Tag Archives: intention

Ten Ways to Make New Year’s Resolutions Stick

6643498911_c37d05483e_bThis is an annual post, with a new bit at the end!

Resolutions get a bad rap. There’s a lot of guilt in play, as people feel like they should make them. Other people make them and quickly break them: more guilt. Still other folks genuinely want to follow through but don’t know how.

As for me, I love setting a direction for the upcoming year. (I created a whole workbook-playbook for this purpose, called “Still Possible”! If you subscribe to my email newsletter you should have received it. It’s available to new subscribers too; click here.)

If you want to make some New Year’s goals stick, here are some tips that have worked for me and other people I know:

  1. Set an intention instead. Resolutions have always felt too brittle for me. (After all, when we don’t follow through, we say we broke them.) Intentions are more flexible. Listen to the difference between “I resolve” and “I set the intent.” The former feels like one of Harry Potter’s Unbreakable Vows; the latter points you in a worthwhile direction. Maybe you need the force of the former, but I like the latter because it can bend as our lives shift. And we can set intentions again and again. There’s a reason people in 12 step programs take things one day at a time.
  2. Make it a story. Most resolutions are vague goals that lack context. Donald Miller suggests we come up with stories instead. Stories are compelling, and they take us somewhere. According to Miller’s definition, a story involves a character who wants something and overcomes obstacles to get it. What could be a better framework for a New Year’s improvement project? “Lose weight” is a worthy goal, but without a concrete story to hang it on, it’s too easy to give up. So instead of getting in shape, a story-based resolution might be to complete a road race or do a big hike with friends.
  3. Explore the 5 W’s. In ninth grade journalism class I learned the basics of a news story: Who, What, When, Where, and Why. (Also How.) If you want your resolutions to stick, you need to spend some time with these questions. Say you want to cook at home more instead of eating out. Who will support you in this effort, and whom will be impacted by this lifestyle change? What will you do to make this happen? When will you plan, shop and cook? Where will this happen—do you need to de-clutter the kitchen? Stock the pantry? And most importantly, Why is it important that you do this?
  4. Take things monthly. Gretchen Rubin is a pioneer of this approach. Her book The Happiness Project chronicles a year-long self-improvement project with a different emphasis each month (money, home, family, etc.). Why not pick something modest to work on in January? Then on January 31 you get to celebrate your success (or shrug off your failure) and move on to something new in February.
  5. Pick a word. Many of my pastor friends hand out stars with words on them to their congregations on Epiphany Sunday—I’ve done it myself. These words become a prayer or meditation focus. For folks who find self-reflection tedious, there’s something serendipitous about being given a word to live with for a whole year.
  6. Let the resolution grow out of a deeper reflection. Ideally, a resolution, intention, or story will grow out of a period of reflecting on the year to come. In other words, don’t go for the same knee-jerk resolution you pick every year—it may not fit your life right now. If you’re about to move across country or get a promotion at work, it’s probably not the right time to take on a new hobby or join that CrossFit class. Or because of those changes, it may be the perfect time to take care of yourself. But the point is, your resolution needs to grow out of a realistic assessment of the year to come. I’ll be using the workbook I created to say goodbye to 2016 and hello to 2017 (see above or subscribe here), but there are tons of tools like this on the Internet.
  7. Build in some No with your Yes. I’m convinced that a lot of resolutions fail because people add on habits or practices without taking other things away. So you want to spend 20 minutes each morning in prayer or meditation. OK… but what are you willing to give up in order to make that happen? (Additional sleep? that bleary-eyed early morning Facebook session?)
  8. Tell people. Every December my writing group would get together for a Christmas luncheon, and we would go around the table and share our writing goals for the coming year. Stating our goals aloud in the company of trusted friends was powerful. We are communal creatures—only the most disciplined among us can make a major life change without any support, encouragement or accountability from friends and family. If you’re one of those rocks or islands that Simon and Garfunkel sang about, congratulations. If you’re like the rest of us, tweet or Facebook your goals. Blog about them. Tell a friend. Heck, tell me in the comments—I will cheer you on!
  9. Take two steps, not just one. According to the Journal of Consumer Research, people who take only one step toward an exercise or weight-loss regimen (like joining a gym) were more likely to engage in activities that were counterproductive (like bingeing on brownies). Meanwhile, their peers who took a follow-up step (working out right after joining the gym) were more likely to stick with their plan. So while Lao Tzu is right that the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step, don’t neglect the second step either.
  10. Focus on systems, not goals. I love this reflection from James Clear, in which he talks about the process as opposed to the destination: “I’ve found that goals are good for planning your progress and systems are good for actually making progress… Goals can provide direction and even push you forward in the short-term, but eventually a well-designed system will always win.” For example, the one year I set a mileage goal for running (1,000 miles) I got injured. Coincidence? Perhaps. But since then I’ve adjusted my approach and set different kinds of intentions: to run three times a week and to participate in various races along the way. In James Clear’s parlance, those are actually systems I’m putting in place rather than goals. I suspect they will result in a great end-of-year total mileage, but if they don’t, the journey still took me to great places, and that’s more important.

