Happy New Year! I like to send my New Year’s greeting to my subscribers during the SECOND week of the year. Why? Because everyone does it around January 1st, and it’s easy for all the “New Year Resolution/Make This Year Best Year Yet” messages to get mixed up.
As inspiring and valuable as material from so many different therapists, coaches, authors, and speakers can be, I think many of them make one mistake: they are overwhelming. Trying to “correct” everything about your life in the first week of the year that needed work in the week and year that came before is daunting. Yes, it’s important to “think big” about your life: living life to your FULL potential, what Louise Hay has called “the totality of possibilities”. I love that. But I believe it’s much more important to take a series of small steps that add up, gently over time, to real life changes and improvements, rather than to start “too” big and drop off to the same old default behaviors you had on, say, December 20th.
I’m grateful that my life has improved steadily over the years, in many ways: relationships, health, finances, home, family, friends. And much of this is because of the work I do as a therapist and life/career coach, reading lots of books and taking lots of seminars, where I use the information learned for myself and then I teach it to my clients in weekly sessions. This is my job, and I embrace it wholeheartedly. But it IS a process. Every year I know more about therapy than in the year before, because new research keeps getting published and I seek out information that I, and ultimately my clients, find useful. I really believe that is through a series of small steps, easily “taken on” and “digestible”, that makes for meaningful life changes over time, especially for both our physical and mental health. Life improvement (much like progress in therapy), is a process over time, not a single “event”.
I’d like to share with you some small changes that either I have discovered, or people close to me have, that they report much benefit from. See which ones you might like to try. Be careful of trying to do too many, too fast. But these small changes can yield great dividends, as new habits that shape your day over time:
– If you’re in the habit of putting extra salt on food, try not using the salt shaker. You might save on your sodium intake, which could help your blood pressure and other effects of sodium as you get older.
– If you’re used to drinking whole milk, experiment with changing to 2% (fat) milk to cut your fat intake. Then, try going to 1% or skim milk. Then, try almond or soy milk. I have done this, and I really feel a benefit to it.
– Over time, try cooking more with olive oil. You can research benefits of the so-called “Mediterranean Diet”, but olive oil is known for being “good for you.”
– Rethink red meat more often. Even cutting red meat consumption by one or two dinners and lunches per week, and substituting something else (fish, chicken, tofu) can gently reduce the risks associated with red meat consumption (which are many). (When I did this, it made the times I did have red meat more enjoyable, because I wasn’t “taking it for granted”).
– Experiment with changing out white rice with brown rice, or a nutritious grain like quinoa. I loved white rice, but when I did this change, I felt better because I knew I was getting more nutrients and a “whole” carbohydrate, and while I admit it took some getting-used-to, I learned to really like the change.
– Both my husband and I found that cutting carbs down quite a bit, or by using more whole carbs (like brown rice), we both lost weight, which of course has all kinds of healthy implications for reducing heart disease or diabetes risk. Even if you don’t do full-on Adkins Diet or whatever, I have found reducing carbs (and increasing lean protein) a real secret to healthy weight loss.
– Try increasing your 401k or 403b retirement fund contribution at work by 1%. You’ll never miss an additional 1% out of your paycheck, but the compounded interest from the investment will really pay off in the long run. If you’re already “maxed out” on your contributions at work, try adding another percentage (maybe 1-10%) to another type of investment account. When it comes to saving for retirement, “more is more”. Gradually increasing this over time sets you up for success when you’re an older person. I learned this from my grandparents, who started retirement saving very young, and lived to be very old (all of them well over 90), and they were able to have good medical care and a high quality-of-life for many years in retirement because they had such foresight when they were even younger than middle-age. (If you don’t know what a 401k is, LEARN! Get a book from (lesbian) author, Suze Orman, and she will explain these in good detail but still easy-to-learn. As a self-employed person running a small business, I love using Vanguard.com accounts, such as a SEP-IRA (self-employed person, individual retirement account) but any reputable investment firm can help – I just like Vanguard’s very low “account fees”).
– If you’ve never had a meeting with a gay-competent financial planner, consider having one. There are special considerations for gay men and lesbians when it comes to finances, insurance, retirement, and legal issues. Financial planners can be expensive, though – but they could really save you money in the long run. If this is really not possible, then the Suze Orman books can really help increase your ability to “take care of your financial self” (which I explain more about in my book, “Self-Empowerment: Have the Life You Want!”, on Amazon.com or Lulu.com).
