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It was the holiday season six years ago and I found myself 39 and single. I actually didn’t find it a problem being single, but for the first time I felt an acute sense of loneliness. I had spent that Christmas alone and it was as though someone had thrown a bucket of ice water over my head to wake me up. And just like that I suddenly had the immense desire to be married.

Yes, me. The same person who had a great network of single girlfriends, who had been successful in her career, who traveled a great deal, and to be quite honest, liked having yellow walls in her home and a tiffany-blue colored guest room–all without having to manage complaints from a man who might find the walls a little too girlie for his tastes.

So essentially, that year I embarked on a very strange New Year’s resolution: To get married. Coincidentally at the same time I had the opportunity to hear a lecture by Bob Greene–Oprah’s trainer. My own trainer gave me a free ticket to the lecture and I was looking forward to hearing from Greene all about how I could lose weight, be healthier and make my workouts better.

When I arrived at the lecture I, along with all the other attendees, was handed a pad of paper and a little golf pencil. Greene came out to lots of cheers from the mostly-women audience (I’m not going to lie–he’s quite handsome) and he explained that his lecture was going to be a little different than what we probably expected.

Fearing that he was going to make a pitch for some health supplement I was surprised when he asked us to draw a circle on the piece of paper and make it into a pie with eight sections like this :

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Next, he asked us to write into each section things that are important to us:

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For each of the areas he then asked us to reflect on them and rate them a plus (+) or a minus (-). For instance, if you wanted to lose weight or get into better shape, your health category would probably get a minus. If you are comfortable with your financial situation perhaps it would get a plus. This is what mine looked like:

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Then he asked us to circle the one or even two with a minus that we wanted to work on. Again, this is what mine looked like:

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Greene went on to explain that he does this exercise with all his clients before training with them. Of course, he would get puzzled looks (as he likely did from many in the audience that evening), but he said that this process was always life changing for his clients. The way this works is, once you’ve picked the area you want to focus on and have your goal identified, every day you must do something to help reach that goal. So let’s say it’s weight loss. Maybe tomorrow my one thing that I do is read an article on weight loss. And the next day maybe it’s deciding not to have dessert with dinner when eating out. He promised us that if we changed one thing in our life everyday to help reach that goal that we would indeed reach it. In fact, he said that he had clients who worked on two sections of the pie and in a year they didn’t even recognize their lives.

I so wanted to not recognize my life.

To say that I left the lecture inspired is an understatement. I had already come to the realization that I didn’t want to be alone any more and I was just handed a gift by Bob Greene—I now had the tools to help me achieve my goal.

I first had to change my attitude. I wasn’t against marriage at all, but I had spent that last 10 years or so being okay without marriage. In fact, I probably spent the previous 10 years just trying to not get hurt or disappointed that it was just easier not to want marriage at all.

Books about marriage—positive books—replaced my copies of The New Yorker and Entertainment Weekly on my nightstand. I also started talking to my married friends more about their marriages and what made it work for them. Let’s face it, there’s a lot out there—most of it entertaining—that focus on when things go awry in a marriage. Arguing mates on sitcoms stir up laughter, and we become obsessed with actors’ marriages falling to pieces before our eyes. Like a dieter throwing out sugary foods from my pantry I had to rid my life of destructive narratives on marriage.

I also let everyone know about my change in course regarding marriage. Each of my single girlfriends, ranging from mid-30s to early 50s were always hopeful about marriage and were thrilled that I finally was on board with the idea. I even joined a matchmaking service. It was a bit of a bust, except for the 3-hour interview where I was forced to look at my list of wants and needs in a companion. The company (now defunct) was a bit of a joke—they were never able to really find anyone who was close to being compatible with me, but the lengthy interview process forced me to break away from a lot of my thinking that was holding me back, and enable me to carve down my list to what I needed.

One day, as part of my do-something-different-every-day strategy I finally registered for an online dating service—It was only a month after the Bob Greene lecture and I figured this would be an easy way to keep up the do-something-every-day ritual required on the Bob Greene plan. It’s simple: log on every night and answer emails from guys.

Five days after I registered, Stephen found me online and sent me a message.

Six weeks later I flew over to Scotland to meet him.

For the next two years we were in a long-distance dating relationship and all the preparation I started when I began the pie exercise was paying off.

Then two years from the date we met—two years and four months after I started my resolution—we were married.

A New Year’s Resolution led to this.

There is no doubt in my mind that Bob Greene’s pie exercise changed my life. The whole process changed my thinking so I was actually ready to achieve my goal. Sure, finding the right companion requires some chance, some serendipity, and the free will of the other person, but it’s not so much about controlling the situation to design it how you want it–for me it was preparing myself to allow something to happen, so I could be ready for it.

I’ve used the pie exercise several times in my life and have actually used it with people who have worked for me for career development. It’s an excellent tool for guidance in one’s life. My pie section titles change from time to time and the pluses sometimes turn into minuses and the minuses sometimes become pluses.

So, if you’re really serious about changing your life and working on your New Year’s Resolutions, give the pie method a shot. You just might change your life so much you won’t recognize it in a year.