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Birthdays, Self-Reflection, and a Better Year Ahead

Birthdays, Self-Reflection, and a Better Year Ahead

Birthdays, Self-Reflection, and a Better Year Ahead

    I recently had a birthday. As I’ve gotten older, birthdays have become for me a time of intense self-reflection: where am I in my life, where do I want to be, what could I improve? They don;t depress me, like they do so many others, but they do make me think.

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    Birthdays are also natural times for me to make new resolutions. New Years Day has never felt like much more than an accident of the calendar, but birthdays – especially with mine falling right at the start of the academic calendar that has dominated most of my life, when I really am making a new start in much of my life with the dawn of a new academic school year – seem like a natural time to start making choices about the year ahead.

    Now, I said “resolutions”, and we all know resolutions fail. My fellow Lifehack writers have written about the failure of resolutions over and over again, as for instance in Steve Errey’s post entitled pretty unambiguously New Years Resolutions Don’t Work – Here’s Why. But I think we need to reframe the idea of resolutions, to think about them not so much as goal-setting but as problem-solving.

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    When we think about resolutions, we tend to think of them as a matter of resolve, that is, of willpower. “I resolve to do x, y, and z.” Of course, if we had the willpower to work on our novel, pass on rich desserts, or be more outgoing at social events, we wouldn’t need to resolve those things in the first place. And so yes, they fail – and often leave us bitter and disappointed with ourselves.

    But what if we thought about resolutions not so much as a matter of resolve but of solutions – that is, as a re-solution to life’s problems? My father, a great collector of quotes, likes to repeat Einstein’s dictum that “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results”; it seems to me that most of life’s problems remain with us because the solutions we’ve adopted don’t really solve them – and so we try the same solutions, over and over, harder and harder, thinking eventually those problems must give ground.

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    Consider, for example, this situation which many of us are or have been in:

    • Problem: Your aren’t advancing in your chosen career.
    • Resolution: Work harder, put in longer hours, apply for higher positions more often.
    • Re-solution: Are you still committed to this career? Maybe you don’t have the passion and drive you had when you entered it ten years ago. If money weren’t an issue, would you still want to do what you do? What would you do? Inventory your skillset and your passions today and start looking into changing careers.

    Maybe that isn’t how you’d address the problem, but you get the idea: a real re-solution needs to address the problem not in terms of what you aren’t doing often or well enough but at the very core, questioning the assumptions that the problem itself is grounded in. If you’re stalled out in your career because you no longer have any passion for it and are just putting your time in to collect a check, then a career change may well be in order – and if so, then it no longer matters that you’re stalled in your current career.

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    Let’s try applying this to a personal matter:

    • Problem: You’ve been dating for months/years/decades and can’t seem to find someone with whom you’re interested in a relationship.
    • Resolution: Get out more. Join an online dating service. Visit a professional matchmaker.
    • Re-solution: What are you really looking for in a partner? Maybe you’re spending too much time and energy dating people because you should be interested in them, not because you are. Or Maybe you’re dating anyone who seems interested in you at all “just in case”. Take time to figure out the pattern in your past dating life and then act to consciously break that pattern.

    Again, this may not be your re-solution, but the principle applies: whatever you’re doing isn’t working, so don’t do more of it, do something entirely different. And you can’t know what to do differently without really examining not just the behaviors that make up your current practices but the reasons you are behaving that way in the first place.

    For the last few weeks, that’s exactly what I’ve been doing – re-thinking my goals, my choices, and my habits to see what simply isn’t helping to solve the things in my life that I’m not quite happy about. And, at the same time, the things I am – this  isn’t about self-flagellation, but about an honest inventory of strengths and shortcomings, so that the one can be applied to the other.

    Two years ago, that process led me to embrace a fledgling second career as a writer; last year, it led me to seriously rethink my approach to relationships and what I wanted in a partner; this year, who knows? I think I have some answers I didn’t have a month ago – and I have another 12 months to figure out what to do with them.

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    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

    1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
    2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
    3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
    4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
    5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
    6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
    7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
    8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
    9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
    10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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