Monday, March 18, 2019

Possibly the last new year's resolution post of 2019

Did you make New Year's resolutions this year?   Have you noticed that one or more have fizzled? 

Fizzle: "end or fail in a weak or disappointing way."   

If this has happened to you,  you are in good company: the (vast) majority of New Year's resolutions "fail to launch." 

A big reason, not always mentioned in explanations for this phenomenon,  is that when you made that resolution, you were already very busy.  So although it certainly can be done, it is difficult to add a brand-new goal on top of what you are already doing.

BEFORE I CONTINUE, a brief aside for those of you subscribed to this blog in the distant past:  

You may have noticed how I  started this post as if I just blogged last week, instead of reappearing after a FOUR YEAR ABSENCE! I might write another time about how I got back on this wagon, but for now, THANKS for not un-subscribing.

Back to today's message:

Resolutions are generally about doing things that will improve your life in some way. With a little more than 9 months left to go in the year, there is plenty of time to consider alternatives to that end.

One approach, instead of starting something new, is to focus on how to make the life you have now better.

Here are three ideas to get you started thinking about how this might work for you. 

Each of them is a variation on how to pay attention.


Engage fully in every activity you do.

This means everything, whether you are doing something by yourself (e.g., writing) or with others (e.g., meetings, conference calls).

Optimize your engagement by minimizing outside interruptions - phone off and email minimized!

And yes, this includes things you find boring or distasteful or just plain horrible (routine paperwork, email, expense vouchers).

For another angle on this idea read David Burkus's new year's resolution blog, "Why I'm not setting goals in 2019..."

The possible outcomes of this practice can be more satisfying and higher quality outcomes for your work, even work you don't like to do, better personal & working relationships, and more pleasurable "off work" time.

Ideas to take this further, when you are ready:

Look ahead to the coming week, to be aware of what is already planned, and to think about what will make your time better spent.  For example, you might do some advance preparation for a meeting,  or create a plan about how to use an open block of time for high priority work, or even something as mundane as figuring out what will be needed to get to an event on time - so that you can relax and get more out of the experience.

This review will also lead you to make better decisions on the fly.

Do a similar "scan and plan" for the coming day, and in addition to reviewing your schedule, pick up to three tasks related to your current goals that will move that work forward.


Look for ways to make tiny incremental reductions in your current level of activities, "stuff," and time wasters.

Most of us are over-committed, and cutting back could pay big dividends.

But I'm not recommending a major overhaul.  That can be a great idea, but to be successful, you have to have the commitment, energy, time and a clear plan. 

Instead, I suggest that as you go through your day, notice anything (large or small) that you might consider changing or stopping. 

For example, every morning I read the entirety of two local newspapers (they are short!), and very selectively from two national ones. 

Six months ago, I realized reading the comics page was really not that interesting, and so I tried dropping it.  I did not miss it at all.  In fact, now I can get to the food sections of the national papers more quickly, and spend more time doing something I really enjoy. 

Note that in this example, I did two things:

     First,  I stopped doing something I did not actually enjoy, which created more time for something I DID enjoy.

     Second, I did a time-limited experiment.  If I had discovered that I actually missed the comics, I could have added them back. 

Ideas to take this further, when you are ready:

You'll get more value out of your observations if you record them.  Make this simple:  a note on your phone that you can add to needed.


Acknowledge moments of satisfaction, gratitude - or whimsy.

Apparently, our brains are wired to focus more on the bad things that happen than the good.  The idea here is to notice when something good happens, even if it is a fleeting moment. 

Noticing feelings of gratitude, in particular, has been recommended to physicians and academic faculty as a way of reducing burn out risk and the feeling of "busyness" - and if you are both, perhaps you'll reap a double benefit?

Here is a recent experience of mine using this method.

The first 24 hours of this story can be condensed to the familiar "unpleasant travel experience."

The trip began with a very early wake up call ("4 " was the first digit of the departure time), the scheduled Uber not showing up, followed by a flight cancellation, re-booking with a middle seat assignment,  then another delay, and a final arrival late at night, exhausted - with a big presentation on the horizon for the next day.

Usually, I would have ruminated on this dismal narrative, which would result in a frame of mind not conducive to a great presentation.

Instead, I had already picked that day to notice "good things."  

It turned out there were several. 

Although the Uber did not come, I did have a car at the ready, so I was able to drive myself to the airport in plenty of time.  Because of the first delay, I had time to go to an O"Hare bookstore, and discovered a new time management book - Life Admin, by Elizabeth Emens - that turned out to be great. As I got settled into my middle seat, the couple assigned to join me asked "if I would mind" switching to the window.  (Visualize a large smiling emoji!)

So instead of the negative narrative, I was able to replace it with a positive one.

And then, to top it all off, the next morning there was a moment of whimsy:  While getting ready to go to my meeting, I casually flipped the round bar of soap into its dish, and IT LANDED ON END! 

I could not stop laughing - and I even worked the story and photo (tastefully) into my presentation that day.

Ideas to take this further, when you are ready:

This is a repeat: "You'll get more value out of your observations if you record them.  Make this simple:  a single note on your phone that you can add to as needed."

If you want to try this: 

You may have other ideas about how to pay better attention  - feel free to try those.

 Also, the approaches are not mutually exclusive - so you could do all three simultaneously.

However, I'd suggest you begin with one. 

Pick the one that sounds most natural, or most interesting, or most potentially helpful - whatever appeals to you. 

Try it for a week or two, and at the end of the planned trial, ask yourself how it went.  Don't worry if you didn't do it every day.  Focus on any benefits of the times you actually followed through.

Then you are free to switch to one of the others, or add one,  or do some other attention paying practice.

Comments are welcome - post your own ideas on paying attention, and send any other topics you would like to see here.