Five Tips for Making Your 2016 Resolutions

res·o·lu·tion
ˌrezəˈlo͞oSH(ə)n/ noun
1. a firm decision to do or not to do something.

Before starting to create my own resolutions for this new year, I asked myself, “What have I learned about creating resolutions and completing goals during my life?” Then, I created the shortest list possible. I hope some of what I have learned can help you to refine your list for 2016 as well. As always, thanks for reading and sharing! -Luke

1. Go for quality resolutions over quantity of resolutions- 

One of the biggest mistakes when setting goals is to have too many of them at one time. You only have so much time and energy. The focus that each individual goal requires will diminish how much you can focus on the other goals you have. It is much more advantageous to succeed in fewer goals than to fail at many. Also, different goals require different levels of attention and commitment. Attempting to complete lots of “big” goals during the same time span is a recipe for failure. Don’t shy away from some life-changing or lofty resolutions. Just avoid trying to tackle too many at once.If your New Year’s Resolution list reads something like, “Lose 50 pounds in six months, read a book a week, write a poem a day, do 6 half-marathons, learn to play a new instrument, learn a new language, and save 20% of my income,” I hate to be a downer, but you’ll very likely not finish that list. BUT, more than that, being partially focused on so many difficult goals may keep you from completing even one goal successfully. Don’t spread yourself too thin. Choose few and choose wisely.

For consideration, divide your life up into three primary realms with three subcategories each: 1. Self (intellectual, emotional, and physical), 2. Relationships (family, romantic, and friends), 3. Work/career (current job or the next hopeful job transition, continuing formal or informal vocational education, and/or entrepreneurial pursuits). Next, try to consider what goals, if set and achieved, would measurably improve your own personal health and happiness, the quality of your relationships, and the satisfaction and rewards you get from your current vocation or a potential new one. Shoot for choosing one manageable goal for each subcategory, for a total of nine overall goals. Then, toss out any less important goals that may significantly distract you from the more important. If you think all nine are worthwhile and manageable, keep them. For me, I am a big fan of bubble graphs when it comes to this activity. See my own work in progress, sketched out on packing paper from my ebay shipping table…

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Luke’s 2016 Resolutions- first draft on packing paper

2. Avoid “fad” and/or acquaintance inspired resolutions- 

Don’t pick a resolution only because you saw it on a meme that your friend shared on Facebook or some random goal that was suggested in a magazine article. If fad excitement is the reason you choose a resolution, the eventual lack of fad excitement will likely be the reason you stop following the resolution later. So far as activities go, choose things to do that you actually like to do already. Just commit to do them more regularly and/or with more dedication than you previously have. Do you enjoy reading? Read, but read new and/or more books. Do you like to ride bikes? Ride more often, to new places, and farther than before.

3. Choose resolutions that are challenging, yet achievable- 

You know yourself better than anyone. Based on your history of keeping previous goals, are the goals you’re setting now way too overboard for what you will or can actually keep? For instance, if you have set lofty weight loss goals for the last five years and then failed to  keep them, gotten discouraged after a few months, then dropped them all together for the rest of the year, perhaps more realistic goals are the way to go this year. It is much more advantageous to set a two pound loss per month goal and KEEP it, than an eight pound goal, not hit it, get bummed out, and forget about it. Don’t make your actual, present self the whipping-boy for a grandiose internal idea of your future “improved self.” Set goals, that though they are challenging, you will enjoy the process of keeping the goal as much as the end result of achieving it.

4. Don’t commit to new resolutions too quickly-

If you already have all of your goals for the next year committed to by January 1st of the year, you may want to give yourself some extra time for reflection. To commit a year of your life or even months to achieving a goal is a big deal. You don’t get time back after it is gone. I suggest coming up with a tentative list of goals by about seven days into the year. Then, contemplate on that list and get a feel for what it is like to work that list for another week or two. About the third week of January, grab a coffee or lunch alone in a relaxed setting to do a final draft of your resolutions in an unhurried fashion. Tweak your list if needed and then get some real traction on your firmed-up goals. Once your resolutions are set, type them up on a sheet of paper in a large, bold font. Then, post that paper somewhere conspicuous in your home so you’ll see it every day as a reminder of the commitment you made to yourself. Hold yourself accountable to that printed list. Remember, a goal is just the beginning. Each of the goals you come up with and commit to will require you to devise an intentional plan of attack for you to be successful completing them.

