Use Your New Year’s Resolutions to Give Up Stuff That Doesn’t Matter

This is the time of year when our thoughts turn to resolutions for the next twelve months.  This year I also considered what to give up for New Year’s. Two articles drove my thinking, the first being 13 Things You Should Give Up If You Want to be Successful. I realize that the title is designed to pull you in…and I took the (click) bait.  Nonetheless, there were some interesting suggestions (and corresponding quotes), including;

  • Give up your perfectionism (“Shipping beats perfection.”)
  • Give up your need to control everything (“Some things are up to us, and some things are not up to us.”)
  • Give up the toxic people (“Stay away from negative people. They have a problem for every solution.”)
  • Give up your need to be liked (“You can be the juiciest, ripest peach in the world, and there’s still going to be people who hate peaches.”)

The second article was from Robert Glazer’s Friday Forward blog entitled Why You Need a Stop Doing ListHe notes that, “The most successful people and businesses know how to focus on what needs to get done and what they need to stop doing to make that happen.”  Glazer is especially focused on the excuse of being too busy to get the right things done.

DJB Fly Fishing and casting

Say Yes to Things That Matter

Saying no to something allows you to say yes to things that matter.  Author Rebecca Solnit, in her book The Faraway Nearby, describes how she finally said no to the inner voice of her mother in order to get to the yes of living her own life.

“That yes (to accept a spur-of-the-moment trip down the Grand Canyon) was a huge landmark in my life, a dividing point.  I’d wrestled against the inner voice of my mother, the voice of caution, of duty, of fear of the unknown, the voice that said the world was dangerous and safety was always the first measure and that often confused pleasure with danger…(the voice that) feared mistakes even when the consequences were minor.  Why go to Paradise when the dishes weren’t done?  What if the dirty dishes clamor more loudly than Paradise?”

Figure out what to give up that is wasting your time, as if you think you have time.  Which dirty dishes in your life are clamoring more loudly than Paradise?  As that great American philosopher Mae West said, “You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.”

Have a great week and a 2019 where you say “yes” to the things that matter.

More to come…


Farewell 2018, Hello 2019

It is that time of year, dear readers, when I look back over the past twelve months, assess progress (or lack thereof) against my goals, and think ahead for 2019.  Careful readers know that for several years I have worked with a set of life rules (rather than annual resolutions) for living the next third of my life.  This review is just one small part of an exercise to have an honest conversation with myself, so I’ll be able to have real conversations with the larger world.  We don’t do enough looking at our uncertainties and vulnerabilities, sometimes choosing as an alternative getting angry at others—which hinders real understanding.  Steve Almond, in the book Bad Stories, asserts that’s true because we take our grievances seriously but not our vulnerabilities.  In the 2017 essay “Facing the Furies” (found in the collection Call Them by Their True Names:  American Crises and Essays), Rebecca Solnit frames it this way:

“. . . more often, lashing out is a way to avoid looking inward. A 2001 study by Jennifer Lerner and Dacher Keltner found that feeling angry made people as optimistic about the outcome of a situation as feeling happy.  In other words, anger may make people miserable, but is also makes them more confident and crowds out other, more introspective miseries: pain, fear, guilt, uncertainty, vulnerability.  We’d rather be mad than sad.”

2018 was another strange year in America, where anger and grievances (real and perceived) took center-stage in too many instances.  You know it is a strange year when Dave Barry can’t make-up fake year-in-review anecdotes that are any funnier, scarier, and/or weirder than real life.  But worse than strange, the year brought actions that lead many to question whether we’ve completely lost our way as a country.  I have to go with Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts, Jr., who recently wrote “This was a godawful year . . . and that leaves me full of hope.”

“. . .hope, one hopes, will breed new activism and involvement, will help people who may not have considered politics before to realize that they have the ability and the responsibility to create government that looks like all of us and reflects the majority’s values. Maybe this, in turn, will breed more waves of youth, femininity and color, as more of us decide to take America at its word about forming that more perfect union.”

