Posts Tagged ‘affirmation’

Carrot Or Stick?

Take a look at this year's resolutions — do you see the word “stop” more than “start” and “don't” more than “do?” If the majority of your goals begin with a negative word, you may have a self-defeating trend going on here. Certainly, it's admirable to try and quit smoking or cut back on working late. But sometimes the way you state a resolution can impact your capacity to accomplish that goal. For example, if you want to improve your nutrition, telling yourself that you will “stop eating sweets” may not be the best way. It sounds punitive, like a punishment for being bad — and with this sort of absolute ultimatum you're likely to experience feelings of resentment. The last thing you want to do with a resolution is focus too heavily on the fact that something you enjoy is being taken away from you. But what if you were to replace the “bad” thing with something “good?” Promising yourself that you can “eat a big bowl of fresh fruit when a sugar craving comes on” sounds like a reward, and you'll be a lot more likely to follow through. Just that small shift can mean the difference between success and failure with your goals.

If you're accustomed to setting goals that browbeat you into behaving the “right” way (and you're also used to your efforts failing), why not try a different approach this year? Give up the stick and try a carrot instead — it works well for a wide variety of goals:

  • instead of “stop working late,” try “go home on time each day to spend some quality time with my family”
  • instead of “stop eating so much junk food,” try “eat a full serving of my favorite fruits or vegetables with every meal”
  • instead of “stop smoking,” try “give myself a gift (a walk in the sunshine, a hot bath, a good hot cup of coffee) when I get a nicotine craving”
  • instead of “stop biting my nails,” try “treat myself to a manicure and a polish when ever I feel the urge to gnaw”
  • instead of “stop leaving piles of paper on my desk,” try “set aside time at the end of each day to put everything away, so I can start the next morning with a clean desk and a clear mind”
  • instead of “stop being late for everything,” try “leave the house 15 minutes earlier than necessary so I can arrive at each appointment relaxed, and without rushing”
  • instead of “stop crashing in front of the TV all evening,” try “meet a friend for an hour of  walking and quality time each day after work”
  • instead of “stop being so negative,” try “start each day by thinking of one thing I'm grateful for”
  • instead of “stop criticizing my husband,” try “give my husband a compliment first thing each morning and as soon as he comes home each afternoon”

Break Your Goals Down

Do you know why 90% of us don't keep our New Year's resolutions? Because our goals are too big and too vague and just too dadgummed overwhelming to seem practical. You have to make your dreams feel achievable, and that means dividing them up into smaller “mini-goals.” Instead of telling yourself that you want to “get organized,” try breaking that goal down into something more manageable — bite-sized and concrete. “Clean out all clothes that haven't been worn in a year” or “move all of the sports equipment to the garage” gives you a solid place to start — then you can move on to another small goal that will take you one step closer to “getting organized.”

You don't have to commit hours of uninterrupted effort if you want to accomplish a goal. But the greatest advances are often the sum total of a series of small efforts. When you're organizing, that means a drawer here, a cabinet there, maybe a closet. Once you have set your goals for the year, commit to spending 15 minutes each day doing something that will move you closer to accomplishing that goal. You will be amazed at how quickly you progress!

Create Incentives

The worst deadline you can set for accomplishing a goal is “over the next year” — too easy to put things off, no time frame to keep you on track, and too much room for slacking. Sometimes it's best to paint yourself into a corner if you want to get a project done. If your goal is to clean out the guest bedroom closet, invite company over (you want your friends and family to feel comfortable in your home, without having to move stacks and piles to find a place to sleep — and then there's the potential embarrassment if they were to see your mess!) Make a commitment to someone else — knowing that other people are counting on you is often just the little “push” you need to get moving.

And have you thought about finding an “accountability buddy” with which to work? This trick isn't just for the gym! Do you have a friend who can help out with some of your organizing projects? Who can make sure you set aside the time to sort and purge when you might not do it on your own? Two people will get more done in shorter period of time — and you will be less inclined to keep a bunch of junk you don't need with your best buddy asking why you're hanging on to it. Just remember that you will be expected to reciprocate when your friend gets ready to clean out. And if you can't recruit any free help, consider bringing in a Professional Organizer — someone who can be objective about your clutter.

Share Your Plans

The best way to make yourself accountable for accomplishing your goals is to tell other people about your plans. The minute you spread the word that you are working on a project, people become interested in your progress. “Hey, how are you doing getting that garage in order?” Every time you hear those words, one of two things will happen. Either you will feel inspired to dig back in and get to work — or you will feel lousy because you haven't made any progress. Option A gets you moving, while Option B tells you that something is out of alignment and lets you know that you need to re-evaluate and possibly adjust your goals. Either one is a step in the right direction.