5. Consider if completing your resolutions will inspire lasting satisfaction- 

You’ll have to use your imagination on this one. Think about whether each of the goals you are setting now, if achieved, would still matter to you looking back in hindsight five years from now. Not only that, but would any of your new short-term goals potentially work AGAINST any of your more important long-term goals? Last, “more” doesn’t always have to be part of a goal. Simplifying life, decreasing distractions, and minimizing what you don’t desire in life is just as important as increasing what you do.

It is much more advantageous to succeed in fewer goals than to fail at many.

As you are working though your potential list of resolutions, some comedy relief may come in handy! Check out the new segment by John Oliver 🙂

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Revised Resolutions

 

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I Poll Atheists- 97.6% Don’t Care if You Wish Them “Merry Christmas”

During the last few weeks I have had and also overheard multiple conversations about the supposed, “War on Christmas,” and how atheists supposedly hate people telling them, “Merry Christmas.” As an atheist myself who enjoys the Christmas season, I was curious what other atheists think about the situation. Personally, I have no problem with a person wishing me, “Merry Christmas, “Happy Holidays,” “Happy Hanukkah,” “Merry Kwanzaa,” or, “Happy New Year.” So long as you are sincerely wishing me well in your own way, I am cool with that.

When I was enjoying a cup of coffee and reading some Carl Sandburg at Waffle House several days ago, I got to be a fly on the wall when a few employees had their own ideological battle over what phrase is appropriate this time of year. As a customer was leaving, their server said loudly, “MERRY CHRISTMAS!” The customer answered in kind. A few moments later, another employee mocked the first server, “Christmas isn’t for four days! You don’t need to say, ‘Merry Christmas.’ You can just say, “Happy Holidays.’ It covers everything.” The first server then replied, “I can say, ‘Merry Christmas,’ if I want! It is my Constitutional right!” As the two went back and forth, another server joined in on the side of the non-“Merry Christmas” side and the first server got even more agitated. It ended with some dishware being tossed angrily into the sink bin and the second server announcing, “You say what you want! It’s your job!” with the implicit warning that saying, “Merry Christmas,” could get you fired.

After the conversation cooled down, I asked all three, “Does your company have a specified policy on what to say during the holidays?” All shook their heads in the negative and one replied, “No, I don’t think so.” I said, “Just for the record, I am an atheist, but, I have no problem with a person saying, ‘Merry Christmas,’ ‘Happy Holidays,’ or whatever to me during the season.” Oddly enough, the second and third servers from the previous conversation did not seem happy to hear my interjection. Yet, not upset enough to argue with me. I also asked the three of them if they had experienced any negativity from any customers to being told a particular holiday phrase. They all said, “No.” It was strange to see people getting so riled up about what seemed to be a non-issue. I felt like the ironic atheist, publicly defending, “Merry Christmas.”

With my interest peaked even more about the issue, I decided to poll some of my fellow atheists to see what they thought about it. I did an informal poll on two different secret atheist groups on Facebook that I participate in.

My poll was simple. I posted,

“I’d appreciate the Club’s help with an informal poll for a Christmas article I’m working on. Here is the question…

As an atheist, does it offend you when a stranger says, “Merry Christmas,” to you, rather than, “Happy Holidays” or something more generic for the season? Please start your response with, “Yes,” (that it does offend you) or, “No,” (that it doesn’t)”

I got responses from atheists from all over the United States and in multiple other countries. The responses totaled 84 votes between the two Facebook groups.

The results were:

– 82 atheists had no problem being wished a, “Merry Christmas.”

-2 said that the phrase did SOMETIMES bother them.

