Changes and Resolutions

ResolutionsThere is an inspiring and sentimental story I’ve heard and read.  It’s commonly used by speakers and preachers, and I’m not sure it’s completely true.  But I’m going to tell it anyway.

The Story of Annie

In the late 1870’s, a young girl, known to most as “Annie” was living in an almshouse, which also served as a mental hospital.  Annie was half-blind, subject to fits of anger and was being kept in a cage to keep her from harming herself and others.  She could also take notions of ignoring the presence of others and refusing to communicate or follow any instructions.  She lived in dark and filth.

An old nurse had a fondness for Annie.  She saw some spark in her.  And she knew how hard life had been for her.  So she took to visiting Annie each day at lunch.  She’d talk to Annie about mundane things, just the usual makings of conversation.  Annie would apparently ignore her.  Undeterred, she came back day after day.

One day, the old nurse left a brownie outside the girl’s cage.  The girl ignored it, but when the nurse came back the next day, the brownie was gone.  So, each day after that, the nurse would leave a brownie.

After a while, the staff started noticing changes in Annie.  Within a few months, Annie was released from the cage a changed person.  More communicative, cooperative, in control.

What is particularly poignant about the story is that the girl in question was Anne Sullivan, who went on to become a teacher of the blind and to mentor Helen Keller.

The Point of the Story: Small Actions Lead to Big Changes

This story has been used to make a variety of points.  The point I want to use it for is what it says about change.

I’m writing this article just after the turn of the new year.  This is a time when many have made great promises about the great changes they have resolved to make during the coming year.  (Most of the resolutions are about weight loss, but that’s a different story.)

Change doesn’t happen in huge chunks.  Annie wouldn’t have been better changed by a plate of a dozen brownies once a week.  Big change happens with consistent repetitions of small changes.  And the right changes.  At the right time.

By “small changes,” I mean “small actions.”  Change is an active process.

Also remember that the brownies were not the only small changes.  Everything started with the nurse consistently, patiently using her lunch time to visit Annie.  Giving the girl evidence of being cared for every single day.

Make Small, Action-Oriented Resolutions and You’ll Be Successful

If you want to make changes in yourself, start with some small activity that, combined with other activities, will eventually lead to the larger change.

If you want, for example, to lose weight, you might start by finding out how many calories you eat each day and limit yourself to 200 calories less.  So, if you eat 2500 calories a day now, you could just limit yourself to 2300 until you are comfortable with that.

As another example, if you want to be a good time manager, but you live pretty chaotically now, you could start by learning to write down one — just one — item you want to remember to do each day.  You wouldn’t start by trying to keep a full-fledged to do list.

Change is hard.  You don’t start from being like a caged animal and jump right to going to graduate school.

You’re probably eager to get on with your New Year’s resolutions.  Just remember to start from where you are now.

Christmas Chaos Time Management

alarm clock in a Santa hatIt’s the holiday season. Do you wonder how anyone can manage the time to get everything together in an organized, sane fashion during days that seem crazily demanding?  Is there more pressure on you to perform, yet more interference with your ability to do so?  Does one obstacle after another keep popping up?

Every day, I’m reminded that when I talk about time management to folks, I have to be very careful about how I explain the need to plan, organize and follow up.  Because in talking about what you can do, you might get the impression that you’re expected to control a lot more than you can.

(Time management is a misnomer anyway. I continue to use it because most people think of the processes I’m talking about as time management. So forgive me if you know better than to think you can actually manage time.)

But, back to my point: one of the things I constantly say is that much of what happens in your plans, organization, scheduling and “time management” isn’t actually in your hands.

No matter how well you plan and prepare, you do not live in a vacuum.  Other people make mistakes, change their minds, change their processes or simply have no adequate response for situations they create for you.

I have a little story about something that just happened to me to illustrate.  It’s the kind of thing that happens in both workaday situations and in significant ones.  My situation was quite unremarkable.  You’ve undoubtedly had experiences like this too.  And the same sorts of things happen in more important issues.  So, let’s take this one we can laugh at as a minor frustration.

