January 30, 2019

How To Change Your Life For the Better: 8 Incredibly Powerful Tips + Strategies Revealed Inside

How-To-Change-My-Life-For-the-Better

“Incredible change happens in your life when you decide to take control of what you do have power over instead of craving control over what you don't.” 

― Steve Maraboli

Steve Maraboli Change Quote

A sincere thanks to all the awesome experts who shared their best tips, insights and strategies on how to change your life for the better.

# Practice self-acceptance
Jennifer-Given-Helms

“Change is possible, but it must start with self-acceptance.”

 ~ Alexander Lowen

As we enter into 2019, the start of the year is naturally a time of self-reflection. For many of us that includes looking to the New Year with ideas of how we want to change, do better, be happier and healthier.

And yet, the root of positive change and manifestation is self-acceptance.

So often when I speak with female identifying individuals in private sessions or workshops, the subject of self-talk comes up. 

When I ask people about how they speak to themselves, the answer is “incredibly harshly.”  This is often quickly followed by, “I would NEVER want my friends and loved ones to hear how I talk to myself.” It is a common experience to fill our internal dialogue with incredibly harsh self-criticism, both intentionally and unintentionally.

Sometimes the negative self-talk comes from trying to motivate ourselves to change.

Kristin Neff, a pioneer in the field of self-compassion research, talks often about common misperceptions related to self-criticism and self-motivation. We are acculturated to believe that being hard on ourselves leads to positive outcomes.

The truth is self-criticism is linked to increased rates of depression, anxiety, social phobias, and eating disorders. It turns out we are far more likely to accomplish goals and improve our sense of wellbeing by being kind to ourselves and learning self-acceptance.  

“Do you already know that your existence – who and how you are – is in and of itself a contribution to the people and place around you? Not after or because you do some particular thing, but simple the miracle of your life.”

~ Adrienne Maree Brown, Emergent Strategies: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds

One of the first steps to real change is self-acceptance.

This does not mean that you think you are perfect and have no need to change or grow. Rather, it means that you accept yourself as who you are now ~ in this moment ~ and offer yourself acceptance as you do you’ll continue to learn and grow and change. This positive self-talk is similar to the unconditional love a parent offers a child.

As I often tell my daughter, “I will always love you. I may not always like the choices you make, but that will never stop me from loving you.”

Acknowledging our imperfections and being vulnerable enough to let others see them gives us the confidence to know that we are enough. It is that vulnerability and honesty that allows us to see our growth edges.

So, how do we do this?

1. The first step is to start actively paying attention to your self-talk.

Do this with curiosity and self-compassion. Simply notice the ways in which you talk to yourself. Pay special attention to experiences that seem to trigger harsher self-criticism.

2. Second, identify the stories that frequently appear in this self-talk.

Start to notice patterns in your self-talk. What fears are at the root of what you say to yourself? Where do you worry you are not enough? Notice these patterns and what they have to tell you.

3. Choose one common self-criticism and rewrite the story.

Meaningful, lasting change starts takes place in small steps. Like anything, it takes practice.

To start with, choose a story from your negative self-talk that feels a little lighter than some. Don’t start with the hardest, most deeply ingrained pattern you see. To start with, choose one that brings just a little stress to start.

Once you’ve identified a pattern or story to rewrite, think about the emotion at the root of that story. Let yourself feel that emotion in your body and name it for yourself. Common feelings linked to these critical stories are anger, sadness, fear, grief, disappointment, confusion, longing or despair. Let yourself simply name the emotion and feel into that acknowledgment.

Now think of what you would say to a friend who was experiencing this same emotion. What would you say to them in that moment? Make a list of things you might say, and begin to say them to yourself when this critical story comes into your internal dialogue. Begin to tell yourself things that rewrite this story and allow that shift to gently happen in your internal dialogue.

Once you have experienced success with rewriting this story, repeat the process with one that feels a little more challenging. Be patient with yourself as you practice. And celebrate each small success along the way.