The two voting that the phrase was at times offensive to them added,

“Yes, sometimes, I do get offended, but only because I live in the south where everyone just always assumes everyone is Christian. I’m tired of always having to live by their rules. I also am aware that it’s a small thing that I don’t need to sweat, so don’t anyone go off on me.”

and, “Yes, depending on the person saying it. If they know me personally, then they know I’m an atheist and I would expect them to respect me enough to say happy holidays as I would do the same in return as my wish for them would reflect whatever religion they observe. From a stranger, no, doesn’t bother me at all.”

All said and done, over 97% of the atheists polled did not mind people telling them, “Merry Christmas,” at all. The two people who did find it offensive, only did under certain circumstances. Though my sample group was not very large, it did offer great variation in culture and geography. That said, I don’t think that the whole, “War on Christmas,” by atheists is everything the media cracks it up to be. Heck, the vast majority of the atheists polled even celebrate Christmas to some degree.

I have rarely every found an atheist that had any problem with another person’s personal expression of their own religious beliefs. But, we do tend to get upset when religious dogma is imposed via federal, state, or local government. As much as we value the rights of individuals, we also value the Constitutional restrictions regarding government pushing or showing preference to any religion. Again, I speak generally and not for every atheist in the world. We don’t all live on an island, have an atheist Pope, or think the same thing… and, we’re more like a herd of cats than a herd of sheep.

You have the right to say whatever holiday season well-wishing you want to people. They may like it or may not. Likely, they won’t even care.For me, I generally respond to a person with what they offered me. If, “Merry Christmas,” I respond with, “Merry Christmas.” If, “Happy Holidays,” I answer the same back. Still, I do think that, “Happy Holidays,” is the most comprehensive and inclusive benison. It includes all holidays and and excludes none. Yet, I know that some Christians feel excluded when not specifically blessed per their specifications. They don’t give much credence to the holidays of other faiths during this season and have tunnel vision for Christmas. Only wear that shoe if it fits. I am not trying to ruffle your feathers. Let each search their own conscience regarding this issue.

There is enough drama in life. There is no need to spend December pissing on one another’s holiday campfire and fighting battles that don’t exist. So cheer up! The, “War on Christmas,” is just a sham. Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays! And, have a great New Year!    -Luke

“Cha-Ching!” Goes the Cell Phone: Year 6 for an Entrepreneur and Lessons Learned

On this day in 2008, at 30 years old, I made a big decision. After months of back and forth, I decided to start a business. I was a husband, father of five, and part-time professional singer/songwriter. But, my main gig was being a regional driver for a household goods moving company. Damn hard work.

At that time, I was working the same job I had in my early twenties. After leaving the moving business the first time, I said I’d never go back. But, after several years of busy concert schedules and limited flex time at my previous job, I made a deal with my old company; give me any time off that I ask for with thirty days’ notice and you can work me like a rented mule the rest of the time. They knew how I worked and my level of customer service, so they agreed. And to no surprise, they held up their end of the bargain, especially the second part.

I stayed there about three years before getting fed up with the road, illegal hours for a driver, some of the fools I had to manage on jobs, and my ever tiring back. Not that there weren’t perks. Most of my songs came from experiences I had travelling and two of my co-workers became my good friends. But, in the ending months of 2007, the fear of another year to come like the one before became scarier than the proposition of starting a business and failing. That was the key…being pushed passed the point of contempt for the “status quo” in my work life and the fallout it had on my family life. I was missing too much and was just too damn worn out when I was home. But, that’s what working 120 plus hours some weeks will do to you, even when you’re young and strong.

So, beginning 1/1/08, I started scheming on a way to make a big change. I didn’t have much money or many foreseeable options. I decided to start a “near industry” business to capitalize on my current contacts and skills. I gave myself 4 months to plan and execute the launch of my business.

I realized that what I would do at first may only be a stepping stone to anther venture, but it was a necessary one. I had to just create some space to live, think, and wait for and create other opportunities. It was a lot like “pulling guard” in Jiu Jitsu… I was creating a “safe place” from which to defend or attack in due time. A position I could potentially loose from, but hoped to just do work and catch my breath for the time being.

