It is the shortest day of the year, a good time to think of increase. Here's an article on how to dream big.
"The question_and it's one I don't have an answer for_is, Why don't people keep their New Year's resolutions?" said Chris Stout. "I speculate that people aren't that committed. Or perhaps they can't do it without help.
"People say that whatever is important will get done. That's basically true, but the things that fall along the wayside are important. But they haven't been programmed into your life."
That's what a life list can do. And when you're talking life lists, Stout is the man.
A clinical psychologist, clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Illinois College of Medicine and chief of psychological services for the State of Illinois, Stout has more or less built his life around a list he started when he was a teenager, a list that outlined things he wanted to see and do in his life. With some tweaking and massaging during the last 30 years, it has worked for him. He's not sure it would work for everyone, but a lot of folks_maybe even you_certainly could benefit.
"No, lists are not for everyone. No one should have a list if it would not be helpful for who they are," he said over lunch one day recently. "But for those for whom such a list or life blueprint would be helpful, it can lead to constructing a very full life with few `I wish-I-wuddas.' Many can do fine without, but for me I wouldn't want to leave everything to chance or fiat."
And not only can one of these lists be a plan for a person's life, but it also can help someone overcome difficult times, according to Pam Brill, a psychologist, author and head of In The Zone, a consulting firm (www.inthezoneinc.com) that works with people and organizations and helps them perform to capacity and reach their goals.
"I've worked with people in the corporate world who have been downsized and who needed a vision," Brill said from her New Hampshire home. "I've worked with clients who were facing genuine extreme challenges_I don't mean hanging from rocks, but who were facing life-threatening illness, life-altering trauma that had just blindsided them. And by having a life list, or what I call a life vision, it injected some meaning into what they were doing. It gave them something to look forward to in dark times."
Stout, 44, and a resident of Kildeer, Ill., got the idea for his list more than 30 years ago when he read a Life magazine article about adventurer John Goddard.
When he was a teenager, Goddard drew up a list of 127 things he wanted to accomplish in life. It included goals such as read the Bible cover to cover, run a 5-minute mile and ride an elephant, camel, ostrich and bronco.
A large number of the goals were more exotic, such as studying primitive cultures, climbing mountains and visiting spots at the far ends of the Earth. Just the sort of things that captivate a young kid.
Inspired by Goddard's list, Stout constructed his own, even though many of the items on his list seemed out of reach, especially if you knew the teenage Chris Stout.
"When I was a little boy, I was kind of obese. And I had an orthopedic problem. I wore these big clodhopper shoes_I didn't have my first tennis shoes till I was 12. We lived in a very urban area of Dallas, so I couldn't have a bike. And I was an only child. So I had no tennis shoes, no bike, no brothers or sisters. And I became pretty bookish."
So what did the out-of-shape, clunkily shod, homebound kid put on his list? Go to Europe. Be on TV. See the Indy 500. (All subsequently achieved.) The first item he crossed off, he thinks, was to run a mile without stopping. And so it has gone for the last 30 or so years, as his list has included nearly 1,000 items, from visiting Versailles to running a marathon to smoking a Cuban cigar.
It was the pursuit of his goals that helped shape Stout's life. He wanted to participate in philanthropic activities; he has worked with the Flying Doctors of America in Peru and Vietnam. He wanted to stay at or below his ideal weight of 175; he runs every morning_he did more than 800 miles last year alone and has completed a marathon, both of which were on the list. He wanted to see some of the world's great sights; he combines speaking engagements with trips to nearby landmarks on his things-to-see list.
A LIFE OF ADVENTURE
Similarly, Goddard's list and his life are intertwined. As he worked his way through his original list of 127 things, Goddard became a world-famous adventurer (he led the first expedition to explore the entire length of the Nile River), anthropologist (he lived with headhunters in Borneo) and author ("The Survivor: 24 Spine-Chilling Adventures on the Edge of Death," Health Communications).
Through the years, Goddard, like Stout, has added new goals, building his list to 600 items. He has checked off 515_and he's still counting.
"My wife and I were in Alaska in October, and I always wanted to land on glaciers in a helicopter and get out and explore," Goddard said last month from his home near Los Angeles. "And we did that on the Juneau Ice Fields; we landed on several glaciers and got out and took pictures."
Although Goddard has some 85 items he's still chasing, Stout usually has 75 to 100 items on his list. It's always in a state of flux, he explained. For example, when he first put it together, jet-skiing and para-sailing were unheard of. He added them to his list_and accomplished both. If he sees something in a magazine that catches his interest, he may be inspired to add it.
Brill said that lengthy lists aren't necessarily the way to go. Hers is short.
"I do have a list that's written down. It contains very generic, big-picture ideas, which I believe a life plan can be," she said. "A finalized plan doesn't have to be a bulleted list you plaster all over your walls with a time line."
Her list, she said, included things such as building a strong heart, because heart illness ran in her father's family, and writing a book (her book, "Winner's Way: A Proven Method for Achieving Your Personal Best in Any Situation," is being published by McGraw-Hill in April).
Her success, along with Stout's and Goddard's, may inspire you to assemble a life list. There are definite ways to approach it. First, don't worry about being too old to start.
"Americans obsess about age and it has no relevance to anything," Goddard said. "I asked a Kikuyu chief in Kenya one time, `How old are you?' He had some gray around the temples and all. He looked at me and he said, `Why?' And I thought, and I said, `You know, I don't know why.' He said, `I have four happy wives. The next village is 20 miles away, and I could beat you there.' From then on, I just don't discuss age. Age is important in terms of wine and cheeses. And that's it."
WRITE IT DOWN
OK, toss age out the door along with the Christmas tree and those stupid resolutions. The next step: Grab a pencil.
"I tell people that if they're sincere about really wanting to do things above and beyond the ordinary, the first thing they have to do is crystallize the goal, write it down," Goddard said.
Stout suggests that you should begin by getting comfortable. Pour a cup of coffee, plop in a comfy chair, relax. And think about your interests and what you'd like to achieve in your life.
"It doesn't have to be extensive," he said of a person's list. "You could do it on a Post-It note. It could be one item. `Before I die, I want to …' or `By next year, I want to ...' But it has to be realistic. `I want to fly to the moon.' That may not be realistic. `Get my pilot's license.' That's more realistic."
Being realistic also means factoring finance_can you afford some of these things?_and your family into your plans. Early in their marriage, Stout and his wife, Karen Beckstrand, traveled a lot, the better to see the sights that were on his list. Now that they have children_8-year-old Grayson and 5-year-old Annika_there's less travel, but the family is still involved in Stout's accomplishments.
Grayson, for example, will participate along with his father in the annual Hustle Up the Hancock next month. Dad will do the full run to the top of the John Hancock Center; son will do the half-version.
Once you target what you want to do, and you've kept things realistic, then comes setting priorities.
"You can't do everything at once. It's just not possible," Stout said. "Some things you can start immediately. You want to read the classics. So do it. You can do it tomorrow."