Out with the Old, In with the New!

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A fresh year always inspires fresh dreams. Most of us think, “What are the things I could improve in my life, if I had a fresh start?” For some reason, “January 1st” symbolizes new possibilities and a chance for a “do-over.”

In what area of your life would you like a fresh start? In your parenting or other relationships? Your performance at school or on the job? How about being more financially savvy or more organized? Or, maybe yours is like mine: to take control of busyness and reserve more time to reflect. All of these are admirable aspirations—but how can we make them a reality?

Most successful people accomplish their aspirations by staring with dreams and then establishing goals and plans to help make them come true. And, they know that the most effective goals are both specific and measurable (as opposed to vague and difficult to evaluate). As you start to identify your aspirations for 2016 and beyond, it’s important to develop short-, intermediate-, and long-range goals to help get you there.

Even if you’re not naturally a goal-setter, it’s not difficult to become one.  Start by imagining what you want your life to look like. What are the large-scale goals you hope to achieve? These are your long-term or lifetime goals.  It’s important to set these first because they will shape your overall perspective and help frame your smaller and shorter-term goals. Think about such areas as:

  • Education and learning
  • Career
  • Marriage and family
  • Finances
  • Community service
  • Relationships
  • Spiritual life
  • Physical goals (sports, etc.)
  • Talents and skills
  • Travel
  • Experiences
  • Retirement

Once you’ve established your long-term goals, you can set some medium-term goals (e.g., three to five years) that will help you achieve your long-term goals.  From there, you can set one-year, six-month, and one-month goals, all of which will ultimately contribute to the larger picture. Periodically check on your long-term goals to make sure they remain high on your list. Also, monitor your progress on your medium-range goals to make sure you’re on track.

(Parents, you may want to make some parenting goals … check out our book, Parenting for the Launch, for some ideas to help you set goals and create a family mission statement.)

Finally, start making daily to-do lists, prioritized by importance and urgency. If you do, you’ll be contributing on a daily basis toward the things that will make your lifetime goals and dreams possible. Here are some guidelines as you do:

  • Phrase your goals in the positive, not the negative
  • Make them realistic goals—ones that are possible and achievable
  • Make them measurable and specific, such as “visit five continents” as opposed to “travel around the world”

What are your aspirations for 2016? Beyond that? This can be fun and lively discussion with family and friends over the holiday season. Make a plan to check back with each other next New Year’s and see who has gained the most ground in accomplishing their goals.

Leadership for a Lifetime: Balance

ID-100109460Perhaps one of the greatest challenges for students post-high school isn’t how to avoid all the potential pitfalls of independent living. For many, it can be learning to say NO to too many good things!

  • In college, for example (or in their new environment), there are so many new opportunities to spend their time: New friends. New classes. Intramurals. Games. Parties. Clubs. Service opportunities. And what if they “go Greek?”—another entirely different set of possibilities! It all means that they have to be choosy—and realistic. After all, too much of a good thing… is never a good thing!

In our work with Parenting for the Launch, our book for parents of teens, we share that many kids today are too busy and have no margin… an issue that’s often parent-driven. We can be unwittingly burning out our kids with countless activities to build their resumes and position for college scholarships, etc.. Huge demands from athletics are also taking their toll.

“Burnout” is the state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when we feel overwhelmed and unable to meet the demands of all our responsibilities, activities, and relationships. When we’re burned out, we may feel exhausted, emotional, irritable, and out of control. The resulting stress impairs our sleep, health, and ability to perform at our best.

The reality is that no one can do it all, much less do it well. We all have to find that sweet spot of equilibrium that provides a proper allocation of time and attention to family, friends, work/school, career, and personal and spiritual growth. That sweet spot is “balance,” and it doesn’t happen by accident. Without a clear plan and commitment to maintaining balance, it’s easy to become overcommitted and out of control.