Jennifer Given-Helms, MSW, LSWAIC, MEd - www.findingcentercounseling.com

# When we make peace with grace, we open the door to freedom—unconditional acceptance of self, and there we will find true change
Kaarin-A-Hanzlian

Imagine meeting your ever-evolving self with unconditional acceptance and allowing your accepted self to radiate out to others, just imagine.

From the time of conception until we take our final breath, we are evolving in all our wondrous humanness. Loving-kindness toward self allows us to unconditionally accept our own humanness, however that looks.

So often we are able to extend compassion to others, yet we harshly judge and shame ourselves. We demand change, and the merciless war against self ensues, and suffering becomes our constant companion. 

Welcoming.

Suffering comes when we attempt to change others or ourselves because of misplaced expectations and old voices and patterns.

Changing one’s life for the better can begin with welcoming. Welcoming means that we are no longer denying what is present within us.

The more we attempt to repress what we consider unwanted or unacceptable behaviors or beliefs, the more we demonstrate those behaviors and beliefs in the world. Instead, we embrace awareness of our humanness and welcome everything. 

Richard Miller, PhD, founder of Integrative Restoration (iRest), explained:

“Awareness is like fire. Fire purifies, and awareness purifies” (2010, p. 33). Welcoming with awareness frees us from self-hatred and self-loathing, and brings forth transformation with compassion and grace.

Grace.

“The child suffering is Grace. The child in joy is Grace. Peace is Grace. Even war is another face of Grace” (Miller, 2010, p. 69). Grace abounds in our laughter and our sadness, in our successes and our failures. Grace is ever-present and in everything. Grace is forgiving. 

Anne Lammott stated: “I do not at all understand the mystery of grace – only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.

When we make peace with grace, we open the door to freedom—unconditional acceptance of self, and there we will find true change.

When I say make peace with grace, I mean when we are able to open our hearts to the truth that we are worthy of non-suffering.

Reference

Miller, R. (2010). Yoga Nidra: A meditative practice for deep relaxation and healing. Boulder, CO: Sounds True.

Kaarin Hanzlian, MA, LMHCAwww.kaarinhanzlian.com

# Practice self-empathy
Aubree-Irving

You have probably heard of empathy.

In fact you probably empathize with others all the time. When a friend is struggling, you can sit with them in their pain, you can understand what they are going through, and you can feel what they are feeling. 

But, how do you show yourself empathy, and why is it important?

Self-empathy is the ability to validate our own emotional experiences and needs. To do this, you have to be present with yourself and really listen to yourself. Often we focus so much of our energy on others, or we get so busy with work and life that we forget to check in with ourself. 

There are some simple questions and activities that can help promote self-empathy and in turn cultivate self-compassion, emotion regulation, and inner peace.

1. Take Time to Check In

  • Spend 10 minutes each day to sit alone, breath and check in with yourself.
  • Find a comfortable place to sit or lie down.
  • Close your eyes and turn your attention to you breath.
  • Notice the sensations in your body as you breathe in and out.
  • Scan your body from your toes all the way up to your head and notice any sensations or discomfort in your body.
  • Ask yourself, “What am I feeling right now?” Try to use an emotion word to describe what you feel in your body or your mental state.
  • Ask yourself, “What do I need right now?” What can you do in this moment or today that will attend to how you are feeling?
  • Spend some time to just sit with these feelings and needs before opening your eyes and moving forward with your day.

2. Imagine Your Pain as a Vulnerable Child

  • Sometimes it is hardest to address the more painful feelings we may have, especially if we have some unhealed emotional wounds.
  • Imagine the parts of yourself that are in pain as a vulnerable child and soothe that child.
  • Take a few minutes every night and imagine taking that wounded child with you to a safe place where you feel comfortable and spend a few minutes comforting them.
  • What would you say to this hurting child to comfort it?
  • What does this child need from you to help it heal?
  • What can you give this to the child?
  • Journal about this experience: Briefly describe what this experience was like for you. What was difficult about it? What was easy? What did you notice before doing this exercise? What did you notice after doing this exercise?

