If the arrival of the new year motivates you to make positive decisions, so much the better. But how you stay on track depends on your strategy. Dr. Daniel Amen, a California psychiatrist and author of Change Your Brain, Change Your Body, says people need goals and dreams to propel them forward.
"When people live up to their own expectations, they tend to have good self-esteem and be happier," he says. "When people see that they're not close to what they believe their potential is, then they get sad and frustrated." Change won't happen overnight, and it can take six weeks to turn a new behavior into part of your regular routine.
First step, he advises, is to draft an OPM, a One-Page Miracle, to record goals that are really in line with balanced wants and needs. Amen has his own OPM on his computer, where he reviews it and notes his progress every month.
Break down those goals into daily lifestyle changes necessary to make those goals happen. Need to exercise more? Try a couple sessions with a personal trainer to outline a program or sign up for a group fitness class to challenge yourself in a new way. "The most successful people are able to match their behavior to their goals," he says.
Learn about strategies you can follow to change your habits. If you don't get regular sleep – something your body and brain relies on to recharge – try relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and no TV or computer work right before bed.
Boost your brainpower to develop a positive outlook. Amen suggests good physical health habits, such as adequate sleep, a nutritious diet, fish oil for the omega-3 fatty acids, sunlight and a supplement for vitamin D, and exercise for blood flow and oxygen to the brain. "When you optimize the physical functioning of the brain, then you can program it properly to get rid of all those automatic negative thoughts."
Train yourself to be a positive thinker with a can-do attitude. Look at your achievements, your fulfilling relationships, things you have done that have made you happy. "People don't do that sort of mental training, but it works," says the doctor. Meditation and visualizing yourself achieving your goals is another powerful technique. "The brain makes happen what it sees," he adds.
Write down and focus on five things that you're grateful for. Do this every day; three weeks later, your happiness will go up. Sometimes it's the simple steps that have the most impact.
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