As 2009 came to a close, I intentionally avoided the usual resolution-setting process most people go through on New Year’s Eve. Instead, this year I am simply making a few minor lifestyle tweaks that should help me reach my larger goals, but not require the usual Herculean effort that seems to set me up for failure time and time again.
This is basically the same approach I am taking to a variety of challenges, from losing weight to reaching a six-figure savings goal – even improving my energy levels. These are rather nebulous goals on their own, and we all know the importance of declaring SMART goals to have success. So my “everyday” goals will be very specific, actionable things I can do each day to move me towards the larger goals. Each goal has a very definite success or failure measurement – I can either put an “X” on the calendar or I can’t, depending on my completion of the goal.
Lifestyle Tweak #1: Get Eight Hours of Sleep Each Night
Some hardcore business types will tell you sleep is overrated. I used to believe that myself, spending late nights and early mornings banging away on a keyboard while passing on restorative sleep. Over time, this behavior takes a toll. Never mind the mounting evidence that lack of sleep is tied to things like obesity, heart disease, and other unsavory conditions, but for me personally lack of sleep leaves me feeling foggy, mentally, for much of the next day.
Repeated sleepless nights leave me in a permanent fog – lacking motivation, energy and mental clarity required for both my full-time job and my writing endeavors. More importantly, it turns me into a real grouch, which negatively affects my wife and kids.
Action Statement: I will retire to bed each night by 9:00pm. Why so early? You’ll see why when I mention the next lifestyle tweak. This one will be tough for a recovering insomniac with two small kids and many activities filling my after-work schedule the next few months.
Lifestyle Tweak #2: At Least One Hour of Physical Activity Each Day
Ideally, I’d like to do more, but I know myself, and extending this goal any further would likely lead to failure more times than not. In this case, I’ll set myself up for success and leave it at one hour. The benefits are obvious: improved physical condition, more energy, ease of sticking to my pseudo caveman diet plan, etc. But another intangible benefit comes from hitting this goal. I need a little “me” time.
Working in an office all day surrounded by coworkers, and coming home to a house filled with a wife, two kids and an attention-hungry dog leave little time for me. Is that selfish? Yes, but in this case it is a healthy selfishness because I think everyone needs a little “me” time.
Action Statement: I will visit the gym each morning at 5:15am and work out for one hour. Hopefully, I’ll be doing this on 8 hours of sleep, so getting up this early should not be too much of a struggle. As the weather warms I’ll alternate gym days with outside days because I much prefer being outside early in the mornings.
Lifestyle Tweak #3: Have a More Positive Attitude
I confess – I am too critical. I spend too much life energy being negative. Some days the political climate, or the economy, or some local event just puts me in a bad mood. Going forward, I plan on being a more positive person – less critical of others, less negative about the future, more thankful for today.
It is hard not to get down, and you don’t have to look far for others to help you get there. The endless news cycle of negativity, the popularity of bashing others, condemning success, etc. provides plenty of fuel for negative attitudes.
Action Statement: I will give at least three compliments each day. The first three will be at home as I will make it a habit to give a genuine compliment to each family member at some point during the day. From there, I will extend a compliment to a coworker (work related, of course), and maybe a strange or two. I know this might sound a little silly, but when you think about it, it’s hard to find something positive to say to someone else without having a positive attitude.
Lifestyle Tweak #4: Create More Family Memories
Last year was a tough one. My mom had a stroke in August of 2008, and passed away last September after a long attempted recovery. We spent a lot of time caring for her both in the hospital (she spent about 150 days in the hospital and rehabilitation facility in that year) and at home. The entire experience left us drained, mentally, physically and emotionally.
We also spent much of that time fighting like crazy to become debt free. We skipped vacations, lived ultra-frugal, and worked a lot of hours to earn extra income to put towards debt. The days seemed to pass by without many milestones or events etched into our memory banks. Looking back, it seems like we lost an entire year, which makes this year’s goal that much more important.
Action Statement: We will take two family vacations this year, and a number of mini-vacations throughout the year. Our last family vacation was October of 2007, when my mom was still healthy. We spent a week in a mountain-side cabin in the Smoky Mountains. I had no internet connection, cell coverage was spotty, and we barely turned on the television: it was bliss! At the time, we planned to make it annual event. And even though Mom is gone now, we are dedicated to taking more time off as a family, whether it be a week-long, full-fledged vacation, or a short, frugal camping trip to a nearby state park. The objective is to get away from the “noise” of daily life and enjoy time as a family, creating memories that will last a lifetime.
So there it is, four seemingly simple lifestyle tweaks for the Frugal family in 2010. I’ll periodically follow up on these mini-goals throughout the year. Hopefully, they will be more apparent in my writing as I share stories about traveling, losing weight and looking at things through a more positive filter.