While 2018 at home and work was a time of tremendous transition, I also head into 2019 with hope.  Hope for the people I love and for the causes and country that are important to me.  Hope that I will continue to understand more about what brought me to where I am today and where I want to go in the future.  Because, of course, hope demands things that despair does not.

Brown family (credit: John Thorne)

The Browns – looking forward to 2019! (photo credit: John Thorne)

So, how did I fare on my eight life rules I stare at every morning on my computer wallpaper?  Here is a short summation.

1. Be Grateful. Be Thankful. Be Compassionate.  Every Day.  Several years ago I made it a habit to say thank you to one person each day, and that simple habit has made me richer in spirit.  In 2018 I kept up that habit and made progress in being more intentional about gratefulness, thankfulness, and compassion. Being grateful, thankful, and compassionate is, to me, about equality. If we are honest with ourselves, we realize that we are all in this life together.

2.  Exercise six days a week for the rest of your life. Last year I wrote that I was going to keep the cartoon in mind where the doctor asks his middle-aged male patient, “Which is more inconvenient for you: 1 hour a day of exercise or 24 hours a day of dead?”  In 2018 I built a daily ritual of long-distance walking into my mornings which has been very satisfying.  But I have to focus on Rule #5 for this to really have an effect.  My health has to become more of a priority in 2019.  Period.

3.  Listen more than you talk.  This is a tough one to measure, as few people will give you honest feedback (and few people have the same standard of what is too much talking).  So I’ll just repeat what I wrote last year:  “It is always a challenge when I find myself in a place of some authority (either at work or home) not to grab the bully pulpit.  While David Isay, the founder of Story Corps, says listening is hard, he also notes that listening is an act of love…an act that one never regrets.”  I do know of a number of instances this past year when I really listened, and for that I am grateful.

4.  Spend less than you make.  2018 was (yet) another year when I didn’t buy any new guitars! Seriously, I think I did well in this area, although when I do spend (e.g., good restaurants, good wine) I tend to treat myself and others well. I continue to adjust some of my expectations in order to live with much less regular income in the not-too-distant future.  I’m also thinking more about what to give away.

5.  Quit eating crap!  Eat less of everything else.  Well, I failed here. Bigly. When I go to “My Fitness Pal” and look at my weight trend line for the year, I had a very good first quarter, and then saw it slowly but relentlessly rise over the last three quarters.  Several years ago I successfully gave up drinking sodas (I had a several-Diet Cokes-a-day-habit), and now I have to get serious about some other things to give up completely.  See Rule #2 above.

Play more music

Play more music

6.  Play music.  I continue to believe that the world is a better place when I play music.  My music is better when I play with others.  However, when I look at my tracking charts for 2018, I only pulled out my guitars 2-3 days/week.  While I may not make it to every day in 2019, I’d like to open those cases and hear those strings sing at least five days a week.

7.  Connect and commit.  Over the years since I set these rules, we made progress as a family in gathering people together on a regular basis.  While that slipped some in 2017, I was able to get together more with colleagues from work in 2018.  Next year, I want to add more friends outside work to this equation. I’m going to push myself not just to think of getting together for dinners, but focus on talks over coffee and other less demanding yet ultimately satisfying connections.  I’m going to take some of my own recent advice when I find myself not knowing how to break the ice.  I’ll “simply walk up and say, ‘Tell me about yourself,’ (a.k.a. the only icebreaker you’ll ever need.)”

8.  Don’t be a Grumpy Old Man.  Enjoy life! This is not a concern on a daily basis, but more of a reminder that it can be easier to lose the joy of life as one moves through the years.  I’ve certainly seen my elders who have handled this coming period of life with grace and happiness, and others who feel entitled, bitter, and—yes—grumpy. During the winter months, I work very hard not to let my SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) symptoms show through to others. I also spent time this past year thinking about how much I still had to contribute in a range of life’s activities.  Others helped me remember—as Madeleine L’Engle has written—that “you are every age you’ve ever been.”  Living through what you know and who you have been from the years of life is a way to understand current circumstances and embrace new possibilities. That’s my goal in 2019 and beyond.

So there you have it.  2019?  Bring it on!

