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The Principles Behind Best Year Yet
Successful businesses set goals and plan ahead. They know that in order to generate the kind of important changes and growth they're looking for, they must identify their priorities each year and then focus the energies of their people in such a way that these goals are achieved. The secret of realizing this kind of success for ourselves is the same—setting goals and planning our lives a year at a time. In this way we too can deal with the bigger issues, address the concerns that really matter to us, and make the kinds of important changes we really want to make.
You know about goals—we all do. We've set them and even been successful in achieving many of them. By the age of eight or ten we begin to get an idea of what we want in life. A picture begins to form in our minds of a degree, a job, a car, a house, a family . . . and as we move through our teenage years our goals become even more clear to us. Soon we're twenty-five or thirty or thirty-five and we've achieved many of these early goals and trust we're on the way to the others. And new goals are already forming in our minds.
However, as life goes on, goal setting becomes a more casual and far less specific process—wants and desires seem to occur and plant themselves in our minds almost before we realize it. We don't often set goals within a one-year time frame, and we rarely make a conscious choice about which of our goals is most important to us. We find ourselves in pursuit of goals before we've really taken the time to think them through, determine their real cost, orconsider what's really important to us.
Maybe you're in the habit of coming home exhausted and turning on the television rather than sitting at the table and sharing a meal with a loved one or listening to your favorite music or reading that book you've been longing to get to—or planning the next year of your life.
After the initial spurt of growing up and becoming an adult, most of us don't stop to think about goals in the same serious way we did when we carefully planned our education, our career, or our first home away from our parents. We begin to follow our noses, reacting to circumstances and meeting our immediate needs and those of the people around us. All this becomes a full-time job and more. Time goes by, and soon we begin to feel that our lives are out of control and there's nothing we can do about it. Things that matter most to us aren't getting enough attention, and life gets frustrating. We feel we're no longer in charge of our own lives.
In one of my recent "bibles," Sogyal Rinpoche says,
If we look into our lives, we will see clearly how
many unimportant tasks, so called "responsibilities,"
accumulate to fill them up. One master compares them
to "housekeeping in a dream." We tell ourselves we want
to spend time on the important things of life, but there never
is any time.
There are things that have to be done, and we feel we have no choice about it. And by the time we are finished doing everything that has to be done, we're too tired to think of doing anything else. Gradually we become cynical about things like New Year's resolutions and lifetime goals. Why bother?
We feel that our most frustrating situations and problems are out of our control—there's nothing we can do to change things, so we give up and try our best to cope. The thought that we could actually do something about our deepest frustrations just doesn't occur to us anymore. We give up on creating a life that is more meaningful and fulfilling and settle for what we have. We give up on ourselves and our ability to make things happen.
Yet part of us is unwilling to settle—the part that wakes up in the middle of the night worrying and contemplating the things that matter most to us: What am I doing here? What have I really accomplished? Why can't I make better use of my time? What can I do to take better care of my family? When is it going to be my turn? Surely there must be more to life than all these worries and frustrations? What's the point?
Or perhaps when you're listening to music or watching a play or film, you're lifted out of your busy life and moved to remember who you really are and what you want for yourself and those you love. And then morning comes or the play ends and these important questions fade into the background, covered over by ritual doubts and fears. The day takes over, as it always does, and you don't take the time to think about what you really want or how you could make it happen if you did.
The strongest motivation for doing Best Year Yet is that you find the way to live your life so it shows what really matters to you—so you are true to yourself.
Probably you, like many, get frustrated and say, "I've had enough!" You set a goal and start to do something about making it happen, but then your drive fizzles once again. Too often our most important goals are not set with the belief that they can really be achieved, so that before long we lose momentum. We've forgotten how to keep our attention on what we've accomplished rather than on our failures and mistakes. We forget how to live our lives remembering what we do well and therefore stop building confidence in ourselves and our ability to succeed.