Do you have intentions or hopes for 2017? I’d love to hear.

Image is from elycefeliz on Flickr, used through a creative commons license.

The Five-Minute Journal, Tweaked

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A few months ago I wrote about a new practice I’ve been doing–a morning journaling exercise that takes about five minutes. It’s been a great way to center the day.

Among other things, the practice involves listing three things that would make the day fruitful. I wrote: “Most of us have way more than three things on our daily to-do list, so it helps to be clear on the most essential items.”

Then yesterday I read a lovely reflection on the Storyline blog:

At the end of every day, no matter how busy I’d been, there were always projects unfinished, emails unanswered, and household chores left undone. I hadn’t done it all, so I felt like I hadn’t done enough.

And it’s only a short leap in your heart from “I never do enough” to “I’m not enough.”

I tried making really thorough to-do lists, but that just gave me a super detailed record of all the things I wasn’t getting to. I would not call that helpful.

So the author created an Enough List: three things that are enough for the day. “They don’t have to be life-changing things, they just have to be the things that are most important to me today. When I’ve done those three things, I’ve done enough.” She may do more than three things, but those extra things get to be gravy. And if she doesn’t get to the three things, there’s grace.

I like that framing even better! Enough is such a gracious word.

So here’s the improved version of my morning journal:

Three things for which I’m grateful:
1.
2.
3.

My Enough List for the day:
1.
2.
3.

An affirmation: 

I’m curious about:
And the evening practice:

Three things to celebrate about the day:
1.
2.
3.

One thing I could have done better:

Happy journaling!

Image is “Journaling” by Seth Barber, from Flickr via Creative Commons license

~

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Nine Ways to Make New Year’s Resolutions Stick

An update from a previous post.

e2bea3ef389032a3b8df0afe7f7999c8Resolutions get a bad rap. There’s a lot of guilt in play, as people feel like they should make them. Other people make them and quickly break them: more guilt. Still other folks genuinely want to follow through but don’t know how.

As for me, I love looking back and looking forward. And I make resolutions, though I call them something else (see below). Whether I fulfill them or not is really secondary. This year I’ve decided to tackle this Ultimate Reading Challenge. And I’m setting a goal to run 1,000 miles in 2015. That’s about 20 miles a week, and feels ambitious but doable, since I’m running a half marathon in March and the Marine Corps Marathon in October. Training for those two races should put me at 750 easily, unless something happens.

And things do happen. Whether I achieve those goals or not, setting them is the important part for me. It points me in the direction I want to go.