We need to help our children build margin as eagerly as we help them build resumes. Here are five tips to help them maintain balance in life:

  1. Be self aware. What are the signs that you’re out of balance? When it happens, ask yourself, “Is there too much on my plate?” We’re not talking about what you had for dinner last night—rather, what’s on your “plate” of activities, responsibilities, and relationships? Is it manageable?
  2. Identify your priorities. Time management, distractions, new responsibilities, variable schedules, and the like are all new facts of life post-high school. Plus, in today’s technology-laden world, the temptation to play video games or surf social media instead of studying can be huge. Develop a purposeful list of priorities. If you’re visual, write them down and keep them within view. What’s important to you? Grades? Fitness? New friends? Clubs? Spiritual life? What matters most?
  3. Be intentional. Remember that time is precious and you must use it wisely. Make a realistic evaluation of how you are allocating your time and energy, and consider the value and the time requirements of any new commitment before saying “yes.” Also, skimping on exercise, sleep, and quiet time are not the way to deal with overcommitment and will only exacerbate the burnout.
  4. Learn to say “no.Although it may feel uncomfortable to say “no” to fun things and delightful people, each time you say “yes,” you are implying it’s a priority. Those who are “people pleasers” or high achievers may particularly struggle with saying “no.” Encourage them to value the peace that comes from balance and the opportunities for spontaneity when there is margin.
  5. Avoid all consuming work. Everyone lives between two ends of a spectrum. On one end are our relationships. On the other end are our performance arenas like school, career, and wealth building. In this competitive world, people often overinvest in the performance areas and underinvest in their relationships, with devastating consequences. Truly successful people recognize the importance of relationships and reflect this in their priorities and time management.

Maintaining balance is a hallmark of successful people. If you are a parent or educator of a high schooler, teach them the value of margin and to spend their time on what matters most. It’s a leadership lesson that will last a lifetime!

photo: freedigitalphotos.net, by Jeroen van Oostrom

10 Regrets to Avoid Like the Plague!

Looking back on your life so far, do you have any regrets? Are there things you did and wish you hadn’t—or things you didn’t do and wish you had? Any relationships that are strained? Opportunities missed?  Bridges burned?

Although these are some of life’s most important questions, too many people wait until the end to ask them—and by then, it’s too late.  We’ll all have regrets from time to time. However, you can minimize big ones (or avoid them altogether) if you periodically ask yourself these questions (and then actually do something about it!).  Today is the best time to start!

When it comes to considering our regrets, there is wisdom to be gained from senior citizens who are in a naturally more reflective stage of life.  If you ask them about their life regrets, you’ll likely hear some—or maybe even all—of the following:

  1. I didn’t spend enough time with my loved ones
  2. I didn’t tell my family and friends that I loved them often enough
  3. I was too stubborn or proud to admit my mistakes and apologize
  4. I chose bitterness over reconciliation
  5. I allowed my life to be consumed by work
  6. I was too hesitant to take risks, try new things, and live my passion
  7. I wasted too much time
  8. I didn’t appreciate the little things in life
  9. I valued things over relationships
  10. I worried too much

Do any of these apply to you? Be honest! Although regrets run the gamut, did you notice that most involve relationships and priorities? This is why it’s so important that your life is balanced, you fully invest in relationships, and your priorities are right.

This discipline is a great one for all ages.  Consider sharing it with the young people in your life. It will help you—and them—make needed midcourse corrections and “relationship repairs” along the way.

Be forewarned, though: it’s not easy, and it takes a strong dose of courage, humility, and determination. Wouldn’t it be great, though, to get to the end of life and be able to say, “FEW REGRETS?!?”

8 Ways to Find Your Purpose

“Great minds have purposes; others have wishes.”

Washington Irving

           What in the world are you doing here?  Ever asked yourself that question?

            Your life purpose is an incredibly powerful force that will direct your life and determine the legacy you will leave behind you. Find a successful person who is content and fulfilled, and you’ll likely find a life guided by an inspired purpose or mission, and a person who has applied his or her unique talents to a worthy cause.

            Knowing your life purpose—what makes you tick, what motivates you, what you are alive on earth to do—is what ignites passion.

            What makes YOU tick … and if you don’t know, how can you find out?

            Passion inspires initiative and creativity. It’s what builds momentum and creates enthusiasm. It also sustains hope and perseverance in difficult times, and provides a reason (and enthusiasm!) for getting out of bed every morning. However, it’s not always easy to identify what your particular passion is.

            Life purposes can be cause-driven (e.g., curing a disease, educating disadvantaged youth, sheltering the homeless, cleaning the planet, protecting our country) or skill-driven (e.g., athletes, artists, mathematicians, designers).