We human beings have an enormous capacity to remember our failures while forgetting our successes. Memories of our failures cause us to lower our sights and lessen our opinion of ourselves. We become frozen in the shadow of our biggest problems and can't turn around to face them. While in parts of our lives we may be strong and capable, we seem to lose potency in the face of the concerns that cause us the most pain.
Here are examples of the kinds of problems I'm talking about—many of them have been shared by clients, and many I've faced myself:
"My relationship with my teenage son has gone astray, and that brilliant, sparkling little man who used to run and jump on my lap and tell me everything seems lost to me. If I let myself think about it too long, I would weep."
"The success I've struggled toward for so long is here, but I'm working harder than ever and there's no time to enjoy it. The days go by so quickly and I'm not making the best use of the time I have. The dream for which I sacrificed so much has dissolved."
"The body that used to bound up stairs and give me the energy to work and think for hours and hours seems to have run out of steam, but there's no time to get it back into shape—and it's probably too late anyway."
"I seem to spend most of my time at the office in meetings, handling last-minute emergencies or dealing with other people's problems. I can never seem to get around to sitting back from my job and thinking about the future and how we're going to get ourselves out of some of these messes once and for all."
"I want to make my mark, I want my life to matter. How can I find more fulfillment in my job? Should I leave this job and find another one that gives me a better chance to do this? Why don't I devote at least some of my time to causes I care about?"
"I feel as if I'm chasing my tail most of the time. There's always a deadline to meet and it's always tomorrow. I know I should plan ahead and stop procrastinating as much as I do, but I don't have time!"
"What's wrong with me? Why isn't there one person in the world to love me and share my life? I don't want to be alone."
"I feel stuck in this job—I'm going nowhere fast. They don't realize how good I am and probably never will. But I really don't know how to find something with a better future. I can't figure out what to do, so I do nothing."
"Why can't I find some time to ?stop the music' at least once a day to meditate and contemplate and let the noise of the ?to do' list be silent for a moment? How do I stop the mental chattering when I do?"
"What's driving my life—me or my debts? Most of my vital spirit and energy is spent in the pursuit of money and I don't know how to get off this merry-go-round of survival."
"The person I married years ago who loved me so deeply is now too busy and preoccupied to really look at me or listen to me. But now I'm so frustrated, angry, and resentful that I don't really care whether he does or not."
The longer we go on putting up with these painful situations and not reclaiming our dreams, the more we diminish in our own eyes and then lose our ability to make the changes that mean the most to us. At some point we stop thinking about the possibility of changing any of it: That's just the way it is; I mustn't grumble. The idea of even setting a goal such as Start enjoying the success I've achieved or Put some romance back in my life or Find a new job that gives me a chance to prove myself simply never occurs to us anymore.
Sometimes we make promises to ourselves, such as:
Tonight I'm going to go home and not touch the television.
This weekend I'll take my son out for a drive and see if I can't begin to get closer to him.
Next Monday the diet starts!
Tonight I'm going to the gym on the way home.
First thing tomorrow I'm going to look in the classifieds and pick a few jobs I could go for.
On the way home today I'm going to stop and get some flowers and a bottle of wine . . .
But too often we don't keep these promises, and every time this happens we become somehow weaker and believe in ourselves a little bit less. It is this way of thinking about ourselves that stops us more than our failure to think ahead or set goals. We come to believe that we're not capable of making the changes that matter, and therefore we stop setting goals and planning ahead in any meaningful way. And the life we really want for ourselves drifts out of reach.
Our limiting beliefs about ourselves become like brick walls in front of us, keeping us from even thinking about how to make the big changes or set the big goals.
Once we've come to this point in life, we begin to protect ourselves with familiar defenses and excuses, such as:
Once something's gone bad, you can't really change it.
Why think about it; I know I can't afford to have what I want anyway.
Goal setting and thinking about what I want is such a selfish and self-absorbed business.
I want to keep my options open!
Once I get through this busy time, I'm really going to take time to sort myself out.
It's boring to know where I'm going and what's going to happen next.