Still, if you want to make some New Year’s goals stick, here are some tips that have worked for me and other people I know:

  1. Set an intention instead. Resolutions have always felt too brittle for me. (After all, when we don’t follow through, we say we broke them.) Intentions are more flexible. Listen to the difference between “I resolve” and “I set the intent.” The former feels like one of Harry Potter’s Unbreakable Vows; the latter points you in a worthwhile direction. Maybe you need the force of the former, but I like the latter because it can bend as our lives shift. And we can set intentions again and again. There’s a reason people in 12 step programs take things one day at a time.
  2. Make it a story. Most resolutions are vague goals that lack context. Donald Miller suggests we come up with stories instead. Stories are compelling, and they take us somewhere. According to Miller’s definition, a story involves a character who wants something and overcomes obstacles to get it. What could be a better framework for a New Year’s improvement project? “Lose weight” is a worthy goal, but without a concrete story to hang it on, it’s too easy to give up. So instead of getting in shape, a story-based resolution might be to complete a road race or do a big hike with friends.
  3. Explore the 5 W’s. In ninth grade journalism class I learned the basics of a news story: Who, What, When, Where, and Why. (Also How.) If you want your resolutions to stick, you need to spend some time with these questions. So you want to cook at home more instead of eating out. Who will support you in this effort, and whom will be impacted by this lifestyle change? What will you do to make this happen? When will you plan, shop and cook? Where will this happen—do you need to de-clutter the kitchen? stock the pantry? And most importantly, Why is it important that you do this? [Update: another way to look at this is to focus not on making goals, but on refining your systems.]
  4. Take things monthly. Gretchen Rubin is a pioneer of this approach. Her book The Happiness Project chronicles a year-long self-improvement project with a different emphasis each month (money, home, family, etc.). Why not pick something modest to work on in January? Then on January 31 you get to celebrate your success (or shrug off your failure) and move on to something new in February.
  5. Pick a word. Many of my pastor friends hand out stars with words on them to their congregations on Epiphany Sunday—I’ve done it myself. These words become a prayer or meditation focus. For folks who find self-reflection tedious, there’s something serendipitous about being given a word to live with for a whole year. (My 2014 word was compassion.)
  6. Let the resolution grow out of a deeper reflection. Ideally, a resolution, intention, or story will grow out of a period of reflecting on the year to come. In other words, don’t go for the same knee-jerk resolution you pick every year—it may not fit your life right now. If you’re about to move across country or get a promotion at work, it’s probably not the right time to take on a new hobby or join that CrossFit class. Or because of those changes, it may be the perfect time to take care of yourself. But the point is, your resolution needs to grow out of a realistic assessment of the year to come. I’ve been using this tool to say goodbye to 2014 and hello to 2015, but there are tons of tools like this on the Internet.
  7. Build in some No with your Yes. I’m convinced that a lot of resolutions fail because people add on habits or practices without taking other things away. So you want to spend 20 minutes each morning in prayer or meditation. OK… but what are you willing to give up in order to make that happen? (Additional sleep? that bleary-eyed early morning Facebook session?)
  8. Tell people. Every December writing group would together for a Christmas luncheon, and we would go around the table and share our writing goals for the coming year. Stating our goals aloud in the company of trusted friends was powerful. We are communal creatures—only the most disciplined among us can make a major life change without any support, encouragement or accountability from friends and family. If you’re one of those rocks or islands that Simon and Garfunkel sang about, congratulations. If you’re like the rest of us, tweet or Facebook your goals. Blog about them. Tell a friend. Heck, tell me in the comments—I will cheer you on!
  9. Take two steps, not just one. This one came from a recent issue of Runners World. According to the Journal of Consumer Research, people who take only one step toward an exercise or weight-loss regimen (like joining a gym) were more likely to engage in activities that were counterproductive (like bingeing on brownies). Meanwhile, their peers who took a follow-up step (working out right after joining the gym) were more likely to stick with their plan. So while Lao Tzu is right that the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step, don’t neglect the second step either.

What are your hopes for 2015? If you’re not sure where to start thinking, check out my post from earlier this week, What Will Be in 2015?

~

Image source

What Will Be in 2015?

The week of New Year’s is one of my favorites of the year. The run-up to Christmas is over but schedules aren’t quite back to normal, so things are quieter, more relaxed. The kids are out of school (though they’ve been driving me a tidge crazy at times). And my birthday so close to New Year’s invites reflection and taking stock.

I love the idea of the new year being a clean slate. I need that every year. (I need it more often than that, actually—thank heaven for the weekly prayer of confession in worship, when we let go of the brokenness and ask that it be healed and renewed.)

