Editor’s Note: For this last in our holiday season series, we asked our authors and friends the following question: “What research-based advice do you have for the new year? Tips to keep in mind? Or tips that you learned from research that you yourself apply?
Here’s what we heard back.
George Vaillant: My gift suggestion. Think of three people with whom you have issues. Spend the next 24 hours trying to find reasons to forgive them. You will be the the happier for the effort.
Amanda Horne: At this time of year it can be tempting to set goals and New Year’s resolutions which we will attempt to live by for the rest of 2013. Drawing on research from mindfulness, we could consider an alternative. Take time at the start of each day to consider what’s needed for that day. Find space to pause for a moment or two during the day to call for what’s needed at that moment. We don’t know what each day will bring, and this practice helps us to respond to each situation as it arises and to practice flexibility in how we navigate our days.
Kathryn Britton: Here’s the advice I’m giving myself: Around the people you love, touch more and talk less. I’m thinking of Paul Zak’s prescription of 8 hugs a day! Recently my daughter was raging about having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. I put my arms around her and listened, biting my tongue to keep from making any suggestions. When she got ready to go home, she thanked me for listening without trying to solve anything.
Orin Davis: Across several years of research, I find again and again that focus/mindfulness is a critical component of many positive experiences. Whatever you choose to do, give it your attention!Marie-Josée Shaar: Want to exercise more in 2013? Lose weight? Eat more nutritiously? Here’s my tip. Our sleep, food, mood and exercise habits are intimately related. Whenever one of these 4 groups of habits becomes a real challenge for you, rather than give yourself a hard time about it, leverage the other three and see what happens. Feeling depressed? Work out, make time for a full night’s sleep and eat well. You’ll see a nice boost in your mood. Is insomnia the most difficult for you? Try picking up your exercise, eating well, and practicing gratitude before bed, and I’ll bet your nights will become more peaceful in no time. Constantly munching on high calorie treats? A more active body, a more rested brain, and a more positive mood will help you minimize overeating, emotional eating and cravings. By using your lifestyle strengths, you can overcome your weaknesses.
Tom Heffner: Love someone, let yourself be loved by someone, and embrace everything in between.
Denise Quinlan: If I do nothing else to enhance my well-being in 2013, I will increase my physical exercise and meditation. Both practices have a wealth of research that demonstrates how they can enhance well-being. There is a lovely saying “It’s better to go for a walk than not go for a run,” told to me by an ex-boxer turned motivational speaker in New Zealand called Billy Graham – not the television evangelist. Find some exercise you like that you can fit into your daily routine. Also even 5 minutes sending thoughts of love and compassion to self and those around you can help a day go more smoothly.
On the other hand, if the New Year is a real turning point for you, and you feel meaningfully compelled to set a new goal, remember to make it a good goal. Make it something that you work towards, rather than something you need to stop or get away from. Make it very specific, and give yourself measurable milestones. Celebrate your progress, and be accountable to someone or something other than yourself. Know the vision you are trying to accomplish, and think also about the path to get there. Predict the obstacles in your path, and prepare contingency plans.
For more on goal setting and goal getting, read Heidi Grant Halvorson’s great book Succeed.
Louis Alloro: Choose positive expectations. Frame things (situations, people) as opportunities not threats. Remember the choice is always (y)ours. When we are in threat response, our negativity bias gets activated + our field of vision becomes so much narrower. Keep it positive. Keep building psychological muscle, and encourage others to do the same.
Lucy Hone: Instead of giving things up for New Year’s resolutions, commit to doing more of what you love!
Bridget Grenville-Cleave: My number 1 tip has to be mindfulness. Even just short snatches of mindfulness (whenever I remember!) have made a huge difference to my life in terms of well-being generally, as well as resilience, positive mood, and how I relate to other people. My mindfulness tutor gave me some very good advice at the start of my training: you don’t have to enjoy it, you just have to do it. I agree, and I can’t recommended mindfulness highly enough.
Senia Maymin: Be bigger than you thought you could be.Aren Cohen: A stroke of genius from my wonderful husband:
My advice for the new year: make it a practice in 2013 to write handwritten thank you notes as often as possible. A chance to practice gratitude and show other people they matter to you!
Angus Skinner: Never underestimate the value of the three blessings exercise in finding routes out of depression. Listen to Martin Seligman talk about it. The correlation is stronger than the correlation between smoking and cancer. Nothing instant: good things, like bad things, take time.Miriam Akhtar: My advice is to join a course in mindfulness meditation to develop your capacity for positive emotions. I discovered a piece of research led by neuroscientist Richard Davidson that showed that regular practice of mindfulness meditation activates the part of the brain associated with positive emotions, the left prefrontal cortex. Intrigued I gave it a go. For 8 weeks I meditated for 45 minutes a day. And yes, it worked. I felt calmer, more serene and happier in myself as though the meditation had rewired my brain for happiness.
A coaching client of mine describes mindfulness meditation and positive psychology as “going hand in hand together. It’s been life-changing for me. Mindfulness helps me stay present and remain calm in certain situations along with a feeling of completeness, which is wonderful. Positive psychology has massively helped with this too and helped me re- train my brain by stopping old thinking patterns, which has resulted in being able to bounce back quicker and stop the circle of downward moods and getting upset.”
I will be walking my talk this January and joining a course in mindfulness meditation for a top-up.
Cohen, A. (2008). Thank You Notes and Positive Psychology. Positive Psychology News Daily.
Davidson, R., Kabat-Zinn, J., Schumacher, J., Rosenkranz, M., Muller, D., Santorelli, S., et al. (2003). Alternations in brain and immune function produced by mindfulness meditation. Psychosomatic Medicine, 65(4), 564-570.
Halvorson, H. (2010). Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals. New York. Penguin Group.
Seligman, M. E. P. Reflective Happiness Clip on the Three Blessings.
Wood, A. M. & Tarrier, N. (2010). Positive Clinical Psychology: A new vision and strategy for integrated research and practice. Clinical Psychology Review, 30, 819–829
Zak, P. (2011). Trust, morality — and oxytocin? TED Talk.
Zak, P. (2012). The Moral Molecule: The Source of Love and Prosperity. Dutton Adult.
Brisbane NYE Fireworks courtesy of linuslin
Smarts and Stamina: cover image of the book, Smarts and Stamina: The Busy Person’s Guide to Optimal Health and Performance
Thank you notes drawn by Kevin Gillespie for Gratitude: How to appreciate Life’s Gifts
Water running over rocks courtesy of On Being