Monthly Archives: December 2009

Dec 30

Improve Yourself! Week 1: Set SMART Goals!

By Dustin | Individual Fulfillment

SMART Goal SettingIt’s time to set our goals and get started with Improve Yourself! 2010.  I am a huge fan of goal-setting and believe it makes a profound difference in the level of success we achieve in our lives.  Based on my own experience and lots of reading on the topic, I encourage you to follow the SMART Goals approach to setting your own specific goals for the challenge and in all areas of your life, including your marriage.

What is a SMART Goal?

Specific – What are you going to do? Why are you doing it?  How will you accomplish it?

Measurable – Establish concrete measures of your progress.  Your goal must be quantifiable.

Attainable – Challenge yourself, but be realistic.

Relevant – Be sure your goal fits into your overall lifestyle and greater desires.

Time-Bound – Every goal needs a completion date associated with it.

I will document my own goals for the 8-week Improve Yourself! challenge in the comments below.  And I expect you to hold me and all of the other participants accountable for meeting these self-imposed expectations!  By the way, for those of you focusing on fitness like me, there is a free SparkTeam on Spark People that was created just for the challenge (thanks Carrie!).  Sign-up and you’ll have a convenient way to measure and track your progress.

It’s Time to Set Your Goals!

If you have not already signed-up for the (free) Improve Yourself! 2010 challenge, please do so before you do anything else.

Once you’ve signed up, it is time to post your own goals for the challenge in the comments to this post.  Please state your overall area of focus (just ONE) and your SMART goals.

In order to be part of the challenge and be eligible for all of the awesome prizes being given away, everyone must sign-up on the announcement post AND state their goals in the comments on this post.  The deadline to enter is Tuesday, January 5th at 11:59 p.m. Central time.

Once you’ve stated your goals, it’s time to start working toward meeting them!  With the exception of this first week, I’ll be posting a weekly Improve Yourself! post every Sunday.  Each week, you’ll have to report in with your progress by the following Tuesday (two days later).

This Week’s Awesome Prize(s) & How to Win Them

In order to get things started off with a bang and help attract more participants before the contest closes January 5th, we are giving away THREE books for Week 1!  I’ll be selecting random comments (using random.org) from this post and giving away one book to each of three different lucky winners.

This week’s self-improvement book prizes include:

The Happiness Project

Unclutter Your Life in One Week

The Success Principles: How to Get from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be.

These are all fantastic resources that will give you tools to improve yourself.  Click on each of these links to read more about them.

Every week, the weekly prize winner will be selected at random from the comments.  For THIS WEEK ONLY, I am going to give you the opportunity to increase your chances of winning by spreading the word about the challenge.  For each of the following actions you take, you’ll get an entry into this week’s prize drawing:

  1. State your goals for the contest in a comment below (required).
  2. Share the announcement post on Facebook using this link: Share on Facebook
  3. Send the following Tweet on Twitter (copy & paste): Have goals for 2010? Join me in the Improve Yourself Challenge & win some of $750 of PRIZES! http://su.pr/1Z10aB (@EngagedMarriage)
  4. Email your friends with a link to the announcement post (copy & paste): http://www.engagedmarriage.com/individual-fulfillment/announcing-improve-yourself-2010
  5. Put the “Improve Yourself! 2010” button on your site.  You can grab the HTML in the sidebar to make it easy.
  6. Write a post on your blog and link back to the Improve Yourself announcement post.
  7. Become a “fan” on the Engaged Marriage Facebook page. If you are already a fan, just state that and it will count as an entry.

Whenever you share on Facebook, Tweet on Twitter, Email your friends, put the button on your site, write a blog post or become a Facebook fan, please reply to your goal comment and let me know.  For example, if you did Facebook and Twitter you will have your goal comment followed by two additional comments (one saying “I shared on FB” and one saying “I Tweeted on Twitter”).

And please don’t forget that you MUST subscribe to Engaged Marriage via either RSS or Email to be eligible for prizes.  Starting with this post, there is a secret code at the bottom of the post (just above “Related Posts”) that is only visible if you read this post via an RSS reader or in your email.  If you are selected but aren’t subscribed (you don’t know the code when I email you), the prize will instead to go the next person drawn.

Thanks to This Week’s Sponsors!

The great prizes being given away for Week 1 are only possible through the generous support of our sponsors.  Not only are they generous, but they each have awesome sites as well!  Please take a few minutes to visit them and check out what they have to offer.

Make Mine Happen “Stop Dreaming and Start Doing” by putting the motivational and informational posts at this site to work in your life!

MomStart is a fantastic resource created by a mother of two who provides an incredible amount of reviews, giveaways and writings related to all of the new things going on in the world of parenting.

MomStart

Budgets are Sexy is simply awesome.  J. Money provides a site that is packed with really useful info about the world of personal finance, and he does it in his own (pimpin’) way.  Entertaining and informative.

Budgets are Sexy

Personal Finance Notebook is a great site created by Patrenia Spears after her family paid off an incredible $93,000 in debt!  Her posts are intended to empower her readers to achieve their financial goals.  Her tag line says it all: “A website that offers ideas, education and the motivation needed to create a personal finance portfolio to be proud of.”  I love it.

If you’d like to become a sponsor of the challenge, it’s not too late.  Please contact me about a sponsorship opportunity before we close the doors to both sponsors and participants on January 5th.

That’s it from me for Week 1 of the challenge!  Get your goals stated below, spread the word, visit our sponsors and GET TO WORK! I’ll be right alongside you! 🙂

I can’t wait to read your goals.  Look for the next Improve Yourself post for Week 2 on Sunday, January 10th.  In the meantime, enjoy the regular, marriage-improving content here at Engaged Marriage.

