&#91SCRIVENER&#93Self-improvement's just too easy

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&#91SCRIVENER&#93Self-improvement's just too easy

Around the world this week, millions of people remember that they've not kept up their new year's resolutions. Not me. I've implemented an integrated reform program, notably in health and welfare and in personal financial management, and it's already producing results.

For example, I've completely given up smoking. This breakthrough was made possible four years ago when I started smoking again after a 23-year break. Last year, I initiated a program that involved only smoking when I was drinking. Despite some lapses, I kind of kept to that through fiscal 2002. Well, not completely true if you want to be picky, but the important thing is that I never lost the desire to stick to the resolution, which is the point I'm trying to make here. So far in '03 I've had six cigarettes -- if you don't count the packet of 10 I chain-smoked on Jan. 2 at Heathrow Airport waiting for the flight back to Seoul. These six have been kind of experimental and have helped convince me I can do without the things. Also, they were donated by other people, which is important because once you start buying cigarettes, you're on the slippery slope.

A key feature of the total health package is exercise. This program was vigorously initiated at the end of my first day back at work -- at 6:30 p.m., Monday, Jan. 6, to be precise. My wife had bought me some new sneakers. I would have preferred to use my old tennis shoes because the new ones are bright green and clash with the blue shorts that the gym provides. I was also still a little jet-lagged, but you meet such challenges when you start trying to change yourself.

The running machine was in front of a full length wall mirror. It's funny how straight on, you don't look out of shape at all. But if you see yourself side-on, it's like you're looking at some other fat bloke. After two minutes walking and about three minutes running at 9 -- it's either kilometers or miles per hour, I'm not sure -- my back started to hurt. I'd pulled a muscle lifting boxes during the holiday and it was still quite painful. To avoid doing more damage, I thought it wise to stop. As showering is important, I had one, which made me feel as if I'd worked out.

Since then, I've been quite busy at work. But I hope to have time for another workout soon.

The third feature of the health and welfare reforms concerns drinking. You have to be very careful about changing your drinking habits. The first question to ask yourself is: Why do you drink? If you're addicted, I'd say, best to stop. If it's to be social, consult your doctor before stopping. But I drink to get drunk, more merrily so than leglessly. A question then arises: How do you get drunk without drinking?

My plan is to try to drink without getting drunk and over time change my motivation. To this end, I'm training myself to get used to the idea of having the odd glass of wine. To be honest, I don't like having a single glass. I can't see the point in having fewer than three. In other words, I'm working on myself so that I'll naturally want to drink less. I'm trying to develop an interest in wines, but I forget their names. There are just so many of them.

The health and welfare reforms are closely connected to my personal finance program, also a new year's resolution.

My wife and I now log our daily expenditures, and I see I could have bought a house with the money I've spent on taxis in the last 20 years. Suddenly, I'm appreciating the value of things and am a better person, except that I'm less generous.

Now I just buy only what I need, but of course I make mistakes. Last week, for example, I was walking to a breakfast meeting. It was still dark and I was early, so I thought I'd get a newspaper to read while I waited. I bought a copy of this paper at a newsstand, noticing for the first time the price -- 1,300 won. Over a year that's the price of an airline ticket. I could have gone to the hotel and gotten one free, but I didn't. That bothered me all day.

* The writer is managing director of Merit/Burson-Masteller and author of "The Koreans." He is a member of the JoongAng Daily ombudsman committee.

by Michael Breen
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