More to come…



Several years ago I stopped making New Years’ resolutions.  A recent New York Times article on making and keeping resolutions noted that one-third of our resolutions don’t make it to the end of January, while another Times article suggested that only 10% of resolutions are fully met by year’s end.  I’m proud to say I’ve kept my particular resolution since 2014!

What I did in 2014 was to set seven rules for how I wanted to live for the next third of my life, and I recently added an eighth.  Because they are part of my computer wallpaper, I look at them every day.  The one that generates the most comment is the last one, which is basically “Don’t be a grumpy old man.”  That may be a hard one for setting metrics (laughs per day?) but I basically know when I’m following this rule or when my crotchety index is on the rise.

Computer Wallpaper

My computer wallpaper with David’s Rules

Many of us make resolutions or set rules for our lives, counting on our willpower to reinforce good habits or to change bad habits we’ve allowed to fester over time.  I’ve written before about how habits are not destiny, and suggested the work of Charles Duhigg if you are interested in changing them.  However, an excellent New York Times op-ed reminds us that willpower isn’t the only path to success.  In fact, author David DeSento suggests that willpower is the wrong way to keep resolutions.  He asks why, after decades of a self-help industry that promotes willpower, little has changed in many of our lives.

 “The answer, I contend, is that this view of self-control is wrong. In choosing to rely on rational analysis and willpower to stick to our goals, we’re disadvantaging ourselves. We’re using tools that aren’t only weak; they’re also potentially harmful. If using willpower to keep your nose to the grindstone feels like a struggle, that’s because it is. Your mind is fighting against itself. It’s trying to convince, cajole and, if that fails, suppress a desire for immediate pleasure. Given self-control’s importance for success, it seems as if evolution should have provided us with a tool for it that was less excruciating to use.

I believe it did; we’re just ignoring it. That tool is our social emotions. These are the emotions — things like gratitude and compassion — that support the positive aspects of social life. For years I’ve been studying the effects of these emotions on decision-making and behavior, and I’ve found that unlike reason and willpower, they naturally incline us to be patient and persevere. When you are experiencing these emotions, self-control is no longer a battle, for they work not by squashing our desires for pleasure in the moment but by increasing how much we value the future.”

DeSento, a professor of psychology at Northeastern University, wraps up his article by noting,

“Cultivating the social emotions maximizes both our “résumé virtues” (those that underlie professional success) and our “eulogy virtues” (those for which we want to be remembered). In nudging the mind to be more patient and more selfless, they benefit everyone whom our decisions impact, including our own future selves. In short, they give us not only grit but also grace.”



My journals, where I track progress against my life rules

Happy New Year with special wishes for progress against whatever resolutions or life rules you have set for yourself.

More to come…


Farewell 2013; Hello 2014

Brown Family December 22, 2013
It is the season for musing on the year that is rapidly passing away and making resolutions for the year ahead.  I tend to use this blog to reflect on items throughout the year (see – among many others – thoughts on the Presidential Inaugural Prayer Service, preseason baseball, wonderful European travel, fathers, live music set in the midst of the beautiful Shenandoah Valley, “stay-cations”, holiday weekends, our year in photos, and 21st birthday celebrations.) So I have only one additional reflection today…but I have several resolutions.  I’ve found that when I call out my resolutions publicly, I tend to keep them.  (Funny how that works!)  But first, let’s look back.

I am a lucky man.  The picture above pretty much explains it all.  As Claire and Andrew have passed significant life milestones, I have often written about my wonderful children.  They aren’t perfect, but they do give me a great deal of pleasure (when they aren’t driving me crazy.  Have you seen those rooms!?!) However, I’ve been reminded over this holiday season how lucky I am – in fact how lucky the three of us are – to have Candice in our lives as wife and mother.  I like the Urban Dictionary definition of “marrying up” – as they note that “back in the day this would have been used of marrying someone higher up in society, but nowadays it’s just generally when someone is punching above their weight in the romance department.”  That fits me to a T.

