What will your 2016 bring? Will you start with resolutions but end up with more of the same? Or will this be the year that you bring out your best and finally become comfortable in your own skin, no matter your challenges?
Maximize your potential with these tips. With a little investment in yourself, you’ll set the stage for your best year ever.
- Work on coming to terms with discomfort.When distressing feelings come your way, it’s natural to want to get rid of them as quickly as possible. But if you find yourself attempting to drown them in drugs, alcohol, food or other substances or behaviors, you stand a good chance of creating a bigger problem than you temporarily solved. The truth is, of course, that none of us gets to be happy, comfortable and contented 24/7. So instead of looking for ways to anesthetize yourself against pain, remind yourself that you won’t always feel this way. In fact, because research shows us people consistently overestimate how long they’ll be cast down by a negative event, you’ll likely feel relief sooner than you anticipate.
- Let go of control. We can plan, we can organize, we can guide, we can anticipate, but in the end, there’s much about our world that will never be within our control. Accepting that can be difficult, but doing so means much greater peace of mind and more openness to all that life has to offer. Instead of being unnerved when you realize you’re simply the passenger, not the driver, take a deep breath and concentrate on the one thing you can control — your reactions.
- Quit waiting for someone to rescue you. Don’t put your life on hold while you wait for Mr. or Ms. Right — someone to push you to make a change, or a mentor to lead you by the hand. The reality is, we are sometimes lucky to have people like this come into our lives, but the only person you should depend on for resolve and a sense of self-worth is you.
- Stop complaining and start being grateful. It doesn’t mean you can never express legitimate disappointment or that you can’t avail yourself of the relief of a sympathetic ear. But it does require recognizing that it is much harder to see the good all around you than the bad. Making an effort to be grateful for what is going right rather than focusing on what is going wrong is worth the extra exertion, however. Studies confirm that those individuals who regularly express gratitude are healthier, make better progress toward their goals, and have better mental well-being. It also makes you a lot more enjoyable to be around.
- Don’t let perfection get in the way of your happiness. Aiming for perfection may sound like a laudable goal, but it’s bound to leave you disappointed with your effort or, worse, to stop you from trying in the first place. Let go of the idea that you can and must do things just so. Instead, aim for giving your best to all you undertake — a true source of satisfaction — and let go of the illusion of perfection.
- Seek the help you need. If each New Year finds you vowing you will finally stop drinking too much, doing drugs, overeating, avoiding social situations, gambling — whatever your issue may be — but you’ve never been able to make your good intentions last, it’s time to seek help. You may have convinced yourself you’re simply weak-willed or hopeless, but it’s more likely that you simply need a support structure to overcome a substance use or behavioral issue that has deep genetic, biological, and environmental roots.
- Reclaim your mind. What are you thinking and saying to yourself throughout the day? Are you replaying the past and perhaps berating yourself for missteps? Are you endlessly worrying about the future and questioning your ability to meet its challenges? Mindfulness training allows you to observe your thoughts and bring them back to the present and, in doing so, better control the human tendency to ruminate unproductively on all that has happened and might happen. Such training can also help you change that interior dialogue from constant critic to stalwart friend.
- Stop comparing. It’s tough to live in an age that offers so many venues for comparison. But it’s important to resist the temptation to spend too much time measuring yourself against others. After all, you’re not seeing reality on those Instagram and Facebook feeds, but simply a “greatest hits” version of everyone else’s life. Instead, wish those around you well and put the focus back where it matters most — on your own life. Theodore Roosevelt said it best: “Comparison is the thief of joy.”
- Give up on cynicism. You may think your cynicism protects you, but it is actually more likely to hurt you. Because it dampens your trust in others, it can diminish your opportunities and even your earning power. Cynicism has also been linked to health risks such as greater rates of mortality, heart disease, cancer, even dementia. And it likely comes as no surprise that a cynical outlook can have a chilling effect on relationships.
- Exercise. Don’t do it just for the abs or the better-fitting pants. Do it because there’s nothing else you can do that has so much potential to boost the quality and length of your life. Exercise improves brain function, it improves sexual function, it can help prevent disease, and on and on. Not only that, it’s a mood booster, helping to treat depression and to prevent it. Start small and work your way up. Every move you make counts.
- Embrace your potential for change. It wasn’t that long ago that researchers thought the only change the adult brain was capable of was to degenerate with old age. We now know the brain is actually plastic — constantly changing in response to learning and environment. That’s means we can train our brains to enhance neural networks and create new ones that promote our mental well-being, such as in helping to minimize anxiety and stress. Meditation, certain types of therapy, and physical exercise are among the most effective ways to bring about such change, research has shown. The Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison is a leader in neuroplasticity research and a great resource for those who want to learn more about the ways we can “think” ourselves to greater mental and physical health.
- Allow yourself to be vulnerable. It takes courage to enter the arena and let yourself be judged, whether it’s in the workplace, in social situations, in a relationship, or chasing your dreams. But what you gain is invaluable — the peace and satisfaction of knowing that no matter what happens, you didn’t just sit in the corner trying not to get hurt and let your life drift by. You stood up and were counted.
- Cultivate awe. Reconnecting with that sense of wonder that came so naturally to you as a child pays off in improved mental and physical well-being. Research shows, for example, that feeling awe is associated with lower levels of proteins that are believed to influence the development of depression, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis and Alzheimer’s disease. Awe also makes us more aware of our place in and connection to the world, and to act in a more pro-social fashion because of it. Awe has been shown to make time seem to pass more slowly — and who doesn’t need that in our overloaded lives?
- Make a commitment to integrity. If you follow your moral compass only when convenient, you’re bound to spend a lot of time and energy trying to convince yourself and others that the choices you made were justified. If you commit to integrity, however, your value system is no longer in conflict. You earn the trust of all those around you as well as what is probably life’s most valuable possession — peace of mind.
- Quit ignoring your stress. You can’t avoid all stress but you can learn to minimize it and deal with it, and it’s crucial that you try. Left unmanaged, stress increases your risk of major illness and takes a toll on your mental health and your ability to make good decisions (such as not reaching for that extra drink). Schedule time into your day for stress-reduction techniques, whether it’s a daily walk, mindfulness practice, socializing, meditation, yoga, a nap — whatever works for you.
- Make time for the good relationships in your life by ending the bad. Sometimes we hold on to people we know aren’t good for us out of fear or insecurity or simple inertia. Now is the time to find the courage to let these people go and focus on those who do bring positive things to your life. To help you as you move on, you might consider whether forgiveness is an option for those who have wronged you. It’s a decision that no one else can make for you, but it’s worth remembering the old saying: “Holding on to anger is like taking poison and expecting the other person to die.”
Written By: David Sack, MD