Monthly Archives: December 2011

5 Ways to Make and Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions

Do you know that fewer than half of Americans make New Year’s Resolutions?

Of those who do make them, the three most frequent resolutions are about weight loss (no surprise there), exercise, and stopping smoking.  Also popular are ones dealing with better money management and debt reduction. 

Have you noticed they all have to do with self discipline?

Now here’s the not-so-good news:  one week after the resolution is made (on January 1st), 75% of those who make them have continued with them.  By the second week, 71% are still on board.  At the one month mark, however, only 64% of those who made resolutions are still working on them, and after six months, it’s down to only 46%.  While that’s less than half of the folks who started by making resolutions, it’s still something.  People are more likely to make permanent changes if they focus in on a concept.

The most common resolutions that show substantial success rates include consuming less alcohol, taking trips and vacations, learning a new skill, managing stress, and getting more education.  A little less substantial (but with some success nevertheless) are resolutions like doing more volunteer work, saving money, getting fit, and losing weight.

The resolutions with the least likelihood of success include quitting smoking, overcoming emotional issues or addictions, overspending and debt management.  People just don’t stick with these.

So, if you’re going to make New Year’s resolutions, here are five key points to know about making them and making them stick:

1. Keep them very specific.  “I’m going to lose weight.”  No.  “I’m going to lose 5 pounds by April.”  Make it specific.

2. Make them realistic.  You can wish upon a star but in real life you have to pick something realistic.  “I want to be rich and famous and powerful” would be more sensible phrased as: “I want to figure out a way to be more productive at work, and I probably can do that by getting in there a half an hour earlier.”  Again, keeping your resolutions realistic and focused.

3. Make them known.  When you just say things in your own head, nobody knows and you’re less likely to follow through.  That’s why, for example, marital commitments are made in front of community, family and friends, because you’re making a statement for everyone to hear.  So make them known.

4. Make them measurable by time.  “Every week I’m going to have 2 fewer cigarettes…drink 3 less drinks during that week…walk 2 more miles.”   Put numbers or dates on them. Put in deadlines.

5. Make them fun.  It’s not much fun if you’re obese and trying to lose weight, but you could make it fun if you made little pictures, like, “That’s what I used to look like; this is what I look like now…”  And you can have little pictures on the wall that you drew, showing percentages of weight lost.  Every time you see it, it’s very motivating.  So you can find a way to make resolutions cute and fun — you can. 

Summing it up: make sure your goals are clear and specific, do them in some kind of measurable time so you can actually measure progress, but the big thing is you’re either going to be master of yourself or a slave to your impulses.  You’ll either have discipline and commitment or you won’t and that’s a quality of character.  I know people don’t like to hear the word “character” –  they want to hear the word “addiction” because that takes out any issue of character; that means there’s nothing in your control.  We all know that’s bull.  Your character is what is measured by you following through on what you put your word to.

Resolving Sibling Rivalry

Sibling rivalry is a natural part of growing up; there’s no way to avoid it.  Your best efforts won’t avoid it.  We can help minimize it, and sometimes redirect it but there’s no way to avoid it.

Sibling rivalry is probably at its worst when kids are all under the age of 4.  When they’re less than 3 years apart, they’re very dependent.  Think about it:  they can’t go cook a microwave dinner.  They’re very dependent upon “Mommy,” so subdividing “Mommy” is a threat.
 
If you look at dogs, the females have what looks like a million teats, so if they have a large number of puppies born, all the puppies get to eat.  If you have 3 kids, you don’t have  3 breasts, which makes it a little tougher and you usually don’t breastfeed two at the same time.  I don’t know why not, but you don’t.  So as far as resources of love and attention go, you’ve got one “Mommy,” and many demands.
 
From age 4 and up – competition between brothers and sisters can heat up.  It’s usually the worst between 8 and 12 because if they don’t have the same interests, there’s pull and push and who’s better, who’s smarter, who is more important, who gets more attention, who does better in school, who does better in sports…all of that.
 
