Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Resolutions & Habits

It's interesting to read the newspaper this time of year. There's always many articles about resolutions. Some suggest goals everyone should make -- walk more, eat less, be kinder, etc. And then, every year without fail, there's an article about how no one ever keeps their resolutions anyway, with the underlying message being, why bother?

I make goals every year and for the most part, I do pretty well at them. The keys to keeping my resolutions are 1. making goals that are specific and measurable and 2. making goals that can become a habit or a routine

1. Specific and Measurable Goals
The past few years, I've made goals in six different areas: Physical, Social, Family, Spiritual, Educational, and Time Management/Organization. I try to be specific in them. If by sheer force of will, I'm supposed to somehow "lose weight" or "be more organized," I will fail. But if I set a goal like "exercise three times a week" or "make and follow a cleaning schedule," I'm more likely to succeed.

Most of my goals are very specific and measurable, such as my failed goal this past year to bake once a week (I really wanted to start making bread for our family, but it didn't happen). More successful goals included writing weekly family history emails, exercising 3-4 days a week (I did really well on this in the early part of the year, the summer time and December, but having a baby and being exhausted meant I didn't do as well in the spring or the fall).

Sometimes I'll have overall goals that are less specific, such as my successful goal last year to "develop photography skills," but to keep those, I always have in my mind, "How am I going to do that?" In the case of that goal, I did weekly photoshoots the first four months of the year, read a lot of books, and continued with a couple of shoots every month after Katie was born.

It is good to have goals that include self-improvement in abstract areas, such as patience, kindness, charity, faith, and more, but it helps if we find ways to reach these goals that we can measure. If your goal is to be more patient, think clearly about what that might entail. What would having more patience look like in your life? What is keeping you from being more patient? Is it your reactions to your kids when they act up? Then perhaps your goal could be "Be more patient." and the steps you'll take to reach that goal would be "Read three parenting books about positive discipline," "Count to ten inside my head before reacting," and "Pray daily for more patience."

2. Goals that become a routine part of life
My friend and I were talking once about how much work was expected of kids a hundred years ago -- the milking, the chicken tending, the plowing, the butter churning, and more. My friend asked, "What I want to know is, how in the world did their parents get them to help out? My kids complain about everything I ask them to do!"

I agreed, at first, then as we continued our discussion, we both realized that our kids don't usually complain much about their regular chores. If it's something they do often or daily, it becomes part of their lives and they accept that. It's when we try to change the chores around, introduce a new one, or -- shockingly -- ask them to do something in addition to their regular jobs that we get complaints.

I think we adults are like that, too. We all have great intentions of getting to the gym, keeping our homes cleaner, never raising our voices and the like, but when it comes down to it, changing our habits is hard. We protest the change in our habits and resist new things.

The trick is to keep at a new habit (or two or three -- not ten) long enough so that it's part of the routine. Once it's a regular part of your life, your brain and body stop complaining about it.

Another part of this is patience and wisdom. In the Book of Mormon, a wise king named Benjamin addresses his people and calls for their adherence to the gospel of Jesus Christ. He reminds them, "And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength. And again, it is expedient that he should be diligent, that thereby he might win the prize; therefore, all things must be done in order." (Mosiah 4:27)

Peter in the New Testament entreats, "And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity." (2 Peter 1:5-7)

We are not meant to change everything all at once. We are mortal creatures. Change takes time, effort, and consistent effort -- it is significant that both King Benjamin and Peter mention diligence. Just like there are limits to how quickly a person can improve in his physical fitness, there are limits to how quickly we can grow spiritually, mentally, and emotionally. A person wishing to become a great runner would not wake up one morning after months of inactivity and expect to run a marathon. Instead, she would analyze where she's at and begin making improvements from there. If all she can run is a mile right now, that's what she'd start with. Then next week, she might increase that to a mile and a quarter and the week after, a mile and a half. She might develop a training schedule that would gradually build up her muscles and allow her the strength needed to run that marathon. And though cross-training might be part of her efforts, a person who is really focused on becoming a great runner will know that it would be impossible to simultaneously focus on becoming a great swimmer, a world-class weight-lifter and a gymnast. There are only so many things we can do at once.

