Smarter than You Think

By Diane Stark

A while back, I attended a banquet to honor that year’s high school graduates. Each student was asked to share their plans for the future with the audience. Most of them announced plans to attend college or join the military. But one boy said, “I’ve just completed an online course to become a Certified Life Coach.”

I looked at the lady next to me, and I could tell we were thinking the same thing. Who would hire an 18-year-old life coach?

She smirked. “I guess we were all young and just starting out at one point, but having an 18-year-old accountant file your taxes seems different than making major life changes based on the advice of your 18-year-old life coach.”

“I completely agree,” I said, laughing. “I want a life coach who has lived a little. If they don’t know more than I do about life, what’s the point of paying for their advice?”

She nodded. “How could an 18-year-old possibly know enough to help someone our age?”

Turns out, more than you think.

Last week, my own 18-year-old son showed me the spreadsheet on which he keeps his budget. Jordan is a freshman in college, and he works part-time at the university he attends. His income is small, but he’s a finance major, so he’s extremely responsible with what he does have.

“I added up my scholarship money, plus the financial help that you and Dad are giving me, and subtracted that from my total tuition bill,” he explained. “I’ve got to cover the difference by either borrowing that money or saving it. I don’t want to graduate with debt, so I decided I’m going to save it.”

I raised my eyebrows. The difference wasn’t a lot, but covering it would be a steep climb on his current income.

Jordan nodded. “I know it won’t be easy, but I broke it down into how much I’ll need to save each week. It’s a big goal for the year, but by the week, it’s not too hard. I just need to establish good spending habits and stick to them. To meet my goal, I’ve got to save a certain amount each week, and that means taking my lunch instead of eating out. It means renting movies instead of going to the theatre. You know, having good habits and just saving where I can.”

“I’m proud of you, Bud. You’re planning ahead and being super responsible.”

The next day, I was thinking of Jordan’s comment about developing good spending habits. While my spending habits aren’t a problem, there are some other habits I definitely needed to work on.

I want to write more consistently – like consistently enough to finish a novel in 2018. I need to develop a daily exercise habit. And I need to establish a more organized cleaning schedule if I am ever going to get a handle on the overflowing closets in our house.

Those things don’t sound that difficult, except that those three things have been my New Year’s Resolutions for five years running. Every year, I’d set my goals and every year, I’d fail to achieve them.

Goal-setting just didn’t seem to work for me. But maybe Jordan was onto something with this habit development idea. I googled it and found some really great advice.

Basically, the internet says not to worry about setting goals. Instead, develop daily habits that will move you toward your goals. Take weight loss as an example. Rather than setting the goal to lose 10 pounds, develop the daily habits of getting 10,000 steps, eating more veggies and drinking insane amounts of water. Don’t worry about setting a weight loss goal because those habits will help you lose weight whether you set that as your goal or not.

Don’t set arbitrary goals. Focus on establishing good habits, and you’ll achieve your goals by default.

I decided to try it. So in 2018, I won’t be making my same old New Year’s Resolutions. I’m not setting the goal to write a novel, lose weight and finally get organized. Instead, I’m making only one New Year’s Resolution.

To develop good habits and keep them.

Like Jordan, I’ve made a spreadsheet. On it, I’ve listed some daily habits I want to establish in my life. Things like remembering to wear my FitBit, keeping a food diary each day, not watching TV until I’ve spent an hour writing, and getting rid of five unwanted items per day.

My plan is to implement what the internet calls the Seinfeld method. Yes, I’m now taking productivity tips from Jerry Seinfeld, the guy most famous for starring in a show about nothing. But to be fair, this all started because I took advice from an 18-year-old. But I digress. The Seinfeld method is basically putting an X on the calendar for each day that you follow through on your desired habit. Soon, those X’s will form a chain, and you won’t want to break it. You’ll keep up on the habit so you don’t break the chain. When you keep up the habit, you’ll eventually – and naturally – meet your goal.

Since I’m trying to incorporate multiple new habits, my calendar won’t have X’s on it. They’ll be more like stars with each line in a different color to symbolize each of my new habits. I’ll want to make the calendar all colorful and pretty, so I’ll try not to break the chain. Not breaking the chain equals meeting my goals.

So is 2018 going to be my year? Will these habits help me to finally meet my goals? Will this be the year I’ll actually finish my novel? Get in shape? Become an organized person and purge my home of every unwanted item?

I don’t know. But I’m going to take a cue from my son and build some good habits into my life.

Which brings me back to my original question: Who would hire an 18-year-old life coach?

As it turns out, I think I would. Some of them are smarter than you think.

About this writer

  • Diane Stark

    Diane Stark

    Diane Stark is a wife and mom of five. She loves to write about her family and her faith. Her essays have been published in over 20 Chicken Soup for the Soul books.

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2 Responses to “Smarter than You Think”

  1. Linda O'Connell says:

    Your essay is thought-provoking and proves that some eighteen-year-olds do have their heads on right. Your son sounds bright and determined. Sometimes our kids teach us.

  2. Anna Riley says:

    I too have to develop better habits. I just may take your son’s advice as well! Love your article. Cheers to 2018 new habits to reach out goals :))

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