As a new year begins, many people begin to identify areas of their lives that they are unsatisfied with and proceed to resolve to change or to do better. While well-intentioned, this one time action usually does very little to change anything except possibly to drive more dissatisfaction or guilt into our psyche. A life well-lived means that what is truly important to you gets time and attention. Inevitably, this requires a routine or schedule so other less important demands don’t crowd it out.
Most people spend at least some of their time attending to matters to which they are neutral or worse resentful but in any case matters that don’t charge or fulfill them. Take what happens around April 15 for most Americans, for example. It’s not just the government or our jobs that create expectations for us. The neighbors may care about your flower bed or grass, your relatives may wonder why you never call or visit, and when was the last time your pet saw a vet or you saw a dentist? There are enough routine demands made on us that “finding our bliss” or “reaching our potential” can seem like an impossible dream and not the stuff for responsible grown-ups. And yet, it is both possible and completely necessary. But you do have to thoughtfully and relentlessly fight for it. Thus, every year people sensing that something is terribly out of balance, resolve to do better or after repeatedly not seeing results take comfort in defiantly not making resolutions.
What I think is a better way and what we all really need is to set aside some time to attend to first things first. You need simple routines to identify what you want to accomplish, experience, or contribute. The new year reflections can be a part of this as you think in general terms about your health, relationships, career, education, finances, contributions, hobbies, environment, fitness, parenting and any other category you would want to add. Notice what you feel most strongly about even if those feelings are negative like guilt. Be sure to notice what excites you or makes you feel happy and fulfilled. Pick some areas that you are doing well and want to continue to do well and work them into your goals. Pick areas that seem neglected that you want to shore up and create a goal for that, too. Limit these choices to what means the most to you or will really invoke the change you are looking for. first things first. You will revisit this so no need to solve your whole life problem but just find something to take action next.
Decide how often you will revisit this to think in general terms and identify goals. Once a year doesn’t work for many people so decide between quarterly or semi-annually. Write down what you decide and then commit to just reading it on the first or last Sat. or Sunday of the month. If something jumps out as being no longer relevant then you can revise the list but usually, this step only takes a few minutes and is simply a reminder. On a weekly basis, also have a time set aside to strategize how you will pursue these goals this week and take any actions that you need to prepare. For example, if your goal is to have more undistorted time with a loved one then plan the “date” and invite them. Put it on your calendar. If your goal is to eat more vegetables then you may need to take a trip to the grocery store or look up a new recipe to try. This is your “head start” time.
The rubber meets the road on daily actions and that is where routines and systems become so important. It’s important to show up at work or class every day so you likely have a routine for getting ready, driving there and arriving at a certain time. We do know how to build routines but just don’t take the time and thought to create them for what might be most important to us. In the Exercising Values program the values that make up the “first things first” goal list are improving a family’s health and fitness, character, and relationships with each other. The routines that make this possible are:
1). A five day a week fifteen-minute routine that a family does together and that encompasses exercise and character training
2). A special event each week that allows the family to enjoy undistorted and fun time together
3). A day of rest and reflection
It is the routine that takes on the lofty goals of:
1). Improved health and fitness including weight loss if necessary
2). Excellent parenting that sets children up for success and makes them feel loved and valued
3). Building strong family relationships and enjoying time with the family
To do this, it has to be practical. Thus on busy weekdays, the time commitment is small, merely fifteen minutes. Equally realistic is the need for more time at least once a week. And we also need a break and time to renew, rest, and prepare.
You can borrow this way of breaking down resolutions or goals into daily routines and habits for any area of your life that you want to improve. The trick is to get your intentions and dreams into actionable steps. Use all the resources you need to do this and don’t feel like you have to design everything from scratch. For example, some people will take the ideas in the book Exercising Values to design their own EV program after the first month but most will find it easier to use the done-for-you year-long program that is ready to go. Find a way to bridge the gap between resolutions and daily actions. Start today to find the time to clarify what is of utmost importance to you.