            How can you discover your life purpose(s)? Here are eight questions to ask yourself that can help you figure it out:

1.     What causes (e.g., global or community needs, people, situations, organizations) am I most passionate about?

2.     What problems would I most like to solve?

3.      What needs or people tug at my heart?

4.     What inspires me the most?

5.     What brings me the greatest joy and sense of fulfillment?

6.     Whose lives would I most like to emulate and why?

7.     What are my special gifts and talents?

8.     Where can my skills have the greatest potential impact?

            Once you ponder these questions, see if a picture emerges about what inspires and motivates you. Then, as that picture solidifies into an identifiable sense of purpose, calling, and passion, start thinking about how you can live it out. Keep in mind that there may be more than one, and that it may evolve or change over your lifetime.

            Whatever you do, don’t set your life purpose on a shelf and forget about it. You are a unique individual with gifts, talents, and perspective only YOU can give to the world.  No amount of money, fame, or accomplishment can ever compete with that!

Someday, you’ll want to be able to look back on your life and say, “Mission accomplished!” What’s your mission? Are you living it out with purpose and passion? Please visit us on our website and share your comments;  we’d love to hear from you!

 

 

 

What’s on Your To-Do List?

Sometimes I wonder how we all survived before sticky notes. They sure come in handy for jotting down my daily reminders and holding myself accountable!

 

The discipline of writing out a daily prioritized task list (organized by importance and urgency) is a hallmark of a productive person. I begin each day with a to-do list, and it certainly has made me more focused and effective. (And, yes, when unexpected items arise, I add them to the list and cross them out after completion. There’s power in a sense of accomplishment!)

 

Here’s an idea. What if we took this concept beyond its daily application and take a “sticky pad” approach to planning our lives? After all, the most successful people begin with dreams and then establish goals and plans to make them come true.

 

How can the sticky note approach work for you?

 

Poor or random planning puts your dreams in jeopardy and, at best, makes it take that much longer to realize them. But, even if you’re not naturally a goal-setter, it’s not difficult to become one.  Start by imagining what you want your life to look like. What are the large-scale goals you hope to achieve? Think of areas like your education, career, service opportunities, family, finances, health, experiences, passion areas, and interests.

 

Once you’ve established your long-term goals, you can set some shorter-range goals that will help you achieve them. You can set one-year, six-month, and one-month goals, all of which will ultimately contribute to the larger picture.

 

At the same time, don’t forget those daily to-do lists!  You’ll be amazed how much more you accomplish. It doesn’t have to be a fancy leather-bound day-timer to keep you on track.  Many times all you need is a vibrant-colored sticky note placed somewhere visible to remind you what you hope to accomplish that day! Oh, and once all your items are checked off the list, be sure to take some time to celebrate for a job well done. You deserve it.

 

“If you don’t know where you are going, you will probably end up somewhere else.”

Lawrence J. Peter

 

What kinds of goals have you established for the short-, intermediate-, and long-term? What strategies have you learned to help accomplish them?

We’d love to hear your ideas!

 

 

 

8 Ways to Communicate You Care

Valentine’s season reminds us of the value of relationships—and not just romantic ones.  Not only do sweethearts profess their admiration and affection for each other, but so do parents to their children, children to their teachers, friends to friends, and so on. In a rare creative moment, I once wrote a love letter using strategically placed candy hearts to share my thoughts. Bingo!

At the same time, Valentine’s Day can expose our vulnerability to these conflicting priorities: relationships versus things. While our society has progressed in many respects over the past 50 years, it’s clear that we’ve regressed in terms of relational health and depth. Sadly, with the distractions of technology and busyness, it seems to be getting worse.

Have you thought about what you really value in life? What are you communicating about your priorities to the ones you love—whether intentionally or unintentionally?

Relationships are enduring—things are not. The way we communicate this to our loved ones lies in how we prioritize our time, attention, and money. You can use the following list as either a self-check or a to-do list. Either way, we hope it gives you some inspiration and ideas for communicating your love to others:

1. Be fully in the moment. When you’re with someone, be completely engaged (not on your phone, your Facebook, your Instagram, your Candy Crush game, etc.)

2.  Keep family and close friends at the top of your priority list in terms of time, energy, etc. Don’t just give them leftovers.  They’ll notice, even if they don’t mention it.

3. Focus on the important, not the urgent.  Sometimes maturity and experience are the best teachers on this lesson, but the sooner it’s learned, the better! Our tasks may seem urgent, but our relationships should take priority. This is especially important when our children want or need to talk.