I'm not willing to sacrifice now for something in the future.
I can't stand the thought of trying and failing one more time.
You can't teach an old dog new tricks.
I really can't be bothered.
And so, while we wouldn't think of getting in a car and not knowing whether we're going to Newark or Nashville, we gradually become passengers in our own lives. Years go by and we never get out of the car to see how it's doing or where it's going. We simply sit in the backseat preoccupied by our busy, busy lives, which are moving too fast to allow time to stop the car, take stock, consider alternate routes, or set goals to change direction—in short, to get back into the driver's seat.
Best Year Yet
The Best Year Yet three-hour process forces us to get out of the car and take a better look at ourselves and our lives. What have we accomplished on this trip? What do we do well? What have we learned about traveling? Have we taken any wrong turns? And most importantly, how far have we come?
This exercise, although not always easy, becomes more of a pleasant and uplifting experience than a painful process of recrimination. It helps us face these important questions and take stock. The biggest challenge is finding three hours in a life where there is no time to do this kind of thing. But if we want to be more responsible about creating our lives rather than merely coping with our lot, we must do Best Year Yet instead of something else.
This is the most difficult part for most of us. Just don't do that thing you think you have to do right now. Do Best Year Yet instead. We've often held our public Best Year Yet workshops on a Saturday, and it's easy for the people there to realize that in order to come to the course they had to forgo the weekly laundry, the Saturday errands, cleaning the house, writing the letters, paying the bills, seeing their friends—or whatever else they usually feel they have to do on a Saturday.
Even though they will have spent a big part of the day at the workshop, they can see that they'll get the clothes washed and somehow get food in the house. Those things always get done. It's not those things that are the problem; finding time to plan your life is the problem. But once it's done, it makes far more difference than getting the laundry done. So grab yourself by the collar, get a pen and paper, and make yourself sit down and answer the ten questions. Or take a lesson from the people who have come to the workshop: Book three hours with a family member, colleague, or friend, and do the exercise together.
The process asks you to look back over your past year and then begin to think about the coming year by asking yourself these ten Best Year Yet questions:
1. What did I accomplish?
2. What were my biggest disappointments?
3. What did I learn?
4. How do I limit myself, and how can I stop?
5. What are my personal values?
6. What roles do I play in my life?
7. Which role is my major focus for the next year?
8. What are my goals for each role?
9. What are my top ten goals for the next year?
10. How can I make sure I achieve them?
Best Year Yet is like successful gardening. While I'm not the first person to suggest a strong correlation between life and gardening, think about it for a minute: We must prepare our soil before we're ready to plant the seeds we want to grow in the next year. As we answer the first two questions, we look to see what grew and what didn't grow last season. The third question helps us discover what we've learned and what we want to remember for next year.
Reviewing successes and failures in the garden involves little guilt or self-recrimination—a good lesson. We take a moment to enjoy the successes of the past year so we can be strengthened by them rather than weighed down by our failures. In other words, let go of your disappointments and failures—pull them out as you would weed your garden. Why should they crowd the space and negatively influence what happens next year?
The fourth question is the last step before planting. Here we fertilize the soil—enriching every clump by working in the lessons and the intentions we have for the year ahead. Enriching the earth in your garden means making sure that the way you're thinking about yourself will contribute to your success rather than poison your soil. Imagine what would grow in a garden polluted with a strong sense of failure. The secret of Best Year Yet is planting seeds in rich soil.
Too often people set goals without preparing the personal environment for those goals to succeed. Best Year Yet, refined by so many over twenty years, clearly and efficiently prepares this environment.
So the process starts with thinking back over the past year of your life, remembering what you did accomplish, and focusing on the causes for celebration. Yes, you. This first step allows you to balance your views of the past year and of yourself. It's so easy to remember our failures: promises not kept, times we let others down, New Year's resolutions that didn't last a week, weight not lost, miles not run, mornings we didn't meditate, letters not written, closets not cleaned, books not read, friends not seen, lost hours with our children . . . here our memories are so vivid.