3. Internalizing the Protective Other

  • Sometimes it is very difficult to be empathetic toward yourself. There may be someone in your life who you can visualize to help you do this.
  • When you feel like you need support and you cannot give it to yourself, Imagine what your friend, family member, or other protective other would say to you now.
  • Now say this to yourself.
  • Journal about this experience: What did you notice when you said it to yourself? What was difficult about this activity? If the roles were reversed, and you were comforting a friend, what would you say to them?

Try these activities for the next week and see how your feelings toward yourself and you awareness of your emotions changes. By changing the way you relate to yourself, you will change your life for the better! I know you can do it!

Aubree Irving, MA, LMFTA, CIIP - www.aubree-irving-therapy.com

# Practice mindfulness
Janetti-Marotta

Do you often find yourself wishing life were different in some way? 

Do you feel an underlying discontent that causes you to focus more on what’s wrong with your life than what’s not wrong? Do you find yourself discouraged in your attempts to change how things are and isolated in your dissatisfaction?

You aren’t alone

We all share the inborn tendency to want things to be different.  We all fight against the inherent difficulty life presents, the lack of control we ultimately have, and the fundamental tendency to take this inability personally.  And so we set on a mission to look outside ourself to “get it right” believing if we get all our “ducks in a row” we’ll arrive.

But this very search itself of wanting, leads you further and further away from finding what it is you’re looking for.

The problem is the wanting only wants more and is looking for it somewhere out there in some distant land in some future space.  Consider this possibility:  The life you’ve been looking for has actually been here all along.  It’s not about how to change your life for the better but how to drop into your life, how to fully inhabit the life you now have, and uncover the better!

How do you do this?  Here’s where mindfulness comes in

Mindfulness involves opening to the present moment just as it is, without trying to hold on to what you like about it or get rid of what you don’t like. Mindfulness teaches to steer your mind on what’s actually happening right now, rather than getting lost in the quagmire of past guilt or tunnel of future fear.  

Staying in the present shifts your focus from what’s wrong to what’s not wrong.  It’s where your strength resides.  It’s where choice is possible.

Mindfulness is not about trying to change yourself or the situation

Rather, it’s about how you relate to yourself or what’s happening that makes the difference.  When you acknowledge what’s present without resisting it—judging, trying too hard, fighting against it, or ignoring it altogether—you notice nothing is worth grasping onto or identifying with. 

You begin to focus on relating to the problem in a non-reactive way. You can then choose how you wish to respond. It’s like when Frodo, the Ring Bearer in Lord of the Rings, says to the Wizard Gandalf that he wishes the ring was never given to him.  Gandalf replies:  It’s not yours to decide.  All you have to decide is to do with the time that was given to you.

So, with mindfulness as your guide, how do you carry the burden of dissatisfaction and let go to find what you are truly looking for?

Breathe into your Life  

When you bring attention to your breath and body, the present moment is here to be touched.  You’re able to connect to what’s actually happening, not your reactive thoughts about what’s happening. 

Shallow, fast chest breathing turns on the stress response or fight/flight response in which your physiological processes speed up, enabling you to react to threat in an instant.  The problem is the brain can’t distinguish between what’s life threatening and what’s only emotionally threatening, and with the multiple of stressful situations that occur in any given day, it’s not uncommon for the stress response to chronically stay on low-level alert mode. 

Deep, abdominal breathing turns on the relaxation response.  It’s how we breathed when we were born and early on in life.  When you breathe in, the belly rises, like a balloon filling with air, and when you breathe out, the belly falls, like the balloon losing its air.  It’s this rhythmic flow of carbon dioxide and oxygen that signals the body to slow down and relax.  This enables you to reside in the present moment and proceed calmly and deliberately. 

-Belly Breathing

Use a few small objects such as pebbles or beads, as breath reminders to breathe from the belly.  Place your breath reminders in places where you spend a lot of time, take them with you, hold one when you feel anxious.  These reminders invite you to rely on your innate healing mechanism, the breath, and serve as your bridge to the present moment.  The more you practice belly breathing, the more it becomes your natural way of breathing. 

Ground Yourself in the Body

Mindfulness is an embodied practice:  it focuses attention on how the body responds to thoughts, emotions, and experiences. When the body is relaxed, the mind will be relaxed, so by grounding attention in your body, distance is created from reactive thoughts and unruly emotions.  In that space, you can pause and choose how you wish to respond. 

