Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Recipe For A New Year


have seen these kinds of blog posts and lists for years now around this time; "5 Ways To Improve Your Life This Year!", etc., and many of them have some great ideas and inspirational messages but for whatever reason-mainly laziness and excuses-I have never taken much of the advice. This year I figured if I made my own list then maybe there would be a chance I would actually get off my ass and make things happen. That's the plan anyway...but I reserve the right to do absolutely nothing and just be my own as-is version of awesome if I choose to of course.

So here are 10 ways, in my very humble opinion, that I think we can all have a better year than we did last year and hopefully find a clear and unfettered path to the happiness we seek. It's not scientific, I'm no doctor and I certainly am no authority on self-improvement but I'm very confident if you use this list as a basic guidebook for living your life this year you will feel better. If it doesn't work I'll send you an E Card with lots of clouds and deep thoughts about inner peace and happiness and I'm sure that will fix you up ;)

1. Stop Being Angry

"You can't control your feelings but you can control your behavior." One of my favorite "Poppyisms" that my dad told me often and something I try to employ daily. Your job, your spouse, your kids, your friends, your lover, your life and just about anything can make you feel badly, upset, uneasy, angry, sad or annoyed and you have no control over how your mind and the chemicals that move through you will effect you, but how you REACT to that feeling is totally in your hands. Often times we are disappointed by something someone says or a gesture made, etc., and we craft that initial feeling we have into an angry response because of our upset. But why? Is it really going to change what happened or give us any level of peace after we share that anger? Even when we hold our tongue and let the anger fester and shape our behavior in that suppression and eventual stress we aren't doing ourselves any favors, as "Holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to get sick." Exactly. 

We can choose to express our disappointment or upset in ways other than anger that are far more conducive to healing and will allow the recipient of our expressions to really hear the message and learn from it. It's always a choice, and in most every situation I can think of, the best one.

2. Forgive Them

It's unlikely any of us have someone connected to our lives that we aren't holding some type of grudge against, and just like holding on to anger, living with that grudge and not choosing to forgive is often more painful to us than the person we were hurt by. Now, let me just say that what I'm referring to is NOT akin to allowing yourself to be taken for granted, walked all over or mistreated and just accepting it; I'm not 100% in the "love your enemy" camp. However, I do understand the power of forgiveness and that it can be juxtaposed with commanding respect and still be tremendously effective.

When someone intentionally hurts us they generally know they're in the wrong and will suffer on some level for that. It becomes our choice to either allow them a place in our life going forward or to set ground rules for how they talk to or treat us-as I believe one should always do in those instances-but the act of forgiveness has no bearing on that. Forgiving is an act of kindness that speaks more to your own character and strength than it does to the acceptance of someone's disrespectful treatment of you. Forgiveness is also empowering and has the benefit of illuminating the offenders actions in a way that anger and resentment will only serve to mask. 

Forgive more, and chances are your days will be brighter and your heart less heavy.

3. Stop Being Offended

Over the years I have heard numerous people argue "only certain people can be offended", and although I don't agree with the segregated way those folks are referring to (only certain races, religious groups, etc) I DO agree with the "only certain people" point; those who CHOOSE to be.

You'll see the idea of "choice" a lot in what I write about and it's a concept I stand firmly behind. There are very few things in our daily lives that aren't directly related to the choices we make and that includes our reactions and behaviors. A friend of mine told me years ago that when a co-worker called him the "N word", that he simply smirked at the guy and walked away, feeling empowered because "his choice of that word showed more about who he was than anything negative about me." So simple yet so profound.

There are close to 6 billion people on this planet and not any two are EXACTLY alike. We have different beliefs, religions, sexual orientations, hairstyles, fashion choices, parental styles, etc., etc and there's no way that everyone is going to like any one person, it's mathematically impossible! So why would we ever allow someone's words or beliefs that differ from ours offend us? Let others think and feel as they do, and if those feelings spill into action and it needs to be dealt with so be it, but when it's only words and misguided understanding, let the "offenders" live in the sad and shallow world they exist in and don't feed their disease with your disdain as it will only serve to fuel their hatred. 

4. Smile at Strangers

Whenever someone I don't know smiles at me it's totally and completely impossible for me to not smile back or say "hey" or something to that effect; smiles are infectious and contagious. When it happens you just feel like you're in some pseudo-family and it has a way of improving your mood and increasing motivation. So why not be the instigator more and not just the receiver?

OK, not to be sexist but, I understand that if every woman out there starts to be overly friendly and full of smiles to complete strangers she might attract a lot of unwanted attention, just like if a man does it he may secretly start being labeled as "creepy", but I'm not talking about enthusiastic, over the top hellos and big hugs here, just a warm, genuine and honest smile. None of us know what might be going on in the person on the receiving end of that smile's life and it very well could be the catalyst for turning their day around. So smile more. And mean it.

5. Listen To More and Different Music

It's always difficult to discuss music with the masses because music can be very personal to people and some don't like to move outside their comfort zone much, and that's OK. However, being the music junkie I am it's hard for me not to share and spread the magic and power of music I love with others, especially when so much of it has the power to heal and inspire and evoke emotions we long to feel, etc.