Being human, we forget what we've done well and how much we have accomplished. We lose sight of the strengths and gifts we do have and then fail to use these gifts to make the changes we want to make. We don't take steps toward the goals that are most important to us because we don't think we can. But for all of us, the problem is not a lack of ability. It is a matter of focusing the ability we have while at the same time renewing our belief in ourselves.
Reviewing your past successes gives you the chance to balance the way you think about yourself and, having learned from both successes and failures, let them go. In doing this, as you begin thinking seriously about the year ahead, you are reminded that you do have the ability to set and achieve new goals. While it may be uncomfortable to think about yourself in this way, to do so is to know yourself again and begin to feel, as you did at age eight or ten, that you can be the master of your own destiny.
More than anything, Best Year Yet is about starting to believe in yourself again and becoming much tougher in the face of life's biggest challenges. The approach helps you to use your common sense and intelligence in new ways to create a happier life for yourself.
I remember Jane Fonda's story of how hard it was for her (she was then in her mid-forties) to get past her terror and learn to do a back flip into a lake for her role in On Golden Pond. Her costar Katharine Hepburn watched her, and when after many days filled with hours and hours of practicing she succeeded, said to her, "Everyone should know that feeling of overcoming fear and mastering something. People who aren't taught that become soggy."
"Don't Let Weeds Grow Around Your Dreams"
This quote from H. Jackson Brown's Life's Little Instruction Book is one of my favorites and reminds me of people I know who have followed Miss Hepburn's advice. I'd like to tell you about a few of the friends and clients who have had the courage, heart, and discipline to use the lessons of Best Year Yet in their lives.
It may sound a bit glib and easy when their lives are reduced to such short "success stories," but do your best to move past that point of view and become aware of how each in their own way decided to make a change in something that was important to them. Also notice if you find it much harder to believe these experiences than the earlier examples of people's problems.
One woman had left her husband for a confirmed bachelor. However, six months later this new love stopped telling her how much he cared for her; after five weeks passed without him saying that he loved her, she was afraid she'd made a big mistake. When she realized her focus was not on the result she wanted but rather her fear, she set a goal: "Develop a great relationship with Sam and learn to remember how much I am loved."
She was able to keep this focus and dissolve her fears; within a year they were married.
A highly successfully entrepreneur in his late fifties wanted to move on to something new and more exciting but felt guilty leaving the loyal people in the company he'd built up over the previous twenty years—and was worried that at his age he couldn't really afford to go out on his own. His goal: "Finish with my company and be ready to launch my new venture by the beginning of the year."
He found and developed a new person whom he trusted with his company and his people. Now that he's moved on and started his new business, he's filled with new enthusiasm and energy for what he's doing.
One woman, having spent her life taking care of her five children and supporting her husband's career, longed to find a way to express herself and be more creative in her life, but had long ago lost the confidence to figure out how to do it. Her goal: "Find a way to build a successful business that allows me to express my sense of style and creativity."
It took her a while to identify what type of business she wanted and then how to get started. But finally she opened a store selling the kind of jewelry and clothing she wore and loved.
A talented journalist was earning a small weekly wage as a television critic for a national daily newspaper and struggling with a ten-month-old daughter, a huge mortgage, and growing anxiety. She found that she never liked doing things she was afraid of and was afraid of pursuing what she wanted most. Her goal: "Build a career doing what I love to do that pays me what I'm really worth."
She approached the project of her personal transformation with great determination and intelligence. It didn't happen overnight, but she worked steadily and consciously and today is a best-selling author currently working on her sixth book.
A couple had worked together for years to grow a successful business, which now kept them overly busy and exhausted doing work neither one of them enjoyed. When early in the recession the bank put on intense pressure, they felt the burden of the business more than ever. Out of a strong sense of duty and a good deal of fear, they were both continuing to invest a lot of money and time in the growth of the business when that was the last thing they wanted for themselves. Their goal: "Move on to a work life that is more satisfying, creative, and rewarding for both of us—and make this move as soon as possible."
