A New Attitude

New Year’s resolutions are difficult for me. The decisions that seemed so real and compelling in my mind on January 1 start to disappear in the weeks following Christmas. Little pieces of my good intentions linger like the last of the pine needles from the Christmas tree but by Groundhog Day, it’s hard for me to connect with why I thought a particular resolution was important and achievable. What I’m left with is guilt for my lack of discipline to stick to the resolution even for a few weeks.

I guess I can take some comfort in knowing I’m not alone in this. An article from the National Association for Mental Health in England urged people not to feel pressured to make New Year’s resolutions because it can trigger feelings of failure and inadequacy. The chief executive of the organization explained, “We chastise ourselves for our perceived shortcomings and set unrealistic goals to change our behavior, so it’s not surprising that when we fail to keep our resolutions, we end up feeling worse than when we started.” That’s me in a nutshell.

But he follows up that up with some really good advice that I plan to take to heart. And he says it in a way that doesn’t set myself up for failure. “In 2009, instead of making a New Year’s resolution, think positively about the year to come and what you can achieve.”

“Think positively about the year to come.” I have to repeat that phrase in order for it to sink in because being positive is not an attitude that comes naturally to me. In spite of all the good things in my life I tend to focus on what’s missing; my outlook on life perceives the “glass as half empty” rather than “half full.”

The synapses in my brain are very used to connecting the dots to create a picture of the worst case scenario, but this year I want to make some new grooves in my cerebral matter so that instead of expecting doom, looking on the bright side becomes my default attitude.

How am I going to do this? The same way anybody changes a lifetime of bad habits ““ whether it’s not exercising, overeating, or in my case, worrying about the “what if’s” ““ it’s going to take a lot of discipline and hard work not just for this year, but probably for the rest of my life.

There’s a series of weight loss books on the market that I think I can apply to my situation even though they deal with bad food habits and not bad thought habits. In the Eat This, Not That! series, the author teaches people to swap what they would normally choose to eat, drink, buy at the supermarket, or order at a restaurant with healthier choices. Obviously, you can’t give up eating, so instead, be smarter about what you choose.

Well, as hard as I’ve tried, I can’t give up thinking. So I’m going to follow his approach and devise a “Think This, Not That!” guidebook for myself. This year is going to be about learning how to substitute some healthier choices for my habitually negative thoughts. Monday morning when I’m looking at the account balances would be an especially good time to start.

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