Happy New Year!

Don’t miss the other Improve Yourself posts…here is a running list:

  1. Improve Yourself! 2010 Announcement.  This is the place to start and sign-up by leaving a comment with your area of focus.
  2. The Prize List.  This is where you’ll get the details about the awesome prizes and learn about our generous sponsors.
  3. Week 1: Set SMART Goals.  Learn about smart goal-setting and leave your specific goals for the challenge in the comments.
  4. Week 2: Baby Step Your Way to Success.  Learn how you can achieve any goal by breaking it down into small, easier-to-handle tasks.
  5. Week 3: Prioritize Your Time for Progress. Learn the importance of focusing on important, but not urgent, tasks to improve your life and achieve long-term effectiveness.
  6. Week 4: YOU are Responsible for Your Progress. Quit making excuses, take ownership for your results and do the work necessary to make your goals a reality.
  7. Week 5: Don’t Be Perfect, Be Remarkable! You do not need to be perfect, you simply need to be remarkable in what you do. Don’t you think you can be remarkable in the way your handle your finances?  In your approach to fitness?  In your marriage?
  8. Week 6: Stick With It! I applaud you for sticking with your commitment to yourself and your fellow challenge participants. You are now in the minority as we close in on the finish line. Don’t Quit!
  9. Week 7: Communicate for Success Communication is a certain key to success in nearly all aspects of life.
  10. Week 8: Don’t Accept Mediocrity! Always get better even if it’s only in small increments.  Life is just too short to do otherwise.
Dec 30

Improve Yourself: Prizes, Prizes, Prizes!

By Dustin | Individual Fulfillment

The “Improve Yourself! 2010” challenge is simply going to be awesome.  I am really excited to announce the line-up of prizes that will be given away to the participants and to give praise to our fantastic line-up of sponsors.  If you have not signed up yet, you really need to get in on this challenge by stating your intentions in the announcement post.

The Line-Up of Prizes

First of all, I want to say that the list below represents the minimum prizes that will be given away in this year’s challenge.  We have some amazing sponsors, but if we get additional support the prizes will get even better!  If you’d like to contribute to the cause, please contact me.

The books below will be shipped to each winner with the goal of helping you to Improve Yourself!  Most will be new, while some will be gently used versions that have already blessed the lives of another.

Week 1 Kick-Off: The Happiness Project

Unclutter Your Life in One Week

The Success Principles: How to Get from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be

Week 2: The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness

Week 3: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

Week 4: QBQ! The Question Behind the Question: Practicing Personal Accountability at Work and in Life

Week 5: The Big Moo: Stop Trying to Be Perfect and Start Being Remarkable

Week 6: Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus: The Classic Guide to Understanding the Opposite Sex

Week 7: The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate

Week 8: No More Mondays

Bonus Giveaways (randomly throughout):

Gift certificate for free attendance to MarriagePrep101 workshop (a $420 value!)

A Simple Marriage e-book (you can buy your own in my sidebar)

“My Hands are Clean, Are Yours?” baby carrier sign from My Hands are Clean

GRAND PRIZE WINNER: $100 Amazon Gift Card

All told, we are talking about a total prize value of at least $750!

How Do I Win All This Great Stuff?

First of all, you MUST sign-up for the contest by leaving an appropriate comment in the announcement post. Other than that, the weekly winners will be selected at random from the comments on each weekly post.

By leaving a comment updating the group on your progress that week, you’ll have a chance to win the prize that week.  Don’t forget, you MUST subscribe to Engaged Marriage via either RSS or Email to be eligible for prizes.  If you are selected but aren’t subscribed (I’ll have a secret code only visible to subscribers), the prize will instead to go the next random commenter.

Please look for the kick-off post about goal-setting on New Year’s Eve.  To get things started off right and attract some last-minute participants, I’ll have some extra ways to win prizes and we’ll be giving away THREE books for Week 1!

Aside from the first week, I’ll be posting every Sunday.  Every week, you’ll need to post your update in the comments before Tuesday at 11:59 p.m. Central time in order to be eligible for the prize.  Hopefully, this is simple enough, but please leave a comment on this post if you have any questions.

Please Visit and Thank Our Awesome Sponsors!

I am particularly thrilled by the response I have received by those willing to sponsor the prizes for this challenge.  Without them, we couldn’t possibly offer such fantastic prizes.  Here is a list of the sponsors committed to helping out with Improve Yourself! 2010:

Carrie from Make Mine Happen (@thegirlburgan on Twitter)

Louise from MomStart (@momstart)

J. Money from Budgets are Sexy ( @budgetsaresexy)

Brad from Enemy of Debt (@enemyofdebt)

Patrenia from Personal Finance Notebook (@patreniaspears)

Michelle from MarriagePrep101 (@DrMichellexo)

Kristin from My Hands are Clean, Are Yours? (@mydoodlebop)

If you would like LOTS of attention and link-love throughout this challenge, please contact me about a sponsorship opportunity!

Share the Love!

Finally, please don’t forget to spread the word about “Improve Yourself! 2010”!  Tweet this post to your followers on Twitter and share it on your Facebook page (using the “Sharing is Sexy” buttons below).

If you have a blog and want to help others improves themselves and their marriages, please consider adding the “Improve Yourself” button to your site! You can grab the HTML directly from my sidebar and put it up to spread the good word.  Thanks to Brad from Logos4You.net for preparing the banner and button for the challenge.

