Where did all the resolutions go?

Just one month into the new year, and if you're like me, you probably are not yet one-twelfth of the way through with achieving your goals for 2006. In fact, I wonder how many 'resolutions' are still standing on January 31st?

I've read it and you've read it I'm sure. The key to any long-term or grand scale goal achieving is moving ahead in small, consistent increments. The Japanese call that メKaizenモ.

There is also a wonderful Japanese expression for the メfast-out-of-the- starting-blocks-but-no-finishモ style of action which describes so many of our self-improvement efforts: メMikka Bouzu.モ This literally means メThree day skinhead,モ but really refers to the hairstyle (not-hair style?) of temple monks. I imagine many a repentant person has knocked on the temple gates with burning enthusiasm, just to see that feeling fade in less than a week.

I suppose it is a commentary on those well-intentioned souls (all of us?) whose best intentions last but a few days. My Ab-flex (remember those?) went from being used (for about three days, exactly) to a rack to dry clothes on in less than a month. I was happy to finally give it away to a friend, I believe at around New Year's resolution time. I wonder if he is drying towls on it yet, or tried to sell it on ebay.

The point is that it is very easy to let yourself go back to your old, unhelpful habits. How do you stay on track? Here are my top five suggestions:

・Keep your goals where you can see them! (We all know this, butノ)
・Tell people about what you are trying to do (if you choose carefully, those around you can be your best supporters)
・Get a 'goals coach' or accountability coach to help you stay honest
・Send yourself emails to get yourself fired up. (You don't need any fancy autoresponder, just schedule your email delivery for the future)
・Small steps, small rewards (again, we know this, right?) Finishing a small goal on the way to a bigger one can keep us motivated. You know the best way to eat an elephant, don't you? One bite at a time!


The Responsibility of Gratitude

My wife, son and I just returned from a Christmas and New Years trip to California and Nevada. In addition to it being the first time to visit the US for our one-year-old, Yuto, it was also a big challenge for my wife's parents and brother, who also accompanied us.

I have led many homestays to the US and New Zealand over the years, but this was one of the more challenging. I was determined that my wife's parents had a good time-a great time-as it was the first time out of Japan for my mother-in-law, and she had all the images of pistol carrying subway-riding thugs that we have all seen on the news.

Well, lo and behold, the trip was a great success! Everyone had a great time, learned a lot, and not least importantly, returned home safely.

As my wife and I prepared for our return to Japan, she started getting nervous about all the shopping she had yet to do. Now, for me, Christmas was over, and with it, my shopping commitments for the next 11 months. Emiko, however, had at least another Christmas list worth of gifts to buy: that wonderful and strange Japanese custom of メOmiageモ [oh-mee-yah-gey], or souvenir-giving, was rearing its ugly head.

When we in America take a trip, we send a picture postcard to those at home, メWish you were here,モ a Jackalope or some scantily clad beach bunnies or something for the boys at home.

In Japan, its gifts, gifts, and more gifts! The system is such that you can even order your Hawaiian macadamia nuts to give to your friends and relatives at the departure airport, so your souvenir shopping can be finished before you even depart on your trip!

Needless to say, I was stunned and even angered to see my wife spending our vacation budget on t-shirts for the neighbors! After all, we WERE in Las Vegas and the casinos were calling!

To make a long story just as long, the two of us returned to Japan with 9 suitcases and a baby. I was still miffed until we saw the worst snow in 20 years on our doorstep in Niigata.

The neighbors, bless them, had shoveled our car out from under almost two meters of snow. On the next day, my car got stuck and I got locked out of our classroom. Again, people came to the rescue. When the refrigerator in the classroom broke, a friend offered her old one to replace it. Again, thank you!

It was at about this time that I began to ask Emiko: メUm, did we get them anything from America?モ Her reply was a well-deserved メI told you so!モ

In Japan, where gifts are sometimes used to grease social relationships, I felt a faint glimmer of understanding. No, a postcard simply would not do for these people who dug out our two cars, found replacement keys and donated kitchen appliances.

The Japanese is, メO sewa sama desu!モ or, メThank you for taking care of us!モ I somehow the Vegas ballcaps don't quite express it adequately either, but I can see now why the custom of omiyage giving will not quickly disappear from these shores.


2006: The year to come?!

Here in Japan (and elsewhere, I’m sure) they have a tradition of listing the 10 biggest news events at the end of each year. At the school where I work, we all spend some time at the year-end party (or in Japanese: Bo-nen-kai: lit, forget-the-year party) not forgetting, but remembering those events which impacted us over the entire year. This is not a ‘best 10’ list, as the events may be either good or bad.

With younger kids, most of the events listed are within the last 2 or three months. That is to say, if we do the exercise in December, they may list the Halloween party of October but are likely to forget the ski trip at the beginning of the year.

It is times like these when a journal or diary comes in handy!

When the kids look over the event calendars of the last year, they really get a sense of all they have accomplished and enjoyed—or even overcome—during the past year.

Two years ago, as a journaling technique, I started to write my ’10 biggest news events’ for each DAY. It seems that if reflection is good once a year, 300 times that amount of reflection could lead to some pretty good insights.

As many resolutions do, my experiment did not last past January. But it occurs to me that if we woke up and wrote 10 goals every morning, then reflected and recorded the 10 biggest happenings of each day, we could really make some daily progress not only in achieving our goals, but also in reflecting on the events that happen to us, how we respond to them, and even more importantly, the events that we cause to occur.

Here is my challenge: Try it for one week. When you wake up: look over your yearly goals and then make daily ‘things to do’ from that. As you turn in for the night, list (on a datebook, for example, or in a diary) the 10 biggest things that happened to you today.

If you find yourself struggling to find 10 (you will), persevere. One of the best things about the ‘Rule of 10’ is that you will also start to appreciate the smaller ‘big events’ in your life. So, if number 8 on your list for January 10th is “ate a delicious dinner” so be it! Those are the small ‘big events’ that make up a life.

--For another perspective on year-end reflecting, as well as year-start goal- setting, see my friend Charles Burke’s sizzling edge blog for December and January at http://sizzling-edge.blogspot.com