A new year brings new beginnings

With the start of a new year, we often pause and reflect on the days and weeks in front of us and consider new goals we may want to set for ourselves.  Many people set goals of losing weight, quitting smoking, eating healthier, or beginning an exercise program.  These are certainly important goals and may lead us in the direction of living a healthier lifestyle.

What about considering positive changes in how you manage your relationships with others, starting with your family?  It may seem like a small goal, but it is quite significant to begin to examine how our communication with those who are closest to us can either help or hurt those relationships. Here are a couple of tips on preserving (or developing) stronger ties with those we love.

Communication Tips for the New Year:

  • Practice using “I” statements, by focusing on how you feel or what you think when you communicate with others.  For example, “I feel frustrated when you leave your shoes in the middle of the floor because I almost tripped over them.”
  • Try to use eye contact when speaking with others.  Doing so tells them you are actively listening to them.
  • Paraphrase what the other person has said to you so that they know you have accurately heard them. This skill, reflective listening, is a fundamental building block in healthy communication.
  • Wait for the other person to finish speaking before you jump in.  This discipline is a tough task for many of us, myself included, when we feel particularly eager to share a thought or observation that pops into our head.  When we interrupt others, it suggests that our thoughts are more important than others’. We both know this is not true.
  • Encourage teens or kids, who seem to have earbuds attached to their ears, to take them out when you speak with them.  For parents, consider a discussion with your teen on the appropriate use of electronic devices when in a meeting with a teacher, counselor, coach or another adult.  Consider having a rule of no phones or electronic devices while the family shares a meal together.

Goal Setting for the New Year:

  • Start with a small, attainable goal that will offer the opportunity for success.  Instead of saying “I want to lose 20 pounds in the first month of working out,” consider sticking with more attainable goals like, “I will try to lose 2 pounds per week”.
  • Have a support system to help you stay on track with your goals.  For example, if you have decided to stop drinking alcohol because you believe you may have an alcohol problem, try attending Alcoholics Anonymous and let close friends and family know you are living a new lifestyle of sobriety.
  • Use the buddy system. Having a workout partner, spouse or friend that may be working on a similar goal can be very helpful as you support one another toward your individual goals.
  • Be prepared for setbacks.  It is often difficult to be consistent in modifying our behavior when we are working toward change.  This difficulty is one reason it is important not to be rigid in your expectations. Remember,  it is not usually the final goal that is all important, but the gradual lifestyle change that comes along during the process.  As an example, I recently lost about 20 pounds then gained 10 pounds back just before and during the holidays.  However, I remain committed to re-establishing the healthier diet and exercise plan I committed to six months ago (and which I have already put into place).
  • Attitude is everything.  Stay committed, stay focused, stay encouraged.  Never give up, regardless of what your goal may be.

Practice Mindfulness:

  • Chew your food in deliberate fashion this year-savor the flavors, experience the textures, eat slower than normal, chew longer than normal.  You may surprise yourself by feeling more satisfied.
  • Walk your steps in a deliberate fashion- feel the ground beneath your feet, consider the comfort or lack of comfort in the shoes on your feet, walk more slowly than normal, smile as you pass by others, face toward the sunshine and feel it’s warmth, anticipate good things happening.
  • Be aware of the many comforts we often take for granted. Things like the cushioned seats in our cars, the convenience of adjusting the temperature up or down to suit our preferences, and the variety of drink and foods we enjoy daily. More so, the general absence of adversity for many of us who do not live in a war zone or impoverished country or are not imprisoned.
  • Practice thankfulness daily.  Whatever your spiritual practices, try to sit quietly for 15 minutes each day to listen, pause, reflect, meditate, or pray.  During this time, examine your actions over the previous 24 hours and consider whether you have offended anyone, had a setback on a personal goal, or want to establish a new goal or plan for tomorrow or next week or next month.

In closing, I would like to offer some inspiring quotes from Norman Vincent Peale:

“Every morning before arising, lie relaxed in bed and deliberately drop happy thoughts  into your conscious mind.”

“Old unhealthy thoughts can block off inspiration and motivation.  Dropping them releases a strong flow of power through the mind.”

“Keep the positive principle going by visualizing energy and vitality continuously at work within you, refreshing body, mind, and spirit”.

“Go out today with the thought that an inner light is shining out of you.  People will notice and comment, “What an attractive personality!”

Glad to be in Florida this January,

Linda Cook