Thanks to everyone for your incredible response.  I can’t wait to see the collective progress we’ll make over the next 8 weeks!  Stay tuned for the kick-off post on goal-setting on New Year’s Eve and add your specific goals to the comments of that post.  And don’t forget to get involved in the discussion by becoming a “fan” on the Engaged Marriage Facebook page.

Don’t miss the other Improve Yourself posts…here is a running list:

  1. Improve Yourself! 2010 Announcement.  This is the place to start and sign-up by leaving a comment with your area of focus.
  2. The Prize List.  This is where you’ll get the details about the awesome prizes and learn about our generous sponsors.
  3. Week 1: Set SMART Goals.  Learn about smart goal-setting and leave your specific goals for the challenge in the comments.
  4. Week 2: Baby Step Your Way to Success.  Learn how you can achieve any goal by breaking it down into small, easier-to-handle tasks.
  5. Week 3: Prioritize Your Time for Progress. Learn the importance of focusing on important, but not urgent, tasks to improve your life and achieve long-term effectiveness.
  6. Week 4: YOU are Responsible for Your Progress. Quit making excuses, take ownership for your results and do the work necessary to make your goals a reality.
  7. Week 5: Don’t Be Perfect, Be Remarkable! You do not need to be perfect, you simply need to be remarkable in what you do. Don’t you think you can be remarkable in the way your handle your finances?  In your approach to fitness?  In your marriage?
  8. Week 6: Stick With It! I applaud you for sticking with your commitment to yourself and your fellow challenge participants. You are now in the minority as we close in on the finish line. Don’t Quit!
  9. Week 7: Communicate for Success Communication is a certain key to success in nearly all aspects of life.
  10. Week 8: Don’t Accept Mediocrity! Always get better even if it’s only in small increments.  Life is just too short to do otherwise.
Dec 27

Want an Exceptional Marriage? Stop Living in the Valleys!

By Dustin | Individual Fulfillment

Avoid Valley LivingClimbing a mountain is hard.  It requires an incredible degree of dedication and unyielding determination.  There is rarely a sense of relief or a time for relaxation.  Instead, there is simply more mountain, steeper slopes and further challenge.

In his incredible book about a disastrous expedition on Mt. Everest, Into Thin Air, Jon Krakauer describes the almost unfathomable challenges faced by his climbing party.  There is the expected peril with inexperienced climbers falling off of cliffs and unfortunate circumstances where groups get caught in unexpected blizzards near the summit.  However, the message that sticks with me from this and other books documenting mountain climbing adventures is the tragedy that so often results from a climber who hasn’t committed fully to the mission.

Apparently, when conditions turn extreme, inexperienced adventurers notoriously turn toward complacency and seek a sense of comfort.  Feeling that they have already come so far and doubting their ability to finish the climb in harsh conditions, a climber may seek rest and relief.  Unfortunately, the decision to rest in a valley rather than pushing ahead up the mountain is too often the on-doing of less experienced climbers.  Once they get comfortable, it seems they can no longer muster the motivation to get out of the valley.

But I Don’t Climb Mountains

Of course, this blog is not about mountain climbing, and my experience in extreme adventures is limited to book form (at least so far).  So, how does this concept apply to those of us living near sea level?

I first heard the term “Valley Living” as part of a marriage retreat we attended a few months ago.  And I immediately thought back to the accounts of mountain climbing that I had read and saw definite parallels.[quote]

Valley Living refers to our tendency to find a comfort zone and “live there” rather than expend the effort to pursue excellence.  We ALL find ourselves chilling out in the valleys of life from time-to-time, and that’s to be expected.

It’s unrealistic to be climbing ALL of the proverbial mountains of everyday life at ALL times.  But, we should always be striving for excellence by focusing on improving at least one area of our lives.  This keeps us moving forward and prevents us from withering up inside of our comfort zone.

Where Are the Valleys that You Hang Out?

In what areas of your life do you tend to take it easy and hang out in your comfort zone?  The laziness of valley living can show up in any aspect of everyday living: health, finances, parenting, career, communication, romance, and spirituality to name a few.  For me, I have let my health and fitness slip considerably over the past few months, and my romantic efforts could use a jump start.

The implications of living in a valley in any area can be profound when it comes to our marriages.  When I let my fitness slide, I have less energy and less self-esteem.  This affects my family life and my relationship with my wife.  On the flip side, when I am going “all-in” in my pursuit of health and I feel great about myself, my energy levels are through the roof and I am simply a sexier guy to live with.  The same can be said of any area of life: they all effect your spouse and your marriage, for better or worse.

So, what areas of life have you allowed to slip into sluggishness?  Isn’t it time that you pulled yourself out of the comforts of mediocrity and focused on climbing to new heights? 

Isn’t it time for you to be passionate about your marriage and do something about it?

Your Jump Start is Waiting for You!

I hope you can see the real value in getting fired up and improving your life.  So, what if you have motivation right now as you read this, but you are afraid it will be fleeting and you won’t actually get started?  Are you too comfortable?  Get out of the valley!  Now!

I have great news.  We are only days away from the start of a little challenge that will get you climbing again and keep you there alongside lots of like-minded folks.  We are building a community of individuals who are ready to improve an aspect of their life with focused intensity for a period of 8 weeks.  We will be accountable to each other and feed off of our collective successes.  And, as an extra incentive, we will have great prizes (details coming in just a couple of days) to give away each week and a champion to cyber-crown at the end of our contest.

Go right now to “Announcing Improve Yourself! 2010” and sign up to be part of the movement.

Do it for yourself.  Do it for your spouse.  Do it for your marriage!

Photo by Jeff Pang
Dec 23

What is Your Favorite Time of the Year?

By Dustin | Spirituality

Favorite Time of Year

Ah, it’s almost here.  My favorite week of the entire year is just days away, and I am really looking forward to it once again.

