In 2018 Kim, 55, wants to save more money (“I’m late to saving. What is it about turning 55 that made me more aware of the need to prepare for my future?”) Rick, 63, wants to lose weight (“Every year I say I’m going to lose weight. I don’t want to still be saying it at 93.”). Gloria, 71 and a widow, wants more action (“OK. I am done with grieving. I still have a life to live and years to live it. Let’s get started!”) Sam, 77, is not enjoying “retirement”, (“After 12 years, I am tired of feeling as if keeping myself busy and engaged every day is a burden. My parents were dead by this age. I have no expectation of dying for years yet.”)
Each of these people is a life planning client of mine. Each has come to me to find a different way, something that is somehow disruptive, to improve the quality of their lives. Each has years of avoiding New Year Resolutions totally. Each has a history of making them, keeping them a secret or hanging them on the refrigerator, and then seeing them dissolve sometime between February and April. They don’t want therapy, which is a good thing because I am not a therapist. I specialize in Developmental Psychology starting at around age 50. I support my clients in thinking differently, developing the necessary new skills, relationships, and sense of self that predicts adaptability and satisfaction for the rest of their Each one of these clients has requested help in finding ways that are both smarter and timelier than what they have done before.
The place to start with them is NOT to create more elaborate or demanding New Year Resolutions. It probably won’t help to make bigger, bolder lists to hang on the refrigerator.
What will work? Create structures that will direct, demand, and reinforce both the changes and the desired outcomes you want.
What the dickens does that mean? In answering that question, I offer to you my own example. Anyone who knows me well knows that I am fanatically committed to walking my talk. If I’m not willing to do something in my own life, how could I have any integrity advising others to do it? So, parting the kimono, here is my own story.
2017 was one of the most creative, demanding, rewarding, cyclonic years of my life. It disruptively challenged me and what I thought I knew for sure. Some visible examples were:
- the release of my new book by AMACOM, the publishing division of the American Management Association.
- being named one of 2017’s top 50 Influencers on Aging by nexavenue.org, an important part of the PBS system
- for the first summer in years, not having my granddaughters live with us (without their parents) for most of July because we discovered the previous summer that all but the youngest had outgrown the model and we hadn’t worked out a new one yet. This was supposed to happen eventually. It wasn’t a problem to be solved. This left a hole in my world and where I put my summer energies.
- completely rethinking and upending my website and how I present myself to the world professionally
- the arrival of Hurricane Irma, our evacuating to Atlanta (it followed us there); our discovery that, on 14 hours’ notice, we could pack both cars with some clothes and the life treasures that we really cared about; the concurrent discovery that we aren’t attached to things as much as we thought we were and if we ever want to we can downsize without dread or grief.
- qualifying for promotion to the next level of Sogetsu Ikebana Sensei.
Back to a smarter approach to 2018 New Year Resolutions. What did I realize about myself and what changes I would like to make? Not for the first time I realized how good I am at multi-tasking. To have had the 2016/2017 I did mean t being a nearly fanatical multi-tasker. If this were a problem and I wanted to solve it with New Year’s Resolutions, I would make a list of what I would DO or NOT DO to create change. Then, knowing me, I would go straight back to multi-tasking within 2 weeks.
Of course, I have a paradoxical view of my multi-tasking. It isn’t a constant problem to be solved or resolved away like saving more or giving up smoking. It’s something I really appreciate about myself until it totally takes me over. So, my New Year wish for myself is NOT to give it up. My New Year wish for myself, my Resolution, is to keep multi-tasking in balance with one thing and day at a time – a better harmony.
How to have the greatest likelihood of creating my desired outcome? Create structures that will direct, demand, and reinforce both the changes and the desired outcomes you want.
When we lived in San Francisco, I went through the training necessary to become a baby rocker in a neo-natal ICU. My kids were grown up/gone, and I really missed them. I made a resolution to spend more time with kids and babies in particular. These babies, drug addicted and in perilous health, were usually hooked up to monitors with alarms. You had to rock the chair carefully. What I didn’t expect was that these babies, from hours to very few days old, would be some of the greatest teachers of my life. They couldn’t and wouldn’t come to where I was as they lay in my arms. I had to go to where they were, stepping totally away from myself and multi-tasking in my head and in action. To be with them wasn’t just about holding and rocking.It was about giving each of them conscious, encouraging, caring human contact. They taught me to step totally away from myself in ways I hadn’t known possible. I’ll always be grateful to them.
What had I inadvertently done when I signed up to be a baby rocker? I had inadvertently created the structures that were smarter and more effective than mere Resolutions to downplay my multi-tasking. What characterized these structures?
- Commitments to self and other people
- A schedule that demanded physical and emotional presence at a specific location
- One or more kinds of training
- Activities that demanded total immersion for a reasonable period of time
- Opportunities to practice new skills and awarenesses, not just use what I already understood and was good at
For 2018 I am looking into volunteering at a local not-for-profit involving horses and a variety of people with developmental needs: veterans with PTSD, children with physical and emotional issues, older adults sliding toward isolation. It meets the 5 criteria above for a smarter-than-New-Year-Resolutions approach to making sure 2018 includes my desired level of harmony, a balance between power-multi-tasking and one moment or day at a time. And I’m not depending upon this volunteering alone. I still have my photography, Sogetsu Ikebana, and whatever new model we develop with my grandchildren, all of which require a presence that forbids multi-tasking.
How about Kim, Rick, Gloria, and Sam? In each case, we worked together to build a structure that included all 5 of the requirements above. We think this will be much more effective for them than their traditional New Year’s Resolutions. Stay tuned and I’ll report back to you later in 2018.
If you were going to use the 5 structural components above in your own life to achieve a change that would benefit you, where would you start? Let me know by posting a response to this blog so we can all benefit from your intentions and wisdom, please.