Sep
21

What’s on the books for the weekend?

by Christine

“Do you want this? Yes, I’ll take it.” That is how it started. My mom died this past June and in July I loaded a dozen boxes of family photos, slides, film and videos into a Budget rental a truck. I agreed to a sort through 80 plus years of images that I would organize, scan and share with my sister and brother. And they agreed I should do it. That is what I get for being the bossy and organized older sister.

I promised myself that for a “thing” to live in my home it must be beautiful or useful. If the object can fulfill both criteria, I am overjoyed. But the dozen banker’s boxes in the yellow room are not beautiful or useful. Yes, we name the rooms in our house. I will have to rethink the name if we ever paint the room another color. This weekend I am going to get started and while it feels part scavenger hunt and part HGTV’s Mission: Organization, I am a little concerned that I won’t be able to get this done before the year 2025.

The other challenge is that fall is fast approaching and apple picking is kicking into high gear here in New York. For the past 3 years I have headed out for the day to enjoy the weather and pick a variety of apples. One year I made a killer applesauce that moved me up on the grandmother scale with my granddaughter Lucy. I will let you know what activity wins but in the mean time, do you have any advice for the family memorabilia project? Please share if you do because I know I am not the first person to under take this task nor will I be the last. I would welcome the opportunity to learn from you.

Sep
19

Intentional Living-Time to Think, Design and Live

by Christine

I would love to tell you that I have always lived an intentional life but that is not true. As a matter of fact, I would say for many years it was just the opposite. My first real job was with a local TV station in Jacksonville, Florida. How did I end up running camera and building sets? My best friend was a passionate communication’s major in college who wanted more than anything to be a television producer after she graduated from college. Me? I just said. “I’ll have what she is having”. So I too, got a job in TV. I enjoyed the work, I was even good at it but it was not my ideal job, it was my best friend’s ideal job. Once I mastered the basics of the craft, I wanted to move on to something else. I did not love the work in and of itself so I started looking for the next challenge.

Over time I started to question why I was so restless and began to think about the choices I was making in my life. But ultimately, it was the terminal illness and subsequent death of my ex-husband that made me take a hard look at my core beliefs and understand they were not always reflected in how I was living. Gradually, I was able to articulate what it meant to live intentionally. To me it is about taking the time to make sure that what I am doing in life aligns with what I believe.

Now I consciously think about the how I am living my life. That philosophy encompasses everything from how I decorate my home to how I treat my neighbors. Candidly, it has not always been easy. I live the cliché two steps forward, one step back but daily, I make the effort to think about and live the life I envision. How about you? What does living intentionally mean to you? How do you live a virtuous life? I would be interested to learn about your struggles and successes in living intentionally.

Sep
17

Change is coming to Footsteps

by Christine

Whenever people ask me where I am from, I answer, “born in Greensboro, North Carolina and raised in Jacksonville, Florida.” Each summer my father’s family enthusiastically celebrated our return to North Carolina for our annual two-week family vacation and they excitedly questioned us about our life in Florida. They were convinced that we lived in paradise. And really 8 months of the year, it was. But summers were brutal. Temperatures reached 90 degrees plus during the day with not much of a break at night and those were the days before air-conditioning!

But September brought excitement and energy. I see clearly in my mind’s eye the kid who stopped mid-run when she felt the first September breeze touch her cheek, marking the end of the summer heat. Fall also meant school shopping with my mom before returning to school to see old friends and meet new ones. Plus there was a brand-new pair of Mary Jane’s with my name of them at our neighborhood Buster Browns! That is why fall is my favorite season. Fall means change. Fall means starting new endeavors and taking on new challenges. So that is why fall is the perfect time for Footsteps to restyle and rejuvenate.

As many of you know, this past year has been a difficult one for my family and me. But the good news is the traveling has stopped and I am back home. I am thrilled to have the time to write about those ideas and topics that mean so much to me. Yes, I will still be blogging about aging but I want to explore so much more. I will be blogging about what it means to live an intentional and creative life at any age. Furthermore if a blog touches your imagination, let me know. It is always more fun to talk over an idea with a friend, and I’d love to chat with you.

