Every year is the same. On New Year’s Eve my Facebook and Twitter feeds get flooded with memes, tweets and text updates of people bemoaning the year and hoping for a better one. And despite their best hopes, I’m confident that the next New Year’s Eve I’ll see the same memes, tweets and text updates, often by the same people. It’s a habit of defeat.
I’m familiar with the habit of defeat because I practically invented it.
It’s easy to identify if you have a habit of defeat. You have a habit of defeat if: 1) you find it difficult to recall the highlights of your year; 2) your negative experiences overshadow your positive ones; 3) you find it difficult to smile and be thankful for the little things in the monotony of life; 4) you feel like life is a treadmill; and 5) you have a victim’s mentality, always having to defend yourself.
These traits defined me for too many years. But something my wife said to me years ago while we were still dating started me on a journey from having a habit of defeat to a habit of joy. She said, “When I grow old, I want to have happy wrinkles.” What an emotionally powerful statement! And in that moment I realized that if I stayed my course, I’d have angry wrinkles. I was too accustomed to frowning and arguing and drinking from a life I thought was half empty.
Today I have a different attitude. Not that I don’t struggle. I spent twenty-seven years practicing a habit of defeat, and only seven learning to develop of habit of joy.
And here are five things I’ve learned to do to avoid a habit of defeat and make the most of my year with every passing cycle.
5 Tips for a Better Year
Tip 1: Create and hit milestones – small wins.
Some years will be bigger than others. You might get married or have your first child or buy your first home. And it is to those yours that you might look back with a sense of pride or accomplishment.
But most years are not filled with grandiose life events. So what you have to do is create small wins. For some people that might mean creating a yearly doable bucket list. Even if that means in January you plan a family vacation for August and then force yourself to stick to the plans. Or perhaps you’ve dreamed of writing a book? It’s not as hard as you might think and if you get started now your status update next New Year’s Eve will be, “Yeah! This year I became an author!”
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Whatever it is you want to do, do it. Set and hit small-win, doable milestones that will make you proud by New Years.
Tip 2: Track your progress.
The best books are the ones with lots of chapters. I’ll read a hundred pages in a book where every three or four pages is a new chapter, before I read a fifty pages where each chapter is twenty pages long. Humans need to feel like we’re moving the needle in our lives. And tracking our progress is the best way to get that sensation.
So what were your highlights from January or what were your lights from the first quarter? Look back and track your small-wins with fondness and before time lets them get away from you. This is a great way to change the way you’ll feel about the past year come December.
Tip 3: Experience the positives and highlights in real-time.
Nothing particularly remarkable happened this past year, and yet I look back on it with great fondness. And the reason was because I was intentional about savouring the positive moments and the highlights. When my mini-wins came – things like visiting local fairs with my wife and our toddler – I was intentional about putting my phone in my pocket, and taking in the moment as it was happening.
You can’t replace the sensation of a memory with a video. So if you remember to take in the moments as they are happening you’ll have a fonder memory of the summer in which they happened. A memory will take you so far, but the emotions associated with a memory will take you so much further!
Tip 4: Make the most of the negatives.
No one can deny that life is riddled with negative experiences – the loss of a loved one, a season of being bullied, unemployment, et cetera – it’s what we do with, in and after those moments that will define our memory of the experience.
I’ll never forget the year my dad passed away. He was only forty-nine when a heart-attacked did him in and that event defined the rest of the year for me. But as I look back and remember the pain of losing him, I also remember the weeks leading up to his passing and the awesome moments we spent together. And I remember complete strangers telling me how much my dad spoke of me when I wasn’t around. And I smile.
So while admitting it’s not easy to make the most of your negative experiences, don’t let those experiences define the 8,760 hours you’ve been given in the year.
Tip 5: Smile more.
Here’s a scientific fact, the more you smile the happier you’ll be. And the opposite is equally true. The more you frown the less happy you’ll be.
The simple act of smiling sends a message to your brain that you’re happy. And when you’re happy, your body pumps out all kinds of feel-good endorphins.” (Here)
One of the most beautiful features about my wife is her smile. And she does it often. When I met her I had a defeated attitude. I was so accustomed to frowning that I didn’t even know I was doing it and someone used to always say this little rhyme to me: “Derek, turn that frown upside down.”
The thing is, I felt like if I forced myself to smile, I’d be faking it. And I prided myself on expressing my true feelings. It wasn’t until I met my wife that I discovered I had it backwards. My feelings were being dictating by my actions which in turn dictated my attitude. When I began to shift myself out of the habit of frowning and into a habit of smiling, my feelings and my attitude followed suit.
Question: What other tips can you offer to help people have a better year? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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