Once they allowed themselves to set the goal they really wanted, the business began to turn around and they found a friendly buyer so they could back out and set off on their own again.
A successful company president had begun to feel like an old man before the age of fifty because of severe back and leg pain that kept him from doing much that he loved. He was deeply depressed because he felt like a prisoner in his own body; he was used to being able to pursue a wide range of business and personal interests without such restrictions. His goal: "Feel physically, mentally, and emotionally free to live my life as I choose."
He pursued this goal with relentless discipline, attacking it from many angles—medical, emotional, mental—and within months was walking straighter and moving without pain.
One couple had suffered severe money problems for years—both actors, it had become harder and harder for them to get work. They had been forced to sell their home and move to a smaller one; soon they feared they would have to take their children out of the private school that meant so much to them. At the beginning of one year, they made a strong commitment to "Put money problems behind us once and for all."
Their approach was relentless, calling on friends for support and talking with experts to help them get things sorted out. Within a couple of months one of them was offered a major role in an international television series.
A young woman had left nursing for a sales job in order to make more money and better use of her skills, but had just finished a year when she hadn't achieved her sales target. She was concerned she might lose her job now that the recession had really hit her company. Her goal: "Make this my breakthrough year."
Even though it was the toughest year the company had ever known, she started shifting her perception of herself and doing things she'd previously not tried. By the end of the year she had cracked her target and became Salesperson of the Year. She was promoted to Client Services Director for the business and began using the same people skills that had made her a good nurse to manage people in a business setting. <<P ALIGN="CENTER"> A designer was doing well in her career but was miserable in a relationship where she was comfortable but that she felt she had probably outgrown. She desperately wanted to get married and have children, but with this man? She was afraid that if she let this one go, she might not find the one she really wanted. Her goal: "Move on and find the man I'm going to marry."
She found the courage to end her relationship and move out on her own. Although uncertain, she kept her eye on the goal and eventually met a bright young lawyer with whom she could develop a much stronger bond; they married and now have two beautiful daughters.
Within each of these successful people is an ordinary person who found the courage to act—to face the big challenges and make their dreams come true. They built the inner strength to stop worrying about their problems and direct their focus toward the goal they wanted to achieve. They took the time to step back from the busyness of life and all its issues to put their attention on the goal that, when achieved, would make the most difference to them. And they did their best to avoid the pitfalls of explanation, complaint, and excuse so they could keep going until they got what they wanted.
My Best Year Yet
As we've said many times so far, it's a challenge to set serious goals about things that really matter. If you're reading this book then you know I've finally been successful in achieving my goal of writing a book, a dream I've had for as long as I can remember. But nothing happened about this goal for years and years and years. In fact, even though I've been doing Best Year Yet for myself since 1980, it didn't make it to my list of top ten goals until recently. It just seemed an impossible dream to me, so I didn't give it any serious thought. Much longing, believe me, but no serious thought.
And even though I was leading Best Year Yet workshops and coaching others to have their big dreams come true, this goal lay dormant and untouched beneath a pile of regret and resentment. There was always a reason why now wasn't the time:
I'm too tired at the end of the day and on the weekends.
My business partners and clients need me to be doing something more important and far more urgent.
The onset of menopause has stopped my brain from functioning.
My writing a book wouldn't contribute to the direction in which we want the business to go.
It would be a waste of time doing something that probably wouldn't earn us any money.
. . . and on and on.
The thread you can see running through my reasons for not writing is the mind-set I'm a victim of circumstances beyond my control. This is a common theme for me, and certainly one I've often spotted in other people. Over the years the tune in my head has been the same, though the key has changed from time to time: I'd love to write. I'm probably a great writer. I really have something to say but I can't because _________ (fill in the blank from the list above).