4. Tune in to their uniqueness. Gifts, experiences, and expressions engender different responses from each of us. What uniquely means the most to them? Customize your giving wherever possible and you’ll surely hit the mark.

5. Express appreciation regularly. Be grateful for the people in your life and tell them how much you appreciate them. You don’t always have to communicate with outward displays of affection. Sometimes simple actions, like saying, “I appreciate you,” packing a family member’s favorite lunch (with a note in it), or doing an unasked favor can be just as meaningful.

6. Praise them in front of other people.  Say something nice about them when they are in earshot. You will help build their self worth and indirectly communicate how much you value them. (Great parenting pointer!)

7. Set aside time and money for special occasions and gifts. This may be harder for those whose “love” languages are not gift giving or quality time.  But for those who really need these things in order to feel loved and appreciated, they mean the world.

8.  Forgive offenses quickly and let them go. After all, you’d want your loved ones to do the same for you, right? Related, pick your battles carefully and when arguments do arise, keep your cool.

It pays to examine how we prioritize our time, energy, and finances to build strong relationships with family and friends. Do you the people you love know you care? How so?

Unleash!

There was a time I said, “No” a lot. After all, I was a busy exec with a 24-7 job and a growing family. My life spheres were narrowly focused on family, career, church, and friends. When opportunity knocked (often in the form of requests to serve), my answer was usually the same, “Thanks for asking, but I just can’t fit it in right now.”

Then, one day after a heart-to-heart with myself, I conceded that I wasn’t using all of me. I had some latent passions, but hadn’t created the capacity to pursue them. I decided I would start saying, “Yes.” To give more of me. To make room for new opportunities to serve causes and people I cared deeply about. To stretch myself with new responsibilities, even if they were outside of my comfort zone.

Ever since, my life has radically changed, with new meaning, new missions, new spheres, and new relationships with amazing people I would never have met had I kept saying, “No.” It’s been a profound change for the better.

2013 was a wonderful year for us on so many counts. Jeanne and I celebrated 31 years of marriage, graduated our youngest to pursue her dreams at a perfectly matched university, and watched our son embark on his new career and continue to serve God and others. How gratifying!

It was also a year when some of my biggest highlights were total surprises. Like co-authoring a new book, Parenting for the Launch, which wasn’t even conceived in the beginning of the year! Or, delivering my first Commencement speech—at a private school in Minneapolis! Or, shooting under par for the first time in my life! (And, not on a putt putt course!)

The New Year is a time for renewal and repurposing. For some, it’s also a time for new resolutions, although my highlights tend to be completely unpredictable at the beginning of the year. I love a good surprise, so my plans are always “written in pencil.” That way I can be attentive to (and save some room for) new opportunities for impact that come my way.

What stories do you have inside, just waiting to be told? What skills have been a little dormant and are ready for Prime Time? Who out there needs exactly what you have to offer? What passions are waiting to be pursued? What adventures are lurking if you would just make room and step outside of your comfort zone? What “Yes!” answer would have the greatest impact on others? And, you?

May 2014 be the year when you unleash you! Make it a great one.

Dennis_smaller~ Dennis Trittin

 

 

 

Focus on the Things that Matter

There sure is a lot of hustle and bustle this time year, isn’t there? Holiday shopping, holiday plans, holiday travel, holiday parties… It’s all too easy to get caught up in the activity and miss out on the things that really matter.

There will always be times in life when we feel like the rope in a tug of war, and it’s not just at Christmas. Often, when this happens, there are two formidable competitors pulling us in opposite directions. On one end are the key people in our lives with whom we have relationships. They want (and deserve) our time and attention, as well as an opportunity to grow with us. On the other end is one tough opponent—the “big three,” namely status, career, and wealth and everything that flows from that. Like most things, these are fine in moderation, but taken to an extreme (as they often are), they can destroy relationships. They can easily consume our time and energy and divert us from our priorities and core values if we’re not careful.

During the past few decades, we’ve witnessed a cultural shift toward accumulating things, rather than emphasizing in-depth relationships. You see it everywhere, especially with retailers and credit card companies that are out to get our last nickel (especially during calendar-shortened holiday seasons!). It’s found in massive consumer debt when people overspend on status-conscious items and live beyond their means. And, you see it in people consumed by their careers and in those increasingly invasive businesses demanding their employees respond to evening emails.

