My 5 Step Approach to Better Habits
Why I’m Not Making Any New Year’s Resolutions This Year
Co-author: Samantha Paternoster.
You’re probably familiar with the phrase ‘new year, new you’. During what is the busiest time of the year for many of us, we’re encouraged to focus on ways to improve ourselves. Gyms fill up. Junk food gets thrown out. Come January, without a single cookie in sight, we think we’re on the right track.
What appears as a positive mindset can actually impair our ability to succeed. My experience with new year’s resolutions is that they often lead to working and living in a crisis mode. We must get in better shape! We must eat better! We must do better, be better!
This year, I felt I needed to change my approach – not only for my benefit, but my clients as well.
As an end of life doula, much of my work revolves around time - how we’ve managed it throughout our lives as well as the meaning and significance of what we’ve experienced during that time before life ends. I help my clients find peace by guiding them through a shift in their perspective so they can see the full picture of everything they’ve accomplished. Learning to appreciate time leads to finding peace in our lives, especially as they end.
As I contemplated my new approach to the new year – and new decade – I realized that in order to truly help my clients, I needed to successfully manage my time in more ways than following a productive schedule. Rather than just setting goals, I found myself contemplating the psychological challenges and work load that would come with achieving each goal. Looking at the bigger picture, I realized that the following five philosophical principles have a much larger impact on my productivity than any resolution ever could.
Know Who You Are
This can be one of the most difficult things to accomplish as we contemplate who our society, our family, our friends and others tell us we should be. When we’re able to cancel out all of the static noise generated by the expectations of others, we can finally begin to hear our own voices.
Ask yourself these questions: What have I accomplished in the last decade that I am proud of? What have these accomplishments taught me about myself? What roadblocks have occurred or reoccurred? And finally, what do I want most out of my life?
By taking these questions into consideration, you begin to retrain your brain to nurture self-love and self-respect. Understanding how you function, feel, and perceive the world is critical to a meaningful life and will be until the very end.
After spending hundreds of hours with people in their most vulnerable state, offering them the time and space to feel seen and heard, the most valuable lesson I’ve learned is that everyone has a story that is unique and interesting in its own way. Feeling understood and seen is healing. If you’re able to accomplish this level of self-acceptance early in life, you will have achieved a level of wisdom that will always help propel you to success.
Remember to Breathe
Human life starts – and ends – with a breath. Yet in a crisis, we forget the importance of consciously breathing.
Mindful breathing is more than an exercise given during a yoga class. Our brain cells require a high and steady production of ATP (adenosine triphosphate), a complex organic chemical that provides energy to drive all processes in living cells, such as muscle contraction, nerve impulse propagation and chemical synthesis. Our brains consume three times more oxygen than our muscles in order to produce enough ATP for us to properly develop and function.
By mindfully increasing our oxygen intake, we can stave off side effects like poor concentration and memory, cluttered thoughts and blurred vision. Controlled breathing actually increases the brain size, specifically in the areas tied to attention and sensory processing. Similarly, research has shown that breathing in and out through only the left nostril can significantly improve right hemispheric cognitive performance. Other studies have shown that focused breath work can increase alertness, concentration, and feelings of invigoration.
It’s easy to take breathing for granted when we are able to move normally. As adults our lives are filled with responsibilities that often push ‘playing’ to the bottom of our priority list. However, lack of movement is proven to be detrimental to our health. When we stop paying attention to our physical well-being, our mental well-being begins to deteriorate as well. By re-introducing mindful breathing and simple activities such as walking during your lunch hour, you will greatly improve your life and productivity with very little effort.
I once worked with a woman in a nursing home who had ALS. She had a difficult time trusting others and was often labelled as ‘moody’, making it very hard for the nursing home personnel to become friendly with her. After a few visits, I asked her what she really wanted to do, in effort to put her in charge and earn her trust. She pointed to the garden outside. From then on, every time I visited her we would sit outside in the sun, silent companions enjoying the warm air and a quiet breeze. She soon began to smile more, feeling empowered. Though she could not speak, she thanked me. On the way back, I’d pick up a flower or two for the little vase she kept near the window, if only to make that hour last a bit longer for her.
My point is that social interactions are as important as air. As Aristotle said, “Man is by nature a social animal; an individual who is unsocial naturally and not accidentally is either beneath our notice or more than human. Society is something that precedes the individual.”
Research in sociology, psychology, biology, medicine, and now the neurosciences shows that having a strong network of support or strong community bonds fosters both emotional and physical health and is an important component of adult life. Modern neurosciences have even begun to reveal the benefits to fetus in utero with mother/partner-child bonds, determining how children develop socially and emotionally. The benefits of a social network are proving to be undeniable even before our birth.
No one is born alone, and I believe that no one should die alone. A lot of life’s ambiguities tend to crystalize at its end. As part of the No One Dies Alone program, I am regularly called to be a part of the hospice team. The presence of a companion can make a huge difference in the way a person goes, thus validating the benefits of deep companionship at the physical, emotional, social, cultural and spiritual levels during the later stages of life.
If I’ve learned anything as an end of life doula, it’s that people have a lot more control than they know. The earlier we can understand the benefits of planning and learn the notion of letting go, the more likely we are to find acceptance and inner peace.
The benefits of planning at all levels have been associated with achieving more in less time, decreased stress and anxiety, increased energy and general peace of mind. We plan to go to school, graduate with a degree, get jobs, get married, have children (or not), travel, retire – the list goes on. The one thing we often avoid planning for? The end.
When it comes to planning for the end of any project, the activation energy required is bigger than usual. Ending a relationship or a job is really hard – but can you imagine the benefits if you processed the facts ahead of the emotions? We would spend less time stressed and anxious, and more time moving towards our ultimate goals.
Getting organized and planning ahead can make the most emotional times more bearable, especially as we near the end of our lives. People who don’t plan ahead by preparing a will or organizing their estate leave these items for others to deal with – creating the opposite of success. The sooner we learn to get organized and plan ahead, the sooner we can lead a less cluttered and more meaningful life.
Ask For Help
Asking for help is complicated when you live in a culture that celebrates independence and self-reliance. We think we can do everything on our own, but realistically, no success story is the result of just one person. We need our support network and community in order to flourish.
In entrepreneurship especially, I have found that even when we have a fantastic idea, we may not know exactly what the next best steps are or how or when to implement them. As I continue to grow my own business, I am finding that nothing can be done without a minimum of guidance.
Time is precious. Though it may be hard to ask for help, especially when we feel vulnerable, understanding and acknowledging when we need support is an important step to meeting our goals.
At the end of each calendar year, most of us feel exhausted, overwhelmed and frustrated, searching for the most efficient way to somehow get back on our feet. Whether you’re an aspiring entrepreneur, a busy professional watching your family grow older, or a health-conscious individual, these five philosophies will help you improve every aspect of your life – without the stress of making resolutions.