Several years ago I even subscribed to a magazine for writers with the hope that it would stimulate me to do something, but every month when another issue arrived in the mail I was filled with guilt and frustration. I piled them in a neat chronological stack by my bed so that when the time came I could read them, learn about writing, and motivate myself to get started. But that time never came.
Until one New Year's Day, when Tim and I spent the day with our friends Jock and Susie.
At some point in the day we were talking about Best Year Yet, and I was scribbling down the ten questions for them to use, explaining how the process worked and telling them about the good time we'd had doing the exercise a couple of days before with our son Jeff, who was with us during his Christmas break from college. (He'd started the exercise with little enthusiasm as he listed four accomplishments and twenty-six disappointments for his past year! But later he told us how good it felt having let go of some of the terrible memories he had of the past semester: That's done. I need to move on.)
Then one of them said, "You know, you really should write a book about this!" We laughed at the tired suggestion; we all know each other well and sometimes tease one another about dreams gone moldy. Mine is the well-known book. But somehow they got through to me that day, and I began to get excited about writing in a way that was different for me. I felt that they really did want me to write the book, and they convinced me that Best Year Yet was an important idea that could help a lot of people. This was music to my ears. And so I started to believe in myself more seriously and redid my goals for the year, changing number four on my list of top ten goals to: Write my first book and find a fabulous agent and publisher. And when I next spoke to Jeff, he looked at me with his smirk and said, "Yeah, Mom, just do it!"
When I got past my initial euphoria and actually tried to start writing, I was stopped for more than a month by another stack of limiting beliefs:
I'm probably not nearly as good as I think I am.
Every book I want to write has already been written.
I can't stand the thought of people reading what I've written—they'll probably laugh at me behind my back and never tell me.
This is all so trite and stupid.
How can anyone be expected to write a book when they're already working fifty to sixty hours a week?
No publisher will want to publish anything I've written anyway.
All this with a husband who kept encouraging me to write a book, telling me that he knew it would be a best-seller.
We love our limitations! We must, because we certainly don't want to let them go.
Victim of Circumstance?
We become comfortable thinking of ourselves as smaller than our problems, feeling a victim of circumstances, and blaming others for the fact that we don't have what we want. It's not that other people aren't terrible sometimes, but becoming their victim makes us powerless. Hopefully it's easy for you to see that my blaming other people and situations for not being able to write my book robbed me of this goal for years. I had made myself impotent. And yet it's just a small example of something we can see around us everywhere.
There is always someone and something to blame in our lives. Blaming becomes a habit, and not an easy one for any of us to give up. It's a comfortable old friend. Just yesterday I asked my friend Mary what she was doing in the coming three-day weekend. She said, "I'm going to the country to visit my aunt and her family. The prediction is for the weather to be beautiful, but with my luck it'll probably rain." What luck? Who says? How crazy to wallow in the perverse satisfaction of such statements whose empty reward is being able to say, "See, I knew it!" or "I told you so." We can hear evidence of this attitude everywhere if we listen for it, but we're so used to it we're largely unaware of it or its cost. Catching ourselves in this self-defeating approach to life, as I had to do with my writing, is the only way out.
Too rarely do we hear anyone say,
"This weekend is going to be great!"
"Leave it to me, I'll deal with it."
"I'm sorry, it's my fault. It won't happen again."
"We've made a couple of mistakes but we'll keep going until we get it right."
But the alternative to playing the victim is to become tougher inside ourselves and start taking personal responsibility for our own lives. I understand how hard it can be. But Best Year Yet works, and it goes on working, year after year, dream after dream. This is especially clear to me as I sit here tapping away on my computer, enjoying the process of passing it on.
As far as I can tell, life is more about learning than anything, and again and again I learn the lesson of the Chinese proverb that says, "If we don't change our direction, we are likely to end up where we are going."
Ready or Not?]
By now you've read quite a bit about me and people I've known. Now it's time to take a moment to think about yourself. The more aware you can be of yourself as you begin this process, the more successful you'll be. Answer the following questions as honestly as you can. No one's watching.