-Pause

When you find yourself engaging in automatic reactivity mode i.e. unwholesome thoughts, emotions, or actions that only make what’s happening worse, employ the Pause Practice.  Here   are 3 basic steps to this practice:

Stop

Stop what you’re doing by taking 2-3 deep abdominal breaths.

Observe

Thoughts.  Acknowledge your judgmental thought. Step back to observe it briefly. For example, if you’re stuck at a stop light, notice what you’re thinking, such as: I’m never going to get to work on time.

Emotions. Notice the impact of your judgmental thought on your emotions. With neutral attention, briefly notice what feelings are present. For example, simply notice if there’s a feeling like anxiety.

Body. Place your attention here.  Notice where you’re feeling bodily tension.  If it’s in your shoulders, move them up and down.  If your chest is tight imagine breathing into and out from places of stored tension.  If your back is stiff, shift your posture. Wiggle, shake, groan…, do whatever your body is telling you to do to release, relax, and let go.  

Return

Return to what you’re doing with this more relaxed way of being.

See Through the Neutral Lens of Mindfulness 

Another way of defining mindfulness is present moment non-judgmental awareness. Contrary to our natural human tendency to judge our experience—to label things as good or bad or resist what’s happening, mindfulness teaches you to see through a neutral lens—to simply observe your experience.  It’s through this non-judgmental way of being that insight into life’s true nature arises.

- Cultivate Non-Judgment.

Non-judging doesn’t mean getting rid of judgmental thoughts, but rather simply noticing when a judgmental thought arises and then not acting on it, not having it rule your emotions, or allowing it latch onto other thoughts and create a story (which only leads you down a rabbit hole and is not even true).  Instead practice mental noting:  simply say to yourself:  That’s a judgmental thought.

Live in the Here and Now

Replace the myth that life is happening somewhere else with the belief that what’s happening now is what really matters.  Place attention on being, not doing; on seeing, not seeking; on the process, not the goal.  If you find yourself motivated by “musts” and “shoulds”, with your attention solely on the goal (so you’re not seeing the forest through the trees), open to the present moment just as it is. 

- Cultivate Non-Striving

Notice when you’re driven by striving— a push toward the future, an over-focus on the goal, an attitude fueled by anxiety or fear.  Pay attention to the quality of your attention

For example, if you’re working on a project, is a sense of striving coming between you and the task at hand?  If the quality of attention or how you’re relating to what’s happening is with striving, practice non-striving—have clear intentions, stay focused, be a keen observer, and allow life to unfold as it will.

Just Keep Coming Back

The teachings and practices of mindfulness are rich and plentiful.  They show us how we get stuck and how we break free—to find the freedom from suffering or dissatisfaction.  

What I’ve presented here are but a few.  But the essence of what I’d like to leave you with, is to see through the myth that if things were different, then you can have what you’re looking for—that it’s somewhere out there in some future dream or hypothetical realm.  Rather, to fully inhabit the life you have now, with all its flaws and imperfections.  

Curiously, quite unexpectedly, when you accept what’s happening in the present moment, change naturally occurs.  You become the change yourself.  And that’s for the better.

Janetti Marotta, Ph.D. - www.janettimarotta.com

# Declutter
Jodie-Eisner

Have you ever noticed that you seem to feel better when your environment is organized? There’s psychological reason for that.

Why does excessive clutter create so much stress?

a. Physical clutter overwhelms your brain in the same way multitasking does, leaving you robbed of mental energy and consequently tired, anxious, and overwhelmed. 

b. Our brain prefers order because it’s easier to deal with.  When our brain is overwhelmed with clutter, it does not work as efficiently. 

c. Clutter can lead to decreased mood, decreased self-esteem, and increased stress, especially for women.

d. Clutter can also lead to anxiety, shame, depression, and frustration, which may prevent people from hosting social events in their home. 