My business officially began April 1, 2008, a month early. I started a “3rd party company” that assisted moving companies with what was out of their scope. I did custom crating, pool table and grand piano servicing, appliances, and more. I created a turn-key business with zero debt and produced a living wage right out of the gate on a $3,000 start-up budget. Not bad if I say so myself.

But, actually doing it was scary as hell. I almost changed my mind a couple times in February ’08. I nearly scrapped the whole idea for the safety of the time clock boat anchor. Sure glad I didn’t.

Then, in the late summer of ’08, the economy crashed. The good thing was, since I worked for myself, I had a lot of options to adapt. When contracting work was slow from moving businesses, I hustled side work on Craigslist and by word of mouth. I did interior painting, drywall work, bought and sold, and scrapped tons of metal over the next couple years. Unfortunately, with the moving business hit hard, my 3rd party work got slower every year, so I had to hustle harder. Always hunting for side jobs got old and since people were getting broker, they did less home improvement…that meant less side jobs to go around.

The great thing was I still made a livable income in about half the hours that I used to work as an employee. Some weeks I’d have a few days off through the week then be really busy the next. But overall, I saw my family every day and was pretty energized to enjoy them. I got to spend lots of time with my wife, who is my best friend, for the first time in our marriage.

That said, in the spring of 2011 I desired to have a more stable type of business. My wife and I discussed options and came up with a new plan. I would escalate my part time hustle, buying and selling, to my main gig. The plan was to replace half our income in six months, before the slow season for my current business. The next phase was to completely replace our income with buying and selling in twelve months. We achieved the first phase in five months and completely replaced our income in nine months. The initial capital I had to invest at my first auction on May 15, 2011…$200. I bought five things that sold within a month for over $1,100 and we were off.

For the first four months, I only sold on Craigslist. Then in late August, I purchased a rare knife at an auction for $9. I knew I’d need greater exposure to get what it was worth. I listed it on ebay and a week later it sold for $490. I fell in love with ebay and within three months, it became my primary selling format.

It still is on 1/1/14 and we’ve come a long way. We now have three “Power Seller” and “Top Rated” ebay stores. I work less hours than ever, spend stupid amounts of time with my family, and basically do whatever the hell I want every day. I’m not rich in dollars, but if freedom is your currency, I’m a millionaire.

So at 12:54 a.m. today, I got my first sale of 2014. “Cha-Ching” went my ebay cell phone app. Not a big sale, just a $39 vintage coffee percolator that I bought for $3. I’ll have shipping, ebay, and paypal fees out of that, but will still net about $25ish. That “Cha-Ching” is less an audible symbol for money and more of freedom for me. Good job ebay on creating that Pavlovian response via your app by the way!

One thousand words later, I’ll briefly share some of the most important lessons I’ve learned in my business. I hope some of you might be able to get some use out of them if you’re interested in starting your own company or service as well.

  1. “Pulling the trigger” is the hardest thing– It is one thing to desire change, another to plan, but to execute a plan is the tipping point. That not only applies to business, but life in general. Most people are ruled by fear. They let the fear of “what if” bully them into settling for something they are dissatisfied with in life. You MUST master that fear and kick that bully’s ass in order to flip the script in your life.
  2. Bet on yourself- Every change has varying degrees of risk. But, do you know what people don’t think about? The risk that leaving everything the same has. Don’t be afraid to bet all your “chips” on yourself. Then, rise to the occasion and be your own hero.
  3. With a great plan and the right tools, you are more likely to succeed than to fail– I did not have a mentor when I started my business or anyone pushing me to do it. I did have people that supported me and that was invaluable. I also had the experiences of being exposed to business in my younger years by my mom, dad, and grandparents in different ways. Yet, I still needed other knowledge and information. I got that from the Internet and books. Some things (actually a lot of things) I had to figure out on the fly. But, you handle things as they come. I know the stats on start-up businesses failing. The thing is, many of the failures have distinct features in common. Poor planning is #1. Lack of understanding of the business being started is another vice. There is NOTHING you need to learn that you can’t find out. Do your due diligence and then make things happen.
  4. Sometimes, “You can’t get there from here.”– I’ve heard old timers from the mountains use that phrase jokingly to describe where they are from. But, it can be true situationally. You may not be able to jump right from your current “A” to your perfect world “B.” You might have to make some incremental changes toward your ultimate goal. Don’t be discouraged from the journey toward your goal just because it won’t be an instantaneous teleportation. Usually, the “good stuff” in life can take a lot of hard work. Sweat equity can be more important than investment capital. If you have less of one, you’ll probably need more of the other
  5. It’s worth it- There’s nothing like being able to thank your own former self for the good decisions he or she made that led you to where you wanted to be. There’s always more work to do and need to reinvent things. Start your journey off well and in time, if you stay the course, you’ll be glad you did.