It is much better to change a few habits at a time and then focus on others. For me, it is a matter of analyzing my schedules and routines and seeing where and how to make improvements. Often, it is small, consistent changes that make the most difference.

This past year, one of my goals was "to be more organized and stick to a schedule." As the year went on, I added several new habits that help things run more smoothly. Here's a few of the changes I've made in my life this past year to meet that goal:

1. My kitchen gets clean first thing in the morning, down to the sink shined and the floors swept. It used to take all day for me to finally get the kitchen completely clean. I'd run on a "mostly done" pattern. I'd get the breakfast dishes cleared off the table and into the sink, some progress made on clearing off the counter and then I'd figure, "Hey, it's good enough; I'm mostly done," and I'd rush off to another task, leaving the final kitchen clean to whenever I could fit it in, often while the kids were doing their homework.

My pattern worked -- after all, the kitchen did get clean -- but it was adding to my stress level because every time I walked by the kitchen, I'd be reminded of how much I still had to do. I decided that I needed to work on doing the entire job, and the first part of the year I made a conscious effort to do it all first thing. By the middle of the year, it was a habit and now it's part of my life. Every time I walk by the kitchen now, I get a psychological boost from knowing one corner of my crazy, busy life is in order.

2. Every Monday, I respond to emails and get my in-box empty. Since October, when I cleaned out the family office and got my papers and other things in more order, I've been doing this important step with great success. If the kids have something I need to respond to that can wait a few days, it goes in my in-box. Calendars for various activities, fliers about things I might be interested in, important mail, rebate forms, notes from Lillian on what I need to buy before her next cooking night, Christmas cards I need to read or get the address from, and more -- it all goes in my in-box.

Monday morning, after the kitchen is clean and my kids are settled in playing (or to be honest, sometimes they're watching a video), I go through every item. I've used Cozi since October and that helps a lot -- Calendaring items go on my calendar , things I need to do that will take more time than I have that morning go on my to-do list, shopping items go on my shopping list. As I work through the pile, I make all the phone calls I need to, do any quick filing, and get tons done!

The other half of this is that I go through all my flagged emails and try to respond to as many as possible. During the week, I do reply to some emails, but there are always others that will take more time or thought than I have at the moment, so I flag those and save them for Monday. If I've flagged that email from Snapfish about their 99 prints for 99 cents sale, I'll go through and order the prints or decide that since with shipping it will be 7 cents a print, it's not worth it to me. I'll reply to that message I got on Facebook or email that friend who asked me about a recipe.

I still don't get everything done. Sometimes, I'll flag an email and not have time to respond the next Monday, so I keep it flagged to go through the next time (Sorry about that late response, Liz!). Other times, I know I need to make a decision about something but I don't feel ready to yet, so I'll put the item back in my in-box to review again in another week (information about the gymnastics class I signed the twins up for stayed in the in-box for over a month before I decided that YES, I did want them to do it).

It's always a huge lift to finish with a mostly-empty in-box and very few flagged emails. It's a great start to the week!

3. I check my calendar every day. This is something I've been doing for several months now, ever since I switched to Cozi. It's my home page on the internet, so it's a simple thing to go over my appointments every morning. I used to be really, really good at remembering every appointment and event in my head, but I have too many kids, too many events, and too little brainpower now.

4. I exercise three days a week. I'd like to make it four, but three is what I can handle for now. I took a break from this for the last months of pregnancy and Katie's first month, and had to take another break in October and November to try to simplify my life during that challenging time, but otherwise, it's a habit. I'm currently training towards my first 10K on March 12, and at that point I will start training toward a half marathon in June. That goal is really intimidating me, but I ran a 5K on Christmas Day (on my treadmill, so not exactly the real thing), so I think I can work up to the 10K by March. I'm trying not to think about the half marathon until then.

5. Without fail, I wash all the dirty clothes on Mondays and Thursdays. This isn't earth-shattering, but I used to do the wash twice a week on whatever days I decided it needed it. Sometimes that meant a larger pile of clothes than I wanted to deal with. Making it a constant on Mondays and Thursdays makes a difference. I'd like to eventually move to a point where the clothes are all folded the same day, but right now, it happens whenever I have time free in the evenings.

