Tuesday, December 31, 2013

5 New Year Resolutions Worth Keeping

At the end of every year, we do the same old song and dance. Hours of TV on which celebrity did what, slept with who, went to rehab, got into a fight, married, divorced, had a kid. Who lived, who died, all smushed alongside the most memorable videos of the year. This year I'm sure will be filled with the likes of Miley Cyrus, Duck Dynasty and a host of other characters I would be embarrassed to explain if I was every abducted by aliens.

And then there's the shallow media hype of the mythical New Year's Resolution. You're supposed to wake up January 1st to a new you, start shedding those holiday pounds, quit smoking and do otherwise obviously healthy behaviors on the endless list of shoulds. Some of you will stick to your plans. Some will become sidelined and fall into the familiar embrace of guilt and shame at the end of this year, only to repeat the cycle until life hits you over the head with a sledgehammer as to why these healthy behaviors were a good idea in the first place.

Here's my advice to you on what would help all of us. Some of it has a research-base, others are just common sense I've picked up from the past 15 years of end-of-life care. It's a good idea to have these as general lifestyle choices, not just for the first few months of the year.

1) Seriously, exercise. It's the best medicine. Start out slow. Your goal should be about 20-30 minutes of moderate exercise 3-4 times a week. This is the therapeutic dose that has positive effects on your heart, mind and emotions. More is fine, less is not as good. If you don't exercise, see a doctor first to make sure you don't have cardiomyopathy or something like that. Don't wait.

2) That meditation practice you've heard and read so much about? Guess what? It really works. You'll be hearing more and more about it this year. Stick to it. Spend some time every day meditating. The therapeutic dose is about 20 minutes twice a day. Few people can do that if they haven't sat down to meditate before. You can find some guidance here on how to get started. You have time for all the stress and worry in your life, you might as well squeeze some stress management into it.

3) Say "I love you" to everyone you love more often. Say it every day. Love is powerful, way more powerful than any of our individuality. When you're in a hard emotional place, a loving companion, be it a spouse, partner, child, friend or parent can usually make it all better just by being there. If you don't have direct companionship, use social media. Reach out and get connected.

4) Listen to music. Turn on music every day. Use it in the background. It can structure times of great stress and uncertainty. If you're grieving, it's a much more wholesome way to drown out the silence of your home than the jarring sounds of television.

5) Laugh every day. Find something funny to read, watch or listen to. In all the commotion about self-care, laughter is often left out. The best way to transcend hardship sometimes is to laugh at the absurd predicament we're all in. Emotional pain isn't funny-- what's funny is the nearly comical way we go about our lives, obsessed with what turn out to be the tiniest, most insignificant details. We lose the big picture. Can't find something to laugh about? Here's a start.

The most important thing to remember about your resolutions: you're more likely to stick to them if they are about what you want to do rather than what you don't want to do.

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