I gave up making actual resolutions years ago; like everyone else, my follow-through was short-lived and ended in disappointment.
But I like to experiment with new habits and practices that might improve my life. When I find things that work for me, it’s amazing how many of them actually stick over time.
For me, the trick is to view them as experiments rather than resolutions.
Ideas for how to improve my life don’t spontaneously pop into my brain. They trickle in through things I read, conversations I have, podcasts I listen to.
In reviewing my 2018 journal and the experiments I’ve tried, here are my top five suggestions for how you might improve your life, too.
Western culture is obsessed with the act of thinking. Our bodies are machines and our goal is to drive that machine as hard as we can. We are a disembodied culture, one that has lost its connection with the miracle that is our physical being.
One of the reasons interest in things like meditation and yoga have surged is because those practices help us turn our attention away from the mind and toward our bodies and our breath in a caring and compassionate way. It’s beginning to dawn on us that to really experience the fullness of life, we need to have a healthy connection to our body.
If you want to do one thing to improve your life this year, I would encourage you to focus on your breath. Maybe this means joining a yoga class. Maybe it just means pausing a couple of times a day to close your eyes and notice your breathing.
We spend a lot of time and energy looking for inspiration, for something that will fire up our motivation. I don’t think we spend enough time allowing ourselves to experience the world through our hearts.
Advertisers know the power of wonder. They know we’re a little bit more open and vulnerable at this time of year, so they spoon-feed us heart-wrenching commercials in a bid to earn our trust.
The world will spontaneously combust into wonder if you let it. It can happen walking in the forest, watching children play, reading poetry. All it requires is that you be fully engaged and present.
Experiencing a daily dose of wonder will change your life.
We all need to show more vulnerability. Our culture worships strength and punishes weakness. The trouble is, we’re only human.
By turning our eyes away from our frailties and failings, we cut ourselves off from the fullness of life, from experiencing what it means to be human. It causes us to be fearful and ashamed of being ourselves.
The most powerful thing you can do as a leader, a parent or a friend is to allow others to see your weakness.
Sit with discomfort
We hate discomfort. Our immediate instinct is to run away – physically, mentally and emotionally.
One of the most powerful insights I’ve absorbed through my experimentation with stoic and eastern philosophy is how powerful it is to sit patiently through discomfort.
When you allow yourself to feel the full experience of failure, embarrassment or sadness without turning away, you discover you’re strong enough to survive. When you allow yourself to pass through the emotional arc these situations incite, you’re better able to extract their lessons.
I’ve also found it reduces the likelihood these experiences will continue to revisit you at three o’clock in the morning, three years later.
Checking your text messages isn’t the only way to give your brain a shot of dopamine. Try engaging in charity – doing something for someone else when there is no possible opportunity for you to get anything in return.
This can be as simple as giving a stranger a heartfelt compliment or as complicated as seeking out that ‘odd ball’ at the office and inviting them to be part of something.
Helping others is one of the best ways to feel good about yourself and better about your life. And it’s the one sure way we each have to make this world a better place, for all of us.
And whether you’re reflecting on the year just gone or looking to the year ahead, the goal should always be to make the world a better place.
Rebecca Schalm, PhD, is founder and CEO of Strategic Talent Advisors Inc., a consultancy that provides organizations with advice and talent management solutions.