Sep
10

There is a Season

by Christine

After three months of bouncing back and forth between hospitals and rehab centers, the decision has been made to call in hospice and allow mom to go home. She has been stroking continuously during the previous 12 weeks, losing a piece of herself each time. The only pain she has experienced during this period was from the daily blood tests, MRI’s with contrast and other invasive tests that left her black and blue and exhausted. Her strokes are painless. Actually, we only know they are happening when she becomes childlike and silly followed by more degradation of her speech. 

As a result of the loss of her speech, we are not always certain of her mental state. The repetitive questions that the doctors used to ascertain her mental clarity were now useless. She could no longer answer, “Do you know where you are? Do you know what year it is?”  The humor Mom and the rest of us found in her answering those questions 20 times a day gave way to sadness as the year became 1948 and the name of the hospital became unintelligible.  

I am personally relived that Mom is going home and that hospice will be involved. I wanted to do this two months ago but some in the family were not yet ready to admit that medicine and the people in the white coats did not have all the answers. Mom is dying and we as human beings can do nothing to change that fact.  Two months earlier, Mom, my sister and I were in her room at the rehab center. We had just helped her dress for bed and she was now settled into the bed ready to sleep. She looked up at me and said, “Me go home”. I was startled by the childlike structure of her sentence and a wave of emotion came over me at her request. I softly said, “I know”.  She then said, “E.T. go home “.  I caught my breath, “Yes, E.T. go home.” Finally before drifting off to sleep she said, “Does anybody get to go home from this place.”  I left the room in tears. 

We are fortunate to live in a country that has first class healthcare and services for the sick and injured. But many have come to believe that the medical profession can “cure” aging and dying.  That just isn’t possible. Additionally, doctors and other healthcare professional cannot unilaterally manage the healthcare of another. It is a team sport. If one is not willing to eat a healthy diet, exercise and follow basic health guidelines then the expectation that you will see your hundredth birthday is unrealistic. (Yes, yes…somebody always mentions the “guy” who drank scotch along with his cigars every day and lived to be a 100.  He is the exception to the rule.)

But the decision has been made and Mom is going home. Going home to the world that my father and mother created; to the place that houses her memories and to the place that she feels safe. Her home will not be the same as she left it. Twenty-four hour healthcare givers will be in and out to help her with the daily tasks of living. She appears to understand that this is a condition of her going home and she is still very excited to be going home. I don’t know if mom understand what it means to go home under these circumstance but for the first time in three months she is happy. 

May
02

Retirement: How Much Money Do You Need?

by Christine

How much money do you really need to retire? We see commercials on TV that bandy around figures like 1.2 or 1.5 million dollars. Is that reality or is that what the major financial houses need, to make your investment valuable to them? Over the next few weeks, Footsteps will take a look at what it takes to retire and you decide whether “retirement” is in your future.

First, as in pre-retirement, housing can be the largest budget expense. There are several types of housing available to consider during retirement. Footsteps will use the Ben Franklin decision method to weight the pros and cons of the different housing choices once we explore the cost and benefits surrounding a single-family home, rental apartments, cooperatives and condominiums, independent living communities, assisted living communities and nursing or care homes.  

The Single Family Home: 

Home ownership is regarded by many as an outward sign of success in the United States, a fulfillment of the American Dream. It is not just a place to live but it symbolizes freedom and achievement. Government leaders, family and friends and our financial advisers encourage us to start saving for a house the moment we take our first full time job. An emotional component exists in home ownership that does not exist in other types of housing. 

But what is the financial cost of a single-family home? For this discussion, we are going assert we are talking about a home that is paid for in preparation for retirement. The first non-discretionary cost in owning a home is taxes. Property taxes are the biggest source of revenue for local governments. When budgeting property taxes, the homeowner must remember that these are not fixed costs. The increases may be as little as one or two percent in poor economic times or six to seven percent in boom times but it is not in the DNA of government to decrease its budget.  

To learn more about taxes in your area, click http://www.retirementliving.com/taxes-by-state.  Additionally, to see the 10 States with the worst property taxes, click http://247wallst.com/2011/04/05/the-ten-states-with-the-worst-property-taxes/

The next budget item is home maintenance. This is an area that retirees tend to defer action in an effort to manage their overall budget. Many of us are related to or friends with someone who last updated their kitchen in the 1970’s or started using their dishwasher as a drying rack when it stopped functioning.  

