New Year, Same You?: In Praise of Positive Choices

 

Positively Present - Celebrate Positive Choices

 

When something really great happens — you get accepted to the school of your choice, you publish a book, you land the great job, you find love, you make the team, you get the A, you choose a new career path, you give birth to a human person — celebrating is easy. People around you get excited for you and, even if you're filled with uncertainty ('cause change, however positive, can be scary!), you likely feel some sort of positive feelings about having worked hard to accomplish something.

But, unless you're some kind of amazing superstar, these big "wins" are probably not an everyday occurrence. In fact, they might happen only a few times in your lifetime! While I'm all for celebrating life's big, exciting moments, I think we could all benefit from turning a little celebratory attention to the little, everyday wins. This is especially true at the start of a new year when you're probably trying to: (a) keep up with positive progress made last year, (b) start making positive progress this year 'cause last year was a bust, (c) maintain some combination of the A and B, or (d) come to terms with the fact that it's a new year and you better find a way to get your act together before a new decade comes along! 

No matter how you feel about new years, there's always a bit of pressure associated with the start, with those twelve months of possibility stretching out before you. Resolutions or not, we all hope that this year will be better than last year (or, if last year was a great one, hope that this year will live up to it). We're all eyes ahead, focused on what we want to do or achieve in the weeks to come. Many of us are trying to better ourselves, to make choices that will be more aligned with who we want to be in the future. The beginning of each year offers such hope to be a better version of ourselves, and, while that hope can propel some of us into positive action, it can also make an awful lot of us feel like we're already failing at the year, even just a few days in. 

Personally, I had grand ideas for my post-holiday self. The end of the year is always my busiest, both personally and professionally, so I often find myself saying that "X will be different in the New Year" or "In January, I'm going to tackle Y." Not surprisingly, we're a week in and few things have changed dramatically from the time when the calendar read 2018. Change, at least for me, tends to happen slowly, and frequently it's only when I reflect back on things that I realize how much progress I've made. 

I frequently face a "new year, same me" frustration, growing angry at myself for not making all of the picture perfect choices I swore I would make once that calendar page had turned. But yesterday, after chastising myself for a not-so-great choice I made, I found myself mumbling, "I wonder how many good choices you make every single day and don't even think about."

And that little sentence stopped me in my tracks. How many positive choices do I make all the time without even thinking about them? How many changes have I made, over time, that I don't even think about praising myself for because they've become habits? While mulling over these questions, I recognized quite a few good choices I've made recently that a previous version of myself might not have made, like...

  • I didn't pick up my book and read for hours in the middle of a workday 
  • I didn't say the not-very-nice, judgmental thing that came to mind 
  • I didn't sleep in, neglecting the dog until much too late in the morning
  • I didn't order pizza when I had a perfectly good meal in the fridge
  • I didn't forget to take medicine and a rest when I got a headache
  • I didn't skip writing in my gratitude journal, which brings me joy
  • I didn't go down to the corner store and pick up a bottle of wine
  • I didn't put off vacuuming even though I really wanted to
  • I didn't send a call to voicemail and avoid the conversation
  • I didn't leave the bed unmade (which always makes me unsettled)
  • I didn't delete the email and avoid my editing tasks
  • I didn't conclude that I could skip this week's blog post
  • I didn't turn down an opportunity to help a friend in need
  • I didn't consume an entire bag of candy mindlessly
  • I didn't neglect my daily yoga practice, even while very tired
  • I didn't allow myself to smoke cigarettes like I used to 
  • I didn't leave dirty dishes stacked up in the kitchen sink
  • I didn't throw plastic in the trashcan instead of the recycling bin
  • I didn't lose my patience with the incessantly yapping dog
  • I didn't ignore the spreadsheets, despite the boredom they bring
  • I didn't buy that thing I really don't need but really wanted

These are just a few of the good choices I've made recently, most of them made without thinking twice about them. This list isn't meant to be, Woohoo! Look at me and all I've done right! It's meant to show you that, despite the plethora of not-great choices I've made so far this year, I've also made a lot of good choices too!

If you're like me and you're feeling a bit let down by the new year, unsure if you'll be able to live up to your 2018 self's version of who you'd be this year, I highly recommend writing a list of your own. Especially if you're working on New Year's resolutions (or if you've already broken them), writing down a list of positive choices you've made — even if they seem silly or obvious, like brushing your teeth or going to work — can really help you reframe the start of the year for you. 

A new year is a great time to make changes, make resolutions, set intentions, etc., but don't let it be a time when you beat yourself up for all you're not yet doing, forgetting about all the positive choices you've made (or are currently making). We're all on different paths. What's positive for me might not be for you; what feels like a big accomplish for me might be effortless for you. So take some time this week to think about what you've been doing — particularly the things you've done so many times that you don't even think about them anymore — and celebrate them. Because, when you think about it, all of those big wins in life — the moments we celebrate with fervor and festivity, confetti and congratulations — are really only possible because of all of the little wins we take for granted. 