My experience was doing the “simple” task of sending out holiday cards.

Before the end of November, I designed my holiday greeting cards and went to to get them printed as usual.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t get my cards printed the way I wanted them.  So, I redesigned them in accordance with their printing requirements.  Then I found that they no longer will ship them to me with the envelopes stamped and addressed.  (They will, however, still print, stamp and send them directly to your mailing list. But I insist on checking them out first.)

So, I went to my back up provider,

Zazzle won’t print the envelopes either, but they will print my card exactly as I want it.

The order arrived in plenty of time for me to get the envelopes addressed, stamped and sent.  But, they weren’t my cards.  Some mail room clerk had put someone else’s cards in my package.

Zazzle was very apologetic and sent out a new order right away.  Yikes, now I was behind time, and it took them just as long to replace the order as to get me the package in the first place.  So, it was the middle of December instead of the first week.

Next, I started to print mailing labels and found that because I don’t use them regularly, their “sticky” was all gone.  And it was Saturday in the middle of December.  Yeah, you can’t even get a place in the parking lot for an Office Depot or Office Max because of all the shoppers at all the other stores.  So, I opted to wait for early Monday morning to get new labels.  And yes, I thought about hand addressing everything, but figured that nothing was going out until Monday anyway.

So, there I was sending out cards on December 16 and hoping that they would arrive before the 25th.

I plan, I organize and I follow up.  I have both a routine for getting things done and back-up plans for when things go wrong.  But like everyone else, I have to rely on other people, other organizations, other systems.  I can’t control anyone but myself.  I can’t control time — only my actions.  And I can’t have all the information I need to make the exactly right decisions, but rather the best decisions I can make under any given circumstances.

This is the critical message I try to get through to folks when I talk about their responsibilities for managing their time, life and behavior.  You are responsible for your decisions and actions in large things and small.  And you are responsible for how you react to the results. And yes, other people do steal your time and interfere with your ability to complete other tasks while you are dealing with their mistakes.

But you are not responsible for what other people do.  Just for dealing with it as best you can.

Accept that. Then learn what you can from whatever went wrong and let it go.  The more important the issue is and the bigger the mistakes, the harder it may be to let it go.  Especially if you get the blame for the consequences of the other people’s mistakes. But you must let it go or you’ll become responsible for the consequences of hanging on to it.

Or you could transform it by leveraging it as an article for your blog. 😉

Stop Thinking Grumpy.

box with children's crayonsA young mother was cleaning her kitchen one bright Saturday morning while her daughter sat at the table making “art” with crayons and paper.

The woman was annoyed with her husband, who’d opted for a golf date instead of helping with chores and shopping. They both had a tough work week and the woman was understandably tired and disappointed. She cleaned and straightened while muttering to herself about her husband, her boss, her work and all the ways she’d ever been put upon by inconsiderate people.

Finally, the five-year-old daughter looked up and said, “Mommy, don’t be so grumpy!”

Realizing she’d been complaining aloud, the mother was immediately contrite about inflicting her bad mood on her child. “Oh, honey, I’m sorry. I’m just tired.”

The girl just look at her seriously and advised, “Maybe you wouldn’t be so tired if you stopped thinking so many grumpy things.” She paused thoughtfully and then offered, “Here’s a nice yellow crayon.”


Being in a bad mood affects your own outlook, performance and productivity. It also affects the ability of others around you to focus on their work and feel good about what they’re doing.

The most common way of keeping a bad mood going is to continue to obsess about the things that led to it. That leads to making the mood even blacker by thinking more and more about other similar events. Eventually you get an entire “kitchen sink” of depressing and angry thoughts.

Even a five-year-old can figure out what you need to do: stop the process, stop thinking your grumpy thoughts and get yourself a nice yellow crayon to lighten your mood.