Wednesday, January 2, 2013

2013: Prioritize, simplify, and specify

Happy New Year! It’s day two of the new year…have you set your resolutions? According to a study published last month, 45% of Americans set resolutions yet, only 8% successfully accomplish their resolutions. With numbers like that, it’s no wonder many people opt out of the annual ritual.

I opt in to the annual practice. A mentor taught me useful techniques that make the annual practice one of my favorite events of the year. I share a few with you, whether you opt in or not, because they can help you become part of the 8% who accomplish resolutions that matter to them.

Identify priorities.

"I do know that when I am 60, I should be attempting to achieve different personal goals than those which had priority at age 20.”
Warren Buffett

My sixth grade teacher made our class write a list of one hundred things we want to do in our lives. My list included ride a camel (done at the zoo at age 24), visit every state in the USA (done), live on the beach (not done). Lou Holtz has talked about the same kind of list for dozens of years. It became famous with the 2007 movie The Bucket List staring starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. Many of you have completed the list in some of our sessions over the years.

Write your list. Where do you want to go? Who do you want to meet? What do you want to learn, teach, experience, feel, taste, smell, touch, hear? Without analyzing, take twenty minutes this week to write your list.

The list is important because it helps you live your life on purpose. Each year, you can review your list to see which items you accomplished last year and which two or three you want to do this year. Dreaming about life is not good enough. Make the dreams come true.
For example, if you’ve dreamed about going to Australia, make it happen. If your budget doesn’t have room for it, make this the year you get rid of cable television and put that money in a fund for the big trip. You will feel great every time you skip a show viewing because you are saving for something more important to you. The sacrifice will build momentum and you won’t regret it one bit.

The list can help you make decisions too. For example, if your list includes a desire to have a close relationship with your grandparents, and you have a dinner scheduled with them, nothing will cause you to miss that dinner. Friends could call with other options, your spouse might not want to attend, or maybe you are tired from a long week—you will see those as excuses and will keep your dinner date. Once you know your priorities, you make decisions to accomplish them and resist the urge to allow excuses to get in the way.

Simplify your life.

"Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated."

Simplify your life by being extremely selective about how you spend your time. Don’t fill your time with mind-numbing, energy-draining friends, hobbies, or media. For example, if you are a fan of the Kansas City Chiefs, don’t take the coaching change personally. Or, if you are in to politics, limit viewing of the pundit battles to less than an hour a day. Or, if you have friends who complain all the time, stop hanging out with them.

Just this morning, I de-friended a lifelong complainer on Facebook. It’s only the second day of the year, and she’s complaining about her job already. It occurred to me just this morning that she complains every day, so I double-checked her Facebook page. Sure enough: all complaints masked as humorous insights into things like family, the postal system, taxes, work. It took me a few years to figure this out, but I finally realized she is an energy vampire who contributes nothing. Delete. Figure your vampires out sooner than I did. Your life will be simplified by not having such negative drivel occupy your mind or Facebook feed.

Another way to simplify your life is to clean out closets to simplify the number of clothing options you have each day. I recently saw a photo of a Paula Abdul’s closet full of shoes, handbags, scarfs,  and other items. The smug look on her face seems to indicate that she assumes every woman would envy her fabulous shoe collection. Sure, it was pretty. But, I don’t want to spend thirty minutes putting an outfit together. I don’t want to have fifty, sixty, three hundred boxes of shoes only worn once.

Many of you probably agree with me. But, what is in your closet that you don’t need? Get rid of clothes that don’t fit, haven’t been altered in three years, or are too far out of style.

(Men, this applies to you too.)

“Possessions, outward success, publicity, luxury - 
to me these have always been contemptible. 
I believe that a simple and unassuming manner of life is best for everyone, 
best for both the body and the mind.”
― Albert Einstein

Take the closet cleaning a step further and get rid of stuff in other areas of the home. According to the Self Storage Association, the country now possesses 2.24 billion square feet of personal storage. All this space is contained in nearly 50,000 facilities. It took the self storage industry more than 25 years to build its first billion square feet of space; it added the second billion square feet in just 8 years (1998-2005). (Source: Don’t even get me started on the television shows spawned from the growth of this industry!

How much stuff do we really need? Is it useful stuff anyway? I’ve seen people attempt to write on a flip chart at work and don’t even throw away the dried up marker. The point is to simplify, so even if something is useful, consider giving it away if you don’t use it regularly. Make this the year to get rid of all the extra stuff that fills closets, garages, kitchen cabinets, and storage units.

Simplify your time and surroundings to simplify your life.

Be specific about what you want.

"If you don't know where you are going,
you'll end up someplace else."
Yogi Berra

One of the reasons for the dismal resolution success rate is because the resolutions are not specific enough and many people don’t know how to turn resolutions in to goals. Below is the list of the Top 10 resolutions from last year.

Rank      Top 10 New Years resolutions for 2012
1             Lose Weight
2             Getting Organized
3             Spend Less, Save More
4             Enjoy Life to the Fullest
5             Staying Fit and Healthy
6             Learn Something Exciting
7             Quit Smoking
8             Help Others in Their Dreams
9             Fall in Love
10           Spend More Time with Family

If you want to lose weight (#1) or stay fit and healthy (#5), increase your chance of success by being more specific. Take the resolution a step further by adding tactics like the following:
  • First quarter: Get a physical. Take five 30-minute walks a week. Take a healthy cooking class. Learn about vitamins and identify which would be helpful. Reduce soda consumption to five per week.
  • Second quarter: Continue the walks and add 15 minutes to each. Eliminate soda. Assess nutrition and identify three additional changes to make.
  • Third quarter: Add weight lifting to fitness routine. Take three different fitness classes to see if any are interesting or helpful enough to add to your schedule.
  • Fourth quarter: Take a fitness class or run a 5k in another city.
Whether you identify tactics quarterly or monthly, be specific. The most common resolutions listed in the chart are too general. Set yourself up for success, not failure.

It’s the beginning of a brand new year. The slate is clean. Decide today how you want the year to be described on its last day. When you prioritize, simplify, and specify, you live your life with purpose on purpose.

“I advance in life, I grow more simple, and 
I become more and more patriotic for humanity.”
Victor Hugo, Les Misérables

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