6. We do Five Minute Madness in the morning and after dinner. In the morning, we clean the family room and play area and in the evening, the older five plus mom and dad do five minutes in the kitchen before leaving the rest of the clean-up to whoever is assigned that night. My house stays cleaner and no one feels like they are being picked on.

7. We have Daily Scripture Study as a family first thing every morning. We've made two changes this year. The first is that we set a goal to never miss a day in 2010. We almost made it, but we figure we missed about 7 days. Our second change came after listening to a conference talk by Elder David Bednar in April, when he suggested that family scripture study should also include discussions. We'd been good about reading, but not discussing, so now, we read a section and discuss it. Usually, we start by summarizing or asking questions about what is happening in the verses and then I'll either ask, "What can we learn from this?" or "Does anyone have any thoughts?" The kids have come up with some really insightful comments at times and we can always count on Eliza to raise her hand and say, "To follow Jesus Christ," no matter what the verses we read were about. My children are much more comfortable talking about spiritual things as a result of our discussions.

8. My husband and I go out on dates nearly every week. Having a daughter old enough and responsible enough to babysit has been wonderful. When we first started leaving her in charge, we made sure not to be gone long or to go very far, but now we can do a lot more. We brought Katie along on most of our dates this year unless we went out after she was in bed, but the last couple of months, since she's been eating solids, we've been able to leave her at home.

9. I mop my kitchen floor almost every Tuesday. Again, this isn't a huge thing, but mopping is one of my least favorite tasks. It takes a good chunk of time and I would rather put it off. The floors always seemed to taunt me by becoming dirty and messy almost as soon as they were clean. In September, I decided that I was going to win this battle. By scheduling one of my least favorite tasks, it's become part of the routine and not something to put off or dread.

* * *

Foundational Habits
As I look towards a new year, I've been thinking a lot about the habits and routines in my life and how I can improve. I thought I'd quickly list a few of the habits my family has had for years. We've been blessed because these are our foundation, and as I work out what I want to change or add, these are what I build on. Some of them are so simple, I almost didn't include them in this list.

1. Family Scripture Study & Prayer every morning. See above. This began to happen more consistently about three years ago when we put Lillian in charge of being "Scripture Captain." She'd set her alarm and wake us all up. It's wonderful to have kids old enough to contribute like that.

2. Family Home Evening on Monday nights. I can't think of a single Monday we've missed in years. We have songs, prayers, sometimes planning and other discussions, a spiritual lesson, and treats.

3. Family Work Day on Saturday mornings. The whole family works to clean the house. This is getting easier and easier to do now that we have older and more responsible children. Sometimes we divide the work up and have each person in charge of something, sometimes we divide into two teams and each work on one floor of the house, sometimes the kids have partners and sometimes we let them choose what to work on.

4. We attend Church every Sunday. This year, we get to meet at 9:00 in the morning! Last year, our ward met at 1:00 and our family has been counting down the months and weeks until the new time. It's so nice to have the afternoons for rest and other family activities.

5. We have dinner together every night. Usually it's homecooked. Lillian cooks on Thursdays, I cook Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, Friday is leftover and date night, and my husband cooks on Saturdays and Sundays. Did you know that research shows the value of a family dinner? Families who eat together have kids with better grades, less substance abuse problems, better vocabularies, and even kids who eat more vegetables.

6. We spend a lot of time together. We love road trips together and we do a lot of fun things close to home, too. None of my kids is ever lonely.

7. We read a lot in our family. There are books everywhere. We read to the little kids and the older kids and we parents read on our own daily.

8. My kids have regular chores.

9. I have personal scripture study every night.

A few of my goals for next year:
I'm going to be deciding on all my goals over the next week, but here are a few that I really want to do:

1. Exercise at least 3 times a week. Exercise, in my life, is one of the things that defies the "once it's a habit it sticks" rule. There's always resistance, particularly when I have a baby who is still a poor sleeper (She slept through the night last night! But she was up twice the night before that and four times the night before that, so I can't decide if it's an anomaly or a trend.). I'm going to be consistent with this and stick to my training schedule and I'm going to do that 10K! And probably that Half Marathon, too! Did I sound convincing enough with that second item there?