The other challenge in budgeting maintenance cost is they are not necessarily fixed. If you retire at 65 in good health, caring for your own lawn and making small repairs yourself maybe very manageable but at 75 or 85 this may no longer be the case. Additionally, as you age, you may need your home to be retrofitted to accommodate walkers, wheel chairs and assistance in the bathroom. 

The recommendation of various housing and retirement experts is 1% of your home’s value. On a $200,000 home that would be $2,000 per year or $167 a month. When on a fixed or limited income, this may seem to be high but the average cost of replacing a roof is between $11,000 and $17,000.   http://www.roofingnetworks.com/info/average-roof-replacement-cost/ The cost of a new heating and air conditioning system can run between $3,500 and $4,000. As you can see, it quickly adds up with major purchases. 

Utilities are another major component of retiring in a single family home. Depending on the age of your home and lifestyle, cost of fuel and water can be the second costliest budget item. According to the EIA, the average residential monthly bill is $110.55 but if you live in Florida, you know that your electric bills may be well above the national average. http://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/index.cfm?page=electricity_home#tab2

To calculate your budget for retirement, average the last two years of your electric, water, natural gas and heating oil bills. Keep in mind that these are not fixed cost. Heating oil costs are determined by marketplace pressures and can vary wildly based on political influences and natural disasters. For many water is the new gold and we may see its cost continue to rise. To avoid stress in the future factor in a percent or two increase yearly. 

Homeowners insurance is a must at any stage of ones life but particularly after retirement. Once you have fulfilled your loan obligation to your mortgage company and are no longer contractually bound to maintain homeowners insurance, you may be tempted to let it go. You need to think twice. The insurance not only covers the home’s structure and your belongings, it provides you with liability coverage. Lets say your home health nurse comes to monitor you blood sugar and trips on your front steps and breaks her ankle. The liability portion covers injuries sustained by others while on your property. Without it you could find yourself in serious financial trouble.  

The costs vary by state but the average national yearly premium is $1.004. Before retiring we encourage you to review your policy with your insurance agent to learn if your coverage is still appropriate for you current situation. http://blogs.smartmoney.com/advice/2012/03/09/home-insurance-goes-through-the-roof/

For those living in New York, your monthly nut for living in a single-family home valued at $200,000 would look something like this:

Taxes (Putnam County Property Tax Rate) 1.65% or $3,300 a year/$275 a month 

Maintenance $2,000 yearly or $167 a monthly*

Utilities  $1326.60 yearly or 110.55 monthly* 

Insurance $1,004 yearly or $84 a monthly*

The total cost:

Yearly- $7630.60

Monthly-$ 635.00

*This is the national average and may not be a true reflection of the real cost in Putnam County, NY 

For those living in Florida, the initial budget looks something like this on a $200,000 single-family home:

Taxes $1,940 yearly or $162.00 monthly

Maintenance $2,000 yearly or $167 monthly

Utilities 1326.60 yearly or 110.55 monthly

Insurance $1,004 yearly or $84 monthly

The total cost:

Yearly- $ 6270.60

Monthly- $ 522.55

*This is the national average and may not be a true reflection of the real cost in Florida

Footsteps will be the first to acknowledge that these are rough estimates and that before deciding upon your final budget, you need to do more research. If you are currently living in a single-family home that you would like to make your retirement home, start keeping records. You will have first hand knowledge of what it has cost you to live in the home. Just remember, if you are going to err in your numbers, you want to err on the high side, not the other way around. 

If you are looking to relocate to another part of the country, you can rely on averages for the region. But you may also talk to a local real estate agent or ask the current owner to share with you utility bills and maintenance records. The goals here is to go into your retirement home with a workable budget so that you can spend your energy and time on activities that are fulfilling not spending your time stressing over money.  

