*Pause and Reset*

I first started A Life You Want back in 2012. At that time it was a way to reach out and help others take charge of their lives. I had been struggling in my own life, and I had learned a lot through my efforts to turn things around. I wanted to help others do the same.

The posts that you’ve seen up to this point are from the first year of that original blog. It is these posts that were revised and compiled into books. Following that first year I ventured into a more personal approach, though I ultimately decided to separate that from A Life You Want, and I created A Life I Want, which tracks my own life and changes. A Life You Want then faded away, lost amidst the busy-ness of my personal life.

Following these changes, the original blog was lost, but the desire to help others remained. I knew I had insight I could share with others who were struggling as I had. And, while I am still working on getting my own life where I want it to be, I knew I had something to say, and tools and resources to offer. And so A Life You Want was reborn.

I felt it important to share the original posts, as they had useful information that could get readers started on their journeys. And, as I’ve typed up these posts again to share, I’ve found they’ve helped me, too! Looking back at words I had written, reminding myself of advice and suggestions and resources I had shared, has awakened a new motivation to succeed. I have a long way to go in my own journey, even as I offer guidance to others.

But a year’s worth of posts is just a beginning. I am now creating a website beyond the blog, with tools and resources and additional information and support. This website will be found at www.ALifeYouWant.com, and it launches May 1, 2018.

I hope you will join me on this journey. It has been a fulfilling, amazing ride thus far, and I know the future is even brighter. So read through the original posts. Then visit http://www.ALifeYouWant.com on May 1, and we can take on the future together. It’s time to take charge of our lives!

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Inspiration From Fred Kofman

“Every result you get in your life is the combination of the challenge you receive from the reality around you and your capacity to respond to that challenge.” ~Fred Kofman

We discussed previously how success is determined not by the opportunities you are presented with, but how you respond to those opportunities. This quote goes hand in hand with that.

This quote, I believe, takes it one step further, though. It’s easy to say you’ll think positively and take advantage of every situation. But if you’re not properly equipped to take advantage of that opportunity — if you don’t have the “capacity to respond” — you may still fail. That is why you must equip yourself — with not only a positive attitude, but also the tools, skills, and ability to succeed. Learn all you can about the changes you want to make and where you want to end up. Get the experiences you need, the support system to help you, and the resources available at a moment’s notice.

Life is full of challenges, but if you’re able to respond with skill and ambition, you can turn those challenges into opportunities. Having the tools in place to take advantage of what life throws at you can ensure that when that challenge — that opportunity — appears, you’re ready to tackle it.

Making a Difference: The Holidays

When the holidays arrive, whether or not you celebrate a religious holiday, the truth of the matter is a lot of organizations kick into high gear when it comes to donations, volunteering, and gathering recognition for their causes. As a result, it’s a great time of year to really participate and make a difference.

From your local boy scout troops to national organizations, it seems everyone has a food drive. It isn’t difficult to find a way to donate nonperishable food items to those in need. But you can also try contacting some of the organizations taking donations and seeing if they need help in sorting and distributing donations. The more successful a drive, the more help they’ll need — and they’ll be grateful for volunteers.

Along the same lines are gift drives — from boxes accepting unwrapped toys to giving trees to working with your local social services department to “adopt” a family for the holidays. Depending on how involved you want to be, you can donate to your heart’s content, or, again, contact the organizations sponsoring the donations and help with sorting and distributing.

If you’re great at selling, you can turn your talents toward something like being a bell ringer for Salvation Army to solicit donations. Or you can help an organization selling poinsettias, wreaths, or other holiday goods to bring in funds.

If you have children in school, you can try contacting the Parent-Teacher organization to help with bake sales, gift fairs, and other events this time of year. Or you can contact the leaders of any organizations your child may belong to and help with fundraisers or events to raise money.

As the weather gets colder, many places — such as shelters and soup kitchens — see an influx of people seeking assistance. You can try volunteering or donating to such organizations to help with this increase. You can also turn to your neighbors to see if anyone needs help with last-minute raking, snow shoveling, or errands.

Keep your eyes open for places looking for donations or volunteers — or any other kind of help. The opportunities are endless!

Your Health: Holiday Binging

When the holidays approach, the focus starts shifting to two things: gifts and food. And when it comes to food, well, let’s just say we won’t exactly be lacking. In addition to the feasts on the holidays themselves, we’re bombarded with treats leading up to them: pies and cookies and all sorts of sweet and succulent temptations. It’s far too easy to go overboard. How do we stay on track with our health goals?