As always, thank you for reading and sharing my blog! I am an independent poet, author, and singer/songwriter and I have my own ebay business to keep me as flexible as possible. But, writing takes time and if you appreciate what I do, if you have been moved or made to think by my writing, OR have just enjoyed something on my blog, please throw a buck or two in my tip jar!:) Your kind contribution may buy me a cup of coffee out at my next writing session. Click my easy paypal “tip jar” link that follows and THANKS! -Luke

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Your 2014 Narrative

“There is no longer any such thing as fiction or nonfiction; there’s only narrative.” -E. L. Doctorow

As human beings, we are social, pattern seeking creatures that crave a narrative. It is of the utmost importance to have an overall schema to assimilate all other events, people, and data into; a big “What?” and “Why?” Less a functional and sufficient narrative in life, a person will likely fall prey to a sort of contextual and social vertigo. Such things can cause a great feeling of distress in life.

It is an evil crime to rob one of his or her history, because that is where one’s narrative begins. Such things were done to millions of kidnapped Africans, in a few previous centuries, via the Atlantic slave trade. These Africans were taken from one narrative and injected into a harsh an unjust new one, with a different name and religion.

A narrative is so important to us, that if we don’t have one, we’ll welcome another person or group to dispense one for us. Many times, we find the solace of an established narrative and tradition in ancient religious books; sometimes, in a more recent dogma. A modern KKK member sees their self in a land run by oppressive Jews and infected with immoral black people. A traditional Buddhist would feel the need to be at peace and in harmony with his or her own inner self and the external world. Either narrative is as effective at giving one a sense of meaning, importance, and social context. But, I hope the vast majority of us can see that one narrative is ideologically superior and more beneficial to society, as well as to the individual.

One may feel a certain Nihilistic taint toward this idea of narrative. The question could be raised, “We all just die in the end and probably have little impact while alive, so why does it really matter?” I would answer that question in this fashion; if the only person your narrative mattered to was you and the only time it mattered was now, wouldn’t that be enough? As a parallel, if you, and only you, were in excruciating pain at this moment, would that not be important…if only to you? The same parallel could be made about intense pleasure. At the very least, aren’t “you” enough to matter?

All of that said, a proper narrative consists of three primary components: 1. Past-Where did you come from? 2. Present-Who are you now/what are you doing 3. Future-Where are you headed and who will you become? Of course, you don’t live in a vacuum. You are surrounded by family, friends, strangers, and enemies perhaps that help make up and add nuance to your narrative. For the moment, we’ll just focus on the individual…you.

One of the most exciting parts of this narrative is number 3; the future. This is the only component of your narrative that is not fixed. That is where 2014 comes in to play. What is your desire for this coming year? What do you want to do? Who would you like to become? You can make an impact on your own life and situation. I hope that you do not feel certain impotence toward yourself. If so, I hope you will realize that you have a great deal of power in your own life, situation, and mental state. Own it.

So, this is our assignment… Take a blank sheet of paper and pen or open up a new Word file. Write, “1. Where have I come from?” and leave ample space. Next write, “2. Who am I and what is my life now?” Leave some space. Last write, “3. What do I want to accomplish and who do I want to become in 2014?” Leave some more space. Spend a day ruminating on these questions deeply. Don’t trouble yourself with 2015, a decade from now, or eternity…just 2014. None of that will exist until 2014 has, so one thing at a time. Tomorrow, fill in the blanks. Then, spend the year moving forward in the narrative of your own choosing, empowered and purposed.