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Three Alternatives to New Year's Resolutions

Happiness, ProductivityMarisol DahlComment

When we have a whole 365 days ahead of us—12 months of mystery, growth, excitement, and change—making traditional resolutions for the new year feels strange. It's hard to set concrete, long-term goals for a future self whose priorities and interests evolve. 

I believe new year's resolutions, however future-oriented they are, are inherently grounded by who we are in the present. And while it's wonderful to honor our present wishes, it seems unfair to hold our future selves accountable to a past, often fleeting, idea of happiness. 

At the same time, I freaking love setting goals and intentions. Here are some substitutes to resolution-making that, I hope, take into consideration the things we can't foresee. 

Three Alternatives to New Year's Resolutions

Choose a Word or Theme

Let a particular word or theme guide how you make your way through 2017. Your word might reflect an energy you want to exude, something of which you'd like greater abundance, a result you want to achieve, and more. I particularly like this practice because a single word seems so simple, but holds so much possibility. You may choose a word with some particular actions in mind, but you'll be surprised how this theme shows up and guides you in different, unforeseen ways. 

Set Monthly Challenges

Month to month, our worlds are a little more predictable. Consider using the first of each month as a time to check in, set particular goals, and maybe try out a few new things that align with your current priorities.

You might even want to adopt a "formula" for this. For instance, each month this year I'm going to pick one thing to fast, one new thing to try, and one new topic to learn more about. Instead of making all my choices in January, I can be assured my decisions for each month will reflect my interests and needs. 

Leave It Open

If the pressure of setting New Year's intentions or thinking about how you want to improve is overwhelming, maybe that's a sign to pause. In the midst of making lofty New Year's plans, it's important to acknowledge where we are now, everything we've accomplished, and the things we love about ourselves that we don't want to change. In the spirit of this, skip the resolution-making altogether. Embrace how the year unfolds naturally. 

Infusing The Holiday Spirit

Happiness, HolidaysMarisol DahlComment

During my senior year of college, I wrote a whole term paper on the Pumpkin Spice Latte. I spent a good chunk of my finals period talking about Starbucks and copy-and-pasting Tweets with emojis into my paper. As a complete holiday nut, that was fine by me. 

In my study, I found that the Pumpkin Spice Latte has become a substitute for age-old traditions we don't really have time for. In our crazy-busy lives, we can't always manage the fall festivity line-up: pumpkin carving, pie baking, walking in parks surrounded by the beautiful fall foliage, jumping in leaves, decorating for the holidays.

But the Pumpkin Spice Latte saves us. Its smell is comforting and nostalgic. It brings us back to relaxed childhood days. We incorporate it into our morning coffee ritual easily, so holiday merry-making is effortless. The PSL is "fall in a cup" and provides just enough break with the ordinary routine to make one feel as if he or she is having a nice holiday treat without threatening regular work and life duties.

And okay. Maybe Instagramming a Pumpkin Spice Latte instead of going on a family hayride is just another way that we are being lazy and "busy" and self-important.  Maybe we really are just blindly buying into the crazy Starbucks marketing ploy.

It's important to be mindful of that—those things that we lean on with maybe a little too much importance. But we should also honor the role these little things play in our lives. After all, we just want to join in on the festivity of the season however we can.

In a world plagued with fear of missing out, a culture of "busyness," and just a pinch of commitment-phobia, maybe we should be more embracing of the small things we can do to brighten our days and infuse a little holiday spirit.

Personally, Starbucks syrups leave me sick. So while I happily enjoy watching others delight in the red cup festivities, I find other ways to get in the holiday mood and soak up as much of this time of year as I can. 

How to Infuse the Holiday Spirit Into Your Day

Listen to Spotify holiday playlists. No need to labor over compiling the perfect playlist. Have it softly playing in the background as you work, do laundry, shower, and get ready for the day.

Burn a holiday candle. Make the house smell like fresh-baked Christmas cookies, a real fir Christmas tree, or fall spices. 

Wear that one red sweater you have in the back of your closet. Everyone will think you put so much thought and effort into your holiday season style. And this simple change-up will help you feel much more festive. 

How do you (effortlessly) keep in the holiday spirit?

Questions to ask yourself when...

Happiness, HealthMarisol DahlComment

Thinking itself is quite a mystery when you really consider it. Psychologist Charles Fernyhough has spent time investigating inner voices and notes that on average about 25% of our days are occupied by thoughts in the form of language directed at ourselves. We don't always visualize—we have conversations with ourselves.

This internal dialogue is powerful, because it brings together different perspectives. It's an opportunity to acknowledge different sides of ourselves, like rational/emotional and hedonistic/restraining. Thinking to ourselves also allows us to explore, mimic, and anticipate the perspectives of those we know (see: theory of mind). 