Since our first child was born nearly five years ago, my wife and I have observed our own family tradition of sorts by taking off the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day.  Actually, it’s me who “takes off” since she is a teacher and always has Christmas Winter Break to count on.

What makes this week so special for our family?  To start with, Christmas morning is just awesome when you have little kids and are able to share their joy when they wake up with the immediate intensity of a gazelle on crack.  This year should be the best yet since they both totally “get it” now at ages almost-five and two-and-a-half years old.  Santa is totally real, and the little gifts are still the best.

Christmas Day will center on our family doing whatever the heck we want all day, as our extended family stops by throughout the day to visit.  There will be a large brunch, lots of snacks, some holiday spirits and probably pizza for dinner.  It’s like the ultimate lounging-around day, plus gifts and the love of a family who truly appreciates the spirit of the season.

The remainder of the week should be similar.  Family dinners, family visits and LOTS of family playtime.  There will certainly be Nintendo Wii tournaments, tickle fights, lots of time playing Princesses and Thomas the Train, numerous movies watched, consecutive pajama days, and a crazy amount of snuggling on the couch.  There will be no work, no stress, no deadlines and no schedules to maintain.

As the week winds down and our minds are clear and youthful, we can turn our focus to celebrating New Year’s Eve (also as a family) and setting goals for the promising New Year.  I hope you will be joining me in making 2010 your best year yet by participating in the “Improve Yourself! 2010” challenge!

What is your favorite time of the year?  Please share your thoughts in the comments.

From my family to yours, I wish you a very Merry Christmas and a prosperous and healthy New Year!  Please remember the reason for this joyous season and keep Christ in your Christmas celebrations.

Photo by alancleaver_2000
Dec 20

Announcing “Improve Yourself! 2010”

By Dustin | Individual Fulfillment

Improve Yourself! 2010: Your Goals, Your Actions, Your Results

Improve Yourself!

  • Would you like to start the new year with a purpose and accomplish some concrete goals quickly?

  • Would you like to jump-start your success in 2010 and do more than pay lip-service to your New Year’s Resolutions?

  • Are your ready to make a real commitment to yourself and your family and be held accountable for your progress?

  • Are you ready for some fun and great prizes?

I am excited to announce a little friendly competition that I’ll be holding here at Engaged Marriage as we welcome 2010.  As I looked at some of the goals I want to will accomplish in the new year, I was reminded of how easy it is to resolve to improve ourselves on New Year’s Eve and then slowly (or quickly) abandon our plans a couple weeks later.  I knew what I needed was some accountability and some encouragement from others who hold themselves to a high standard.

Why Here?

And then it hit me.  We have built an incredibly supportive and inspired community here at Engaged Marriage, and I know that many of you face the same “buzzkills” as I do when it comes to sticking with a plan for personal improvement.

We are all insanely busy with a lot of pressing demands for our time and energy.  We know we need to take care of ourselves, but we inevitably put our needs last as we focus on taking care of our family, helping others and advancing our career.  Those things are obviously important, but the truth is that we can accomplish more in all areas of life when we improve ourselves…and we have to quit using those outside influences as our crutch or excuse.

If you’ve been around this site very long, you know that I believe strongly in a holistic approach to marriage.  There is a reason I write about topics like individual fulfillmentspirituality, and finances & careersA healthy life feeds a healthy marriage, and vice-versa.

OK, so now you know where this little idea came from, and I’m sure you can see why this is so relevant to achieving the extraordinary in marriage.  So, what exactly are we talking about here?

What is “Improve Yourself! 2010”?

  1. You will choose one area of your life to improve over the first 8 weeks of 2010 (January 3rd through February 27th).  This is completely open based on your desires, but some suggestions would include the areas of fitness, personal finances, spirituality, communication with your spouse, parenting, career, education, romance, etc.
  2. You will set your own goals for what you intend to accomplish over the course of eight weeks.  Goal-setting is incredibly important, so I will publish a post soon to help you establish specific and effective goals.
  3. Each week, I will publish a post that focuses on self-improvement and motivation, and I’ll report on my own personal progress toward my goals.  You must comment on each weekly post to report your progress and remain accountable.
  4. At the end of eights weeks, I will choose the top three finishers based on who I feel made the most meaningful progress in self-improvement.  At this time, I will also “call out” all those who did NOT finish all eight weeks (to add a little more accountability)!
  5. The final three contestants will summarize their progress in a short write-up, and you (their fellow competitors) will vote to choose the best overall success story.

Why Should You Participate?

  1. It will be fun!
  2. You’ll have the opportunity to both give and receive motivation/accountability from high-quality, proactive people who are striving to reach their own goals.
  3. You will improve yourself and, in turn, improve your marriage and family life.
  4. It builds our community here at Engaged Marriage and makes you an active part of it.
  5. PRIZES!  Please see the Prize Announcement post for the awesome details!

If you, your website, your company or someone you know would like to support this contest by providing prizes, I would be both thrilled and extremely thankful.  And I would be more than happy to promote (appropriate and useful) products in return for your generosity.  Please contact me if you can help!

UPDATE: We have our first sponsorship via the generous Carrie from Make Mine Happen.  Please send Carrie a tweet @thegirlburgan and tell her how great she is!

ANOTHER UPDATE: We have another great sponsor for one week of the competition!  Thank you to Kristin from My Hands are Clean, Are Yours? Please share your appreciation with her on Twitter @mydoodlebop !

