Betty W. Phillips, Ph.D., Psychology
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New Years Resolutions: Self-Improvement


What would you like to change in your life? The new year is traditionally the time to stop, take inventory and set positive goals for life change. And you don't have to focus only on diets or exercise. Improving the quality of your life is broader and more comprehensive and ultimately more important than your waistline. Remember: today is the start of the rest of your life. There's no good reason to dwell on the problems of the past unless you want to make yourself feel bad! You can only change the present and then the future. It's never too late. At age sixty you should be making your next forty year life plan.

How should you take inventory? I'm not going to give you a "quality of life" test. However I will list issues for your consideration as thinking points for you to decide if these areas would merit improvement. For the purpose of this discussion I will list issues in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of importance. You are the person who decides the relevance of these issues for your life. Positive life skills include: assertiveness; behavior control; communication skills; empathy/understanding others; fun and adventure; happiness and optimism; healthy sleep; honesty and ethics; maximizing health; organization and time management; problem-solving; relaxation; self-awareness/self-identity; self-care; self-confidence; self-esteem; setting and realizing goals; social connectedness/relationship skills; stress management. Other life skills can be described as managing negative or problem behaviors such as: addictions; aggression and violence; depression and anxiety; escapism; guilt; hypersensitivity; obsessions and compulsions; perfectionism; procrastination; trauma reactions; workaholism. No list is comprehensive, but this list is intended to stimulate your thinking about yourself and considering areas needing improvement this year and in the future.

Considering these important quality of life issues and rating your achievements should be a time for contemplation, not for grieving past mistakes or obsessing about future problems. You will need to decide which areas are most important for you. Rather than leave this issue completely open-ended, I will give you my thoughts about some of the most important positive life skills. In my opinion the most important areas are happiness and optimism; self-care; and problem-solving. If these areas are actualized for you, these life skills will almost naturally lead you into developing other positive qualities.

My gifts to you in this new year are tips and suggestions to help you optimize your life and overcome problems that weigh you down. Do you want to feel happier and more content this year? Every night, think about the three most important aspects of your life that make you feel grateful. This will help counteract the common tendency in to spend time grouching and worrying about roadblocks and setbacks in life rather than taking the time to consider and feel good about the positives. Research shows that your feeling of happiness will definitely improve if you do this faithfully. Post a smiley face on your bathroom mirror as a reminder to silence the "internal critic," the voice of doom, gloom and guilt in your thinking. Optimistic thinking can be learned as you conceptualize problems as solvable rather than personal, persuasive and permanent. Setting time aside daily for self-care will help sustain you and find a place in your life to encourage happiness and optimism. Past Southern Neighbor columns are available in the Reading Room of my website to give you more information and coping skills in these life areas. Research demonstrates working on any of these life skills will generalize to positive results in other areas.

My last gift to you this new year is the realization that all life problems can be improved. Giving up means surrendering to a negative situation rather than using your skills and finding support to move ahead in the best manner possible. While all problems cannot be totally resolved, there are always other angles to try, sooner or later improving the situation. I learned a lesson early in life that has helped me cope with the obstacles I've encountered in my own life. I remember my mother reading the classic book "The Little Engine That Could" to me as a child. I can still hear her voice encouraging that little engine to succeed, huffing and puffing "I think I can; I think I can" as the little engine chugged its way up and over the big mountain . When life seems bleak remember achievement is possible.