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Your New Year's Resolution Should Be a Substitution

The following is from Gary North's Reality Check Newsletter, and I thought it was particularly relevant for this time of year. If you don't have an MP3 player already, it will be very helpful to implement these suggestions. I own three and purchased several for Christmas presents. I highly recommend you read my recent review for more information. Today's CNET reports though that Apple will be introducing a $100 iPOD very soon, so it appears that may be the value MP3 player of choice. However, it is still unclear to me if this is a flash memory or hard drive MP3 player. I hope you enjoyed the essay as much as I did:

I recommend New Year's substitutions over resolutions. Don't add a burden to your schedule, your budget, or your family. Get rid of something you really don't need to offset any addition. If you think you should devote more time to improving your job skills -- a wise decision -- cut out some television time.

The average American household now watches over seven hours of TV a day. If you can cut back by one hour a night, you can add an hour to your self- improvement program. Look at the weekly TV schedule. Get a copy of "TV Guide" or the weekly TV schedule that runs in the Sunday newspaper. Go through it and mark the shows that you regularly watch. Circle each show. Then decide: Which ones are expendable?

As far as I can tell, TV is the most expensive consumption good in human history. It eats up our only non-renewable resource: time. Statistically, I have about as much time as David Rockefeller does. I can't match his money, but I can match his time. So can you. So, I suggest that you start making substitutions. Identify your spare time, meaning wasted time, and put it to productive use. When you iron clothes, listen to audiotapes. When you mow the lawn, listen to audiotapes.
I don't mean music. I mean educational tapes that are related to your work, or investing, or education.

You can download audio files from the Web, make a CD- ROM of MP3 files, and listen. There are so many free educational audio files on the Internet that you cannot possibly not find something worth listening to. I am always looking for educational audio files.


Until you are clear in your mind about what it is you are trying to accomplish, you should avoid committing to a New Year's substitution. Ask yourself what you have failed to achieve so far in life that continually bothers you. Make a list. Hint: try to keep it to one page. Pick one item. One is plenty. Then set a date to achieve it. Then estimate the cost involved. This is my old rule:

  • What do you want to achieve?
  • How soon do you want to achieve it?
  • What are you willing to pay to achieve it?

Until all this is clear in your mind, make yourself no promises. The goal is to substitute something that isn't that important to you in order to achieve something that is important, but which you have consistently failed to achieve. You will keep nagging yourself if you don't achieve it, or at least try to achieve it. To get yourself off your back, make a substitution. If you can identify a low-value pleasure item to abandon that will free up sufficient resources to enable you to start working on that unfulfilled dream, consider making a substitution. Look for a low-benefit burden to abandon.

The problem with New Year's resolutions is that they are spur-of-the-moment decisions. They are not made by people who have carefully, painstakingly thought about their priorities. I am recommending that you take care to think about your priorities for 2004 before you make a New Year's resolution. Then make a substitution instead. Setting your priorities requires a cost-benefit analysis. You want to achieve your goal with the least possible expenditure. That's why I recommend a self- conscious substitution. When you go looking for things to give up -- costs -- you must think about your priorities.
You will be much more likely to make a wise judgment that you will be able to stick with in 2004.


What things can you do that are most likely to give you a sense of accomplishment when you look back a year from now? Here are a few possibilities:

  • Decrease your level of credit card debt by 30%.
  • Increase your savings rate to 5% of your after-tax income...on the way to 10% by the end of 2005.
  • Increase your rate of charitable giving to 10% of your pre-tax income.
  • If you are one of the 2/3 of overweight Amercians, lose 10% of your weight by mid-summer, and keep it off through December 31, 2004.
  • Get a raise of 5% above price inflation.
  • Start a home business without debt.
  • Read three books related to your career.
  • Read three books on how to avoid retirement.
  • Enroll in a night class at a local college.
  • Learn one new computer-related skill/program.
  • Join a service organization and serve.
  • Teach a beginner something that you know well.
  • Read a [???] FOR DUMMIES book and master it.
  • Set up a web site.
  • Take your wife on a vacation she has wanted.
  • Write an article and get it published.


Don't vow to do anything on this list or anything not on this list until you have written down exactly what your goal is AND WHY. Then, once you have written down the relevant reasons, pick one goal. Write down why you picked it over the rest of them. You must write it down. Now comes the difficult part. Write down what your mid-term goals are by the quarter: April 1, July 1, October 1, December 31. Be specific.

Keep these four pieces of paper in a file. Get out the file on each due date. Make some sort of reminder system to check the file. Monitor your progress. If you did not achieve your mid-term goal, write down what you must do now to achieve it in the next quarter. Substitute this new page for the original one. Writing all this down is really difficult. Checking back each quarter is even more difficult. But the act of checking your own schedule quarterly will help you stick with your program.

The really diligent person will create a weekly calendar and look at it weekly. That's why successful people buy a Day-Timer or a cheap equivalent. Without doing this, it's not easy to stick with the program. Don't make a New Year's substitution if you are not willing to write down your goals for each quarter. Don't set yourself up for failure.


  • If you are willing to go ahead with this program, get out some paper and go through the exercise.
  • Write down potential goals and WHY.
  • Write down what you will swap and WHY.
  • Write down the goal(s) selected and WHY.
  • Write down mid-term goals by the quarter.
  • Create a reminder system to check them.

If you are really determined to succeed, buy a Day- Timer or its equivalent and write down your weekly steps. Until it's all on paper, don't promise anything to anyone, especially to yourself. Between now and midnight, January 1, there is time to do this right. Do it right or don't do it at all.

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