I am of the mindset that you shouldn’t deprive yourself. If you truly want something, forcing yourself not to have it often has the opposite effect of the desired: you want it even more, and eventually go on a binge, resulting in more consumed calories than if you had simply had a small portion of the item you desired in the first place. That bein said, going crazy and eating everything that looks or sounds good is not the right course of action, either. You need to evaluate what you want most, and focus on portion control: a single cookie instead of a plateful, a small slice of pie or cake, a lone pastry. Satisfy the craving, and move on.

Despite the plethora of treats, meals around the holidays often also have assorted not-as-bad-for-you options. Thanksgiving’s main attraction is turkey, and if you stick with white meat, it’s very low in fat. You can also opt to load up your plate with vegetables (whole, not candied or casseroled!) and perhaps a small portion of a whole grain or complex carbohydrate to round out the meal. Avoid filling up with breads and sweetened sides, which are filled with empty calories.

Another method I’ve heard is to eat before you go to holiday events. Fill up with a salad or other healthy option before you go to that party or meal, and you won’t be as tempted to grab everything you see — you’ll already be pretty full, so you’ll only have a small portion of whatever looks best.

The most important thing is to keep your eye on the prize. Remember why you’re trying to lose that weight or get healthy. Is having another cookie worth faltering in that goal? Take action to remind yourself every time you go to reach for something. Keep a note or picture in your pocket, so you can pull it out periodically as a reminder. Or if there’s someone with you who knows about that goals, have that person be your conscience — and tape the back of your hand every time you try to grab something you shouldn’t. Stay focused on your ultimate goal, and you can more than survive — you’ll succeed!

Your Relationships: Surviving the Holidays

The holidays are a wonderful time of year to spend time with your loved ones. But if your family life involves more fighting than laughing, your love life is nonexistent, and your friends are all busy with their own lives, you may find yourself with a lonely, awkward, or miserable holiday. How can you make it through?

Family
Hopefully, if you’ve been working on your relationships through the year, things may have gotten a little better. And the holidays can be the perfect time to make huge leaps forward as many people feel more generous and loving. When it comes to family, try talking to the people you have strained relationships with. Perhaps you can put the conflict aside for at least one day so everyone can enjoy themselves.

If that doesn’t work, you can also try simply making alternate plans. Just be careful not to slight the people you’re trying to reconcile with — that would set you back rather than move you forward. Have your alternate plans be an understandable choice: spending time with in-laws, volunteering to serve meals to the less fortunate, having a quiet day at home. If travel would have been involved, explain how you want to save money this year.

Love Life
Avoid sappy holiday movies! If you’re not in a relationship, they will likely only make you feel worse. Though if you’re in a strained relationship, they can perhaps remind you of the warm, fuzzy feelings you got in the beginning.

Either way, many associate this time of year with love, and if you’re not in a relationship, or in a strained relationship, that can be difficult to deal with. Try distracting yourself from your relationship status. Spend time with other family and friends, or volunteer to help the less fortunate. Focus on everything you do have, rather than how your life is lacking.

I would discourage you from setting up first dates for the holiday. In the event it goes badly, it will ruin your day. If you want to be with someone for the holiday, try having a couple of dates before the day hits first. See if you’re compatible before throwing them into the holiday mix.

Being Alone
If your primary concern is being alone — and lonely — for the holiday, the key is distraction. Look into local organizations who need volunteers for the holidays: soup kitchens, hospitals, etc. These places don’t close for the holiday, and may even be busier. Spread a little holiday cheer to those who need it even more than you, and you may just have a happy holiday yourself.

If volunteering isn’t your thing, line up things to do that you’ve been wanting to do but haven’t gotten a chance to. Not everywhere is closed for Christmas, but even if you decide to stay home, you have plenty of options: movies or TV shows to watch, video games to play, manicures and pedicures to give yourself, baking to do — the possibilities are endless. By planning out a day for yourself, you’ll have something to look forward to rather than dread. Enjoy the day off!

While in a picture perfect world the holidays would be spent surround by those we love, you can still have a happy holiday by yourself or with others. It’s all in the preparations and expectations.

 

Your Money: Holiday Budgets

I love the holidays. I love giving gifts. But when money is tight, I must admit that it’s not the best tie of year to be on a budget. So how do you make it through without feeling like a complete Scrooge?

Make the Cuts
The first step is to take a good hard look at your shopping list. Who do you usually buy for? It may sound heartless, but are there people you can cut out? Chances are you’re not the only one who could use a reprieve. Perhaps there are people you can talk to and arrange to not exchange gifts. Or for a group of friends, coworkers, or family members, try a Secret Santa exchange so each person only has to buy one gift, but everyone receives something. Another option — especially for families — is to only buy for the children, not all of the adults. Or plan a holiday gathering rather than gift exchange so you spend the holidays dwelling on the experiences and time together rather than the material possessions. Make it a potluck so everyone has the opportunity to contribute.