Why is it so hard to unclutter? 

a. Excessive clutter can elevate anxiety. There is an optimal level of anxiety for performance. With too much clutter, your anxiety heightens, your senses get overwhelmed, and you become paralyzed and unable to unclutter.

b. Our possessions embody memories and interests, and the thought of getting rid of them can evoke guilt, shame, and regret for some.

c. The anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) is one of the areas of the brain involved in the modulation and processing of physical and emotional painResearchers recently identified that the ACC is activated when people let go of their valued possessions. This means our brain responds to the loss of valued possessions similarly to something that causes you physical pain. The more emotionally committed you are, or have been, to an item, the more you want to keep it around.

Why is uncluttering helpful?

a. An organized home helps with ease and efficiency in completing household tasks. This makes everyday tasks less stressful and provides you with the opportunity to attend to your self-care needs more easily, which in turn improves your quality of life.

b. People often report feeling “lighter” because their brain is more able to focus on what they are doing.  Clutter competes for our attention causing us to multitask and pushing our senses into overdrive.  Uncluttering allows for better focus, improved concentration, and decreased frustration.

c. Uncluttering naturally improves your mood by giving you a sense of accomplishment, confidence, and task mastery.

d. Uncluttering can lead to increased socialization, improved mood, increased confidence, and a more fulfilled life.

e. Living in an uncluttered space can lead to an increased sense of calm, increased energy, improved concentration and improved focus.

Remember: behavior change precipitates feeling change.  So once you start the process of uncluttering it will be easier to do it!

Jodie Eisner, PsyD - www.drjodieeisner.com

# Take a mindful, behavioral approach to implementing new, small, realistic goals
Stephanie-Wright

In today’s fast paced, race around the clock society, it is easy to forget and often overlook the importance of examining our own behavior (although we are quick to examine the behaviors of others!).

The “how” and “why” of what we are doing, how do we feel, what is impacting our lives, both positively and negatively and what do we do about it are all critical pieces to identify in order to shift our momentum in a different way.

Mindfulness is the practice of being in the present moment, on purpose and without judgement.

Without judgement of others or yourself. Staying present allows us to focus on what is happening now. This is important to have joy as well as to work towards being comfortable with being uncomfortable.  It is easy to be distracted, jumping back to past events or forward to future events, when the present creates vulnerabilities.

This is key to working through anxiety and other difficult emotions, which can tend to lead to unhealthy habits. The practice of staying present takes work and dedication but can lead to improvement in our health and well-being.

Behaviorism is a multi-faceted area of psychology.

It has several psychologists and social scientists that have studied why we do what we do and how to implement and create change. When looking at daily, life behaviors that you want to modify it is important to implement principles of behavior change, including utilizing reinforcement for small changes. 

There are countless self-help books, fad diets, new exercise studio’s, apps, etc. about how to improve ourselves. An observation is that people tend to jump from trend to trend and then get lost and defeated when there is no immediate progress; this makes old habits reappear and the cycle continues to repeat. Maybe the answer isn’t in new trends; but rather within our own history.

Let’s take a mindful, behavioral approach to implementing new, small, realistic goals.

When you complete a goal that you have set for yourself it is intrinsically rewarding, meaning it feels good. When events, relationships, actions are rewarding, you are more likely to continue to engage in them. It is jumping into big goals that we often are more likely to fail. Long term goals are important and small, mindful changes are the best way to get there.

This comes at a perfect time of year: The New Year. Many people are constantly talking about, hearing about, reading about New Year’s Resolutions. It is a good time to reflect on the past year and look forward into the new one. The biggest barrier that is often overlooked is setting unreasonable expectations for ourselves. Take the resolution and break it down.

Create a daily, weekly, bi weekly, monthly goal in order to reward and reinforce yourself frequently and immediately.

This is the most effective way to make real change. How will you measure this goal and keep yourself accountable?

There are several ways to measure behaviors.

How frequently am I engaging in this old behavior that I want to decrease or how frequently should I engage in the new behavior to increase? How long am I engaging this behavior? Should it be more or less?

Shaping behaviors is a process and needs to be done in steps.

It is easy to become overwhelmed, which is why smaller changes are more effective. Remember, be mindful and stay in the moment; recognize your efforts and be kind and encouraging to yourself. Change is hard!