2. Start having Master Planning meetings on Sunday nights with my husband. We've been trying to meet, talk, and pray each night, but our discussions have been hit and miss and we are often calling out to each other about appointments we forgot to tell the other about just as one of us is headed out the door. With eight kids, hobbies, travel, finances, etc., there's a lot to coordinate. We've set aside Sundays at 8:00 and we've even made up a written agenda for each meeting so we don't forget things. We're going over short-term schedules, long-term planning, goals, and we're discussing each one of our kids individually every week -- we'll be doing a quick discussion of six of our kids every week followed by an in-depth discussion on two of them. We're modeling it somewhat after Linda and Richard Eyre's Five Facet Review, though our discussion items about each child are slightly different: physical, social, spiritual, emotional, and educational.

We had our first meeting last Sunday and got a ton accomplished in just an hour and a half.

3. 4. 5. I'm still trying to prioritize and decide what else would make a difference. Maybe I'll let you know.

And since I hate posting something with just text, here's a picture from a recent session in the cold and snow. Hmmm . . . photography . . . what should be my goals surrounding that? . . .

What are your goals this year? What habits do you have that make your life run more smoothly?


swedemom said...

I just tried a kneadless bread recipe that is so easy. (just a thought after your comment about wanting to bake once a week for your family last year) Just stir in four ingredients, let it sit for 12-18 hours. Shape, let rest two hours, and then bake. The bread tastes like it came out of a European bakery and is great. If you want the recipe, I can send it to you!

swedemom said...

Isn't it amazing how doing some very simple things and working on organization really pays off?
I really enjoyed reading what you do as a family and how you structure your days.

Maryanne said...

It's good to hear about the nitty-gritty of how you run things. I think as a parent and spouse how to organize and run things is very vague. You've inspired me to do better!

famr_4evr said...

Yes, thanks for being so specific. I need to be better at that. Especially with my kids. Thanks for sharing.

Dina said...

Great list! You are very organized. One comment I have is that I realized how much I dislike having to wake up on Sat. and clean the house. It's especially hard with kids that play sports on Sat. If we had a free day, I just didn't want to have to CLEAN! So, we clean on Fridays after school as often as we can. It does mean that often I have to do my DH's chores (roll eyes), but the kids and I can usually do the whole house in 2 hours. It still leaves time for the teenagers to get together with friends or DH and I to go out. Just a thought in case you get tired of the Sat. routine or your kids get older/busier on Saturdays.

Dina said...

PS. My neighbors do "Thursday night madness" and clean then, so whatever time works--doesn't have to be Friday. My only problem with cleaning at night is my little people can't see the dust, so that's why we start when it's light out. :)

Handsfullmom said...

Thanks, Dina, I'll tuck that idea away for when the kids are older.

Amber said...

I really enjoyed this post, very specific and useful. You gave me some things to think about. Thanks

Lisa6Kids said...

I love that you mentioned family dinner. My husband and I were just discussing the importance of family dinner tonight. We ALWAYS eat together. Even if we have a weird schedule day we either eat late or early. I love the conversations and connections we make at dinner time. It is sad to me when I hear people say "We just don't have time."

Joy For Your Journey said...

it sounds like you have your life very well under control. You have a lot of good advice. Although speaking of how most people don't keep the goals they set in January, my favorite quote of the year still is, "I love setting new year's resolutions. It gives me something to give up for lent." (My daughter's teacher)

Good luck on your 10K in March! You go girl!!

Kacy said...

Your kids do really know the scriptures. You should be very proud of them in primary.

Mostly Diane said...

Sounds like a lot of great things to work on. I have to join the diet and exercize train soon too. Maybe, I will run that 10K with you if the race isn't all sold out and I can be consistent with running.

Montana Blakes said...

LOVED this! I am going to incorporate a few things you mentioned here. I laughed at some of our differences though--I bake bread all the time, do laundry EVERY day and I am the reverse of you on scripture study--family at night, personal in the morning. I TOTALLY agree with you about making stuff routine. If it's not routine for me I have a hard time doing it! It's been so fun getting to know you!


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