NEXT: CO-OPS AND CONDOMINUMS

Mar
01

When to Call Hospice

by Christine

Ours is not the only family to find it difficult to navigate the end of life journey of a family member.  A friend of mine tells the story of her own family’s response to her grandmother dying. Her 93 year-old grandmother was taken to the hospital because her body appeared to be shutting down. After a thorough examination, it was discovered that she had a blockage in her intestines. The surgeon was quick to declare that he could repair the blockage by removing a small section of her intestines. 

The immediate response of the family was to allow the surgery with only one daughter, asking about mom’s quality of life after the surgery. The surgeon’s response was that he could not speak to that but he knew he could repair the blocked intestine. When the daughter asked again about the wisdom of operating on a fully demented 93 year-old whose body was failing, she was met with the highly emotional comment from a sibling that “we must give Mom a chance.”  Everyone was silenced fearing they would be viewed as turning their back on Mom.

After the surgery, the surgeon announced that the blockage was more severe than originally believed and he had to perform a colostomy. The family was stunned. Their mom/grandmother was living with one of her daughters who was barely managing as mom’s full time caregiver. How was she going to handling this additional physical reality? If mom needed more care, how were they going to pay for it?  

Sadly, my friend’s grandmother died three days later never regaining consciousness. The family’s last days with their beloved mother and grandmother were spent in the artificial environment of a hospital with her tethered to beeping and flashing machines on a time schedule dictated by the nursing staff. 

We have worked from the beginning to avoid this scenario with our mom. We have diligently tried to educate ourselves about the medical alternative presented to us and to learn about the intricacies of health insurance. We had discussions with mom about her end of life wishes.  We updated DNR’s and living wills. We worked to be prepared. But the decision to call in hospice is never easy or clear cut. 

For a couple of years, I volunteered for our local hospice team. I witnessed first hand the program in action as they helped individuals and families on this journey. I am a supporter and yet, it was still a difficult decision for me, for our family. Calling in Hospice makes a statement; it requires one to say out loud, we believe this is the end. 

Additionally, it can be a lonely decision because the medical profession is reluctant to call in Hospice. In many, I might even say in most cases, they resist calling in Hospice because it goes against all their training. They are in the business of saving lives, of fighting disease and healing the injured. They are not in the business of letting go. (And who would want a doctor that doesn’t give it his or her all each and every time one has a serious health crisis?)

The decision to call in Hospice can also cause tension within the family. Family members experience this journey differently, working though their own feelings and beliefs on their own time schedule.  It may be a struggle to get everyone on the same page at the same time. 

We were able to make the decision to call when it became clear that the medical profession could no longer offer corrective remedies to mom’s stokes. They could test and tell us that she had HAD a stroke but they could not prevent them or correct them. Mom was also more adamant in her declaration that she wanted to go home. Candidly, the only hold out to bringing mom home sooner was her family’s response. The medical profession had months before stopped offering solutions and mom had been saying she wanted to go home for weeks; we were the ones trying to “give mom a chance”.

National Hospice groups have assembled a list of signs for the pre-active phase of dying. http://www.nhpco.org/templates/1/homepage.cfm  I recognized that Mom was experiencing some of the signs. She became agitated and confused in between long periods of sleep and lethargy.  She did not want to eat or drink and when she did at the behest of her family the food was unappealing to her.  At times her breathing was labored.  

Hospice is not in the dying business; they are in the living business. Their goal is to offer care and support to individuals on the end of life journey so that they may live as fully as possible until the very end.  They want to ease the burden of family members wherever possible.  But still there is resistance. Somehow we believe that if we don’t declare that mom is dying, than she won’t be dying. Unfortunately, too many of us wait too long to make the call. The national average for length of stay in a hospice program is 14 to 20 days.  But in reality, when families look back over the last few months of life for their loved ones, they acknowledge the process started a lot sooner.  

My mother is home; her family and friends can visit as they please. She is sleeping more and communicating less.  People who love her now surround her. I continue to pray that my family will love and support one another through this process but I rest easier knowing Hospice will be on hand to guide us on our journey. 