AND MORE:  I am pleased to announce that Brad from Enemy of Debt and Patrenia from Personal Finance Notebook have joined as partial sponsors of the challenge as well!  Please let them know we greatly appreciate their support by showing them some love at @enemyofdebt and @patreniaspears

EVEN MORE: Incredibly, we have two more major sponsors to add to the ranks.  Please give props to J. Money from Budgets are Sexy and Louise from MomStart.  And tell them they rule on Twitter at @budgetsaresexy and @momstart

WOW!  Michelle from www.MarriagePrep101.com has also donated a gift certificate for free attendance to one of her awesome workshops.  This is a $420 value!  Thank her on Twitter at @DrMichellexo

If you would like LOTS of attention and link-love throughout this challenge, please contact me about a sponsorship opportunity!

What Do You Need to Do?

  1. Join in the fun by leaving a comment to this post before January 5th at 11:59 p.m. Central time.  Your comment should simply say that you are committed to participate, and it should state what area of life you will be focusing on for Improve Yourself! 2010.
  2. Comment on the Week 1 goal setting post, and include your specific goals for the 8-week contest (also by January 5th).
  3. Comment on each week’s post with a quick report on your progress.
  4. Subscribe to Engaged Marriage via either RSS or Email.  By subscribing, you’ll ensure that you don’t miss any posts and the accountability that they bring.  You can participate even if you choose not to subscribe, though I’m not sure why you wouldn’t want free updates sent to you to read at your convenience.  However, as an incentive to fully participate, I will limit the prize giveaways to those that are subscribed.
  5. Become a “fan” on the Engaged Marriage Facebook page.  The “discussion” area of this page will serve as our private forums for the contest.  Within the discussion area, we’ll be able to share information, gives tips and motivation, and socialize with others striving to meet their goals.

I think that covers it!  I am really looking forward to meeting my own goals for the New Year alongside an awesome community of high-quality friends.  Please leave your comment below stating the area of life you plan to focus on.

*And please don’t forget to state your specific goals in the Week 1 post!*

Finally, please tell your family and friends about “Improve Yourself! 2010”!  Tweet this post to your followers on Twitter and share it on your Facebook page (using the “Sharing is Sexy” buttons below).  The more folks we can get to participate, the better this contest will be for all of us.  And the more people we can get to join us as part of the Engaged Marriage community, the better we can advance our collective mission of achieving the extraordinary in marriage…and in life!

Don’t miss the other Improve Yourself posts…here is a running list:

  1. Improve Yourself! 2010 Announcement.  This is the place to start and sign-up by leaving a comment with your area of focus.
  2. The Prize List.  This is where you’ll get the details about the awesome prizes and learn about our generous sponsors.
  3. Week 1: Set SMART Goals.  Learn about smart goal-setting and leave your specific goals for the challenge in the comments.
  4. Week 2: Baby Step Your Way to Success.  Learn how you can achieve any goal by breaking it down into small, easier-to-handle tasks.
  5. Week 3: Prioritize Your Time for Progress. Learn the importance of focusing on important, but not urgent, tasks to improve your life and achieve long-term effectiveness.
  6. Week 4: YOU are Responsible for Your Progress. Quit making excuses, take ownership for your results and do the work necessary to make your goals a reality.
  7. Week 5: Don’t Be Perfect, Be Remarkable! You do not need to be perfect, you simply need to be remarkable in what you do. Don’t you think you can be remarkable in the way your handle your finances?  In your approach to fitness?  In your marriage?
  8. Week 6: Stick With It! I applaud you for sticking with your commitment to yourself and your fellow challenge participants. You are now in the minority as we close in on the finish line. Don’t Quit!
  9. Week 7: Communicate for Success Communication is a certain key to success in nearly all aspects of life.
  10. Week 8: Don’t Accept Mediocrity! Always get better even if it’s only in small increments.  Life is just too short to do otherwise.
Dec 17

Round-Up of Interesting Reads #9: Santa is Coming!

By Dustin | Link Round-Up

It’s hard to believe that Christmas is only a week away.  I hope that you will have the opportunity to spend some nice, quiet time with your family and friends during this most joyous of holidays.  To help you get into the Christmas spirit, and get the most out of this last week before the big day, I have assembled a lot of fantastic reads in this edition of the Round-up.  Please take some time to check out each article and share some laughs with me when you watch the video clip at the end of this post.  Merry Christmas!

  • Brad And J’s 1st Annual Christmas Stimulus 2009. Brad from Enemy of Debt and J. Money from Budgets are Sexy have teamed up to offer a truly generous giveaway.  All you have to do is leave a comment on each of their posts, and you will be eligible to win $300, no strings attached.  Talk about a sweet Christmas gift!  Hurry, though, because the deadline to enter is midnight on Saturday, December 19th.
  • A Brief Guide to Holiday Tipping. J.D. from the great Get Rich Slowly blog provides some practical and straightforward advice for who you should be tipping for Christmas and just how much you should give to avoid looking like a Scrooge.
  • Traveling by Plane With Kids: My Tips & Experiences. For you poor souls that must travel long distances with small children over the holidays, I suggest you take a look at this very helpful post.  Samantha from Mama Notes has lived through a very long plane ride with her baby boy and lived to tell about it!
  • Man Knowledge: Early 20th Century Battles Every Man Should Know.  The Christmas season always helps remind me of the constant sacrifices made by our armed forces.  Their selfless service is very much highlighted during the holidays when many will not get the opportunity to share Christmas morning with their own families.  I think everyone should read this post from the Art of Manliness, which will grow your appreciation of the heroic service provided by so many military members throughout modern history.

