Another year has passed, and many of us begin the New Year contemplating ways to improve our lives, increase our security and enhance the happiness we enjoy. In essence, many of us are seeking to improve our lives and/or the lives of others. Depending on how things are going, our interest in “making things better” may vary a bit. Yes, there is research in this area and, if you are inclined to start planning on ways to make this year better, here is some food for thought.
In the past 15 years, there has been a dramatic shift in the research exploring success, goal attainment and happiness. Interestingly, it might not surprise you to learn that happiness does NOT flow from more resources or a bigger bank account, if your fundamental needs are met without worry or fear. In other words, if your essential needs are met without stress and you can prepare for the future, then more income does not equal more happiness.
It’s not that more is bad; it’s that the acquisition of more is usually in pursuit of compensating for a missing sense of adequacy. Most on this track live in denial of this and insist that they are fulfilled, yet from the outside, the lack of satisfaction is obvious. But the data suggests that it is easier to “have it all” if we get our heads straight first, and so here are my key pointers for 2017.
Whether success, health or happiness, these will make a difference:
1. Invite all life brings, particularly the uninvited: While acceptance can often be misinterpreted as living life as a doormat, it’s just not that way. By accepting the uninvited, we simply do not waste the psychological energy on mental and emotional stress “fighting” reality. Reality (being that which has already, inexplicably, unwittingly shown up) is most easily managed with profound acceptance. The sages have talked of this for centuries and now the research solidly supports that this is the first step to happiness and success.
Resolve to turn away from resisting the unwanted, and practice saying “yes” to it all. Very, very tough, I know, but remember that this is a “yes” to what has already happened. This is not a yes to hopelessness, apathy or inaction.
2. Don’t waste a moment of the new year on anything you can’t affect: With the growth of social media apps and constant connectivity by phone or computer, it is almost effortless to receive constant stimulation from friends, family, promotions, news events, etc. Yes, you say but so what? We are all in that mess together. Well, not really. You do have a choice.
It’s a choice about how much of your life, your precious life, you are willing to devote to events that you cannot influence or change. The ultimate waste of time (and thus life) is to find yourself reacting and responding to input and events that you cannot change or improve. It’s also a choice about your level of stress AND your level of focus on what is important. The more reactive you are to this input, the more these events end up controlling your life, adding stress and stealing your focus AWAY from those actions that will bring about growth or change.
Resolve to start your year with eliminating all the input and the responses that have no tangible impact on your future—the future you care about. Anything that is extraneous to purpose-driven action on your part: eliminate! Space, time and energy will inevitably expand, as well.
3. From what is, do commit to what you want rather than your “don’t wants”: As we learn more about motivating our brains toward effective action, it’s about giving directionality to our amazing minds. If we simply look toward the new year and decide we are going to lose weight, the battle is often already lost. It seems like we really did something to change our lives, but instead we have strengthened our psychological relationship with what we don’t want in our lives. This usually leads to failure.
Our goal is a “move away from” goal. It’s tricky, because our brains are easily caught by disturbance and fear. Thus, the natural reflex is to move toward old thought patterns about what we don’t want, don’t like and don’t approve of—in ourselves and others.
Resolve instead: Commit to what you want and to clarify a vision of what you seek. Then the real test is to write this down and make sure every word points to where you are going and has no reference to where you have been. You will know you are serious if you read these every day, until next year at this time.
4. Turn these commitments into automated daily habits: Change is difficult. Period. So, if a commitment stands a chance to be strong six months from now, think habits. The reason for a 2017 New Year’s resolution is because of a bad habit or at least a less than optimal habit. To overcome this for this new year, you must think about how to automate the commitment into a healthy regular habit.
Here’s the secret: Any routine habit that persists is not something you think about, at least not too much. While very salient, scheduling or planning is not a huge concern as it is already pre-determined. It’s something that is built into the structure of your day. For your new daily habits, set up a structure, and then BEND YOUR LIFE to honor that structure. If these commitments are important to you, do be serious and bend the rest of life to meet that habit plan.
There is more to this discussion, and you can find additional details for 2017 on my blog post at DrRandyCale.com. This includes personal daily habits, as well as those parenting habits that affect the lives of those you love. For now, I wish you joy, strength and contentment for the new year. My best to you all!
Dr. Randy Cale offers practical guidance for a host of parenting concerns. For more information visit www.TerrificParenting.com.