Every New Year, a frothy chorus starts to swell in the self-help world, exhorting us all to make next year the Best! Year! Ever! It’s a message that feels increasingly like fingernails on a chalkboard to me.
Part of that is an increasing disenchantment with what feels like the self-help version of consumerism – more! More! MORE! More success. More happiness. More passion.
On the surface, that all sounds great. Who wouldn’t want more of those things?
What grates on me is the way it so often gets sold (and if I’m honest, I have to admit I’ve been guilty of this myself). The message, intentional or not, seems to be that if you want to have the best year ever, you have to have that job you love, a relationship that meets all your needs, make more money, and in general have every part of your life shine.
In short, you need to have the picture perfect life.
This isn’t a condemnation of those things. They’re all wonderful, but in the end they’re all external sources of fulfillment. And that would be fine if it weren’t for the pesky fact that picture perfect is seldom the way life works.
In the real world, in addition to the juicy good stuff, things go sideways. Sometimes life is grand. And sometimes, let’s face it, it completely blows.
So if you rely on external circumstances to have the best year ever, it’s a crap shoot. You can influence what happens, but you can’t control it.
But what if you didn’t have to rely on external circumstances to deliver your best year ever? What if your best year ever really had its source in your head and your heart?
One of the most important concepts I talk about here is the way our thoughts and beliefs create the world we experience. Not from a “manifestation” perspective, but by the way your thoughts and beliefs shape the lens through which we view the world.
What you experience has little to do with what is actually happening externally. There’s a Buddhist saying that “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” It means that, while painful things are bound to happen in the human experience, suffering only comes as a result of the story we tell about it.
In this post, I want to explore how to shape your lens to minimize the suffering and maximize the happiness, contentment, and even delight, regardless of how your external circumstances shake out in the year to come.
Build a foundation
One of the key components of the Wild About Work model is building a solid foundation to stand on. That foundation is made of the things we all know we need to do, but so often don’t. These include:
- Healthy diet
- Staying hydrated
- Reaching out and connecting with people
- Getting enough sleep
None of this is rocket science. But it’s amazing what a difference it makes just making each of those a reliably consistent part of your life, regardless of what’s happening.
Develop a grounding practice
I can’t stress this one enough. I usually include this in the list of foundational elements, but it’s so important I’m breaking it out as its own topic. The winds of suckitude the world outside can deliver are strong and can blow you in any direction of you don’t have a solid ground to stand on.
Having some kind of daily grounding practice, whether meditation, yoga, tai chi, or something else, is a cornerstone to not being buffeted by the winds of suckitude the world outside can deliver.
The less time you spend caught up in the past and the future, the less time you will have for regret and worry. Practice mindfulness, and keep bringing yourself back to the here-and-now.
Not only that, the more present you are, the more you get to experience the full juice of what’s happening in the here-and-now. (Think of it as the difference between inhaling a delicious meal with little to no awareness and savoring every bite.)
Direct your focus
Imagine your focus over a 24-hour period divided into three parts – a focus on what’s good, what’s bad, and what’s neutral. Over the course of any given day, how would your focus be divided? How much of your focus is on what’s good? How much of it is on what’s bad?
To make it easy, think of each day’s focus as a pie chart divided into 10 equal parts. How many slices are devoted to each of those three?
Your mind is limited in what it can hold in its awareness. The more slices you devote to the positive, the fewer you have available for the negative.
Below are a couple ways to consciously direct your focus to positive slices o’ pie.
Focus: What’s good?
Get in the habit of asking this question on an ongoing basis. It can be on a large scale (what rocks about my life right now?) or a small scale (Here I am on my commute home – what can I notice that’s good?).
The more you direct your attention to what’s good, the more your mind will start to naturally notice what’s good.
Gratitude is the wonder-drug for both mental and physical wellness. Research has shown that a focus on what you’re thankful for makes you happier and healthier.
Make it a habit to focus on what you’re grateful for on a regular basis. That could be keeping a gratitude journal, dedicating one commute a week to reflecting on reasons to give thanks, or just pausing throughout the day and asking, “What can I be grateful for right now?”
If there were one thing you could wave a magic wand and create that would make the biggest difference in your life, this might well be it.
Most of us have a well-developed inner critic. We treat ourselves in ways we would never treat others, or let others treat us.
That has a constricting and contracting effect on both how we feel (about ourselves and about the world) and on what we have to give.
Commit to learning and growing from whatever comes your way
A while ago I was having a really tough time. Something happened that kind of sucked and I commented to a friend, “Yeah, I hate this – and I’m also blessed to have the chance to practice releasing attachment.”
He looked at me and said, “Curt, sometimes things just suck.” I said, “Yeah, but if it’s going to suck anyway, I might as well get something out of it.”
Your life is the biggest, most intense deep-dive of a personal growth seminar you’ll ever attend. You can read books till they’re coming out your ears, listen to all the best experts, but it’s only when you have the chance to put the learning into practice that you really absorb it.
When things suck, you can either just shake your fist at life, or you can say, “Yeah, I hate this, AND what a blessing to have this intense opportunity to grow!”
Make a difference
This one does double duty. Not only does it make life feel more meaningful, it also takes you out of a focus on yourself and brings your focus to others. It’s all too easy to create an echo chamber of troubles and tribulations when you focus overly much on your own challenges.
Don’t just limit yourself to things that will make a big impressive splash. Look for ways to make a difference in your day-to-day life. Once you start looking, you’ll notice them everywhere. Paying someone a compliment. Smiling at that person in the grocery store with a scowl. Saying thank you sincerely. Letting someone know that what they do matters. Picking up litter.
Reach out for connection & support
Reach out and connect. Have fun. Help your friends when they need it. Celebrate their joys and successes and share yours. Ask for support when you need it. Let people help you.
Humans evolved to be social critters. Take advantage of that.
Finally, imagine a life where your default was coming from a place of love, both for yourself and for the world around you. I don’t mean transactional, conditional love (“I’ll love you if you _______” or “unless you ______”), which is a lot of what passes for love.
I mean simply coming from a space of love. You know that feeling you get looking at a beautiful baby, or maybe even a sweet puppy, where you just kind of melt in a loving glow? That’s closer to what I’m talking about.
I recognize this is easier said than done. It’s a natural place to come from when we get out from under the layers of stories we tend to slather on our experience of life, but for most of us it’s a challenge to find consistently.
So don’t get worked up about trying to hit the mark 100%. Instead, look at the next year as an opportunity to cultivate and develop your connection to that space. Imagine if December 31st saw you spending an additional 10% of your time connected to that sense of love. Think it might make a difference?
So there you have it. Nine ways to make the coming year the best year ever. If what’s happening outside is rockin’ and rollin’, great! This will make the experience even better. If the world is going sideways for you, the ideas I have described here will help you feel a greater sense of peace despite external events.
Brought to you by Curt Rosengren, Passion Catalyst TM
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