In just a few short days, we will all be ringing in a brand new year. And across America, people will be making New Year’s resolutions aimed at improving their lives. That’s why I wanted to make my own suggestion as to how you can make 2012 the best year yet. As you’ll see, my recommended resolution doesn’t have to do with weight or money or exercise or any of the “usual suspects”—but I think it can still make a profound impact on how happy and fulfilled you are.
First, let me tell you about a TV segment I saw several years ago. An elderly woman was being interviewed because she had recently celebrated her 100th birthday. One of the questions the interviewer asked was, “What is the most important lesson you’ve learned during all of your years?” After a little thought, the woman replied that as she looked back over her life, she realized that she had spent a large amount of her time on earth worrying about things that never actually ended up happening. She said that she now regretted all of those hours she had spent in anxious—and ultimately useless—thought, and she told viewers to be careful not to fall into the same trap.
As I watched that interview, I realized that I had spent much of my own life doing exactly what the 100-year-old woman said not to (and I figured that she knew what she was talking about). Just like her, I had spent what probably added up to years of my life wondering about frightening what-ifs and worrying about bad things that might come to pass in the future. On top of that, I also tended to replay my mistakes in my mind and beat myself up for them, over and over and over again.
In other words, I had spent a lot of my life not living in the present moment. I was so fixated on the past and concerned about the future that I wasn’t enjoying all of the blessings and wonderful people who were already around me. Now that is a real tragedy. So, please join me in resolving to make 2012 the year we all really live more in the present.
Here are three relatively simple steps to help you keep this resolution from January to December…and beyond!:
1. Let go of the past. In my experience, this is the most difficult of the three steps to accomplish. That’s because in order to stop dwelling on things that have already happened, you have to forgive yourself and others for insults, mistakes, and wrongs that you’ve been holding on to. I could write an entire book on the subject of forgiveness (other people already have!), but it’s important to realize that by allowing anger and resentment of this kind to reside in you, you are essentially welcoming toxic thoughts, harmful stress, and even physical illness. When you experience true forgiveness, though, you are preserving your health and literally freeing your thoughts from negative bonds.
2. Think ahead (realistically). Whenever you find yourself worrying about what might happen in the future, confront that worry head-on. First, determine how likely it is that your doomsday scenario will actually happen at all. In most cases, it will be a relatively small possibility. Next, think through all the implications of this possible event if it did happen. You’ll probably have to admit that it would not kill you or destroy your life forever, and you might also see that there would be a remedy within your reach even if it were not that desirable. Now that you’ve mentally dealt with this worry, you can stop dwelling on it.
3. Be aware. Lastly, simply make an effort to experience now. Notice and appreciate what is going on around you and use all of your senses. Also, try to be aware of when your thoughts start “living” unhealthily in the past or in the future, and then make a conscious effort to come back to the present. This will take time and effort, so don’t be discouraged if you find yourself falling back on your old mental habits more than you’d like. In fact, just be happy for now that you noticed your mind negatively focusing on the past or future. As time goes by, you’ll notice that your emotional and mental states are increasingly positive and present as you spend more and more time in the here and now.
Ultimately, I don’t want to look back on my life with regrets like that elderly woman in the interview—and I bet you don’t either. I truly believe that by living more fully in the present, we can all live the wonderful lives we were meant to live! And 2012 is the perfect time to start.