Thursday, October 30, 2014

CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE SOUL: When is less more with a new year’s resolution?

By AMY NEWMARK, Chicken Soup for the Soul | 1/3/2014

The new year can be a great time to reassess our lives and make changes. I’ve read thousands of stories submitted to “Chicken Soup for the Soul” about people taking control of their finances or their health after following through on ambitious resolutions. But not every New Year’s plan must be grand. Carol McAdoo Rehme, who wrote a story called “Seize the Day!” for our book on resolutions, took the opposite approach: Rather than setting goals for herself, she eliminated them.

Carol’s life had been controlled by her lists. Every new year she drew up a fresh set. There were lists of goals for herself, for every member of her family and even for their dog. A master list organized the other lists. Then, shortly after her 50th birthday, Carol watched the movie “Dead Poets Society.” She was transfixed as Robin Williams’ character, Professor Keating, introduced his class to the Latin phrase carpe diem, “seize the day,” and told his students, “Make your lives extraordinary!” Carol began to wonder: “What would happen if I set aside my lists this next year and took Professor Keating’s advice to ‘suck out all the marrow of life?’ Could I survive without daily, weekly and monthly guides to order my hours? Could I still be productive?”

The new year can be a great time to reassess our lives and make changes. I’ve read thousands of stories submitted to “Chicken Soup for the Soul” about people taking control of their finances or their health after following through on ambitious resolutions. But not every New Year’s plan must be grand. Carol McAdoo Rehme, who wrote a story called “Seize the Day!” for our book on resolutions, took the opposite approach: Rather than setting goals for herself, she eliminated them.

Carol’s life had been controlled by her lists. Every new year she drew up a fresh set. There were lists of goals for herself, for every member of her family and even for their dog. A master list organized the other lists. Then, shortly after her 50th birthday, Carol watched the movie “Dead Poets Society.” She was transfixed as Robin Williams’ character, Professor Keating, introduced his class to the Latin phrase carpe diem, “seize the day,” and told his students, “Make your lives extraordinary!” Carol began to wonder: “What would happen if I set aside my lists this next year and took Professor Keating’s advice to ‘suck out all the marrow of life?’ Could I survive without daily, weekly and monthly guides to order my hours? Could I still be productive?”

She decided to try. It turned out that she was still able to get everything done, but her days became much freer and more flexible. “I’m open to chatty phone calls,” she wrote. “I’m freer to entertain, eager to extend an invitation to houseguests. I focus less on my housework and more on enjoying my home.” Her lists, which she had used to create order, had in fact stifled her life.

Carol’s story teaches us something that I think is important to remember during the holiday season, and the rest of the year: You don’t always have to do more. The most responsible and healthy decision you can make for you and your family might be to cut back, to simplify. That’s what Carol did. So now instead of lists she only has one resolution every year: carpe diem.

•••

Rebecca Jay, a single mom working several jobs, took a tough economic situation and turned it into an opportunity to teach her son about budgeting. In her story “Check the Cart,” published in our book on New Year’s resolutions, she wrote about how she turned cost-conscious shopping into a game and resolved to funnel the savings from the game into a special bank account. The story is a wonderful example of how even a difficult situation can, with a bit of creativity, become an opportunity for positive parenting.

Rebecca created the “Cart Check” game when her son was young. “As frugal as I tried to be,” she wrote, “the expense column topped out the income on my monthly budget.” She was already making purchases at the best prices she could find, so the only way to save was to buy less. She started a new routine to help her do just that. On shopping trips, just before reaching the checkout aisle, she looked through her cart and found something she could do without. One day she put back a $4 shirt. It was a bargain, to be sure, but she would survive without it. Another time it was a bottle of shampoo. She decided she could make it a few more days and hold out for a coupon.

Soon she introduced her son to the game. It took some getting used to for him. The first day he played the game, he suggested that they put back a tube of toothpaste. Rebecca redirected him gently: “Every night we brush our teeth. But how about these toy cars? What if we buy only one instead of two?” After he agreed, Rebecca gave him the 88 cents they saved to drive home the point that cutting back came with rewards.

Rebecca’s financial situation eventually improved to the point that the cart check game wasn’t strictly necessary. But since it had become a fun activity for her and her son, they kept playing it, and Rebecca knows that it has helped instill good habits in both of them.

Syndicated by Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, online at www.chickensoup.com

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