– To reduce money anxiety, especially against emergency repairs to your home, car, or in your health, plan out your major expenses for the year (such as car insurance or vacations) and set aside a little bit of money every week into a Savings account (I do this via online banking, or as an account-to-account transfer at an ATM). It’s kind of a “rainy-day” fund. If it is continually replenished, then if you have to withdraw from it for a fender-bender accident, a co-insurance on a bodily injury or illness, or a home repair, the money is there and your stress level goes way down in meeting the challenge.
– There are so many things we can learn to do over time, incorporating them into our daily routine, the practice self-care and reduce stress (which is a big long-term killer). One of my favorite colleagues has told me his life improved so much after he started a daily 20-minute mindfulness meditation routine. Another does not miss his daily yoga class, for anything. If this sounds like a lot, try something small, like opening your day, even while you’re still in bed, with positive affirmations. I like to use Louise Hay’s classic line, “I am open and receptive to receiving all good” each morning. I also love her thought, whenever you have a stress or challenge, “How can I take a positive approach to this?”
– I always say you can assess a person’s mental health by asking when was the last time they saw the dentist (my dentist, Dan Pinar, DDS, loves that one!). I say that because dental cleanings and exams are an act of self-care; it’s about us taking care of our own selves the way a parent might have taken care of us when we were little. My grandmother, who lived to be 96, enjoyed a good quality of life up until her death by being able to enjoy eating – she was a great cook – and her advice to me as she aged was always, “Take care of your teeth.” This can give you a pretty smile, one of the best “gifts” we can give other people, throughout the day. And this can help save pain and function problems, too. Schedule 2 or 3 cleanings per year with your dentist’s receptionist at a time, and then mark them in your calendar book, or on your smartphone. Make it a routine to take excellent care of yourself, every day.
– Schedule a time now, in your mind, to de-clutter just ONE area of where you work, or where you live. It doesn’t have to be a grand production of spring cleaning worthy of “Downtown Abbey”. It can be one countertop, one desk, one table, one drawer. De-cluttering helps to clear our minds and spirits, as well as the space we dwell in. It gets rid of the old, to make room for new “good” to come into our life.
– Schedule time at your doctor’s office for “the big stuff” – monitoring your cholesterol, discussing any major risks to your health that run in your family, or getting any major tests (such as a colonoscopy). If you address and monitor the big risks for your age and family history, you’re making an investment in your long-term health, quality of life, and even your life expectancy. Early detection and intervention is so key to managing the more major health risks.
– Identify your most relaxing moment of the day. For me, this is the time when I wake up and before I get out of bed. I look forward to special times of the day ahead, like an event, or seeing a friend, or thinking of the clients I will work with that day. I “psyche myself up”, using positive affirmations and identifying things to be grateful for. This sets a positive tone for the day.
– About once a month, identify and validate your most pressing stressor. Think about problem-solving; what are your options for addressing this stressor? What resources do you need, internally (inside you), do you need to confront and manage it? What external resources (information, expertise) do you need to seek out to address it? As therapist can be an external, professional resource, but I help you to discover your internal resources to address your problems, too (and identify more external ones). By identifying your most pressing stressor and managing it, you are reducing the biggest “drain” on your quality of life, and then your quality of life improves.
– Finally, close your day with an acknowledgement of gratitude. Don’t criticize yourself for the things you didn’t around to doing, or for doing them in a way that was different from what you wanted. Just acknowledge your strengths, and validate yourself for doing the best you could. Ask yourself what you learned from the day, and how that lesson might help in days ahead. Bring your mind to a place of acceptance (for yourself and others), and of peace, to prepare yourself for a good night’s sleep.
By doing some of these small steps, a little at a time (which, you will notice, usually require reasonable or low fees, or are even free), you will grow and build your self-care and quality of life by bringing awareness and mindfulness to living your best life. If you need additional support for this kind of thing, consider working with me. I offer sessions in my office in person in West Hollywood, or we can have a phone session from the privacy of your home or office, or we can work via Skype. We can even do consultation by email. For more information on any of these services, call 310-726-4357, or email me at Ken@GayTherapyLA.com. I wish you a Happy New Year, certainly – and by implementing some of these tips, you can also have a Happy New DAY, every day.