As I think about what 2015 might bring to birth in my life, the following video came my way, “Acorn” by Madeline Sharafian. I love the story that’s told in just 4 beautiful minutes. I’m touched by this little acorn’s attempt to fulfill its destiny of “acornness,” yet in its own unique way. That is our human calling, is it not? I heard Jesuit priest and writer James Martin tell Krista Tippett this week:

As [Thomas] Merton said, for me to be a saint means to be myself. …I remember in the novitiate, there was a young novice who would get up in the morning at 6:30 and pray all the time. And I thought well, gee, to be holy, I guess I have to do that. So I’d get up and I’d pray, and I was falling asleep all the time. And then there was another novice who was super quiet, so I thought oh I have to be really quiet, and diffident. And, sort of soft spoken. And my spiritual director said to me, what’s wrong with you? You’re so quiet. I said, well, so-and-so’s quiet. And he’s really holy. And he said, you know, in order to become holy, you don’t become someone else. You just become yourself.

Whether you’re a resolution/intention-maker like me or not, I invite you to watch this in with a seeker’s heart and consider the hard work of transformation and the grace at play as well. What might 2015 hold for you?

As the artist says in her description: “Growing up is hard, but it’s also beautiful. We can do it!” Indeed.

When Life is Stressful… Or, A Chair Is Not Just a Chair

photo

We’re experiencing some moderate upheaval in the Dana house.

My husband’s company was recently acquired by a firm in California. This has meant some exciting opportunities in the works, but also a lot of a travel.

Like, Monday-Friday travel.

Like, every week travel.

Like, ten days in Bangalore this spring travel.

We know that things will settle down once the initial process of merging two corporate cultures is complete. There will still be business trips, just not every single week. In the meantime, it’s something we have to make it through as best we can.

I do a fair amount of travel myself, often to lead conferences and retreats and things, and while I absolutely love it, it can be hard to practice self-care while on the road. It’s hard to eat well, find time to exercise, and get good sleep (especially in a different time zone). Then you come home to various chores and responsibilities that have piled up. Over the last few weeks, the home projects (and there are many that need to happen around here) have ground to an utter halt. Not to mention the needs of children who missed you and held it together in your absence but who now want to spend every moment with you. And/or who let loose with all kinds of unpleasant behaviors now that there are two parents to absorb the very big feelings.

It’s a stressful time in general… and then I worry about Robert’s stress level on top of my own. Yes, I feel sympathy stress.

But there’s this funny thing that I’ve noticed over the past few weeks that calms my worries and tells me that everything’s going to be OK. You see, Robert recently got a fish tank, after many years of wanting one. He was smart about it—he knows that our life isn’t set up for a fiddly hobby, so he stocked it with fish that are easy to care for, bought a couple of automatic feeders, and so forth. I’ve always been pretty ‘meh’ about fish, but we’ve all enjoyed having these little creatures in our family room/kitchen. Frederica is a pearl gourami and is the queen of the fish tank. We think she’s brilliant. The rasboras have distinct personalities; the scrappy guy is named Joe Pesci and enjoys bugging the other fish. The cory cats are determined to breed, but someone keeps eating the eggs.

Anyway, the image that cheers and comforts me is not the fish tank, exactly. It’s one of the kitchen chairs, pulled out from under the table and sitting facing the fish tank. I will come down in the morning, after Robert’s gone to work or left for an early-morning flight, and I will see that chair facing the fish tank. It makes me smile. The chair means that, before heading out in the morning (or sometimes before coming upstairs to bed), he sat down for a few minutes and watched the fish.

A fish tank is like an organic lava lamp. It’s hard to feel stress when watching fish.

The thing is, I have no idea whether he sat there for ten seconds or ten minutes. But it doesn’t really matter. What matters is the intention. What matters is taking the time to pull the chair around to the aquarium, to sit, and to watch.

Your life may be stressful right now. Time for rest and recreation may be hard to come by. But I hope you’ve got something like a chair and a fish tank. It can make a big difference.

~

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Image: Fish and family room.