Specify a Price
Once your list has been pared down, it’s time to determine how much you’ll be spending on each person. Figure out how much you can spend overall for gifts, then break it down among the recipients. It doesn’t have to be an even split — those closest to you will likely receive the bulk of the budget. If you’re a bargain hunter, you can likely get away with spending a bit less while not looking cheap.

Stick to the Budget
The easiest way to make sure you adhere to your designated budget is to get it all in cash. When the cash is gone, you’re done. No ifs, ands, or buts. It helps you avoid the temptation of whipping out a credit card and going way over budget. To make it less messy, get an envelope for each person you’re buying for an insert their individual budget into the envelope. That way you can track how much you’re spending on each person and can make sure you’re not going over. (If you’re shopping online, it’s OK to use a card — just make sure you take the cash out of the appropriate envelopes and deposit it right into your bank account so you’re not tempted to spend more. Or, better yet, purchase a prepaid gift card or credit card with cash, and use that online.)

If you’re really not into cash, you can also use apps designed for gift giving. Browse the app store for your smartphone (or do an internet search for programs on your computer) and look for gift list tracking programs. Some will allow you to assign and track a budget for each person, or each group of people, so you can see how much you’re spending. Just don’t forget to insert all the items you purchase!

Go Shopping
Shop around before settling on a gift. Make sure you’re really thinking about what you would like to get each person. It’s easy to get into the “he would like this — but he would like this, too…and this, and this…” mentality when physically in a store. To avoid that, make a list of possible gift ideas before heading out and do some research to get a feel for how much they should cost you.

Some other tips:

  • If you’re buying online, don’t forget to take into consideration the cost of shipping, if applicable. It may not be the actual cost of the gift(s), but it’s still money you’re dishing out.
  • If money is really tight, avoid gift cards. They show exactly how much you spent and can make you look cheap if the amount isn’t “high enough.” Instead, look for less expensive gifts the recipient would enjoy.
  • Don’t forget gift wrap. Paper and bags cost money, too, and should be considered when calculating your budget.
  • When you’re out shopping, look for sales and deals to help you stay in budget. When you find a great deal, you have a couple of options: take the purchase price out of the budget for the recipient, or take the original price of the item out of the budget. If you take the original price out of the budget, you can use the difference to make up elsewhere where you may be lacking, or you can donate the difference to charity.
  • Consider making items rather than purchasing them. If you’re handy, you may be able to save money and give a more meaningful gift.

The Rest of It
The holidays are not all about the gifts. There are also the food, the decorations, the cards, the parties…and these all need budgets, too. As with the gifts, figure out exactly how much you can spend, then divide up the budget among the needs. It’s all about give and take. Can you settle for last year’s decorations so you can spend a little more on that special dessert for Uncle Fred? Can you cut down a little on baking so you can afford that gorgeous wreath for your front door? Determine your priorities and plan accordingly.

Plan Ahead
To make it hurt less next year, start planning ahead now. Set up a Christmas Club or other bank account and have money automatically transferred each week so you’ll have a lump sum available when the holidays hit. Shop sales after the holidays so you can stock up on cards and gift wrap when they’re cheap. And hey, while you’re at it, pick up any great deals you find throughout the year on actual gifts — you’ll be grateful you snagged them when it’s time to figure out next year’s budget!

Inspiration From Vauvenargues

“The greatest achievement of the human spirit is to live up to one’s opportunities, and make the most of one’s resources.” ~Vauvenargues

The advice in this quote is twofold: take advantage of opportunities, and make the most of your resources. Let’s look at each of them:

By realizing an opportunity when it presents itself, you’re acknowledging the potential to succeed. Take full advantage of that opportunity, and you’re bound to be successful. It isn’t just a question of seeing a possible opportunity; it’s about grabbing that opportunity by the horns and making it work for you.

How do you make it work for you? By using any resources you have at your disposal. Your skills and talents, your knowledge base, your network of friends, family, and colleagues: all will help you get where you want to go, and seeing these resources for what they are can help you make the most of opportunities as they become available.

Do that, and you just may reach your goals before you thought. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Making a Difference: Help Thy Neighbor

When people think about making a difference, they often think of the bigger groups and organizations that they can work with, volunteer for, or make donations to. Oftentimes, however, you can make an even bigger difference just by looking next door.

Someone doesn’t need to have gone through a horrible experience, natural disaster, or life-changing event to need a little assistance. And reaching out to those near you can have a more direct impact for both of you. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Elderly or disabled neighbors may need help with simple chores or projects: shoveling or raking, landscaping, even taking out the garbage. You can also help them with running errands, cooking meals, or cleaning house.
  • Parents of young children may need help with babysitting so they can get things done in or outside of the home, or just to spend time as a couple.
  • New parents, or anyone dealing with a family crisis, can benefit from home-cooked meals or help cleaning house as they struggle with new demands.
  • Children of busy parents may benefit from a mentor to help with homework or leaning life skills. You can even take it one step further and lead a scout troop or sports team.

