself the way you treat your best friend...
A 5-MINUTE TIME MANAGEMENT SOLUTION
As a productivity and time management coach, I often hear “I don’t have the time to work on time management, it just takes too much darn time!” This is true if you choose a complex system such as Getting Things Done, the Franklin Covey system, and others, which require you to learn the system, then “clear the decks” to start implementing it.
However, it is not necessary to implement a complex system to improve your productivity and time management skills in the next few minutes. Here is the start of a very simple, 5-minute system that I often give to my clients as we start working together, and that works whether you are an executive in a large company or a stay-at-home mom:
Every morning (or the night before if you prefer), write down the things that you need to do that day. Start by defining one to five top priorities. These are the tasks that truly define your day: if that is all you are able to accomplish, your day went fairly well. Trace a line across the page below those one to five priorities, then write the rest of your tasks for the day.
Make sure to write only the number of tasks that you can reasonably finish that day, knowing that unexpected requests will come up as well. As a rule of thumb, I recommend to leave about 25% of your day open to deal with the unexpected.
Then take a timer - a kitchen timer, the timer on your phone, an online timer, anything that counts down the minutes and rings when it gets to zero is perfect.
Start working on your first priority of the day, in a focused manner, without allowing any interruption to intrude.
When the timer rings, take a 5-minute break. If possible, take a full break from work (i.e. no work-related task: stretch, do a five-minute game of Angry Birds, a mini-meditation). At minimum shift task completely to do something that is quick and easy, such as a quick email check, filing some papers, etc.
Repeat the timer steps as often as you can during the day until it’s time to go home.
You’ll be amazed at how much you have accomplished in a day.
This very simple method gives you a good hear start on mastering your time because it is designed according to how our brain works, in particular as it relates to focus. Our brains are able to sustain complete focus for only 20 minutes or so. Working in a focused manner without break for much longer over-tires the brain, which leaves it less able to solve problems, be creative and work fast. Good breaks, on the other hand, allow our brains to relax, recharge and refocus. Put short bursts of very intensely focused work with short, recharging breaks and you have a powerful method to manage your energy and your focus. This will of course not answer all the challenges that you may be faced with during your day - how to deal with interruptions to this routine is one of the first ones - but it will significantly increase your productivity and reduce the time you need to do things, giving you the time and availability to work with a coach to create and implement your own, comprehensive time management, productivity and energy management system.
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Karin Stewart, PhD, founder of Daily Mastery, is your Daily Mastery mentor and the author of the popular 5-Minute Time Management Solution. She teaches busy individuals worldwide how to get more done, in less time, and most importantly without the stress and in just 5 minutes a day, so that they can create the life they want. After earning a Ph.D. in Communication Systems at a top European engineering school, Karin left academia to work in corporate America, in positions of increasing responsibility. Acutely aware of the profoundly negative effects of poor time management on workers and the work-life balance issues encountered by many, Karin founded Daily Mastery in 2003, providing much needed relief to a growing number of satisfied and now peacefully productive professionals. Her personal experience as a successful business owner juggling work and family life led Karin to develop simple techniques, breakthrough behavior modification tools and effective strategies that her clients use with great success, resulting in optimal productivity and rewarding work-life balance.
A compelling and entertaining speaker, Karin has spoken for organizations as diverse as Canadian Pacific, the Leadership Institute or the Women Jewelers Association. She has taught for various organizations, as well as her own programs. She has also been quoted in media such as MSNBC.com and Newsday.