Four Lifestyle Tweaks For The New Year

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.

Autumn Dawn by James Jordan

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.


  1. I will give at least three compliments each day.

    This is wise.

    I would add that it might help to make one of those three compliments a compliment to yourself. That’s not ego. That’s realism. We all do great stuff (we also all do bad stuff, to be sure) and it does not hurt to recognize this. Your strengths are the source of all your power to do good in the word. And you can not take full advantage of that power until you come to full recognition of it.

    Another addition I would suggest is to offer three expressions of gratitude. Most of us already have it pretty darn good and just don’t know it. We don’t know it because we focus too much on what we don’t have and not enough on what we do. Being grateful for what you have makes the quest for more (which is healthy) less dramatic. The less dramatic you can be about your quest for more, the more level-headed you can be about it. Level-headed actions are more often successful.


  2. Fantastic goals to shoot for. I think I might try these myself. Thanks for the motivation! 🙂

  3. I am also a rather cynical person and have been working towards improving that aspect of my personality. Negativity does nothing for anyone, especially ourselves. If we are constantly mired in bad feelings, thoughts and opinions, no one wants to be around us and we are just a pain in the ass to be around. Changing this requires more than simply offering compliments (even ones we truly mean). It requires a shift in your outlook and your mentality. Instead of focusing on the bad, you need to focus on the positive in spite of the negative. It is a difficult thing to change but I wish you luck. It is possible and though I’m far from perfect myself, I have come a long way from the cynical jerk I used to be.

    Good luck! (Not that you need it!)

  4. Those are fabulous goals in my opinion, because they’re based on where you are and who you are.

    When I was young I used to make resolutions that weren’t that far short of ‘become an Astronaut’ – even into my twenties!

    It’s fine to have dreams: good, even. But for actionable goals, I think I’d have made more progress by concentrating on the here and now more like you propose.

  5. Exercising will also allow you to sleep better!
    I agree that making resolutions sets you up for failure and I too decided on making some life changing goals that include a healthier diet, exercise and meeting some work related goals I have set for myself.

  6. Great goals and it seems that you want to have a less stressful life with getting more sleep, exercise, and more family time. Good for you, those are great goals. I accomplish exercise and sleep and would like to try something brand new this year, I’m thinking salsa lessons.

  7. As someone who is a night person, especially in the winter when I never get enough light, I’m really interested to hear how you do with the “getting to bed by 9 p.m.” bit.


    Aside from the fact that I still have work to do at nite, I can’t imagine how you can actually get your body to be sleepy that early.

    FYI: Are your children in bed before 9? My nephew who is 15 doesn’t even go to bed by 9 pm.)

    It’s great to make such specific goals, but if your body and body rhythm don’t work with these hours, it’s not going to work because it’s not a willpower issue.

    You can turn your clock around, but it’s not easy and even one or two nights deviating will break the early to bed, early to rise cycle.

    Exercise and lots of daytime light (and very little light in the evening) will help.

    Good luck and let us know how it goes.

  8. I am a night person too. I am pretty grumpy until about noon and then everything kicks in and I am rarin’ to go until midnight or later. I think that comes from playing in so many bands so late at night throughout the years. And now that I started doing it again as a side hustle, I am glad of my night owl tendencies as sometimes I don’t get home until 2 AM! Yikes!

    I did want to add though — there are studies that say the more rested you are the less apt you are to overeat. I believe it. So being well-rested will help with your weight loss goals as well. Pleasant Dreams!

  9. I read #4 as “Create More Family Members” and began to wonder if you’d informed your wife of this particular lifestyle tweak yet.

  10. I love Tweak #4! As I am going to be transferring from one navy job to another this year, we will probably be making a huge cross-country trip…and I hope to create some great memories along the way!

  11. @Stella: Our kids are usually in bed before 9:00pm, but not always asleep (you parents know how that goes!). That will likely be the case for Dad, too, as I will have difficulty going to sleep that early. The reality will probably be closer to 10:00, after an hour or so of reading (which wouldn’t necessarily be bad, either).

    @Josh: Yeah, that’s one I’d probably have to run by the wife! LOL! We’re content with our current family size.

  12. Probably shouldn’t mess with a good thing but here’s my two cents: if you want to exercise more don’t make it such an imposition on your current lifestyle. It seems as though you’ll have to go to bed earlier than usual and get up earlier and you’ll have to go all the way to a gym and you’ll have to devote an entire hour every day! That’s more than a tweak in my book. My solution would be to go to bed a little earlier, get up later, and fit in your exercise by coming home from work and jogging in place while watching TV in the evening for 30 minutes (start with 30 minutes a day everyday not a whole hour). This would be much easier to accomplish. Or jog while listening to music. Your kids can join in and dance or whatever.

  13. @Beth: Actually, your comment makes a lot of sense – thanks for making me rethink this. I’ll probably still hit the gym in the mornings, but I’m looking to “tweak” my remaining morning schedule to shower and head to work without returning home to eat, dress, etc. This way I can wake up a little later, and stay up a little later in the evenings.

  14. FD . . . the SportsWii also has a great ‘running in place’ game. I recommend it if you own a Wii or are thinking of getting one, but I also recommend STRETCHING before doing so. Not sure why, but when I go out for a run, I don’t have to stretch NEARLY as much as I do when I play this particular game . . .I guess running in place uses different muscles!

    Great goals though!

  15. It’s so easy to get overly focused on financial goals and ignore all the basic life needs that you listed. Ironically, it’s so much easier to reach our financial goals when we pay attention to them.

    My personal list looks almost identical to yours…except I included not being so hard on myself. That pretty much falls under the positive attitude, but I wanted to hold myself accountable for nurturing myself too 🙂

  16. Great stuff. 8 hours…. I would love to but I have trouble sleeping so never quite make it! I will keep trying though!

    As for the exercise I am just finishing up month3 of p90x which is some program from a crappy infomericial but….. It’s bloody excellent and I have really seen great improvements in my fitness from it… It is very hard going though.

  17. P90X Forest? I LOVE that ridiculous Infomercial! That’s sweet they hooked you! Marketing geniuses. Do you do the X cross sign with the arms when you are done with each workout? 😛