We have had a wonderful holiday season in 2013 due – in large measure – to Candice and the way she is so intentional about our life today.  Because the twins’ birthday comes close to Christmas Day, we’ve traditionally focused more on Advent during December, leaving the decorations, gifts, and parties until the 25th and the 12 days of Christmas.  And this year, we had an especially thoughtful Advent season, that included daily reflections; lots of music, including Andrew’s solo in Messiah, two different services of Lessons and Carols, and the traditional Institute of Musical Tradition holiday concert with the talented Robin Bullock; time to reflect with friends; and wonderful meals both at home and in some great restaurants.  (Check out Gracie’s if you are ever in Providence, and then eat breakfast and lunch in their affiliated bakery, named Ellie’s.  Candice found them both – Gracie’s on our last trip and Ellie’s on this visit – and I’ve seldom eaten so well!)

This year Candice has led the family renaissance in health. After working faithfully on a daily basis to come back from her double whammy of severe concussion and hip replacement, she has supported me as I’ve tried to live a more healthful life.  (More on that below.) With her intentional focus, she has reached out to friends and has made connections a big part of our life as empty nesters. My job wouldn’t be as satisfying without Candice’s support – from listening to concerns to cheering success stories and commenting on upcoming speeches. She keeps the business part of the family on track, which is a big relief to all four of us. When the heating system decides to die (as it did this fall), Candice plays the role of general contractor in researching the new equipment and getting all the workers to the right place at the right time.  She doesn’t have many flaws, but she does have a few.  She can’t carry a tune in a bucket.  (She’s like my father in that respect.)  But even that has been good for me, as she thinks I’m a great guitar player and she has supported my mid-life crisis-fueled Guitar Acquisition Syndrome with gusto.

For this holiday season, we’re continuing a tradition of having a special family celebration for each of the 12 days of Christmas. This was Candice’s idea, and she makes sure it takes place each year.  On Christmas Day 2013 we helped serve food at our parish’s Christmas dinner for the homeless and those in the neighborhood who don’t have anyone else to celebrate with, then we had a family friend over for dinner and a film. The day after – we simply made sure we exercised!  Yesterday, we celebrated over lunch with Andrew’s godparents.  Tonight, we’ll all take in a play at Arena Stage.  You get this gist…just a little something nice on each day to celebrate community, family, friends, and the season.

I’ll end this reflection of 2013 where I began.  I am a lucky man.  Thank you, my love.

New years bring new resolutions.  I have found that if I make a resolution public then I keep it – such as stating on my then-Facebook page in February of 2012 that I was giving up sodas.  I haven’t had a drop of soda in almost two years (and I had a 2-4 Diet Coke-a-day habit) and I feel much better.  So here goes.

As I began 2013, I resolved privately – with a great deal of help and prodding from Candice – to focus on my health.  My excuse was that in helping to bring Candice back from her injuries, I had let myself go. But that didn’t do much for me.  I was fluctuating between 210 and 220 pounds – well above where I should be – and simply wasn’t feeling well much of the time.

But after a commitment to go six months with a personal trainer (then extended for the rest of the year…and then on into 2014), I kept that resolution.  At the end of the year I weighed 15 pounds less than at the beginning of the year (and was fluctuating between 187 and 197…a significant improvement!  I was visiting the gym on average five days a week. At the beginning of the year I didn’t even know what a “plank” was…now I can hold one for a while before I collapse. Thanks to Sue Immerman at MAD Fitness, Washington Sports Club, and Tanya Colucci at Transform Holistic Healing and Wellness Studio, I’ve made some progress on this front.

So my first resolution is to continue last year’s resolution.  I hope to end 2014 another 15 pounds down from where I am now, and to solidify the change in lifestyle.

Several years ago, Candice saw the authors of Younger Next Year:  A Guide to Living Like 50 Until You’re 80 and Beyond on television, and bought me the book.  I was just turning 50 at the time, and while I was a little overweight, I didn’t feel like I was terribly out of shape. So I read the book, agreed with much I read, and then proceeded to live the way I had for the previous decade. Life was too busy.