It's no secret that how we manage our thoughts is a cornerstone of self-care. But given this new research and understanding of internal language, I've been much more mindful of the dialogues I have with myself and the purpose they serve. 

We might also consider how we can introduce even more of this dialogue into our daily lives, to better take care of ourselves. 

Questions to ask yourself...

When you’re just not feeling well: If I were my own doctor, what would I prescribe? Sometimes we need the push to engage our more rational and tough love sides. For me, the answer is often to drink more water, eat more greens, or walk away from something that is currently stressful. 

When you’re conflicted: What would _____ do? Pick someone you admire and would like to emulate. What decision would she make? How would he carry himself? What would she say? 

When you’re happy: Why do I feel so wonderful? We tend to focus on the times we feel upset and try to combat those moments. But it is equally important to pause during the times of day when you feel good: happy, relaxed, excited, positive, joyful. Notice the conditions and variables that create those wonderful moments, and try to recreate them as much as possible. 

How to Simplify Your Decisions

Intelligence, HappinessMarisol DahlComment

According to the paradox of choice, the more options and choices we have, the more we are paralyzed with fear and anxiety of making the wrong decision. We are less happy with the choices we do make if we know there is potential for regret.

Deliberating on decisions for too long is also unproductive and a waste of time.

Embrace opportunities to get rid of "choice excess" and get on with your day. This may be harder to immediately implement, but it's about exposing yourself to less.

How to Simplify Your Decisions

Adopt a signature style. Read Finding a Uniform and Why We Should Wear the Same Thing to Work Every Day for inspiration. And this doesn't just have to apply to clothes—commit to a signature dish for potlucks, a favorite perfume, a go-to hostess gift.

Set rules and boundaries that make sense to you. For instance, dine out only on weekends, or finish one book before starting another.

Hide things. Out of sight, out of mind—in the best way possible. I like to keep my living area (especially my desk) free of as much clutter as possible. I’ll consciously set things out—like a book I want to read, or a piece of mail I need to address—as a strong visual reminder of what my priorities are. You can also do this digitally, like putting your email inbox on snooze, or using an app like Self Control that blocks certain websites for a set period of time.

How to Ground Your Awesome

Happiness, Career, HealthMarisol DahlComment

Keep the emails that make you smile. Every time you get a note that boosts your spirits, drop it in an Evernote folder, an email folder/label, or Google Doc. It will be nice to look back on them whenever you’re feeling down.*

Don’t throw away your to-do lists. They remind you of what you’ve accomplished, and can help you accurately discuss your work and not accidentally downplay your role and impact.

Express gratitude for yourself. Routinely expressing gratitude at the beginning and end of the day is a highly recommended mindfulness practice. Recently I’ve been taking it one step further by making sure I always recognize my gratitude for some part of myself—a personality trait, something I did that day, or even a part of my body. Generosity can and should be channeled inward, not just outward.

*A salute to Jenny Blake for this tip (she calls it a “Keepers File”!). And Sarah von Bargen also recently wrote about her Smile File folder.

What to read if you don't know where to start

Intelligence, Health, HappinessMarisol DahlComment

What to read if your feeling green: The Atlantic's Are Tote Bags Good for the Environment?

Whether they're delicately handled designer goods or a promotional product dirtied by daily wear, few totes are made to last long enough to obtain the number of uses required to reach resource-expenditure parity with the plastic bags they were meant to supplant.

... Ecologically speaking, the best practice for tote bags might be one of two extremes: use them all the time, or not at all.

What to read if you don't know where to start: Gala's On Making A "Fuck That" List

Without the flipside — the “negative” stuff — we can’t see our blessings, and we don’t know what we want.

It’s okay to start there. Looking at what terrifies you, your fears, and the things that keep you awake at night, is an excellent way to figure out what motivates you.

What to read if you're feeling existential: Darling Magazine's Why Talking About Death Should Be a Natural Part of Life

What if the result of grieving was to restore what has been lost? When someone has died, the pressure to let go can actually complicate grief and trigger depression. Rather than saying goodbye and shutting the door, what if we invited our memories along with us?

How to look forward to everyday

Intelligence, Happiness, Health, CreativityMarisol DahlComment

How to eat healthy: The simple rule of thumb from my osteopath: a plate that is half fruits and veggies, a quarter lean protein, and a quarter starches/complex carbohydrates.

How to read more books: Listen to audio books during your in-between times—in the shower, getting ready in the morning, riding the subway, on line at a store, making dinner.

How to look forward to everyday: Have a creative project that is all yours.