Business of Well-being

Make the Most of Your New Year

Have you created any New Year's resolutions yet? Do you usually accomplish them? If not, consider setting goals, even small ones to gradually move you toward your vision of where you want to be in the next few years.

The two "magic questions"

Adapted from "How to Put More Time into Your Life" by Dr. Dru Scott

Think in terms of what you want or need more of and less of beginning with an appreciation of the difference between the two. You need a roof over your head; you may want the roof of a mansion. But can you afford it?

Lift your expectations ceiling by starting with what you want realizing that you'll likely have to shift to more realistic needs later.

Here's a composite of what I hear from clients regarding what they:

                                                             Want/need More of                                                                   Want/need Less (fewer) of

Quiet time                                             Fun                                                  Stress in general                Bills

Money                                                  Time                                                 Financial stress                  Responsibilities

Meaning                                               Time to volunteer                             TV                                       Conflict and arguing

Laughter                                              Time for friends                                 Traffic                                 Stuff

Challenge                                            "Me" time                                          Commute time                    Demands

Patience                                               Peace and quiet                               Time at work                       Unrealistic expectations

Over several days write out your own answers to these two questions multiple times. What you repeatedly list are the most important to pursue.

Next, ask yourself what picture do your answers paint of your desired life?

For example, the above list implies this person has too little time for what he really wants to do. But is lack of time the actual problem? After all, he has all that there is. Maybe he doesn't set priorities. Or he lives life in a flurry of activity that's more circular than directed.

Next, question your vision's meaning. For example, the person who wants more time could ask himself:

  • What are the most important things in my life?
  • Am I spending enough time on these? If not, why not?
  • If I had more time how would I spend it?
  • What am I willing and not willing to give up?

Expect these questions to lead to more questions. That's good.

If your answers don't paint a clear picture of how you want your life to change at least start by pursuing some of your more/less answers that are fairly easy to achieve. Our fictional character could schedule at least one fun thing to do a week. This may lead him to something else that's even more fun, which may lead to something that gives his life more meaning.

My experience with the magic question answers is that following them little by little leads you to the bigger picture of how you want your life to be.

Instead of New Year's resolutions, which most fail to carry out, take smaller more/less of steps and see if in the long run they don't expose your life's vision.

To reach goal, start at the end

"Start with the end in mind," said Steven Covey, author of "7 Habits of Highly Successful People." Seeing how your day-to-day efforts move you toward larger and important - even distant - goals, creates energy, willpower and the motivation to accomplish them. Plus, making steady progress toward your vision gives your life greater meaning, therefore significantly less stress on a daily basis.

Continually clarify where your more/less answers suggest you want to be in three to five years. Then create New Year's goals to propel you in that direction.

For example, in three years Karen plans to graduate from college and get a better job than the one she lost during this recession. Keeping the end in mind, she defined her vision as working in a field she enjoys and has longevity, regaining financial stability, save 10% of her income for retirement. To reach it she:

Wants/needs More of                                                                      Wants/needs Less (fewer) of

Time to study                                                                                     Debt

Sharing household responsibilities to create that time                      Perfectionism about unimportant tasks, which wastes time

Paying off debt                                                                                  Stress over finances

Savings                                                                                             Unnecessary spending

Energy to succeed in school                                                             Distractions from studying

Weight loss                                                                                       Being sedentary

Satisfaction with what you have                                                       Dissatisfaction with what you don't have

Now she can set and achieve smaller, short-term goals to reach her ultimate vision within three years. She needs to set realistic goals since unattained goals create stress. For example over the next year she could:

  • Pay down credit cards and when paid off, deposit that same amount monthly into savings;
  • Create and stick to a reasonable budget and only buy what she can afford;
  • Take an assertiveness class to learn how to set limits with her family and to request their help in sharing responsibilities;
  • Walk a mile a day four times a week to lose weight and get healthier;
  • Schedule sufficient study time;

Motivate yourself with a collage

To keep you motivated and focused on your vision make a colorful and appealing collage depicting your destination. For the example above, she could find a photo of a student on graduation day, the "$" symbol, something depicting a growing retirement account, etc.

Post your collage at home, in your office and/or in your car to keep you focused on what you need to do daily to accomplish it. Even tiny investments of time toward one of your goals, like going on-line to inquire about an assertiveness class, give the rest of your day more meaning while reducing your stress.

Also reward yourself for each successful step you take.

Be patient

Don't assume you have to accomplish your objective in one big step. My husband and I have a goal of finding a volunteer organization to work with, preferably overseas, as part of our semi-retirement. Encore is a possibility. They recruit former Peace Corps volunteers, such as I, to volunteer in parts of the world for weeks at a time.

My short term goal is to simply contact them and explore the possibilities. If interested, I'd then learn more about them and research safety and practical concerns regarding working overseas again.

We'll keep our "end in mind" of spending semi-retirement time seeking adventure and travel partly through volunteering. If working with Encore doesn't pan out, there are other possibilities. In other words, we don't have to give up on our end, we'd just have to come up with new ways, new goals, to get there.

Improve your health this New Year

Virtually everyone could improve their self-care to be in better shape once you reach your destination.