By the way, if you need a “push” and some motivation to get off your butt (like I do), you won’t want to miss a little competition  I’m cooking up to kick off the new year!  Look for a post in the next few days that announces “Improve Yourself! 2010“.  If you don’t already, I’d really encourage you to subscribe to receive new posts by RSS or Email so you don’t miss your chance to be part of this exciting contest…great prizes will be included!

  • 10 Awesome Christmas Gifts for Married Couples. If you still need to buy a gift for your spouse or another married couple, why not make it a meaningful and helpful present?  My post makes it easy with links to great gifts that you can buy at the lowest price from Amazon.  If you know someone who could use some career advice or some motivation/direction in their life, then I highly recommend you check out Dan Miller’s site at 48 Days.  Click “Christmas Deals” for some insane discounts, including autographed books!
  • Finally, I’d like to share an awesome compilation video from one of my favorite Christmas movies…I think you’ll recognize it. 🙂

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rzMUxMp1ndk&NR=1[/youtube]

And please don’t forget the reason for the season:

Keep Christ in Christmas!

Dec 16

An Educated, Artsy-Fartsy Protestant’s Thoughts on Natural Family Planning

By Dustin | Sex & Family Planning

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Kathleen at Project M.  I strongly encourage, even challenge, you to read this post.  I was seriously moved by Kathleen’s honesty and candidness.  But most of all I was inspired by her willingness to keep an open mind about a subject that flies in the face of what our culture teaches us all about sexuality.  We’re different in a lot of ways, but Kathleen has certainly earned my deepest respect.  Plus, she’s funny.

I am an educated, fanArtsy Fartsy and Natural Family Plannning?cy-pants, trendy individual. I have two completely useless liberal-arts degrees to prove it. So of course, like other liberal-arts-educated and trendy individuals, I am drawn to the word “natural.” It makes us organic-eating tree-huggers think of healthy bodies, uncorrupted oceans and virginal rainforests.

But like other fancy-pants, artistic types, I’m less enthusiastic about the word “planning.” It makes us think of boring charts, legal documents and architectural blueprints. Who wants to plan? I prefer the idea of being able to spontaneously decide, “I would like to eat a bagel today,” or “I want to have a baby.” So I’ve always had mixed feelings about “natural family planning.” The first part makes me go “Yay!” and the last part makes me go “Boooooo.”

I’ve also never known much about natural family planning. I always just had this vague idea that it was this Catholic thing that was supposed to prevent unwanted pregnancies but didn’t work very well. That is, I believed this until I came across Engaged Marriage.

My Mind Opens

Not only was I incredibly impressed by the blog overall, but I was also intrigued by its informative coverage of NFP. It didn’t take long before I was thinking to myself, “I really need to rethink some of my opinions on natural family planning.” After reading everything Dustin had written on the subject, I began to go beyond his blog to do other internet searches and learn more. And I was continually impressed by what I learned. I started to feel that everyone needed to be exposed to this really cool but highly misunderstood phenomenon.

So I had Dustin tell me and my readers more about NFP. I grilled him with my most pressing questions about NFP, and even asked a couple of my friends for their questions, too.

Dustin kindly answered all my questions, and let me post them on my blog. I was incredibly pleased with everything he had to say. Here are a couple of my responses and reactions to what I learned from him.

(As a note, though, in case you are new to my writing, I am currently trying to get pregnant, so I’m not switching to NFP at the moment).

Some Candid Reactions to This NFP Thing

1. At first I was surprised (and a little skeptical) to hear that NFP has about a 99% success rate, but when I learned more about it I understood why it was so reliable. And I became a lot less scared of it. See, one reason I had never really considered NFP was because my menstrual cycles are so irregular. Like reeeeally irregular – completely unpredictable. My instinctive response was, “It sounds cool, but it won’t work for me because I’m a freak.” I thought it was only for “normal,” 28-day women. But not only did Dustin explain to me that it works for irregular cycles too, because it tracks your fertility through your bodily signs rather than by a calendar, but he explained that his wife was just as irregular as I am. And NFP worked for them! Phew! Maybe it can work for me, too.

And, anyways, I’ve come to learn that the Pill isn’t nearly as reliable as people think it is. We’re always told that the Pill is 99% effective. What we don’t hear is that the given number is only true if the woman taking it never makes any mistakes, and doesn’t take anything that interferes with its effectiveness.

I swear to you, I personally know three women who have gotten pregnant while on the Pill. I’m not sure if they missed a pill or took it too late one day or whatever, but they definitely have babies when they did not intend to have them. The point is, people make mistakes, and as a result the Pill often fails, too. The fact that NFP isn’t 100% effective shouldn’t make us any more nervous than the Pill does, because it also isn’t 100%. They’re very comparable. NFP is only ineffective if its practitioners don’t do it right . . . which is the same problem as with the Pill!

2. I’m not a Catholic, and I’m not sure how strongly I feel about the possibly-abortifacient nature of the Pill (I probably should feel stronger about it because I’m pro-life), but I am still pretty convinced, now, that NFP is the best birth control option out there.

Dustin pointed out that there are two other problems with the Pill, besides the commonly-identified religious ones. But I think they’re both very relevant to all spiritual people.

The first is health: I, like most Christians, believe that our bodies are our temples, and that we are responsible for taking the best care of them we can. If the Pill compromises our health, we should reconsider its merit.

The second is the environment: I believe God made us stewards of this earth, and we are responsible for its health, too. Polluting our water with artificial hormones (which in turn influences our health) and filling our landfills with condoms does not sound like responsible stewardship, especially if there are known alternatives like NFP.