But it's also important that you be accountable to yourself. Repetition is the mother of success, so you need to remind yourself of your goals everyday.  Pick your most important goal this year, and turn it into a one-sentence “mantra.” Your mantra should be in the form of an affirmation — a statement phrased as though you have already accomplished your goal (“I am the master of my time” or “I live in a clutter-free environment.”) Repeat this mantra first thing when you get up, last thing before you go to bed, when you are driving in the car, as you take a shower. Post sticky notes with your mantra on it around your home and office. Pretty soon, this will become your natural way of thinking — keeping you going when you run into a roadblock.

And don't forget that if you write a goal down, it is more likely to come to fruition. There is something about the act of putting your thoughts (any thoughts) on paper that makes you more committed to the outcome. You have invested time and energy writing your goals down — what a waste if you didn't actually go through with them (not to mention that it's wonderfully therapeutic to cross an item off of your list once you complete it!) The best thing about writing your goals down is that you have something physical to hold in your hand and refer back to when you need a boost. But this doesn't mean skimming the page and marveling at how many things you haven't done yet. You must also ask yourself some questions about each goal — why haven't I made more progress on this goal? What's getting in my way? Is this goal still important to me? If your priorities have changed, drop it from your list. You have enough important things to do — you don't need to sweat over not accomplishing an unimportant task.

Enjoy Your Successes

When was the last time you really acknowledged the fact that you accomplished an important goal? Too often, we simply charge into the next task on our list without really appreciating our achievements. Next time, spend a few minutes reflecting on your accomplishment — remembering the time and effort you invested and savoring the feeling of completion. This will refresh and renew your enthusiasm to continue on with your next goal. Without that moment of pause, you will eventually burn yourself out and lose all sense of motivation. There's is a lot of wisdom in the old idea of a “carrot and stick” — so remember to attach a reward to each goal as you make your plans for this year, something commensurate with the amount of work you will have to do to reach that finish line. And be consistent about rewarding yourself for every accomplishment, no matter how small. You deserve it!

Sweeping Away The  Past

Stop and think about how much your physical environment affects your mental state and sense of well-being. Living in a messy home makes you feel as though you've put on an extra 10 pounds. Being surrounded by dirt and piles of clutter drains your energy. When your living space is out of whack, it changes your whole outlook — you feel stuck, irritable, just not happy with the world. And it doesn't take much for the mess to accumulate — I know from personal experience that a month or two of chaos will take its toll on even an organized person's home!

But when your home is clean, clutter-free, and organized, it feels as though a weight has been lifted from your shoulders. You have room to move, to think, to enjoy life. Suddenly, you re-discover the motivation to tackle other projects — starting an exercise program, looking for a new job, going back to school, writing the great American novel. It's amazing what just tidying up your home can help you accomplish! I firmly believe that everyone should plan at least two good top-to-bottom cleanings a year — whether you live in a mini-mansion, a condo, or an RV!

“Cleansing rituals” are common amongst native cultures as a way of releasing the old and making space for the new. These usually involve some sort of change in your physical environment, as well as a recognition of the attendant change in mental state — each action is paired with an affirmation of something that you're grateful for or something that you would like to welcome into your life. The shifting seasons signal an opportunity bring about a change in your energy, as well as your living space. Spring and fall are natural times in the cycle of the year for a cleansing — a breath of fresh air either before or after a long period of dormancy. I invite you to join me in my fall cleaning:

  • pull out any clothes that no longer fit and donate them to a local shelter — then take a moment to appreciate your body just as it is, in whatever form it takes — ask for health and strength in the coming months, and commit to getting in a little exercise every day
  • clean out the paraphernalia from any old hobbies that no longer excite you to donate or sell — take a moment to be grateful that you live in a society that allows you to participate in so many diverse activities — then pick just one of your many interests to focus on in the coming months, and commit to spending time on it each week
  • go through every room of your home, every storage space, and pull out any item that isn't beautiful, useful, or loved to donate or sell — take a moment to be thankful that you live in a society that allows such material abundance, and also be grateful for the fact that someone else will get a chance to use and love these things from your life — commit to cleaning one thing out every time you bring something new into your home from now on
  • go through your to-do list of “unfinished projects” and determine which ones are still important to you — give yourself permission to cross the others off, letting them go without worry or care, recognizing that you can't waste your limited time and energy on trivial or unimportant matters — then commit to a deadline for completing each remaining task
  • open the windows and let the fresh air flow through your home — take a moment to appreciate the beauty of nature — commit to getting outside at least once every week to enjoy the world around you
  • give your house a good scrubbing from top to bottom (including windows, floors, tub, toilet, dusting, mopping, you name it) — include all those “home maintenance” tasks that you've been putting off (like cleaning the gutters or checking the seals on the windows) — then take a moment to be grateful for this wonderful home and the people in it — commit to doing something every day that makes your home feel wonderful (fresh flowers, burning scented candles, a special place-setting at dinner, etc.)