Creating the Best Year of Your Life

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Dr. Mirgain spoke with John Stofflet of NBC-15 on creating the best year of your life. Watch the video


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Dr. Shilagh Mirgain explains how you can have the best year of your life.Madison, Wisconsin - It's the new year - a time when many people commit to making changes both big and small in hopes of improving their health or well-being.


Unfortunately, within a few weeks, 90 percent of the commitments are already broken. But it doesn't have to end that way.


The most popular new year's resolutions tend to focus on things like exercising, losing weight, stopping smoking, saving more money and other basic lifestyle changes. But Shilagh Mirgain, UW Health psychologist, suggests that by moving beyond the basic resolutions, it might just be possible to create one of the best years of your life.


And, she offers four essential building blocks to help you get started.


Envision Your Best Year


When it comes to making positive changes in the new year, Mirgain suggests thinking about it like a house.


"In order to build something substantial, you need a blueprint. So, start drafting that blueprint by asking, 'What would the best year of my life look like?'"


When you think about how you'd like to spend your days, does it include time with friends or family? Perhaps there's a secret talent you've always wanted to explore, like singing or playing an instrument. Maybe there's a vacation you've always dreamed of or a sport you always wished you could try.

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Or, perhaps it's not an activity or experience - maybe it's a feeling of being satisfied with yourself.


Mirgain suggests taking some time to reflect on your life now, and what you'd like it to be. It can help to ask questions like:

  • If you knew you only had one year left to live, what would you do differently?
  • What do you want to be remembered for?
  • What would you as a child think of the adult you are now?

"Explore options and possibilities you may have never considered, or perhaps dismissed because it seemed impossible," Mirgain says. "Don't talk yourself out of something before you've even considered it."


Make Peace with Your Past


Continuing with the construction analogy, Mirgain explains that an important part of building for the future is clearing the ground underneath where the foundation will go. Similarly, once you have your blueprint for the life you'd like to build, you have to take the time to clear out anything that might stand in the way.


"Often we carry around old hurts, resentments and regrets like a pile of debris that weighs us down. These things rob us of energy and vitality," she says. "Finding closure gives us energy, enthusiasm and a new perspective, but it's up to us to make it happen."


Make a list of all those things you feel incomplete with - people you need to apologize to, projects you need to finish or painful incidents you need to forgive. Try to identify those things you've struggled to let go of. Once you identify them, it becomes easier to find ways to bring about resolution.


Plan and Anticipate Obstacles


Once you've developed the blueprint and made room for the foundation, next create a plan of action – how are you going to accomplish the changes? And don't forget to plan for setbacks.


"Research shows that if we only envision positive outcomes – how our life looks when we accomplish our goals - it can actually hinder our ability to be successful. Instead, we also need to consider the obstacles that will come up," Mirgain says.


External obstacles, such as the need for money or finding the time, can be obvious. Internal obstacles, however, are often the most challenging. They include the negative voices in our heads that can make us doubt our ability or convince us it's safer not to try.


But, you don't have to believe everything you think. 


"When negative thoughts arise, get out of your head and back into your life by taking an action step towards the vision of your best life and the best you," says Mirgain.


Sleep in instead of get up to exercise? It's not a reason to stop trying. Commit to going again the next day. It can be easy to let little things derail your commitment, but there's always another day to try again.


Create Systems, Not Goals


Once you've identified your blueprint, cleared the ground and decided how you're going to start building, the final piece is making sure you have the materials in place. In this case, it's the systems that will help you achieve your plan.


Many new year's resolutions are actually goals – they are short-term and finite, and once you achieve them, it is easy to lose momentum. That is why it is more effective to create systems. Systems are a long-term process of controlling what you can; they are essentially your daily habits. 


"It's important to ask what new habits and structures need to be in place to bring you closer to the life that you want and then pick a few key areas to commit to making those changes," explains Mirgain.


Perhaps the change you've identified is to exercise in the morning, or saving some of your paycheck for a vacation, or reaching out to loved ones regularly to stay better connected. Whatever the change is, have reminders around you that will help keep your commitments front and center. Maybe it's an appointment on your calendar or even a background photo on your computer featuring your vacation destination.


Encourage yourself to be consistent and stick to the schedule you've identified. And Mirgain stresses that it's important to remember to stay positive.


"Support yourself through the process like a good friend would. If a friend approached you and explained how she has struggled to find time to exercise, how would you respond? Are you as patient and supportive with yourself?"


And don't forget that enthusiasm is contagious. When you work to make changes, you can actually inspire others to become enthusiastic about their own lives and possibilities. As author George Eliot wrote: "It is never too late to become who you might have been."


Date Published: 01/02/2015

News tag(s):  shilagh a mirgain

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