Feb
23

Seven Things To Do Before A Medical Emergency

by Christine

  1. Get your paperwork done.  Putting off thinking through and writing down your wishes now may lead to undue stress and hardship on your family and friends later. It may also mean that your thoughts and beliefs will not be honored. A Living Will and Health Care Proxy are two basic documents that most hospitals ask for on admission.  These forms can be found on the Internet and are free. Footsteps does not endorse any site but an example of a free site is http://www.doyourproxy.org/ 
  2. Know your insurance coverage. To really understand your coverage, it is necessary to read the policy and then talk to the insurance company. Call the company and ask to talk to someone in pre-authorization to understand what is covered and for how long.
  3. Select your rehabilitation center. Today, insurance companies are working to minimize costs so they push hospitals to move patients into a more cost effective situation as soon as a patient is “medically stable”. Rehab centers are an intermediate step when someone is really not ready to go home. Take the time now to find the rehab center that is right for you before you need one.
  4. Select your hospital.  Don’t rely on what your neighbor does, how close the hospital is to your home or what the ambulance driver suggests. Know why you would go to a particular hospital.  Hospitals specialize and they have personalities. Also, confirm that your doctors have privileges at the hospital you select. 
  5. Make a list of all the medications you are taking. This is one of the first questions that an emergency room physician will ask. Be sure your list includes the name of the drug as well as the dosage and how often your take it.  Additionally include on your list those drugs you are allergic to and be very specific as to what happens when you are given the offending drug.  You don’t want the hospital Pharmacist to rule out a whole class of drugs because you were too broad in your description.
  6. Select doctors that you trust and make a contact list for your emergency contact.  It is important to remember that you are building a healthcare team whose primary goal is to help you manage your healthThese folks will have your medical records and should know your wishes in terms of level of care. Once you build a team you trust, they need to be involved in caring for you.
  7. Get wearable identification. In November 2010, a car hit me while I was crossing the street.  I had stopped to take a few pictures of my mother’s childhood neighborhood and didn’t want to carry my purse so I left it in the car. Hours later I woke up in the hospital with a broken ankle and a good piece of my memory gone or scrambled.  After the accident, I started wearing an ID band. These are the bands that athletes wear so I don’t feel like such an old person. (Remember the commercial, “I have fallen and I can’t get up! One day I may need that technology but for now, I am wearing the “cool” stuff.)  You can have engraved a variety of information on the faceplate but normally it is emergency contact information and any allergies. Footsteps does not endorse any particular brand but I have attached a link to the company that was recommended to me by a marathon runner.  There are a variety of brands so I encourage you to find a “look” that works for you. http://www.roadid.com/Common/Default.aspx

Once you are in the paperwork zone, prepare your will.  It is amusing how superstitious reasonable people can be about preparing a will. I have a friend who was convinced that he would DIE if he put together a will. I explained to him that he WAS going to die whether he had a will or not so it was best that he just go ahead and prepare a will. 

Feb
09

Always Loved, Never Forgotten

by Kim Ray Moody

Valentine's Day is fast approaching. I remember going into a store in early January and feeling overwhelmed by the mirage of pink and red hearts, proclaiming Valentine's Day would soon be here. Christmas decorations were still up in many of my neighbor’s homes. But, not in mine. Not this year. Maybe next year? I can't really think that far ahead. When I try to look ahead, it makes my head hurt. It is easier to just not think about it. Not think about it? How can I not think about it? It consumes every part of my being. What or who is this powerful thing? It is called GRIEF. Even the sound of the word is sharp and jagged. It sounds like something that would hurt. Webster defines grief as "keen mental suffering or distress over affliction or loss." I define it as an empty place in my soul. I am told that grief is a natural and normal emotional reaction to our loss. But, I don't feel very normal. In fact, I feel like I have been thrust onto a fast moving train and I can't get off, no matter how hard I try. Isn't there a key I can turn or a brake I can push with my foot? When does this journey end? To figure out when this journey will end, I guess I have to go back to its beginning. Even though I don't really want to "go there."