There are plenty of decent pop songs out there, and there's great words and music to be heard and reheard in the classics from Aerosmith to Zeppelin, but I will promise you that if you make a commitment to seek out some new music, in a genre or format you might have even previously ignored, you will likely be pleasantly surprised at what you discover. There are bands out there like Local Natives, The Boxer Rebellion, The National, Volcano Choir and Beach House that are writing/performing masterpieces with the same colors and canvas so many bands use, they're just doing it with their own unique brush. There are some hard rock and metal bands like Iron Maiden and Rush that have put of exceptional new records very late in their careers while many other legendary acts have packed it in and continue to tour on nostalgia alone. There are soulful newer bands like Fitz & The Tantrums and Vintage Trouble and Alabama Shakes that are blending RnB, Motown and Rock that melds the best of the 60s with the sounds of today...and chances are you aren't listening to any of it.

Go discover someone new, hear a song that inspires you, makes you cry, feel something you haven't in a while or makes you want to dance like an idiot. The music is out there and it's just waiting for you to open your ears. Go find it.

6. Do A Searching and Fearless Moral Inventory

This is straight out of the AA play book, and even though I have never been in AA I have had many close to me who have been and there's no doubt it's the most successful self help group for a reason, very likely tied to reasons like #6 here.

Each one of us, whether we struggle with addiction, over eating, anger, money issues or none of the above, could benefit greatly by taking this step. To truly and honestly look at ourselves and our failures, our successes, our good habits and bad, our "baggage" and our fears is one of the most difficult yet cleansing acts we can attempt as people. "To heal a wound you first have to dig inside and clean it out" I have heard and this is what this idea is all about. If we want to be a better person and live a happier life we first have to start by digging deep within ourselves and honestly assessing who and what we are before we can "heal" the wounds in our life and grow stronger. It's a terrifying process for some, but the rewards of actually going on this journey and completing it will totally change your life, and in the process set you free.

7. Be Nicer To Everyone

OK so this totally sounds like hippie, tree-hugger recycled crap but whether it is or not there's no doubt it will make you a happier person.

Between bosses, co-workers, customers, strangers, exes, kids and just about anyone, there are plenty of people that likely deserve our crankiness and our wrath, but just like avoiding anger, what does being unpleasant really do for us? Have you ever noticed how disconcerting it is to someone who's yelling at you when you respond with a smile and warmth? If they're mentally unbalanced, sure, the results can be a little sketchy but for the average grumpy individual it's often hard to stay angry when they are continually met with kindness. If you make a concerted effort to be friendly, engaging and decent to those around you it may not change the world but I can promise it will at least change your world. 

8. Practice Empathy

Ahhh Empathy, that staple of Buddhists and hippies and peace lovers everywhere. It really is a great concept though when you think about, because as much as it's about feeling for others it's actually rooted in selfish needs. Meaning, so often we say to others or to ourselves "if only they understood how I feel" or "I wish they could understand my perspective", and that's truly at the heart of empathy, the act of feeling someone's pain or even sharing it even though the affliction is not your own.

If we so often long for others to "feel our pain" then why is it so hard to do the same for them? I believe it's because most of the time we just don't try. We are often too focused on our own concerns or needs that we don't put in the requisite effort to be empathetic, but then when it's not returned we are bothered. The universe and it's karmic connection feeds off of what we put into it, I truly believe that, so if you seek understanding and compassion in your life make sure to give it boundlessly to others.

9. Find A Healthy Activity and Stick With It

New Years Resolutions are so often about losing weight and getting in shape but rarely are they set up in a way that's guaranteed to avoid failure. If you're not someone that's ever gone to a gym or worked out, if you never participated in any sports growing up or if you're very overweight, the chances are a gym membership or spinning classes might not be right for you. Why set yourself up to fail? Instead, find a physical activity you enjoy and just start building the foundation for a healthier life slowly.

There are no rules that say you have to run to lose weight or kick box to improve cardio fitness or use a stair master to lower cholesterol; but if you try a little bit of everything maybe you'll find something you truly enjoy and WANT to stick with. Or, maybe you create your own healthy activity, the point is that you just do something to get you moving and feel better about yourself and not let the disappointment of not being able to do what everyone else does dissuade you from achieving a healthier life.

10. Write Something

I have heard many people tell me over the years that "I can't write, I'm terrible at it," and you know they might be right. However, that's often a by product of lack of effort and not a failure of creativity or talent.

Writers often have a "gift", I do believe that, but even the most gifted will tell you they have to hone their craft. The longer I go without writing the crappier my words sound to me (and likely others) and some days I honestly feel like I couldn't fill out a greeting card, but that's all tied back into the concept of choice. If I choose to watch Netflix for a month and I'm not writing I only have myself to blame for the resulting drivel that I put forth. 

I have been in numerous writing workshops and classes where people who never wrote anything decided to give it a shot, and simply by sticking with the exercises and continually writing for the 6 weeks or 6 months have turned out some beautiful work. We ALL have stories to tell and things to say and it doesn't require a gift to say them, it simply requires work. Writing is also very healing and cathartic and has the power to cleanse and often inspire and I will guarantee you that if you start keeping a journal or begin blogging or writing stories that you'll feel better a year from now. Unless all you write about are zombies, the apocalypse or nuclear war of course.

Start writing, and don't stop. 

Have a healthy and Happy New Year.

-DAA

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