So here are some quickie ways to handle conflict between kids:

You have to treat each kid as an individual. Parents tend to fall into the trap of “I’m going to love and treat all my children the same”.  Well, the kids are not the same – they don’t have the same personalities, they don’t have the same needs, they don’t have the same emotional reflexes (much less physical reflexes).  What parents should focus on is identifying and reinforcing the diversity of talent:  i.e., “you’re unique at this and you’re unique at that.”  And it’s really good to sit with kids when the younger ones are looking, for example, at the amazing talent of the older one or sometimes it’s the other way around.  And you sit down and you go, “Here’s the deal.  You have Mommy and Daddy here.  Mommy is very good at ‘blank’; Daddy is not so good at ‘blank’.  Daddy is good at ‘that’ and Mommy’s not so good at ‘that’ because we’re different people.  And when Daddy does really good at ‘that’, I applaud.  And when Daddy sees I’m good at ‘that’, he applauds.  So we’re happy about the fact that we’re different and we have these good things to applaud.”  And you teach your kids to do the same thing.  “You are definitely fabulous at math, but you are also incredible at art.  So when your brother or sister needs to do an art project, you ought to help.”  “When you’re having some trouble with math, go to your brother or sister.  They’ll help you.”

Having a sibling in the position of administering parental support breeds a bond as long as it’s not done as a discount.  Any time kids are getting along try saying: “That’s great how you guys are playing.  I really like seeing that; it makes me feel good.  You both look so happy and, you know, you’re working things out.  That’s really nice.”  The more you can look for the times that work and make a comment, the better.
 
You’ve got to really spend time with each kid alone.  Everything can’t be a team effort.  There has to be special time where you go to the library with one, a ball game with the other, a museum with this one, lunch with that one…they all have to have special time…reading, taking a walk, running an errand…special time. 
 
Look at how YOU are getting along with your spouse.  Poop rolls downhill (unless it’s stuck in something).  So when you’re bickering with each other with the criticism and the anger and not being happy, the kids will do it with each other.  The tension works that way.  Through words and actions, you’ve got to be very love-ish:  a lot of hugging, a lot of kissing, a lot of tweaking, a lot of cuteness…just a lot of cuteness.  I mean, my kid is 25, 6’2″, 208 pounds and when I see him, I come behind him and I give him a big smooch on the top of his head and mess his hair.  Of course, if you mess your kid’s hair, you’re going to get in trouble. But, short of that, always be very affectionate.  It’s a very important part of life.

I really think parents who try to get their kids to always do stuff together are making a mistake.  Kids need their own time, alone time and their own friend time.  So you don’t tell your kid, “Bring along your younger sister or brother.”  Don’t do that.  Don’t ever do that.  They need their own time with their own buddies.  If you want a babysitter, pay them 5 bucks an hour.  It’s very important to have kids feel special and you can rotate: special kid of the day.  Okay, we do this in this order: 1, 2, 3, 4…(however many kids you have)…in that order, you’re the special kid and you get these perks (and we have a list of perks), like you get to choose the TV program at 7 o’clock.  And the next night the other one gets to do it.  It doesn’t matter how old anybody is — they all get the “special kid” treatment so they’re not fighting over a TV show because tonight that one gets to choose.  Of course some of you are nuts and have a television in every kid’s room and I want to pinch your heads off.
 
Some of the things I don’t want you to do:

Don’t compare one kid to another. “Well your brother/your sister doesn’t ‘blah blah blah’.”  Don’t do that.  “He/she studies; you’re just a bum…”  Don’t do that because they’ll hate each other. 
 
Try not to take sides.  Try not to take sides when they’re having a little skirmish.  “Well you said…well you did…and you did…and you pushed…”  And say, “Well you know what?  At this point, I don’t care who started it, you’re both finishing it.  That’s it.  If I hear more noise about this, you both don’t go out for the whole weekend.  It doesn’t matter whose fault it is, the two of you have to finish it.”  It’s the finishing done well that I’m interested in so they have to become a team or they both get screwed on the weekends.
 
Don’t over-react.  You really shouldn’t discount emotions.
 
“I hate Johnny.  I hate Mary.”
 
“Okay, why do you hate them?”
 
“Because they do ‘such and such’.”
 
“Well I can understand how you can get an emotion so big you’d say ‘I hate them’, but you can’t take their stuff or bounce them over the head or call them bad names.  When you feel a feeling, you feel the feeling and we can talk about what to do with the feeling, but these are the things you’re not permitted to do with the feeling: you can’t hit them, you can’t take anything and you can’t embarrass them, and you can’t do crap like that.  But if you’re that angry, you’re that angry.  So you can either come to Mom and Dad and talk about why you’re so angry, talk to your brother or sister and tell them you’re angry, we can sit all of us and talk about why each one of us is angry because angry happens.”
 
You don’t discount the emotion because it’s bigger.  In order to get accepted, it gets bigger.  So you say, “Oh, I can understand why you were angry.  However, bopping them on the head is not the way you’re going to handle angry.  It’s unacceptable.  But, you’re angry, so if that’s what happened, I can understand you being angry.  I would be angry too.”  The minute you say that, the anger level goes down.  The minute you justify the anger, the anger level goes down.
 