Life So Far
Circle either T or F, depending on whether the statement is true or false for you:
T F There have been times in my life when I have set and achieved goals.
T F When I take the time to think about it, I'm proud of what I've accomplished so far.
T F While I feel I have much to be grateful for, something is missing and I'd like to find out what it is.
T F I know I have more potential than I've used so far.
T F I can remember times in the past when I kept going regardless of setbacks and made something happen.
T F I know that I've lost confidence in myself over the years, but I'm not quite ready to give up.
T F I know that if I tackled at least one or two of the issues that trouble me most, I'd be much happier.
T F I find it easier to remember my failures than my successes, and I see how this has caused me to stop believing in myself as strongly as I once did.
T F It troubles me that although I have strong personal beliefs and values, the way I've lived my life so far hasn't reflected these as much as I'd like.
You don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that the more T's you have circled, the better chance you have to succeed in setting plans and making them happen. How many did you circle?
Personal Beliefs and Values
Check those statements that express your personal beliefs and values:
_ I am responsible for myself and what happens to me.
_ Although I sometimes resist the idea, I'm aware that even a bit more discipline could make a big difference in my life.
_ I believe that anything is possible if you set your mind to it.
_ "As ye sow, so shall ye reap"—or, What goes around comes around.
_ Keeping a positive attitude is vital to my success.
_ It's wise to ask for help when I need it.
_ It's all right to make mistakes because it shows I'm trying.
_ The more successful I am, the more important it is to give back in some way.
_ I'm committed to the happiness of my loved ones.
_ It's very important to me to live up to my personal beliefs and values.
Obviously in this section the information is personal and there are no right or wrong answers. However, I believe most of these statements would be accepted by people who have become truly successful. What matters most is to know what you believe in and what you value.
Our sense that something is missing comes at those times when we're off the course set by our beliefs and values. One of the ten Best Year Yet questions explores this area more fully.
What motivates most of us far more than material success or recognition is our desire to be true to ourselves and live our lives in ways that demonstrate our personal values and beliefs.
Excuses I Have Known and Loved
Check the ones you've used in the past.
I really want to do things differently, but I can't because . . .
_ I want to keep my options open.
_ Once something's gone bad, you can't really change it.
_ Goal setting and thinking about what I want is such a selfish and self-absorbed business.
_ I passed my "sell by" date a long time ago.
_ Once I get through this busy time, I'm really going to take time to sort myself out.
_ It's boring to know where I'm going and what's going to happen next.
_ If I fix my mind on a goal, I'll miss other exciting opportunities when they present themselves.
_ You can't teach an old dog new tricks.
_ I can't be bothered.
To be honest, I'd be suspicious of anyone who didn't check most of these excuses. Welcome to the human race. The challenge for all of us is to become more aware of the times we're using these excuses rather than doing what we want to do to move ourselves forward. Be especially wary of any you see as statements of truth rather than excuses. They have the power to stop you.
How Motivated Am I?
On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest, rate yourself on the following:
_____ I am committed to making positive changes in my life.
_____ Planning a year ahead and setting goals for myself makes sense to me. I'm ready to give it a try.
_____ I can count on myself to do what I need to do this time.
_____ I know a great deal about what I need to do to change my life.
_____ It matters to me that I live up to my personal beliefs and values.
_____ I'm willing to do whatever it takes to make this process work for me.
_____ There are other people in my life who would benefit if I took the time to plan the next year of my life.
_____ Even though I'm afraid to confront some of my problems, I'm ready to do it.
_____ I'm now ready to use my abilities and my intelligence more fully and courageously.
_____ I'm going to set aside three hours in the next week to answer the ten Best Year Yet questions. No matter what.
_____ total score
Total your score on motivation and refer to the chart below to see how ready you are for your best year yet.
90?100 Congratulations. It's possible that life will never again be the same for you.
70?89 Although you may need to push yourself from time to time, you could be on your way to your best year yet.