But this year, I went back and re-read the book.  58 was much more difficult for me than 49. The book – geared toward men – focuses on exercise, looks, life commitments, and more. I loved the no-nonsense advice of this book – written by a retired lawyer and a young doctor – for the Next Third of your life. My all-time favorite in the chapter entitled “The Ugly Stick and Other Curiosities”: Just Say No to Yasir Arafat.

You may be tempted, particularly when you’re not going to the office every day, to forget about shaving.  Don’t. You may think “Bruce Willis!” but you may look “Yasir Arafat!”

Younger Next Year has seven “rules” for living the Next Third.  I’ve taken those, plagiarized some directly, reworked others a bit, and added some just for me. They’ve become my resolutions for the year(s) ahead, and they are now my computer wallpaper – the first thing I see when I boot up in the morning.  I’ll share them here, with a little explanation.

1.  Exercise six days a week for the rest of your life.  This is also the first rule in YNY.  The book makes the point that exercise tells the body to grow.  Sitting too long tells the body to decay.  My inspiration here is my father, Tom Brown.  He often says that the membership we gave him to the YMCA at age 70 saved his life.  Dad – who was not the picture of health at the time – now goes to the gym six days a week and has done so for the past 18 years.  He can’t hear worth a darn (and could never carry a tune), but he’s very healthy for someone who turned 88 last July.

2.  Listen more than you talk.  This is one I added just for me.  When you are in an executive position (be it at work or just as a parent), the temptation is to enjoy the sound of your own voice.  As I’ve become older, I have realized that I need to read this every morning before starting the day, as a good reminder.

3.  Spend less than you make. This is another direct take from YNY but it is important for me. I have found that as our financial position becomes more comfortable, I worry less.  That’s good, but it also leads to dumb decisions about money.  (Some would suggest I look at the G.A.S. post above.) In thinking about sustainability (personally as well as with the family, community, and planet), this just makes sense.

4. Quit eating crap!  Eat less of everything else.  The first is a direct quote from the YNY rules.  The second is my addition to remind myself that I can survive on a lot less food than I normally put into my body on a daily basis.  It would be more politically correct to use Michael Pollan’s famous, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” But I inevitably understand what is the crap I should keep out of my mouth (e.g., french fries) and when I think of it that way, it can tend to have more impact.

5.  Play music. He who sings, prays twice. I’ve decided that this is going to be a perpetual resolution. Music is one of the key things that feeds my soul.

6.  Connect and commit.  While this is taken directly from YNY, Candice could have helped me write this one. The authors devote an entire chapter to this critical issue of relationships, with sub-sections entitled “Cuddle or Perish,” “Don’t Retire at All,” “Using the Other Side of Your Brain,” “Make a Job Out of Your Social Life,” and “Just Say ‘Yes’.”  As someone who has to be prodded on occasion to accept social engagements, this is an important reminder.  Just since putting it up on my list, I’ve taken some steps in this direction.

7.  Don’t be a Grumpy Old Man.  Enjoy life!  I’ve never enjoyed being around older folks who gripe. (Actually, I’ve never enjoyed being around younger folks who gripe either!) But it is easy, as one gets older, to think you have all the answers.  That’s one of the great things about having kids. Mine remind me all the time that I don’t know squat about so many things in life.  But as I started the post on this note, I want to end here by remembering that I am a lucky man.  I have a great wife and children, a father who is still going strong at 88 and a mother-in-law who is a joy in our lives, a caring extended family, a wonderful set of friends, a challenging and satisfying job with fantastic and smart colleagues, and a wonderful community.  I have (most of) my wits.  I can still play a decent guitar, even if I have given up the dream of flat-picking like Doc Watson, and while I can no longer hit the high notes, I still sing a respectable tenor and do so with gusto when I know the song (to the embarrassment of my children). I love a good joke and like to laugh. Washington has a good professional baseball team and I get to share in a season-ticket package with good friends. My wife is an amazing cook and we both enjoy good food and wine on an almost nightly basis. Our house is not big, but it is big enough. I could go on and on.

So there they are…some resolutions (or musings) for 2014. Now that I’ve put them out there, feel free to let me know when I fall short (as I will). But also, if something strikes you as worth doing, feel free to take it and call it your own.

Happy New Year!

More to come…