The other important aspect of changing your habits is your mindset.

These ‘resolutions’ should be to help change your life for the better, not necessarily just for the month of January or the year of 2019. How can you conceptualize an improved version of yourself?

Helping create an image of what you want to become can help motivate you to continue working towards your goals.

Write it down, draw a picture, take a photo; turn it from an idea into a plan, and then work your plan. Create steps along the way including what you need to do to get there, what supports you should have in place, what are the materials you may need. This will help hold you responsible and moving in the right direction.

Let’s think about why we want to improve.

Is it a history of impulsive behavior? Eating, shopping, substances, gambling, bad relationships, running from vulnerabilities? Is it a lack of self-confidence that you could do it?

Believing that you are set in your ways, that you “just are the way you are?” You aren’t.

This is a mindset, that when challenged, understood, and practiced can lead to meaningful change. But you must accept that you have participated and created the self that you are. Not blame others, blame your circumstances, deny your role in choice.

You must move towards a mindset of growth and learning in order to fully commit to these new changes.

Stephanie Wright, MA, LLP, LPC - www.thewrightcounseling.com

# Create balance and develop effective coping skills
Dr.-Cindy-Joseph

When one thinks of the word “trauma” often what comes to mind is lasting emotional distress from military combat, sexual assault, or natural disasters.

However, trauma comes in many forms. Think of it this way, “Have you ever experienced something in life so deeply distressing that it has forever negatively changed your view of life?” 

If you can answer “yes”, then it is likely you have had a traumatic experience.

Let’s take it a bit further, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Have you ever found yourself increasingly isolating yourself from people and rejecting social invites?
  • Are you avoiding people or places that reminded you of that awful experience?
  • Are you becoming excessively angry for seemingly small circumstances?
  • Are you overly hyperaware of your surroundings?
  • Are you having frequent distressing dreams?
  • Are you becoming more and more distrusting of others?
  • Do you find that in your mind you are replaying the traumatic experience over and over again?

Then, it is likely that the traumatic experience has begun to negatively impact the way you view the world and how you interact with others.

Additionally, it is likely that you have placed limitations on how you plan on having new experiences. While some of your actions may seem protective, they can also cause you to feel a bit of out of control. If you are struggling with managing your emotions, forming new meaningful relationships, or finding peace, it is best to seek professional mental health services. 

Therapy is a powerful tool for addressing deep, painful experiences, understanding its impact, and re-establishing emotional strength and a sense of empowerment.

But in the interim, here are some things you can do to create balance and develop effective coping skills:

a. Meditate

Meditation helps to silence the mental noise and affords you a break from the negative mental loop of bad memories. Meditation also helps to re-create balance in your energy.

b. Be Present

Some may have the fortunate opportunity of having loved ones present.

This includes parents, children, grandchildren, significant others, cousins, aunts/uncles, friends or even pets. When you are with your loved ones (especially those that cause the least distress), be present. Take in the experience, laugh a full laugh, smile genuinely, and embrace with both arms and pause. 

If your loved ones include your pets, use the experiences you have with him, her, or them to focus on your pet(s); engage intently. Engaging with loved ones helps you to recalibrate negative views about people and create opportunities for renewed trust.

c. Engage in hobbies

Whether you enjoy working out, running, listening to music, being creative, or writing, whatever it may be- keeping doing it! Do not let it fall by the wayside. Engaging in hobbies helps you to remain in touch with your uniqueness and identity.

d. Practice spirituality, if it is a part of your worldview

Not to be confused with religiosity. While religion relates to practices and customs, spirituality relates to a relationship. Engaging in spirituality helps to create meaning and can be an avenue of emotional release.

e. Write

Keep a journal or just scribble on a napkin. Either way, writing allows you to express yourself and acknowledge your feelings. Your buried emotions need a place to go and it should not be displaced on your significant other or boss. Give it room to breathe in a safe place.

In order for these coping strategies to work, you must:

a. Make it a regular practice in your life.

For instance, reach out to loved ones or engage in hobbies as least once per week, or meditate daily. Making these coping strategies a regular practice does not mean you are going to want to every time, but try to as often as you can.