I have learned that confusion is a by-product of grief. I find that I am even confused over when this journey began. Was it when the doctor walked around the corner of the curtain in the crowded ER room and I saw a sad look in his eyes, before he even spoke a word? Or was it months later, when the compassionate nurse hurriedly got the family out of the ICU room to go get dinner and then took my hand and said the words that are seared into my mind and heart forever, "Honey according to the machines we are watching, he's got about five minutes left. Why don't you crawl up in that bed with him and tell him anything you want him to know?" I did. I held him tightly and told him that I loved him. I could feel his heart beating next to mine. A heart that in just a couple of minutes would beat for the last time. I kissed those lips that had kissed mine a thousand times. Was it my imagination or did those lips kiss mine back? I'll never know. And then I said the words I knew he needed to hear, "It's okay. You can go now. Go be with your Mom. Go be with Jesus. I will be okay." And with that, he took his last breath and stepped into eternity. As he stepped into eternity, I stepped into my journey of grief. I was now a widow. There is another word that sounds sharp and jagged. Was I ready for the journey that lie ahead? I think not. Would I have rather simply buried my head in the pillow? Absolutely. It is too bad that life doesn't allow time for that.  Our world seems to rush everything. A quick check of standard bereavement leave policies show that many companies allow three days when there is a death in the family. Three days? That is hardly time enough to prepare for the funeral, much less time to grieve?

It can take weeks or even months for the heart to catch up to what the head already knows. Speaking of the heart reminds me again of Valentine's Day. And just yesterday, I was in the store again and to my amazement, Easter baskets and bunnies were displayed. And once again, I felt overwhelmed. I am left to wonder how long this journey of grief will last. Until then I will hold close to my family, my friends and my church. Without them, I would surely crumble. I am comforted by a verse from Jeremiah in the Bible. "I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow." Jeremiah 31:13. I am not told how long it will be until my mourning and sadness will be gone. But I am assured that it will happen. And that gives me hope. A hope that one day I will be able to enjoy the holidays again. For now, my memories envelop me. My dear sweet Robert is... Always Loved and Never Forgotten.

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Feb
07

This Is Life

by Christine

There is a doorman in our building in the City that had been aloof and cool towards me since we moved into our apartment four years ago. He was not unkind just distant. After he learned of my mom’s illness he came to me and earnestly shared with me his affection for his mom and family and his prayer that my mom would be okay. After one of Mom’s medical emergencies, I was leaving to go to Florida; he stopped me and spoke of the loss he felt when his own mother’s health was failing.  He wanted so desperately to help me find comfort when I looked up at him and said, “This is life”.  He responded, “Yes, this is life”. At that moment, he understood that I “got it”. 

It’s been seven months since Ed went in for the angiogram that started the family roller coaster ride. After Ed and Mom entered their respective rehab centers, my sister and I were able to return home. I have not seen my mom or brother for one month and daily, I fight feelings of guilt at not being in Jacksonville to monitor their situation. Every heath care professional we talked to tells us those patients who have family members that are visible get better care. I worry that both my mother and brother can’t represent themselves effectively right now but I can't walk away from my job, home and life without long term negative repercussions.  So the guilt. 

In addition to the guilt I feel sad when I think about my mom, alone in a rehab center that is starting to feel more like a nursing home than a temporary stop on her way back to her home of 40 years. We find it difficult to talk on the phone; her verbal skills are impaired. In the morning, she can communicate more clearly than in the afternoon but there is so little to share. At times, I wonder if she knows who I am.  She seems to forget who we are if we don’t have daily physical contact with her.  My brother had been unable to visit for days and she seemed confused when we mentioned him. 

My sister and I are working to figure out how to manage a life that is divided between two places and two sets of responsibilities.  The crisis point has passed but “life” did not revert back to what was before the medical emergencies.  We continue to sort out what is a real need and what is our own need to control. We had to go home and back to work, clean our own homes, take care of our children and husbands and we had to admit that we couldn’t do everything.

The authoritative advice given to caregivers who are managing long-term health care situations is, ask for help. Yes, that is good advice but how do you pass off the care of your mother to a neighbor or paid caregiver? How do you relax while wondering if your mom is afraid or lonely or if the insurance company is going to release your brother from rehab before he is really ready to go home? How do you manage the emotion that surrounds watching someone you love in physical jeopardy? 