Keep in mind, also, that someone doesn’t have to be in need to benefit from a good deed. No matter their lot in life, most people would appreciate a helping hand. Imagine waking up one snowy morning to find your driveway had been shoveled and car had been brushed off. Imagine opening your door to find a homemade treat resting on your doorstep with a note from your neighbor. Perhaps something as simple as someone taking your garbage cans off the curb.

Anything that eases the burden of those around you and brings a smile to their faces makes a difference. What can you do to help your neighbors?

Your Relationships: When to Move On

Whether it’s a romantic relationship or a friendship – or even a working relationship – it can be difficult to determine when it’s time to cut your losses and say good-bye. Below are some general guidelines to consider if you’re trying to decide. Of course there will always be exceptions, especially in a relationship that is longstanding and means a lot to you, but if you’ve gotten to the points where you’re considering cutting ties, these guidelines can help.

It’s just too much work

All relationships require work. But if it seems as if you spend all your time trying to salvage the relationship, you have to ask yourself: what is it you’re trying to salvage? Is there still enough there that’s worth holding on to, or are you just fighting for it because that’s what you’re used to doing? Relationships should be some work — but a lot of good times, too.

All give and no take

Relationships are partnerships, regardless of who you’re in a relationship with. They are about give and take, with each partner holding up their end of both. If you’re constantly giving everything to the other person — time, love, energy, money, support, etc. — and aren’t getting anything in return, that’s not a partnership — it’s a parasitic relationship. Though there will be times, such as during crises or emergencies, that the relationship becomes more one-sided, overall relationships should be mutually beneficial. If you reach out to someone in a time of need, that person should be willing to return the favor when you’re the one in need.

You’re just not happy

If on the surface everything seems to be perfect, but underneath you’re miserable, that’s not good, either. Relationships are about more than what’s on the surface. They should bring you some kind of fulfillment – whatever that kind of relationship is designed to fill. A relationship should add value to your life, and bring you happiness. If it’s not doing that, you need to ask yourself why.

Abuse

Not all kinds of abuse are easily identifiable, though if you’re in a relationship that is obviously mentally or physically abusive – get out! You deserve better. If you’re not sure, think about how you feel when you’re with the other person. Are you afraid? Do you flinch when he or she approaches? Do you hesitate from doing things because you’re concerned how the other will react? Have you distanced yourself from your friends? Even if the “good” times make you happy, if the “bad” times outweigh them — especially if you answered “yes” to any of the questions I just asked — you should seriously consider getting out of the relationship. Seek professional help if you need it. There are many resources available to people in abusive relationships, and you shouldn’t have to live in fear. Your life is precious, and you deserve to be happy.

Your Money: When to Spend

With all the talk about saving money and cutting back, you may find yourself thinking that spending more than the bare minimum is never a good thing. However, that’s not the case. There are many instances when spending a little — or even a lot — more makes the most sense.

When it comes to certain items, durability trumps cost. As such, when you’re shopping for something you plan on getting a lot of use out of — a car, furniture, clothes, etc. — shop by quality level, not by price tag. While spending a lot does not necessarily mean you’ll be getting the best quality, it’s not often that you’ll find the cheapest item to be, either. Do your research to determine which item will give you the most bang for your buck. Even if it’s not cheap now, it may still save you money in the long run: you won’t need to replace it as often, it will require less maintenance, and you’ll spend less time dealing with hassles. Of course if you only plan on using something a few times, by all means go cheap! And if you’re able to find a great deal on a high-quality item, don’t let a low price tag deter you.

I’m all about shopping around for the best deals. And it can be very tempting to go to a million different stores because each one has the best deal on something. But keep in mind not only the cost of your time, but also the cost of gas and wear and tear on your vehicle. It doesn’t make sense to go across town to save a little if you’re eating up the difference in gas! Weigh the pros and cons and determine what is truly the most cost effective option. You may end up spending a little more up front but saving more in the long run.

Perhaps most important of all — at least in my humble opinion — is the memory factor. Material items come and go, and any money spent on them will go as well. But memories last a lifetime, and money spent on them will, too. When it comes to experiences, vacations, events, etc., consider spending a little more. You don’t have to go all out to make great memories, but you don’t want your memories to be tainted by the fact that you were too cheap to do anything, either. Think about what you’ll really remember, and let that be your guide. The result can be the best use of your money yet.