A regular practice creates a routine that your body and mind can look forward to for a mental or physical break. This creates balance. You cannot control the bad that comes with life, but you can create opportunities for good.

b. Protect the time that you engage in these coping strategies.

Do not allow distractions, unexpected events, or even self-sabotage to distract you from protecting your mental health.

c. Be intentional about making it a meaningful experience.

Think of it as your gift to yourself. We have to take care of ourselves.

d. Practice more than one coping strategy.

Switch it up, mix it up! This helps you to remain engaged and interested.

Trauma can be a debilitating experience. Without intervention, one’s condition can begin to negatively impact every part of his/her life. If you find that managing trauma is becoming more than you can handle alone, seek professional mental health counseling.

Dr. Cindy Joseph - www.soleypcs.com

# The keys are simplicity and sustainability
Jamie-Ganger

The beginning of a new year is an opportunity for a fresh start. We wake up on January 1st full of optimism and determination to change our lives. Often despite, having a bit too much fun the night before. We burst into the New Year with hopefulness and declare that this year will be different, better, improved.

Human beings seem to have an assiduous desire to “improve” their lives. Less sugar, more spinning, better sleep. “I will be amazing by June”, we say. “I will learn an new language, travel to Greece and be able to bounce a penny off my abs. The ME I always wanted to be”.

Some time around March we stumble across our list of New Year resolutions on a tattered piece of paper and quickly stuff it back in the drawer with a feeling of self-loathing and shame. We tend to set the same goals every single year, but why?

The answer is simple. We set the bar too high, forget to break down the specific steps and underestimate the importance of following-up with ourselves.

The key to setting realistic goals is this: Simplicity and Sustainability.

The idea is to keep the essence of your personal wellness goals spacious. Since we cannot predict the future, we can assume that our circumstances, environments and situations will change throughout the year. It is a good idea to leave some room for your goals to adapt to changing contexts. Keep it broad and simple.

We also tend to set goals that we think we should set instead of what we really need or want to set.

In order for new habits to be sustainable, they must be in line with our deeper ideologies about health and wellness and remain consistent through changing tides.

Example: Instead of asking, “What do I need to do this year?”, try asking, “What do I value most?”.

I have put together a few tips to help you focus on setting sustainable resolutions for personal wellness.

Here is a fun Five Step Exercise for setting a New Year goal plan that will stick.

STEP ONE: Use a blank sheet of paper to pour your heart out and jot down ALL the goals that come to mind.

No rules, just a dream-catcher of thoughts. You may decide to leave this magical sheet of paper on your desk or kitchen table for a few days until you are sure your have captured all of the ideas floating around in your mind.

STEP TWO: Identify several broad categories for these goals.

Your magical thought catcher might have dozens of ideas. However, a closer contemplation will reveal that many of these are the same or similar thoughts. Try identifying four to six board categories.

For example, Physical Wellness, Intellectual Wellness, Nutritional Wellness, Creative Wellness. Hint: These broad categories may be written in the form of an affirmation statement.

For example, instead of saying, “I want to lose ten pounds, exercise three times a week and do more sit-ups”, your broad goal might be, Physical Wellness. An affirmation (if you choose to use one) might look something like; “I dedicate time each day to check in with my body and assess my feeling of physical wellness.”. Keep it simple.

STEP THREE: Ah...the trusted index card.

We will call them Wellness Cards. Smile. Write down the four to six broad wellness categories on the front of an index card. If you choose to adapt the positive affirmation, add that too!

Example: Physical Wellness

I dedicate time each day to check in with my body to assess my feeling of physical wellness.

On the back of the Wellness Card, write down specific ideas you have for how to do this. Remember the “changing circumstances”? Give yourself options. It is unlikely that every single Wednesday of the year, you will be in the 6:30 yoga class. Stuff happens.

If you are having an off day, perhaps you simply choose to stretch at home and defer class until you feel better. The idea is to set your self up for success with flexible options instead of creating sneaky opportunities to feel disappointed for not following an unrealistic routine.

Example: Yoga 1x week. Meditation and breathing exercise. Run 3x week. Stretch.

