Every year in my clinical practice I hear complaints about the immense stress of the holiday season. Stressors include having to deal with family members, our fears about being judged, gossip, people being critical of food, our consumer economy and pressure to buy gifts, fears and worry about politics, and conversations we play out in our heads that may or may not ever even take place. And yet as soon as they come the holidays go away again, and we celebrate the new year and at least for a brief time refocus our intentions to improve our lives and create goals for ourselves. This year being notable that another decade has passed and so as we formulate new goals here are some thoughts to make 2020 and this present moment, wheverever you are in life, less stressful and more meaningful.
“If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”
Be more OPEN! Life is more fun when you are open to experience. Try something new, or cultivate an attitude of Beginner’s Mind and try to look at something like it is for the first time. Stop being closed, judgmental, and thinking you know how everything is supposed to be this way or that, or similarly that you know how other people think, feel, or will react about things. If you consider yourself a progressive have conversations with conservatives, libertarians, or others that may not hold the same views on life, you might learn something, and vice versa. People are so closed off nowadays hiding in our own echo chambers despite our connection with our electronic devices and social media.
Speaking of social media, be mindful of time spent on social media. Prolonged use leads to higher rates of depression and anxiety. Don’t believe me? Try spending a day or a weekend without social media and then use your own wisdom to check in and see how you feel. Or be mindful of the anxiety spent away from your device, there is learning either way.
LISTEN! I am convinced that if we actually listened to one another the world would be a better place. How often do you truly listen? I mean really listen, without judging or thinking about how ill-informed someone is, dismissing their opinion or minimizing them, or formulating your response while they are talking. Try listening more, whether it is to your partner, friend, co-worker that you like or don't like. Be open and listen. Remember, most communication is non-verbal, so you will need to use your eyes skillfully to examine eyes and body language. One way to do this is to imagine an upside down triangle on a persons face that includes the persons eyes, nose, and mouth to see facial expressions, which often give a good amount of information. The eyes are windows to the soul.
Be PATIENT! With yourself and also with others. Patience is a form of wisdom in which we allow things to unfold in their own time. As someone who can be very impatient, impulsive, and quick to anger (I'm Irish) this is something I have to practice daily. Thankfully there are many opportunities to practice and since I live in the Baltimore/Washington Metro Area there is always crazy traffic. One practice: try letting someone in traffic in your lane, being both generous and patient vs. my default mode habit of trying to block them from sneaking over and getting in front of me and escalating aggressively.
“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues but the parent of all others.” – Marcus Tullius Cicero
Practice GRATITUDE! Living in this world is challenging. Our minds naturally skew negative and are always scanning for threats to our survival, so one must be intentional about seeing the good in people, events, and situations. Learning how to be thankful of not just the good but what we percieve as negative,such as failure, defeat, loss, heartache, etc. is a powerful skill. To forgive the past, make peace with the present, and be able to move forward in life as we never know what new delight awaits.
Be KIND! I recently visited Hampden Middle School in Baltimore City while accompanying Michael Desmond and Tim Morgan of The Travis Manion Foundation to teach mindfulness and the entire school community has made the effort to combat bullying by being kind to one another. Guess what? Turns out a ripple effect takes place when people treat each other kindly, it affects the mood, environment, and increases positive energy. It is a lot easier to learn when you are in a comfortable, kind, warm, and welcoming environment. It was a joy to see these young people with smiles and a good attitude, and to be honest, different than what I might have thought prior to the visit, which is why being open and non-judgmental is helpful and always a practice.
Have SELF-COMPASSION! Obviously not all moments are pleasant, positive, happy, or good. We face difficult moments, pain, failure, and challenges all the time. When this happens, and it will, you can counter it by cultivating self-compassion, which is most easily defined by meeting difficulty with kindness. A practice I often use as is actually one I learned in Bangladesh in my time with the Peace Corps and that is to place a hand or fist on the heart and to wish the attribute that is needed to meet the difficulty. For example, if I need to to something I may have some fear around then to place my hand on my heart and say silently to myself… “May I be brave,” … or “May I have the courage to... (fill in the blank).”
So take some time to reflect on these thoughts and then go write down your goals! However, the glitch in goals or mistake people often make while goal setting is that goals have to be SMART. Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Based. After you write down some of you awesome intentions and goals for 2020 make a list of the Actions & Practices that can be done to get closer to hitting the goal.
Remember that with mindfulness we live in the power of the present moment. Each moment affords us the power to choose our response, so choose wisely. As the late spiritual teacher Ram Dass famously wrote about, “Be Here Now.”
Happy New Year and may your year be full of love, safety, good health, kindness, and joy!