Expert Q&A: Staying Positive
Q: I've already broken my New Year's resolution. How can I successfully better myself?
A: Unfortunately, it's true that by February many of us are on a downward slide of breaking our New Year's resolutions. You've probably given it a good try, but old habits are hard to break.
Since you most likely resolved to do-or not do-something important, your frustration soon increases. Now you have to face not only the return of bad behavior but also disappointment in yourself. But don't give up. There are other steps you can take to start the New Year in a smart direction.
As I've said in my other holiday articles, I don't make resolutions. Instead, I set seasonal or monthly goals. But I forgot to tell you one other important thing I do that is equally as powerful: I clean my emotional, mental, physical and spiritual houses of negative factors. Here are some tips for you to tidy up your slate of the negative forces in your life. Let these ideas spark your personalized list.
1. Go through your closets, drawers, and storage areas. Start your spring cleaning now. Get physical-because two of the best ways to kick-start the blues is to get your body moving and to work on something that offers a quick sense of accomplishment. Grab a friend or family member, make a day of it, and get rid of things you don't need or wear. Laugh at the skirt that you should never have bought or the gadget that you hardly use. When you organize and sort your possessions, you feel better because you are taking charge of your life. As an added bonus, if you donate items, you will feel better about being charitable.
2. Pick a project to do with friends and family. Does a room need painting? A scrapbook need filling? Have you been putting off doing something important that you dread? Doing unpleasant tasks is a whole lot easier when you do it with others. And don't use the above suggestion of cleaning house as your project. I'm talking about those other tasks that you've postponed. Even potentially fun activities such as buying a car or furniture fall to the bottom of the list because they involve a great deal of decision-making. When we're uncertain about what we want or when the process includes too many options, we often back away from doing them. So, once again, draw on the support of others. You will achieve your goal faster and feel closer to others as well-two things that sustain a positive view of the world and you.
3. Contact your old and new friends. Your personal network of friends and acquaintances are vital to your mental and physical health. Studies continue to show that social isolation takes a toll on the immune system and a general sense of well-being. But don't just call to say hello or wish others well-make plans. Don't let conversations end with "let's get together some time." Getting proactive and specific make you feel connected, cared for and happier.
4. Plan a vacation or getaway, including a stay-cation. Give you and your loved ones something to look forward to. You can also use the vacation as a reward for accomplishing one of your goals such as applying for more jobs, taking a course, cleaning house, curbing your carbs or anything else that is important to you. Recruit family and friends to help you stay on track. Working toward a reward, especially if that reward involves spending time with people you like, increases a sense of mastery in your life and strengthens your bonds to others-two aspects that boost your health and self-esteem. Just the act of planning a family vacation together increases your brain's chemicals of attachment and pleasure.
5. Forgive yourself and take action. We've all made mistakes-big and small. But there's no point in dwelling on your past. Life moves forward, so go with it. Ask yourself: What do I want to do about it now? And don't be afraid to ask for help from friends, family and health and mental health professionals. Don't fool yourself into thinking "it's too late." Many things can still be changed or at least improved. For example, if you've avoided changing jobs out of fear or if you haven't taken charge of your physical or mental ailments, do it now. It's unwise to punish yourself for your lax behavior by continuing it. Don't let your negativity or fear of change bring you down. Why not grab life, some happiness, and peace of mind while you are still alive and kicking.
6. Decide whom you want to forgive and accept. There's a lot of advice out there about getting rid of negative people in your life. It's not so easy-especially when those people are friends and family members. But forgiveness is not an "all or nothing" act. You have a wider range of choices than you think. For example, you can choose to spend less time with that negative cousin or in-law. Be polite but limit your one-to-one time. Explore other halfway measures such as curtailing your conversations or emails and just send anniversary or birthday cards. Or, you can have a kind heart-to-heart with people who have hurt you. No one is perfect. We all have acted badly at some time in our lives. Don't cut someone off prematurely. You can always shut that door if you have to. Locked doors are much harder to open. But doors that are ajar allow people to come in anew. By reviewing your strategies and then enacting them, you will feel better about yourself because you've now become a proactive person.
7. Apologize. Clean up your own mistakes and missteps, too! Lighten your load. Apologies are very powerful acts. They make you feel more positive about yourself and your universe of people.
Dr. LeslieBeth Wish, ED.D., MSS is a noted psychologist and lic. clinical social worker, specializing in relationships. For her book about women and love, she welcomes women to take her 17-20 minute online research survey at www.lovevictory.com.
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