 

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F.A.C.E. Your Feelings: How to Cope with Mixed Emotions


Mixed_Feelings_
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On the last day of the year, I've found myself reflecting on the past twelve months and, in particular, the ebb and flow my relationships. While reflecting, I realized I was trying to fit my relationships (and people!) into neat little boxes, labeled "GOOD" or "BAD," and it just wasn't working out. Because, as I'm sure you know, relationships are complex. They don't always fit clearly into boxes. They can't always be labeled clearly.

My feelings about most people, even those I love dearly, are mixed. For someone like me, who really likes to identify and label things in order to better analyze and understand them, this can be tricky. So, I decided to do what I always do when confronted with trickiness: write about it! I sat down this morning to write about the idea of mixed feelings and realized, ultimately, that it doesn't have to be a negative thing. Sure, it would be great if we could identify every person in our lives as "good" or "bad" so that we'd know who to surround ourselves with, but life -- and people! -- don't work like that. 

Like it or not, mixed feelings are a part of relationships, so we might as well learn to deal with them the best we can! I came up with a little method I like to call F.A.C.E. that can help you (and me!) cope with the complicated mess of mixed feelings. This is especially useful for people you love and interact with often (as those are the people we often have the most complex relationships with!), but I bet it can work pretty well for new relationships as well as a way to figure out how you really feel about a person you're just getting to know! 

 

FIGURE OUT THE FEELINGS

First and foremost, you have to figure out what you're feeling! This may sound obvious, but when you spend a lot of time with someone or have known them for a long time, sometimes we don't even pay attention to how we feel about them. Figuring out precisely what you feel is essential for coping with the mixed emotions. There are many different ways to feel about others, but here's a list of some emotions you might consider while figuring out your feelings (note: lots of these words aren't technically considered emotions in the psychological sense, but I find these words helpful when trying to figure out feelings):

  • Admiration
  • Affection
  • Amusement
  • Anger
  • Awe
  • Bitterness
  • Bliss
  • Boredom
  • Calm
  • Comfort
  • Contentment
  • Desire
  • Disgust
  • Distain
  • Distrust
  • Envy
  • Excitement
  • Fear
  • Frustration
  • Gratitude
  • Happiness
  • Hate
  • Hope
  • Hurt
  • Interest
  • Irritation
  • Jealousy
  • Joy
  • Kindness
  • Love
  • Lust
  • Peace
  • Pity
  • Pride
  • Rage
  • Relaxed
  • Resentment
  • Sadness
  • Safe
  • Secure
  • Serenity
  • Shame
  • Surprise
  • Tenderness
  • Trust
  • Unsafe
  • Wonder

 

ACKNOWLEDGE YOUR EMOTIONS

Next, it's important to pay attention to what's happening when you're actually interacting with that person. It's one thing to sit down alone and consider how a person makes you feel, but it's quite another to tune into it in the moment. Here are three questions to consider when contemplating mixed emotions: 

  1. How do I feel when I think about spending time with them? 
  2. How do I feel while I'm spending time with them? 
  3. How do I feel after I've just spend time with them?

There is likely more than one answer to these questions depending on the day and circumstances, but paying attention to these three questions frequently will give you a better sense of how this person makes you feel overall and can clue you into nuances about the relationship that you might not have otherwise realized. 

 

CONSIDER YOUR OPTIONS

After you've given consideration to how you feel about the person generally and how you feel in specific situations, before, after, and during interactions with this person, now it's time to go a little further and consider the big question: So what? You've now got a pretty good idea of what you feel about this person, but now you have to consider what this means. Understanding the mixed feelings you have usually will lead to one of three conclusions: 

  1. This person is no good for me and I should spend less time with them. 
  2. This person is good for me and I should spend more time with them. 
  3. This person is both good and bad for me and I should be mindful of the time spent with them. 

Those are pretty much the options you have when dealing with a relationship, which leads us to the last step...

 

EMBRACE CHANGE OR ACCEPTANCE

Recognizing your options (see 1-3 above) doesn't mean that you're actually going to take action, which is where this next step comes in. You have two choices: embrace change (if necessary) or accept things as they are, for better or worse. Sometimes, after going through these steps, you might come to the conclusion that someone is no good for you but you still might want to spend lots of time with them. That's up to you, but if you choose that path, you must accept the consequences of it. On the flip side, if you find that change (spending more or less time with someone) is necessary, it's up to you to embrace -- and perhaps initiate -- that change. Whatever the situation, it generally comes down to one of two options: change or accept. 

 

Most of us probably run through the F.A.C.E. method in our subconscious without even realizing it, but taking the time to really deal with mixed emotions and actively choose an outcome is empowering, even if we don't always choose the thing that's best for us. There's something powerful about making a choice -- even the wrong one -- rather than just floating along and waiting for something to happen. Yes, there are two people in every relationship, but the only one you can control is yourself, so you might as well take charge of your feelings and actively make some choices, especially as we're heading into a new year! 