Julia and I have slowly developed a “plan” to manage the new realities of life. We have agreed but have yet to test the idea that we both don’t need to be in Jacksonville at the same time during each medical flare up. We have divided responsibilities. She monitors Mom’s voice mail and returns calls and I interact with the rehab center. We set up a telephone tree so that key people have the information they need. Slowly we are building a structure to support life as it is now. But today, the real struggle is managing the guilt and sadness. The challenge is to find peace and joy in the midst of constant change and to remember that this is life.

Jan
26

Bringing the ‘Happy’ in Happy New Year!

by Sheila Delson

I recently taught a workshop on the topic of getting organized for the New Year at my local public library.  It is an exercise I do every year, mostly because I’m asked, but also because it is an opportunity for me to focus on my own ‘stuff’’ and confront the challenges that prevented me from doing things I wanted to do the previous year. 

The small room was filled to capacity and I could feel the sense of anticipation as I scanned the faces staring back at me. I found myself wondering if any New Year Resolution workshops were ever really effective, and why so many of us do this exercise year after year!  We are like anxious children waiting for Santa Clause to deliver our every wish…and of course we truly believe that this time will be different. I knew I wanted this workshop to be different too!  I wanted the outcome to be sustainable and uplifting so that when folks left that day they not only felt good about their thoughts and decisions, but also motivated to see them through!  

Of course I was prepared!  I had all my handouts and work sheets and my white board pens; I knew exactly how I would present this workshop and what I would speak about.    But how could I make this one different so the outcome could be more effective?  As I stood there waiting for one last person to take his seat, it suddenly hit me - an ‘Ah-Ha’ moment! 

The usual focus for New Year Resolution talks is from the perspective of “What new or different things do you want to happen in your life in the next 12 months?”  While that is still an appropriate question, without an emotional (feel-good) attachment to those objectives however, the focus of that question often presents itself from a place of demand, drained energy and interest, unrealistic expectations, frustration, sabotage and resulting disappointment.  Instead, I decided to change my approach.  After a brief introduction and icebreaker, I asked the group to pull out their handouts and turn to the page that says “Goals and Objectives.” I asked them to cross off those words and replace them with “Little and Big Things That Made Me Happy in 2011.”  Instantly the energy in the room shifted.  People began to smile with sounds of “Oooh” as their pencils wiggled upon the worksheet.  I told them that tonight’s class would focus on extracting all the things that made them HAPPY or ‘feel really good’ last year, and how they could bring those or similar things into tonight’s class so they could create a plan to replicate a similar outcome in 2012…making 2012 a much happier year to look forward to!

The remainder of the work sheets facilitated a similar process to the usual list making of activities, needed tools and timelines.  The actual ‘New Year Resolution’ process was the same, but the motivating factor for achieving success was different.  The participants were energized with their memories and outcomes, making the room all a-buzz with chatter.  Their goals were no longer drudgery thoughts filled with doubt and cynicism.  Instead their ideas and thoughts were about real personal experiences, experiences that were rewarding and made them feel, well…HAPPY, which meant that focusing on creating similar experiences were actually attainable.  It is possible the reason so many New Year resolutions peter out by March is because we’ve ignored the importance of attaching a positive emotional feeling to our goals based on something we’ve already experienced.  At the close of the workshop I was asked if we could all meet again so they could all share their results with one another.  We agreed to meet every quarter as an accountability check-in.  I was moved by their genuine sense of confidence and enthusiastic willingness to commit to one another!  Motivation to achieve a specific goal is better realized and sustained when emotionally driven.

As a professional organizer I learned something very valuable that day.  I learned that different roads can lead to the same destination, and sometimes with greater results if one is willing to blaze a different path. Being and getting organized is about flexibility, and a willingness to look beyond the standard, or the obvious.  Instead of only focusing on what isn’t working with a client, I ask them to tell me what IS working for them, and we use those positives as a springboard toward their vision and hopes. It is that same concept that was applied to that day’s workshop, and with powerful results.  

Of course my workshop scenario may not be fitting for all ‘New Year’s Resolutions,’ and of course there is ample room for other thoughts and ideas on the subject. This is just one approach I found to be effective.  By bringing positive events from the past and acknowledging them in the present, we can create a plan to help ensure similar results into the future. 

May your happy events from last year continue throughout the year that follows.  Make yours a very “Happy New Year,” 1012!

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