51?69 It's hard to tell what's going to happen. You're not quite sure whether you're really ready to get into the driver's seat.
If your score is below 50, you've just told yourself that you're not ready to make the most of the information in this book. Either improve your approach or wait until you're feeling more confident. However, any of you who scored a 10 on the last statement have the best chance of all.
Just Do It
In over twenty-five years of working with people, I've seen one big difference between those who truly succeed in making things happen and the ones who don't: Those who do, act.
They think of an idea and they move on it. They get a feeling that something could work and they take the steps to try it out. They take a course and they find the discipline to put what they've learned into practice. They read a book, find an idea they like, and they take steps to use it in their lives. They hear about a meditation that could decrease their stress level and give them a stronger sense of who they really are and they set aside the time and get started. They just do it.
So if you're one of these people, stop now and turn to Part Three, where you'll find the Best Year Yet workbook. Make a cup of coffee or pour a glass of wine, turn on some music, and start writing your answers. It's that simple. And three hours from now you'll know even more about where you're going and feel more motivated to get there. Just make yourself do it—the way you usually do.
According to Stephen Covey, the first habit of highly effective people is to be proactive. In other words, rather than letting life happen to you, make it happen. Even if you don't recognize yourself as one of those people who just does it, you could become one of them simply by moving straight to the questions and getting started on your best year yet.
Some people are born to "just do it"—they seem to have come packaged with a strong inner drive or compulsion to succeed, and they move full steam ahead. But most of us have had to learn a great deal in order to do a better job designing our own lives; we were made rather than born. I'm certainly one of these. Compared to the consciousness with which I now live my life, I spent most of my early days in a sleepy fog, feeling jerked around by life but "doing my best given the circumstances."
So, even if you're not one of the high-drive people described above, you're not out of the race. You've already achieved so much in your life, and I hope you appreciate that about yourself. But in order to make the best use of this book you need the discipline to sit down and write your answers to the ten questions.
The truth is, you already know a great deal—more than you think you know—about what to do to change your life for the better.
The trick is doing it, taking that first step, making it happen. And yet often we don't. While it's important to find out what stops you and why (which we'll explore in later chapters), what works best is just getting on with it. Understanding your limitations can come later.
Answering the ten deceptively simple but powerful Best Year Yet questions can make all the difference. It's not always an easy exercise, but in the process of answering the questions you'll learn a lot about yourself, how you make things happen, and how you hold yourself back. You'll begin to see how to build a more meaningful life for yourself, and soon you'll be looking forward to the year ahead. I promise. Just do it.
One more word about getting on with it: If you're wondering, "Is this book the one that will really help me?", the answer is, it certainly could be. It's up to you. As you well know, it's not enough to buy the book. In order to stop floating from one resolution to another or drifting from one good intention to the next, you need to act.
Most of us trap ourselves by not being willing to take the necessary steps to be the masters of our own lives, yet we'll be damned if we'll let anyone or anything serve as our master for us in the meantime! The result? No one's in charge. We get nowhere. Every bit of true progress I've made in my life has come from really listening to a loved one, a teacher, or an author, and having the discipline to practice his or her lessons until I have learned them. Action and follow-through are everything.
There's another prevalent mind-set that can stop us from making the best use of the modern repackaging of ancient wisdom so popular in the past twenty to thirty years: cynicism. Those with this attitude attempt to take the intellectual high ground over any discipline of self-improvement or personal transformation by labeling it "silly ineffectual nonsense" or "psychobabble" and displaying a general snobbery toward anyone who tries to support us in making positive change in our lives. This approach is just another path of avoidance that stops us doing what we want to do. I know; I thought this way for years.
So, if you've decided that this book could help you and you're ready to get going right away, turn to the questions and get started. Or if you are someone who prefers a more deliberate approach, that works too, sometimes better. This book is not about the quick fix or creating overnight miracles, although for some of you it might do that. Whoever you are, if you feel there are changes you'd like to make and you scored well on motivation, now is the time. Just do it!