A third reason I am beginning to protest against the Pill, though, is its cost. Again, this has to do with stewardship. God made me responsible for taking care of my material resources. And you’re telling me that there is an absolutely FREE method of birth control out there, but I’ve been paying for potentially-harmful pills to do the same thing for the last four years of my life? Man! How irresponsible of me! I could have been using that cash to make the world a better place. Think of all the money that we could all save if we stopped taking the Pill!

3. I thought Dustin made an excellent point when he said that the reason people don’t hear about NFP is because there’s no money in it. What a good friggin’ point! All of a sudden, the Pill has a sinister side to it that I never before acknowledged. Of course doctors and pharmacists are going to push the Pill: it’s profitable! NFP will never be profitable because there’s nothing to sell. Of course the people on top are not going to waste their time explaining to you that you could get the same thing for free.

If I had no other reason, I think I would still want to promote NFP at this point just to stick it to the Man. Down with Big Pharma! Down with greedy, corporate America! Viva la revolución! Who’s with me? Sorry, that was my liberal-arts education getting the best of me again.

4. Since learning about NFP from Dustin and others, I have had to start changing the question from “Why not take the Pill?” to “Why take the Pill?” And I am coming up short of good answers.

I think Brian Killian, from Nuptial Mystery, says it well when he says this: “Contraception was invented for a single purpose, to maximize the possibility of indulgence while minimizing the consequences.” How true. The Pill is essentially just designed as an easy way out. (You Catholic readers have probably heard all of this stuff already. But most of us Gen Y evangelicals have never given it a moment’s thought before).

So, then, why use the Pill? Because I want to be able to indulge every urge we have, whenever we want, without having to think about it? That sounds lazy and selfish. If I go off the Pill, that just means I have to start paying attention to my body, and communicating with my husband about my body, and deciding together with him what we want in life. If I stop using the Pill, my husband and I will have to talk about whether fulfilling a particular urge at a particular moment will bring us closer to getting the things we both want in life. These all sound like good things, not bad things. Why have I been avoiding them for the last four years?

Lastly: I’ve come to see that NFP actually allows you to be more spontaneous with your procreative choices. You can decide to go for it at any time, because NFP is easily reversible. With the Pill, on the other hand, you often have to wait several months to get the hormones out of your system. I wanted to use the Pill because I thought it gave me more control over my reproduction, but I have learned that it actually gives me less control. OK, this isn’t true for everybody: some lucky buggers [*ahem* – Dustin and his wife] can still get pregnant the second they go off the Pill [*sigh*]; but for the rest of us, saying No to the Pill from the get-go looks more like a blessing.

Am I Sold on Natural Family Planning?

OK, I have to admit, there are some really nice things about being on the Pill. The most important one for me is what it did for my skin. I am a rather vain person, and I have struggled with acne since I was eleven. So I was thrilled that Diane-35, which I used for both my acne and for contraceptive purposes, made it a lot better. Since going off of it, my skin has taken a dramatic turn for the worse. This makes me very sad. Honestly, I cry about it regularly. But like I said – it’s a matter of vanity, and I don’t think I ought to compromise my health and my integrity for my looks. But dang, it’s hard.

Second, as I’ve already mentioned, I’ve always had crazy-irregular menstrual cycles. The Pill made it so much more regular. It was nice to be able to expect my period just by looking at how many pills I had left in the pack. But if it takes chemicals and foreign hormones to get that regularity, I don’t think it’s worth it. I’ll just have to learn about my body better so I can better identify the signs of oncoming menstruation, and be prepared for it at all times.

Ultimately, though, I think the bad things about the Pill outweigh the good, and the opposite is true for NFP. Someday, when I’m trying to not have kids again, I am going to very seriously consider NFP. Thanks, Dustin, for teaching me about it!

Photo by jenny downing
Dec 14

What Matters Now: A Free E-Book from Seth Godin

By Dustin | Book & Product Reviews

If you have not heard of Seth Godin, I really think you should take a look at his materials.  Seth is basically the modern king of outside-the-box thinking and “permission” marketing.  Among his best-selling books are Purple Cow and Tribes.

Along the lines of Dan Miller, Seth is not an author who writes books about marriage.  However, he does offer incredible insight into life in general and our relationships with those we interact with everyday, including our spouses.

I actually just got done reading a compilation of dozens of authors that Seth pulled together called The Big Moo.  I dog-eared several pages of that book because the stories relate so well to issues that I’ve experienced in marriage and want to share here at Engaged Marriage.

The Real Reason for This Post

So, hopefully, you can now understand why I think Seth Godin is so cool.  Well, he just got cooler.

Seth just released a FREE e-book called What Matters Now and he is encouraging those who read it to spread the word and give it to their friends. You are my friends, so I encourage you to download it here or go read Seth’s blog post about it if you prefer.

This book is a compilation of short writings from 70 of the best and brightest minds in the world today.  The topics are quite varied, but they all come back to doing what matters most in the world today.  I was inspired in just my first quick browse through the book.

By the way, there is even a contribution from Dave Ramsey on page 27 (on the topic of Momentum).

Please pass along this awesome resource to your family and friends!

Dec 12

A Wedding Prayer: What Special Memories Do You Hold From Your Wedding Day?

By Dustin | Marriage Preparation

Wedding Day PrayerEditor’s Note:  I often think back to all of those that helped make our wedding day special, and I remember all of the good wishes and blessings that were bestowed upon us on that crazy, incredible day. 

Looking back, I can really appreciate the Scripture readings, the Homily and all the many prayers for goodwill that have since been realized in our lives.

When Nadene Woelfel generously shared with me a special wedding prayer that she prepared several years ago, I was moved by the words and reminded once again of all the God-given blessings that marriage provides.  I asked Nadene if I could share her prayer here for your enjoyment, and she generously agreed and provided a bit of background about the honor of being asked to provide such a cool gift to a newly married couple.  Enjoy!

