Keeping Priorities in Order

UPDATED: October 18, 2010
PUBLISHED: October 18, 2010

Richard and Linda Eyre know firsthand the demands achievers face in their personal and professional lives. This busy couple has written numerous books, including Teaching Your Children Values, the first parenting book in 50 years to reach No. 1 on the New York Times Best Seller list. They’ve pursued challenging careers—Richard has launched three companies and served as the director of the White House Conference on Parents and Children; Linda is a musician, teacher and founder of worldwide preschool Joy Schools. Yet, their proudest achievements are their marriage of 40 years and keeping their family of nine intact—and a priority.

Not long out of school, the Eyres were troubled to see friends and colleagues succeeding in business but failing in their marriages and family life. The Eyres wanted to avoid that pattern in their own lives—and to help other people avoid it in theirs.

They began studying, writing and lecturing on parenting and family-prioritized life balance, and started developing new approaches to relationship goals. “I’ve seen very successful people set lofty, quantitative goals for their business, sales and income, but when it comes to their relationships, they tend to be vague. They say, ‘I just want to be a good spouse or a good dad.’ But no company would be successful if their leadership had such nonspecific goals as, ‘I just want to be a good CEO,’ ” Richard says.

In a six-week guest blog series starting Oct. 4 on, the Eyres will share strategies for setting specific relationship goals and actionable steps to guide you in attaining them.

The Eyres have written more than 30 books, including Lifebalance (1997), Three Steps to a Strong Family (1995) and Teaching Your Children Joy (1994). Their new book, Parenting: The Entitlement Trap, is slated for release in October 2011.



The only true measure of wealth or success is relationships, and polls show that more than 90 percent of Americans agree.

This doesn’t mean achievements in other areas are not important, but it does suggest they are the means to the end—the end being happiness and fulfillment in our families. We work hard, we build companies, we make money…. but we do it for our families so we can enjoy our relationships more.

But let’s be honest. Our lifestyles and our expenditure of time and energy don’t always reflect the priorities we claim. Why do we pay more lip service than real effort to putting family first? Why do we give so much more time and mental energy to our achievements than to our relationships?

Could it be that we have become more skilled at achieving than at relating? Are we better at setting goals for our work than for our home? And does the fact that we get more kudos and recognition for career accomplishment than for family commitment compel us to focus more on the one and less on the other?

Consider the following exercises, which have helped high-achieving, Type-A candle-burners bring their actions into sync with their beliefs. For ease of memory, each of them has an 11-letter codeword that starts with an S.

The Stewardship Exercise

Many of the world’s most successful people follow a pattern of delegating everything they can to save energy and time for the things that can’t be delegated. At the top of the “can’t-delegate” list are our families. While we can welcome help from others, the responsibility, the stewardship, stays with us.

To make sure you’re practicing stewardship over your relationships, try this:

When you’re planning for the day ahead, before you finalize your schedule or make your list of achievement-oriented have-to-dos, spend five minutes coming up with three relationship-oriented choose-to-dos that you will not delegate—one for each of your top three stewardships.

1.    Ask yourself, “What is one thing I choose to do for my spouse or for someone in my family today?” This is not a have-to-do like “get them picked up after soccer practice.” It is something someone needs but doesn’t expect, something that will bring joy. It could be a note to your wife, a call to your aging grandmother. Whatever it is, write it down before you start planning your day.

2.    What is one unexpected thing you could do for someone at work this day? A show of appreciation, an apology, an acknowledgement, perhaps?

3.    What is one thing you could do for yourself this day? Something you need but would not normally get? Exercise? A nap? To read the first chapter of the book you bought a month ago?

The cumulative effect of the three daily choose-to-dos makes them powerful. And as you perform them, you will find yourself becoming more relationship-oriented, more balanced and more pleased with your life.


The Serendipity Exercise

So many things that nourish our relationships cannot be planned or scheduled: An old friend calls, a child needs you, an occurrence triggers a conversation with your spouse.

When these things happen, do you feel interrupted and irritated? Or do you welcome the surprise, find it interesting and take it as an opportunity?

The difference between the first option and the second may be the difference between staleness and creative flexibility, between high blood pressure and low, between enjoying and resenting the moment.

Such occurrences often are serendipitous; although unexpected, they may bring about unforeseen benefits, particularly if we’re flexible and open-minded to the possibilities.

To be more open to serendipity, try this:

Draw a vertical line down the center of your planning page. Jot your plans, schedule and to-dos on the left side of the page. As you go through the day, take notice of “serendipities,” unexpected occurrences that may prove favorable, and jot them on the right side of the page. (Note that the right and left sides of the page in this exercise coincide with the right and left hemispheres of the brain.) Challenge yourself to find (and love) at least three serendipities each day.

Keep your written record of serendipities for 21 days, and then look back and compare the value of the accomplished, structured, proactive things that happened on the left with the value of the spontaneous, reactive things you recorded on the right.

You will find that both sides have comparable value, and you will feel a greater inner balance between structure and flexibility. You will also find that better relationships often result from welcoming, appreciating and reacting well to things you could not have planned.

The Synergicity Exercise

Synergicity is a combination of synergy (working together to produce a result not obtainable by one person independently) and synchronicity (seemingly unrelated occurrences combining in a meaningful way). In this case, synergicity is created by setting clear relationship goals within your family.

We all know that effective goals involve a clear vision of what we want. The goal must be specific and measurable and divisible into progressing pieces. That may explain why achievement goals are, for most people, easier to set and to monitor than relationship goals; it is relatively easy to visualize an amount of money or an achieved position or a triathlon record, and then to chart and measure your progress in reaching the goal.

But how do you quantify a relationship goal? You don’t! Instead, you think in qualities rather than quantities, and you make it clear and specific with words rather than numbers. You write a vivid description of the relationship you want five years from now with your spouse or with a child.

Start with a sentence like, “It is November of 2015, and we have been married for 17 years.” Then describe the relationship, the communication, the trust level, the feelings. Use your imagination and your idealism.

Once the relationship goal is clear and real in your mind, the law of attraction begins to take over. You find yourself subconsciously acting and responding in ways that bring reality closer and closer to what you described. The two of you find it progressively easier to be in sync, and the synergy and mutually complementing qualities you created in your mind begin to seep into the real relationship.

You will find that none of the three exercises is easy, but as you persist, the balancing and relationship-enhancing qualities of stewardship, serendipity and synergicity will become increasingly a part of who you are and a benefit and a blessing to those you love.