So I could go on for days, but these are some basic tools that you can try and they all require you to have a sense of humor and be calm. Have a sense of humor and be calm because the more you get into it, you exacerbate it.  And definitely do not have parents arguing about it.

Let Your Conscience Be Your Guide

There was an article in the news recently about a man who returned money he stole from a Sears store in Seattle in the 1940s.  The original theft was between $20 and $30, so the now elderly man returned $100.  The store manager believes the man’s conscience may have been bothering him for the past 60 years.  The store will put the money toward helping needy families.

So I was interested to learn what my listeners have owned up to – even years later – because of their conscience; why they felt it was important to right the wrong and how doing so changed their life.  Below are just three examples. 

I.
When I was a young, very poor child in the 1940′s nearly everything was ‘too expensive’  — even the little rubber balls on a rubber string that were only ten cents at the Five & Dime store.

One summer day I stole one of the little balls. It seemed to be such fun but sadly, my great aunt and grandmother had raised me with a conscience. The ‘fun’ even seemed to be stolen and not so much fun after all.

Years later, in my 20s we traveled back to my old home town. The first thing I did was go to the store and paid back ten fold for the little ball. The manager was open-mouthed at first and then smiled and thanked me.

It was a great feeling. Forgiven and restored. That was nearly 60 years ago but the satisfaction of handing a dollar to the store manager and wiping the slate clean is still with me. – P.

II.
When I was twenty-four, already living on my own, my mom had a hysterectomy. A week later it was her 50th birthday. I was supposed to go to her house, but I wanted to go out with my boyfriend instead. I told my brother over the phone it would be real boring because I’d have to sit around and just hold her hand. My mom was listening in on the extension and started to cry. My dad called me back, told me I was a slut, and he was ashamed of me. I went to my boyfriend’s house anyway.

Years later I told my mom there were things I did selfishly I had regretted ever since, and I mentioned the time of her 50th birthday. I realized how much it must have hurt her and I was appalled at my behavior. She said she forgave me, and was proud of the person I had become; I was a good mom and she admired my strength. I replied, “Every good thing I know I learned from you, Mom.” I think Mom was choked up and couldn’t accept the compliment, but I know my slate was wiped clean and it felt so good.

When she lay dying this past spring, I was sad and upset, but I never felt we had any unfinished business. In every way that matters, I know Mom loved me and knew I loved her. – L.

III.
In high school, there was a kid who was a real easy target for me.  We went to a small school; our class had 20 kids. I was a big kid, had a big mouth and silver tongue, and he was a little slow, didn’t have any friends, and torturing him was a quick way to get easy laughs and make myself look cool. It went beyond simple name calling and spit wads. You could say my friends and I were bordering on psychological abuse. I thought about it every now and then over the years, but just shrugged it off as teenage crap.

This July I went to my 20 year reunion. I was surprised to see him there, in the corner by himself, and, was shocked at the look on his face when he saw me. It was a look of fear and panic. I was made aware in that split second when our eyes met it was much more than ‘teenage crap’ to that guy. I wasn’t a distance memory he could barely recall. He was actually scared of me – 20 years later.

I felt awful. I spent the next hour or so away from my buddies, one-on-one with him, engaging in good conversation, about what he’s been doing and just general catch-up. Unfortunately, life hasn’t been much kinder to him than I was all those years ago.  Just before the dinner started, I leaned in close and said, “There’s something I’ve got to say to you. I owe you a huge apology for how I treated you, man.” He tried to dismiss it and I interrupted. “No, this is important. There was no excuse for the crap you had to endure back then. I have no excuse for the things I said and did, and I was an absolute bastard. I’d like to ask for your forgiveness.”

He studied me for a second, and then got a huge grin with glassy eyes as he put his hand out. We shook, he said he accepted, and appreciated it.

The rest of the evening was great, he had a good time, and his spirit seemed to lift. I’m not sure if that had more effect on me or him, but I’m angry at myself for not seeking him out sooner. All I can hope for is I’ve made it right, and that night was a turning point for him. – C.

I do believe no matter how many days, months, years or decade pass, it’s a good thing to right the wrong.  I’ve gotten so many calls from people having done something they want to apologize for, but it happened so long ago.  Absolutely, send a card, send an email; just don’t text — that’s the least sensitive way to apologize.  But make a connection and say you’re sorry – if you are.  Don’t excuse it, don’t even explain it.  The best way to apologize is to say, “I did _________.  It was wrong.  I regret it.  And I’m sorry for any pain I caused you.”