A few years ago I was asked to say the prayer for my Cousin’s wedding.  I thought, “Wow, what an honor and how wonderful to be asked.”

Then, I started to write and it was not easy. I wanted to portray to my cousin and her new husband my wishes for them in the future, and of course I wanted it to be perfect.

So, for all of you who may be struggling with a similar duty honor I want to share my prayer.

A Wedding Prayer

for Teresa and Shawn

Lord, we have gathered here today

To celebrate the love and commitment

That has united Terri and Shawn,

In a wonderful bond of marriage.

We ask that you bless this food that

We are about to receive with grateful hearts.

May your blessings descend also upon

These newly married spouses,

Their families and friends

Who join us here today.

We sincerely pray that you bless

Terri and Shawn

With a love to last forever.

In sickness and in health may they find your strength

In doubts and troubles may they see your light

May their love continue to grow with each new challenge

May they always find strength in each other

May they be blessed with children to keep their days and nights busy

And when the children sleep

And they look into each others eyes,

May they always feel what they feel today.

May they live each moment of each day for each other.

– Amen

When I finished saying this prayer at the Wedding Reception, my cousin was moved and asked me for a copy of it.

Not only did I give her a copy of it, but I framed it in a shadow box with flowers from the bouquet that I carried in her wedding.  She now has my prayer preserved as a keepsake for years to come.

What special memories or keepsakes do you hold sacred from your wedding day?  If you’re not yet married, what family traditions or cool plans do you look forward to on that special day?

Nadene is a Sales Representative for Krepe-Kraft Invitations & More, a division of Mod-Pac. Krepe-Kraft Invitations & More has provided personalized products for Weddings and other Party Events, such as invitations, boxes, bags, glassware and more for over 35 years.  For more information, please visit them at www.krepekraftonline.com

Photo by michelle.hayes
Dec 10

You Guys Are Simply Awesome!

By Dustin | General

The Top 10 Marriage Blogs of 2009 from themarryblogger.comTo all of the readers of Engaged Marriage: Thank You!

I am really excited to announce that Engaged Marriage was recently selected as a Top Ten Marriage Blog in a contest hosted by Stu at The Marry Blogger.  In fact, we were voted as the #1 Marriage Blog overall!

This ranking was based solely on the nominations that were submitted during the contest period.  In total, 16 blogs were represented by more than 100 submissions.  That means that you, the loyal and enthusiastic readers of Engaged Marriage, earned this accolade for our site.  I will proudly display the Top Ten “badge” in the sidebar in honor of your continued support.

I am truly amazed by the strong show of support.  I’m pretty sure that Engaged Marriage was the “youngest” blog represented.  Yet, after only 3 1/2 months in existence, we have created a community here that is enthusiastic about spreading the message and mission of supporting Extraordinary Marriages…it’s simply awesome!

I would also like to encourage you to visit Stu’s site and see the entire Top Ten list.  There are some fantastic sites included and many that I hope to collaborate with in the future.  And please spend some time checking out The Marry Blogger.  Stu has an awesome site and some excellent info to share with all of us!

And That’s Not All!

While I am heaping praise on you all, I wanted to share some other milestones that we have reached recently.  I have been really excited by the continued growth in readership.  In the three-plus months since its inception, approximately 7,000 people have visited the site, and the best single day last week welcomed nearly 250 visitors.

It’s pretty incredible to realize that the site’s pages have been viewed nearly 15,000 times in the short time that it’s been around, and the majority of those were within the last month.  I hope I can someday look back at this post with the same amazement as I feel now when I read my post celebrating our first 1,000 pageviews after about our first month.

If you like numbers, I have some more cool information to share about the members of our growing community:

  • The 53 previous posts have a total of 349 comments at the moment
  • Folks from 81 different countries have visited the site
  • Visitors have found Engaged Marriage through 235 different online sources
  • Engaged Marriage has over 2,300 followers on Twitter
  • Our Facebook page has 160 Fans with more joining in each day
  • Approximately 200 people have subscribed to receive automatic updates on new posts via either email or an RSS reader

I love numbers (I’m an engineer after all), and seeing the progress we are making in reaching a growing audience is certainly rewarding.  However, what really makes all of the hard work I put into this blog worth it is the very real connection I’ve established with many of you.

Through our interactions in comments, private emails and various social media platforms, I really feel connected to a larger community of great people who share my belief in the idea of extraordinary marriages.  And not only do you believe, but you are proactively pursuing it and helping myself and others along the way.  That’s what this thing is all about!

How Can You Become More Involved?

If you wish to join us in building an enthusiastic and supportive community, I would kindly ask you to consider taking one of the following actions.  They are all easily reversible if you decide this proactive and positive action thing is not for you, though I don’t suspect that will be a problem!

  • Sign up for Free E-mail Updates so you can read new posts in your inbox at your convenience.
  • Subscribe to the RSS Feed so you can read new posts in your Google reader or another platform.
  • Become a “fan” on the Engaged Marriage Facebook page to interact and receive updates on the latest happenings & behind-the-scenes news.
  • Follow Engaged Marriage on Twitter where I have frequent conversations with so many great people from around the world.
  • Tell your friends, family and co-workers about the site and invite them to pay us a quick visit.  In the first days of the site, a couple of enthusiastic readers sent emails to their friends with a link to the site and another shared it on her Facebook page (thanks Jaycie 🙂 ).  This has a bigger impact than you’d think, and that initial show of support laid the groundwork for the community that has emerged since.  Could you do the same?

Once again, thank you for you incredible support & for being part of the Engaged Marriage community!