Let’s not kid ourselves. 2017 was rough. Fear not! There is hope for 2018 if we focus on things we can control — like ourselves. Here’s my recipe for a successful new year, all 12 months long.
From mass shootings, to turned-violent protests, to divisiveness and the reality behind the #metoo movement, 2017 was the year that could not win. You may even feel little hope for 2018. As I think about my patients and their individual struggles, however, I am bursting with hope — they are doing what they can by focusing on areas within their control to improve their lives. When the world around us is spinning in chaos, it’s time to turn inward and work on ourselves. There, we have the biggest impact and reap the biggest rewards. The whole world is not within our control, but in 2018, imagine the benefit if everyone made just one of the following commitments to self-improvement.
- Become more comfortable with negative emotions.
There’s a lot of pressure to always feel positive, isn’t there? If someone isn’t telling us we should feel happy/grateful/joyful/confident, we are telling ourselves. Truth is, no one can live in that perpetually happy space 24/7. No one. Sure, it’s great to gain positive perspective on difficult situations as you overcome them, but how are you supposed to overcome if you never acknowledge that something is difficult to start?If you want to improve your overall emotional state, you’ve got to start noticing and accepting your emotions … or else. Seriously. Denial of negative emotions leads to depression (or anxiety or OCD or …), and believing you shouldn’t feel whatever you’re feeling, leads to denial. So, notice when you’re feeling anxious, sad, jealous, even happy without judging yourself. Feel the feelings — you won’t be stuck in them forever (unless you ignore them forever). Then, after you know the feelings exist, you can actually DO something about them.
For example, once you realize and accept, “Oh, I am actually really depressed that my business failed” you can address the sadness. You can learn a new way to express and move past your emotions. If you’re not sure where to start, I recommend grieving. Isn’t it amazing that our body has a natural method for releasing sadness? Yup! It’s called crying and it’s essentially human. You should give it a try sometime. 😉
After the grieving, look for the silver lining. What did you learn? Can you turn it into something useful? Your business may have failed, but maybe you can appreciate your bravery in trying and the connections you made along the way. Who knows … one of those connections may lead to your next big opportunity.
- Take a tiny step in the direction of your goals.
So, it’s been a decade of dreaming the same the dream, and you still haven’t taken a step toward achieving it? You’re not the first. Sometimes, our dreams are so big and critical to our self-esteem and happiness, taking action becomes too overwhelming and risky. After all, if you fail, what does that say about your value (self-esteem issue)? How will you possibly cope with your failure (happiness/fear issue)?It’s easier to stay stuck where you are, right? “Why am I dreaming so big? My life is really fine as it is.” If, however, this years-long internal “should I/shouldn’t I” debate hasn’t dissipated by now, it’s probably here to stay. I say, it’s time to go for it and take action — the teeniest, tiniest action.
Want to start a business? Take a small, manageable step: research local competitors, pick your entrepreneur friend’s brain over coffee, read a book to educate yourself, etc. Pick a step that initiates momentum without risk for failure.
After that, take the next small step, and then the next. You’ll hear that “what if I don’t succeed” voice pop in occasionally, but just keep moving and don’t overlook or diminish the importance of the tiny challenges. And usually, when we take steps to achieve our goals, the world often answers back … things mysteriously fall into place and it’s not as hard as we thought. But I guess you’ll never know if you don’t try. Happy adventuring!
- Resolve to procrastinate or abandon resolutions altogether.
Ok, Type-A people, this one is for you. You’ve got a lot on your plate. You’re already balancing work, family, friends, activities, domestic responsibilities, charitable causes, your health, “me time,” and [fill in the blank]. Do you really need to add something to your plate? If so, go for it. If not, or if you’re not sure what change to make, sit on it. Yup. Give yourself a pass this year and/or pick up the quest for personal improvement in June. Spend six months deciding what you want to accomplish in 2018, and then, when everyone else has given up, you’ll be starting. Score! 😉
- Choose a mantra or affirmation that speaks to you.
In other words, resolve to be better at soothing yourself. While I don’t want you to deny your negative emotions (see #1), most of us can benefit from consciously placing our attention on a phrase or image that brings us inner strength, comfort, resolve, self-love, and forgiveness in times of struggle.Not sure what mantra to pick? Look to song lyrics, scripture verses, book excerpts, motivational quotes, or uplifting pictures for inspiration. Just be sure to pick a mantra that speaks to you and your heart. Not all inspirational quotes are meant for all people at all times. If you’re going through a divorce, for example, perhaps “Nothing lasts forever” will benefit you more than “All you need is love.” Most people can feel in their gut when they’ve hit upon the right inspiration.
Can’t find a good-enough mantra? Adopt an affirmation routine: say one thing you love about yourself daily. It’s not arrogant. It’s self love and, if you struggle with self-esteem, it’s necessary.
If you find yourself forgetting to say the mantra or give yourself affirmations, create a reminder. Sticky notes work great, or make the phrase into a painting or drawing. If you’re not artistic, find an online customizer to make the phrase into a keychain or mug. (If it’s a popular mantra, pre-made swag may already exist.) The idea is to put the phrase somewhere you’ll notice daily. The more exposure, the more it will take hold.
- Adopt a pet, an elderly neighbor, a cause, a street – even if anonymously, unofficially.
Congratulations! Looks like you have nothing to work on this year. 🙂 If this is you and there are no behaviors you want to adopt or abandon, look outside yourself. Where can you offer time or financial support?It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the number of people and causes needing help, but don’t let that stop you. You don’t have to save everyone and everything. Just pick one person, one cause, one street or one animal that could use assistance. You can always change it up next year!
But here’s the catch — my challenge to you: don’t make it a one-time thing. Keep at it, weekly or monthly. Incorporate this aspect of giving into your routine for maximum impact and benefit to them (and YOU!).
Though we may feel challenged to believe in a better 2018, we all have the power to make meaningful changes within ourselves. The benefits of these changes will reverberate into the general population and, ultimately, bring upon larger shifts. Remember to go easy on yourself, take tiny steps and press on in the directions of your dreams, carrying with you negative emotions and all.
To your emotional health,