Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year, New Resolutions

As the crystal ball drops we descend into a new year, a new decade. A clean slate full of new opportunities.

The new year will be filled with countless resolutions, goals and promises.

While just another day, January 1st, 2010 presents a great opportunity for self improvement. Because wanting to improve is the most important step to actually improving. (In reality, any day you choose to make a conscious decision to improve is a great opportunity. This hyper-self-help sentence is super corny and yet super true.)

Going into the new year with a little preparation can make a big difference in terms of sticking with your resolutions.

A few tips for your 2010 goals
  • Choose something you really want do to. This is the most important tip. You won't stick to something you don't care about.
  • Tell someone about it or write it down. This will keep you inspired and increase accountability.
  • Make the resolution doable. 
  • Set measurable benchmarks. "I want to get in shape," is a terrible resolution. What does this even mean? When will you be in shape? Where is the motivation? A better alternative: "I will work out for 10 minutes five times a week." This will keep you motivated and will allow you to track your progress.
  • Limit yourself. Do not spread yourself too thin. The more goals you set the less likely you will be to do them. Shoot for the one or two things you truly want.
Inching towards your goals and slowly building positive habits is a great way to make your resolutions a reality.


Photo: Jsome1

Saturday, December 12, 2009

What is Your Goal in Life?

I never really thought about what my main goal in life was until I was 17. I lived life because that is what I had always done. I tried to do well in school because I liked doing well. I had a job because I needed money. I did things to do them.

It amazes me that I floated in life for so long without really thinking about why I did anything, beyond surface reasons.

When I was first asked the "goal in life" question by my then-girlfriend, now fiancee, I did not know what to say. I thought about it for a minute and said my goal in life was to be successful. "Quick thinking," I thought to myself with a smile.

I asked her the same question. She said her goal was to be happy.

The moment she answered I knew her answer was better then mine. (She is a very smart woman.)

Having a big, overarching goal is not necessary as evidenced by my initial 17 years of existence. But it is helpful. It's helpful in those moments when you are searching for reasons to get up in the morning or deciding what type of career you should choose. It's helpful when contemplating philosophical questions like,why am I here?

Happiness in context

Currently I am reading The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living by The Dalai Lama. The main idea of the book is very clear: "the purpose of our life is happiness." The idea is discussed in the context of how it can be helpful on a day-to-day basis. Flipping through the book, here is a section from a page I dogeared:

"The purpose of our life is happiness. That simple statement can be used as a powerful tool in helping us navigate through life's daily problems. From that perspective, our task becomes one of discarding the things that lead to suffering and accumulating the things that lead to happiness. The method, the daily practice, involves gradually increasing our awareness and understanding of what truly leads to happiness and what doesn't.

When life becomes too complicated and and we feel overwhelmed, it's often useful to stand back and remind ourselves of our overall purpose, our overall goal. When faced with a feeling of stagnation and confusion, it may be helpful to take an hour, an afternoon, or even several days to simply reflect on what it is that will truly bring us happiness, and then restart our priorities on the basis of that. This can put our life back in proper context, allow a fresh perspective, and enable us to see which direction to take."

The advice is simple.  Become aware of what leads to your happiness and what leads to suffering.  Do what makes you happy and don't do what makes you suffer. Obviously, in our real lives it is not this simple.  Little is black and white and sometimes its necessary to face the things that make us suffer before they will go away.

Whether you decide that your purpose in life is to be happy or if it's something else, the above advice can be helpful. Taking a moment to step back to ensure that our actions and decisions are in line with our ultimate goal is crucial. Because it is the accumulation of our decisions that ultimately determine who we are and who we become. 

Photo: rajkumar1220

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Slow and Steady...

My initial foray into self improvement was fun. My ambition was so high that I felt I could truly do anything. I brainstormed all the things that I wanted to improve and set out improving. After a great 3 or 4 months I hit a plateau; I was getting stretched too thin and was not happy. What came next, I believe, happens to many who set out to improve and hit some difficulty. I shut down. I stopped working out, getting up early, reading thought provoking books, everything. I went from feeling like I could conquer the world to feeling like I couldn't get out of bed. The more I think about it now the more I am reminded of the many people who excitedly set New Year resolutions only to forget about them two weeks down the road. 

Where it went wrong

I got too ambitious and confident in what I thought I could do that I did not limit the goals I set to achieve to things I really, truly wanted. I had so much on my plate that I did not have time to comfortably focus on the one or two things I really wanted to do. Additionally, I probably should have limited my pace in the beginning. I sprinted the first 5 miles of a marathon, only to come up winded a fourth of the way through. (Maybe the tortoise was really right...)

What I am doing about it

Instead of dwelling too much on my failures I know that I have to focus on the present and the things I can do now. Focus on what I want to accomplish and how I want to do it. Rather than the rigid, utilitarian approach I previously took, I am only going to set out to improve things I truly care about and make me happy. Over the next few days I will be thinking about where I am currently and where I want to be.

Photo: cliff1066