HINT: Colorful index cards and inspiring stickers may add an extra touch of positive energy.

STEP FOUR: Identify your main source of organization.

Do you use your phone, a spiral notebook, planner or a journal to keep track of your life? Determine your main system of organization and keep your Wellness Cards near. Commit to starting each day by quickly reviewing the cards and noting your achievements in your calendar each evening.

STEP FIVE: In your calendar, note periodic dates throughout the year to review your Wellness Goals.

March, June, September, December are good three month markers to conduct a goal refresher. You may decide to make this review a special occasion. A Personal Wellness Date with your self so-to-speak. This time of reflection allows us to refine our specific goals for current circumstances and add new ones to the list.

Setting realistic objectives for personal wellness is an essential part of a healthy and happy lifestyle.

Everyone has a unique approach to transforming aspiring thoughts into tangible action steps, this is just one. However, you decide to approach it, remember to celebrate each accomplishment and reinforce achievement with the positive self-talk you deserve. You are the master of your own destiny and each of us innately owns the ability to live a powerful life.

If you would like to take a deeper look into your personal wellness practices, consider taking my Six Week Wellness Journey online. The Global Wellness Center offers a unique opportunity to create a thorough assessment of personal wellness, create a comprehensive goal plan and talk through the strengths and barriers that affect productivity and happiness.

Jamie Lee Ganger, LCSW - www.globalwellnesscenter.net

# Realize the power of small choices
Christine-Vargo

How much time do you spend making choices throughout your day?

Whether it’s in deciding what to eat for dinner, or choosing to get married, we have an opportunity to be mindful with either experience and often, people choose due to external reasons vs internal desires.

Choices that are made for external reasons risk an increase in resentment, frustration and the potential for an overall lack of control of our experiences.

If a friend invites me for dinner, for example, it would be easier to agree and respond with “You decide, it doesn’t matter to me, or I don’t care where we go.” This a common response and is wildly accepted within the realm of our culture and society. We don’t want to be too particular or perceived as difficult when it’s “just dinner, right?”

This approach, however, doesn’t lead to an increase in my own sense of self; or enhance my awareness of my own desires or facilitate self-trust or the trust my friend has towards me. I’ve given my power, my voice away within the timeframe required to decide what I would actually want to have for dinner.

I offer, that these small, seemingly innocuous, and unconscious decisions have a cumulative impact on our overall well-being over time.

 I often invite my clients to experiment with the practice of making daily life choices from a place of mindfulness; defined by Psychology Today is the “state of active, open attention on the present.”

Interpersonal Neurobiologist, Dr. Daniel Siegal further explains mindful awareness:

Mindful awareness, as we will see, actually involves more than just simply being aware: It involves being aware of aspects of the mind itself. Instead of being on automatic and mindless, mindfulness helps us awaken, and by reflecting on the mind we are enabled to make choices and thus change becomes possible.”

My directions are simple; when faced with an option between two or more choices, pause, place your hand on your heart, breathe and ask yourself the simple question:

Which of these choices would give me the most pleasure? 

Which is, what I like to refer to as, a “full yes?”

When we make choices about our desires from an internal place, we’re more likely to be contented with whatever the outcome is after making any decision, even if the outcome isn’t what we initially wanted or expected.

The process of making the decision from a conscious place is what serves us most; having an attachment to the result is part of what breeds disappointment. The other part, if the decision is made without awareness, is grounds for resentment of self and others.

As Dr. Brené Brown shares in The Anatomy of Trust, knowing your own boundaries and when others can hold them as well, we build trust.

My capacity to say “no” to a friend’s request/inquiry is integral to having the same friend trust when I say “yes” to a different or even a similar request at another time. It may seem simple, however, there’s weight and significance for myself, and others when I am able to express what I would like to eat for dinner.  

In developing a practice for smaller choices, the larger choices we make in our lives benefit as well.

If I’ve practiced the experiment of making decisions with mindful intention, the choice to buy a home, or to get married will be less overwhelming and will likely stem from a grounded and authentic place.

Christine Vargo, LCSW - www.christinevargo.com

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