Here are six important stress reduction ideas reported in Psychology Today and based on accumulating research on extending your life span and improving your quality of life. They promote "self-efficacy," meaning that your actions bring about your desired outcomes, translating into greater personal control, which automatically reduces stress. Self-efficacy leads to improved problem solving because you feel empowered to look for additional options in dealing with life's ups and downs.

  1. Journal of Gerontology: add years to your life staying physically active, whether by walking, biking or gardening. The great news is it works even if you've been historically sedentary. Additionally, " six months of regular aerobic exercise can also reverse the loss of brain tissue that occurs with aging." Regular physical activity also improves your mood.
  2. Lifelong use of two languages promotes longevity by delaying the onset of dementia by four years. Bilingualism "enhances brain vasculature and neural plasticity and increases your attention and cognitive control." The Internet and Rosetta Stone make learning languages easier.
  3. Great news for wine lovers: According to Current Biology the phytonutrient resveratrol in red grapes and red wine counter aging the same way calorie restriction does. "Both activate a family of enzymes that slows the body's metabolic machinery and offsets the damage of a high calorie diet." Sounds good to me!
  4. The Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health has two suggestions for longevity. "Living in the mountains promotes longevity even if you have high blood lipids and high blood pressure. Adaptation to altitude helps the body cope with lower levels of oxygen, and walking uphill regularly aids the heart."
  5. They also report that close family ties are nice, but having a network of good friends boosts lifespan in old age. Being connected positively influences many physical symptoms, offsetting stress.
  6. Finally, Psychosomatic Medicine reports that a good marriage counteracts the wear and tear of life on multiple body systems.

Live '11 with more frugal values

It's time we stop instant gratification and preach patience

Given that our collective extravagant American values helped get us into this global financial fiasco let's identify them and replace them with old-fashioned ones to get through this mess and avoid the same mistakes in the future.

Here are some values that drove our profligate behavior in recent decades and their opposites that can help us get back to basics:

  1. Greed? moderation;
  2. Instant gratification; spend now? patience; save more!
  3. Materialism generosity;

1. Synonyms for "moderation" include restraint, self-control, and temperance. "Excess" is its antonym.

In which ways are you personally excessive? Do you eat or drink too much? Are you a shopaholic? Does your excess fail to satisfy you in a week or a month? Would becoming more moderate decrease your financial stress?

But to become more moderate you have to value restraint more than spending. For example, does your over-spending create tension with your significant other? If so, controlling your spending would benefit both your bank account and your relationship.

When tempted to buy something unessential ask what you value more, the item or your relationship, the item or your bank account. Consciously comparing how much you prefer one thing over another prioritizes your values. If you buy the item consciously admit that you apparently value the item more than your relationship or your bank account.

2. American's infamous need for instant gratification has skyrocketed fueled by ubiquitous advertising, intensifying with each new generation. We forget that our grandparents accumulated their possessions over a lifetime of saving for them.

Many are in financial distress today because they felt rich by the soaring real estate values. They refinanced their homes and took out cash to spend on stuff. They now have lots of stuff and a home that's worth less than their mortgage.

How about returning to the novel idea of buying only that for which you have cash?

The convenience of credit cards makes this hopelessly outdated. Here's how to stay on a disciplined budget and still enjoy the convenience of credit cards:

  • Decide how much you can afford to spend monthly after your rent/mortgage is paid.
  • Withdraw that amount of cash and divide it into four weekly envelopes. When you get gas, for example, use your credit card. Then, transfer that same amount of cash from the assigned week's spending envelope into a checking account deposit envelope to cover the charge when it comes through.
  • As your available weekly cash diminishes, decrease your spending.

3. Finally, imagine a world where generosity is valued more than materialism: giving money you'd otherwise spend on unnecessary stuff to someone who needs it. Or being more generous in spirit: volunteering, taking time to listen to someone who needs to be heard, or visiting a lonely neighbor.

These idealized, frugal American values could have avoided our collective financial meltdown. They can still get us back to basics reminding us of what's really important in life. And it isn't stuff.

So, what will you do?

Let the New Year be your actual and symbolic beginning to improve your life over the next year. Figure out your desired destination, including what you want to have more of and less of by January, 2012. In one year you'll be a year older whether or not you've taken any steps toward your vision. Start by taking any steps, even if only little ones, and see how taking them overcomes inertia and motivates you to take more.

About The Author

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M.S.


In 1976, after returning from 2 years in the Peace Corps in Colombia, South America, Jackie earned her Master's degree in Community Counseling/Psychology from her home state of Minnesota. She then worked for several years as a Program Director at a mental health center. In 1982 she founded InterAction Associates, her management development, coaching and training firm.

For over 25 years Jackie has designed and presented keynotes and workshops on stress management, diversity, customer-service and communication skills.

Her mission is to inspire you to live a conscious life of personal responsibility in your relations with yourself and others, which she weaves into every presentation to help you "wake up" to your responsibility in making your desired changes.

Literally hundreds-of-thousands of people throughout North America, the United Kingdom, Australia and points in between have benefitted from her programs.

Jackie is also a Professional & Stress Coach helping people achieve more success with less stress.

Order her recently published book, Let Your Body Win: Stress Management Plain & Simple and request her weekly emailed column, Stress for Success, published in a Gannett Newspaper at

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