 

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Two Little Words That Make A Big Difference


Right_Now

 

As someone who spends a lot of time writing (and thinking about) words, it's not unusual for me to stumble upon new revelations about them, but recently I had a realization about two words that make a really big impact: right now

I frequently find myself making sweeping statements -- things like "I'm so stressed!" or "I'm obsessed with [insert current obsession]!" or "I can't live without [thing I didn't even know about a year ago]!" or "I'm so upset with [irritant-of-the-moment] -- and, while those are partially due to my flair for making dramatic proclamations, I don't think I'm the only one who makes broad statements like these. 

The thing is, sentences like the ones above (and, to be honest, most sentences) are only true right now. Sure, they might be true in the future, but that's not a given. And, yes, they might have been true in the past, but so was the statement "I can only drink from a bottle," and (hopefully...) that's no longer true. The only time we can be absolutely certain of is right now. The only statements that are 100% true are the ones that occurring in this moment, which is something most of us frequently forget. 

I spend a lot of time trying to stay present, but the truth is: the only thing we ever are is present, like it or not, and using these two magical little words -- "right now" -- can transform how we perceive the present. It might seem minor, but I actually feel differently when I say, "I'm so stressed," instead of, "I'm so stressed right now."

Tacking those two words on the end of a sentence might seem silly, but semantics matter. Adding the "right now" to most sentences can have one (or more!) of the following impacts...

 

  • Adding "right now" can reassure you that a bad situation you're in isn't forever
  • Adding "right now" can prompt you to appreciate a good situation you're enjoying
  • Adding "right now" can bring you back to the moment (countering anxious thoughts!)
  • Adding "right now" can inspire you to begin again or do things differently
  • Adding "right now" can remind you that just because it's not now doesn't mean it's never
  • Adding "right now" can inspire you to focus on the task that's right in front of you
  • Adding "right now" can make huge projects or tasks seem less daunting
  • Adding "right now" can boost your enjoyment of a moment that won't last forever
  • Adding "right now" can allow you to mentally step back from pointless worrying
  • Adding "right now" can give your full attention when engaging with others
  • Adding "right now" can help you relax when you're feeling very overwhelmed
  • Adding "right now" can invigorate self-compassion and cut down on guilt 
  • Adding "right now" can maintain self-control and more easily overcome cravings
  • Adding "right now" can mitigate feelings of physical pain by easing mental suffering

 

To be fair, most of these things are benefits of simply being fully present in the moment, but knowing we should be present and actually being present are two very different things. For some reason, adding "right now" seems to work really well for me when it comes to triggering me to be in the moment. Here are just a few ways I've used it this week (and how it's helped). These examples are all kind of frivolous, but it worked for much more intense thoughts as well! 

 

What I Initially Thought   How I Felt When I Added
"Right Now"
How I Felt
"I'm spending way too much time on Instagram." Annoyed that I'm wasting my time on social media; frustrated that I can't stop scrolling; distressed that I can't find a way to make a living from my art that others seem to love "I'm spending way too much time on Instagram right now."

 

Still annoyed, but hopeful I won't always spend so much time on it; inspired to stop scrolling because I realized I can change; stopped identifying my current action as a guaranteed future state

 

"I'm so happy to be here in my room with a new book, cozy on a rainy day!"

 

Comfortable and relaxed, but distracted by the to-do list I wasn't tackling; worried I should be out with friends on a Saturday night instead

 

"I'm so happy to be here right now in my room with a new book, cozy on a rainy day!"

 

Grateful for the alone time I so desperately craved after socializing all day; engrossed in my book and assured that I'd tackle to-do's tomorrow; reminded that I often long to be in bed with a book when I'm out and about 

 

"I'm so overwhelmed by all of the things I have to get done this week!" 

Overwhelmed (obviously); stressed and anxious about the lengthy to-do list that seems to be never-ending; tempted to lie down and do none of it

"I'm so overwhelmed right now by all of the things I have to get done this week!" 

 

Still a bit frazzled by the to-do list, but reminded that I'll soon have the tasks done (it's always more stressful to think of them than do them!); grateful for projects that bring in money and for the personal to-do's that, while annoying at the time, will bring my future self (and others!) joy

 

 

"I can't stop eating these delicious but terrible-for-me snacks!"

Frustrated with my lack of self-control; angry with myself for buying the snacks in the first place; envisioned myself unable to ever stop eating said snacks, stuck in and endless snack-and-shame spiral "I can't stop eating these delicious but terrible-for-me snacks right now!"

 

Reminded that guilt is a waste of time and I should either enjoy the snacks or put them away (which I did!); felt lucky to have snacks (affording groceries isn't a given for me!); made aware that my future self could be someone who doesn't eat such unhealthy snacks (unlikely, but possible!)

 

 

Hopefully these little examples inspire you to give "right now" a try and see if those two little words motivate you to return to the present the way they have for me! It might seem small, but staying present is hard and you never know what little thing will help make it easier for you. It's cliche to say, but there's truth in the idea that every second is a chance to turn your life around. Your whole existence is just a bunch of choices you make, and you can change at any moment. It's not often easy to do, but the first step is paying attention to what you're doing now, how it's making you feeling, and deciding if it's what you want to be doing in the future. Your "right now" is always up to you! 

 

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