Hitting January 2 is like going from 60 to zero in one day. The mandatory cheer, cooking, visitors, glitz, glitter, toys, a million chores -- have drowned out the drumbeats of war, the nuclear posturing, the fear of downsizing, all the doubts and fears, for a couple of weeks -- then, over, zip. What now?
The usual blah-blah New Year's resolutions -- lose 20 pounds, go to the gym more, spend more time with your family -- have a way of fading by mid-January as reality sets back in. You go to the office and facing you is a blank calendar. Before you get that sinking feeling -- think.
"A blank calendar means, literally, a clean slate," says Andrew J. DuBrin, PhD, professor of management at the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, New York. "Think of something positive as of this very minute," he advises. "Say, you just got a little check from an insurance company -- even if it's only $36, that's positive. Maybe you got a compliment from the boss -- that's positive. And old customer calls -- that's positive."
"If you keep looking back at the old year -- especially last year -- you will get into a downward spiral," agrees Susan Battley, PsyD, PhD, a leadership psychologist and clinical associate professor at State University of New York at Stony Brook. "I believe in 'Three Bags Full.' A BAG is a 'Big Audacious Goal.'" Three is the absolute maximum (mileage may vary -- one might be more realistic).
Some Big Audacious Goals
What could be your BAG?
- Learn a second language. Even pecking at learning a second language can shake things up and head you in a new direction, DuBrin says. He made the Spanish-language page of the El Paso Times his computer homepage and picks through the news in Spanish every morning.
- Change careers. Every change starts with a defining moment -- maybe looking at your blank calendar of impending "same olds" can be that moment. Remember the job or city where you were happiest -- how could you get back to that?
- Volunteer. You know what they say, "If you want something done, give it to a busy person." Doing well by doing good can make the other things in life seem more bearable. Tutor a student. Train your dog to be a therapy dog. Bake cookies and take them to the firehouse. Something!
- Make more money. Start a second business. Find a safe place for your cash. Ever think of U.S. savings bonds? They are quite a buy now, experts say.
- Join a dating service. No, not you married people! But if you are "between relationships," DuBrin says, why not do something about it for once? You may also meet people by volunteering.
- Plant a tree. A piece in The Wall Street Journal said tree planting is on the decline. Learn about your tree and pamper it.
Whatever your BAG, Battley says it is not only important to put it in writing, but also to put in writing the steps you need to take and the obstacles you will face (this is allowable negative thinking). "People vaguely think things, but don't make a plan," Battley says. Strangely, she adds, it's the peak performers who can be their own harshest critics and get hung up. "Do this with a buddy and hold each other accountable," she instructs.
Consolidate Your Position At Work
"We are all living with tremendous uncertainty," Battley says, "Wherever you look, people are losing their jobs, wars are about to start." It's much more important to identify what you do have control over. Do you have a "plan B," for instance? What if you do lose your job? Think about the worst and make a plan. "You can cut spending now," she says. Also, you can concentrate on communicating security and a sense of safety to your children, even if you don't completely feel it yourself.
"It is also a useful exercise to refresh and update your resume, even if you aren't even looking, DuBrin says. "When you see your accomplishments in writing, it gives you a lift."
DuBrin also advises keeping an ear to the ground. Try to figure out what is going on with your company. In one example, an employee of Conseco didn't even know the company was going bankrupt, even though it was on the business pages of the paper. Read those!
If you have a job, don't let others around you demoralize you, DuBrin says. "Say, 'It's too bad about Enron,' but I do have a job and here is one way I can do it better this year.'"
De-clutter -- This is a Big One
Maggie Bedrosian, co-author of Love It or Lose It: Living Clutter-Free Forever, says the key is not what you get rid of, but what you keep. What is your vision for your life and how do your possessions fit in? "Everything you want to be should be supported by everything you see around you."
Some suggestions for beating back the jungle:
- Keep closest what you use most often. Sit at your desk, for instance. Are the books and files you use accessible without standing? Are they covered with other stuff? Move it!
- Make the things you use every day top quality. Don't skimp on a good hairbrush, for example. Throw away pens that drip ink. Make sure your computer is virus-free. Sharpen all scissors. Never underestimate the power of removing irritation.
- Buy appropriate containers. Maybe a filing cabinet doesn't fit your décor -- try magazine-holding baskets on the floor.
- Get and master the technology you need. And let the rest go by -- that's the corollary. Do you really need a phone that transmits a picture? Couldn't that be embarrassing sometimes?
Ask yourself three questions about every item around you. Is it useful? Is it beautiful? Do you love it? What you do next should be obvious.
"I am also totally addicted to fooling myself," laughs Bedrosian. "Buy yourself a blooming hyacinth. It smells of hope."