This holiday season, I hope you’ll remember that truly successful people recognize how important they are to others and how important others are to them. Relationships are enduring—things are not. Let’s strive to always reflect this in our priorities and in how we spend our time. We can never get back the time we didn’t spend with our loved ones. That’s a life regret we never want to bear!

Let today, this week, this holiday season, be a time of special focus and renewed commitment to the things that really matter. Merry Christmas, all!

How are you spending the bulk of your time and energy? Are you focusing enough on areas that build stronger relationships with family and friends? Or, are you allowing other things to dominate your priorities? We invite you to share your thoughts and suggestions with us commenting; we’d love to hear from you!

 

Don’t Let Technology Rule Your Life

I grew up in Norman Rockwellian small town America at a time when you could play in the woods for the whole day and your parents didn’t think twice about it. Most of the time, we were building forts or playing sports or games in the street, our driveways, or our backyards. Our play was imaginative, competitive, and relational and we were super active.          

Kids today, on the other hand, have cell phones, computers, video games, iPods, and a host of other electronic devices to entertain and educate them—many of which I’m probably not even aware of!

Technology has improved our lives in dramatic ways. It has made our work far more efficient and communication more rapid and widespread. We are far more connected, at least on the surface, because of these advancements.

There is a downside, however. For every plus, there is a minus or two that we should be considering for the social, psychological, and physical health of our younger generation. For example:

  •  Our world is getting more impersonal as it becomes more technological.
  •  We text or email rather than talk.
  •  Our lives are more distracted because of our numerous interruptions and our attention spans have shrunk.
  • We are spending less time reflecting and using our imaginations.
  • We lose the ability to read body language and social cues in other people.
  • Our waistlines are growing as we’ve become more sedentary.
  • We sleep poorly, as online activities keep us up too late and the constant stream of information makes it difficult to turn off our brains.
  • We are being consumed by “busyness” and it is affecting our responsiveness to true priorities


I know I’m probably sounding like Fred Flintstone, but I believe there’s some middle ground. When I hear about car accidents occurring because of drivers’ texting, or when I observe my daughter’s friends’ texting when they’re supposed to be enjoying each other’s company, I think the pendulum may have swung too far.

Remember that time is a precious asset and that relationships are designed to be personal.  Your brain was designed to be active. Your body was designed to move. Don’t let your electronic devices interfere with any of that!

                                                                     

How is technology affecting your time allocation and personal interaction with others? Have they impacted your quiet time and productivity? What are some ways you’ve found to creatively “unplug” for refreshment?

Time Is Precious – Use It Wisely

Where did 2012 go?  It seems like last New Year’s Eve was just last week, not last year! Life is flying by at 58!
 
Time is a funny thing, isn’t it? When we’re having a blast, it’s like someone is pushing the “fast forward” button. In contrast, if we have a two-point lead with three minutes left in the game, it seems like an eternity.
 
Whether time flies or moves at glacial speed, we have 24 hours in a day and no choice in the matter. We use it or lose it. And, because time is one of our most prized possessions (recall it’s one of our three primary assets—along with talent and treasure), we need to use it wisely.
 
How do you become a good manager of time? Try the following:
 

  • Treat your time as a precious asset with limited capacity
  • Organize a to-do list by urgency (deadline) and priority (importance). Take both into account when deciding what to focus on each day.
  •  “Block” your time (i.e., group it in 30-60 minute intervals without interruption) in order to complete your highest priority assignments. Avoid interspersing lower priority tasks within your high priority assignment intervals. Take control of your time!
  • Don’t hesitate to politely tell someone that it’s an inconvenient time for you. Interruptions can destroy your productivity if you allow it.
  • Learn to multi-task (i.e. simultaneously performing) your lower priority responsibilities. For example, I rarely watch television without doing something else like reading the newspaper.
  • Keep your cell phone somewhere else when you need focused time. The temptation to answer calls and texts is a major distraction.
  • Find your best venue for focused work.
  • Take periodic breaks. Studies show we’re less productive when we work over an hour straight without a five-minute break. Breaks help our mind recharge.
  • Respect and honor the time of others by being punctual.
  • Always remember that you can’t recover the time you waste!

 
Becoming a wise time manager is an admirable New Year’s Resolution. Is it yours?
 
How productive are you with your time? Do you view it as a precious asset and focus on your most important priorities? What are some ways you have learned to become a more effective time manager? Share your thoughts and ideas with us!