People all across the world will greet the arrival of the New Year with hope and aspirations, brimming with plans about how to make this THE YEAR! Whether you want to lose the weight, get the promotion, or save your floundering marriage, whether your goal is to read more, complain less or finally figure out what you want to be when you grow up – 2017 just might be your year.
Personally, I am not one for traditional New Year’s resolutions, but I do have my own approach to rebooting each January, so when my friends at Unlocking Litchfield asked me to provide MY TOP TEN TIPS to help start the year off right, I jumped at the chance.
Ready to make 2017 all that it can be?
Review and Reflect. Think back to this time last year, and take a long, loving look at 2016. Jot down everything positive you can recall, all the little incidents, moments and happy surprises that put a smile on your face and make you feel all warm and fuzzy. Write down everything you can think of — from long walks on sunny days to unexpected phone calls from old friends to the way your dog happily greeted you at the front door at the end of each long day. If you get stuck, or if sadness, disappointments or regrets bubble to the surface, that’s OK, too. Allow it all, without judgment or aversion, and keep gently directing your attention to the positive. This will help to put you in the correct frame of heart and mind to focus on everything you’d like to have more of (or do differently) in the year ahead.
Focus on Feeling States, Not Resolutions. Whatever your stated goals, I urge you to go deeper. Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and imagine yourself with your own personal missions accomplished. Envision yourself with the bank account flush, the pounds shed or the love of your life securely by your side. Linger there. Savor it. Own it!
How does it feel?
Now, try to identify the people, activities or situations in your life that already provide similar feelings. You might find you don’t have far to go to feel more of what you desire. Otherwise, you can go about pursuing plans to bring more of what you crave into your life. Do this for each of your resolutions, and keep the feeling state at the ready whenever you are faced with a decision. Instead of focusing on what you can’t have or must do differently or shouldn’t allow yourself, revisit that feeling and let it guide you. For me, it’s always about feeling a bit more in control, lighter and cleaner, less weighty and more free. Invoking those feeling states whenever I have choices to make – salad or cheese fries, putting the laundry away or leaving the closet a hazmat zone, switching to water or sticking with wine – always makes it much easier to make the healthier choice.
Meditate, Meditate, Meditate! I can not overstate the power of meditation in terms of improving absolutely everything that matters in life. From lowering blood pressure to improving concentration, from increasing patience to reducing insomnia to boosting your sex life – as far as life enhancing tools go, it does not get more powerful than this. And it’s so damn easy! If you have never tried meditation, there are currently countless sources at your fingertips – You Tube, Insight Timer and Headspace just to name a few – all of which allow you to experiment and explore from the comfort of your own home. All you need is a device, ten minutes and an open mind. (Here is a link to my favorite, just to help get you started – (https://youtu.be/WYP_W49o1vQ)).
Get Grateful – Right up there with a regular meditation practice, I encourage all of my clients, friends, family and anyone and everyone who will listen to develop a gratitude practice. As human beings, we all have a negativity bias. Our brains are hardwired to focus on what we are lacking, want more of or are terrified of losing. We look at our lives (our image in the mirror, our home, our careers, our families) and we instinctively hone in on whatever feels like a problem.
The good news? The brain is capable of rewiring, and there is ample scientific evidence that focusing on the positive – on regularly and intentially noting that for which you are grateful – improves your mood, your health, your relationships, your productivity and your overall sense of happiness. You can still want and pursue more – you can still strive to improve in any or all areas of life – but coming from a place of gratitude as opposed to negativity, lack or need, has a proven positive impact. It makes you more pleasant to be around and generally more attractive, and most importantly, you will experience more joy along the way.
Venture Outside. Whether you live in a warm climate or a snowy one, whether you like to swim, surf, ski, snowshoe or none of the above – please, go outside, regularly. If you are in a city, head to a park. Marvel at whatever it is that makes up your landscape. Nature’s rhythms reminds us that each day is a new day, and a new opportunity. “Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life,” said Rachel Carson, a noted conservationist. Notice the moon, the sunset, the birds, the creativity of nature itself. The natural world is awe inspiring, it reminds us we are part of something larger than ourselves, it restores our sense of balance, resilience and continuity. It makes us better people! There is ample scientific evidence for all of this, or you can just take my word for it. Better yet, get out there and see for yourself.
Pick Your People. Surround yourself with the people who lift you up, rather than those that drag you down. I regularly invite clients to make written lists of their GO TO feel good people – then go about making plans with them. I invite you to do the same. Who makes you laugh? Who makes you feel supported? Seen? Valued? Loved? We humans are social animals, we thrive on connection with each other. All too often, however, due to geography, daily demands or lack of effort, we spend too much time with the wrong people and not nearly enough with the right ones. Identify your people, then reach out. Make some plans. Suggest a monthly dinner, a weekly walk or a regular coffee talk – or at the very least, a phone date. Then just sit back, relax and enjoy.
Exercise. No list for optimal living would be complete without a nod to the all important habit of exercise. It is an absolute must both for your physical health and your mental well-being. Blast your favorite music at the same time, take your workout outside, or combine all three and you’ve got a surefire-yet-healthy recipe for feeling totally high. Enough said.
Give Back. It may seem like you have nothing left to give after the excesses of the holiday season, but multiple studies show that giving to your community – whether by volunteering or charitable donations – benefits the giver as much as, if not more than, the recipient. Charitable giving is associated with higher levels of both health and happiness. It has also been linked with increased prosperity and a stronger sense of community. Think about that — by doing good in the world, you are doing good for yourself. By being generous, you are doing yourself the ultimate service. Talk about a win win!
Rise and Shine – Establish a Morning Routine. Bold plans and high hopes for the New Year are great, but a year is made of up of single days, and each one counts. Some of the most accomplished people I know set their alarms extra early to read fiction, take an online course, exercise, play with their children, write or pursue any number of personally satisfying activities. After years of experimentation, I have finally devised a morning routine that works for me – at least one hour of personal time devoted to some combination of gratitude, meditation and physical exercise.
Each day brings its own demands and challenges, but starting my morning with time to reflect, time to care for myself – mind, body and soul – before tending to everyone else, allows me to begin the day on my own terms, with a sense of control, and that balanced, clear-headed, healthy feeling I crave. I encourage you to examine your morning routine, to be honest with yourself (perhaps the alarm needs to be across the room? The coffee put on a timer?), then determine what you can add or subtract to set yourself up for daily success.
Love the One You’re With. Self-reflection and plans for improvement are worthy pursuits, but nothing beats the freedom of true self-acceptance. Instead of always trying to change yourself, try loving yourself exactly as you are – right here, right now. Make a list of all of the things you value and appreciate about yourself, and consider asking a few trusted friends to do the same. Include mantras like “I am enough” into your new daily meditation practice, include small details from your current life, personality and healthy body into your new gratitude practice. Battle that negativity bias by focusing on things you are proud of and everything you do well, more than the laments and regrets. Treat yourself to a walk outside, just because you deserve it. Show yourself the same compassion, appreciation and love as those Go To people you identified. All of these practices work together, singularly and in combination, to provide you with whatever it is you actually crave — freedom from judgment, greater productivity, a feeling of ease, a sense of accomplishmet, connection and love.
If you would prefer to stick with a more traditional set of resolutions, or if your goals for 2017 are of a more practical or concrete nature— if they remain focused on reducing the number on the scale or increasing the value of your savings account — do not fret! These tools are intended to help with all of that (and everything else), too. Just think of this program as the scenic route, and try to enjoy the ride.
Most importantly, have a happy and healthy new year, and may all your aspirations come to pass.