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Monday, March 17, 2014

Let's Get Happy

I recently asked life and career coach, Rosie Guagliardo, to answer some questions; I wanted her recommendations for those who have not quite kept their New Year's resolutions, people who struggle with wintertime blues and to find out how to deal with loneliness during what seems to be a never-ending cold and snow season.

Do you believe in New Year's Resolutions?
No, I actually don't believe in them.  The main reason New Year's Resolutions don't work is that they are often based on what you think you "should" do.  It feels like a forced effort based on an external reason (e.g., the start of a new year).  Research shows that only 8% of people achieve their resolutions, and that's because they are only pursued using willpower- which wanes over time.

Instead, what I recommend is thinking about what desired outcomes you'd like to experience.  This allows you to have a deeper connection to what you're pursuing and you can create an inspired plan to experience it.  For example, I used to make a New Year's resolution to lose ten pounds.  But, then I realized I really didn't care about weighing a certain amount.  What I did care about was having energy and feeling fit.  So, I refined my desired outcome to reflect those two desires.  Now my health goals are based on what I value, and I was more motivated to achieve them.  The result is that I feel better than ever.  (And the weight came off, too!)

Do you suggest a person set smaller goals for short periods of time throughout the year, or focus on one large goal to achieve per year?
I think focusing on a few smaller desired outcomes is best.  Then, you can break those down into what I call "process" goals that lead you to experiencing your main desired outcomes.  So, think of the baby steps you need to take on a daily basis.  Like an athlete who trains for his performance, think about what you need to do periodically to feel happier in the end.  Ideally, you can ritualize these actions or behaviors to make them consistent so you won't need willpower to succeed.

Smaller outcomes help reduce the chance of feeling failure, too.  But remember, life isn't about being perfect, so anticipate some failure and make space for recovery.  You might even want to reframe failure to focus on the effort you're making.  If you weren't trying, you couldn't fail!  It's just part of the process toward feeling happier.  And, stay in tune with your overall desired outcome by asking whether you're going in the right direction, even if there have been some setbacks along the way.

The holidays are over, most of us have already forgotten about or altered our 2014 goals.  What do you suggest for getting back on track with those resolutions which were so important just a few months ago?
You can start by reviewing them to confirm they're still appropriate for you.  Gaining clarity on what you want may take some time, so be patient.  If you feel that you can easily create goals (or desired outcomes) but sometimes have trouble pursuing them, it could be because the ones you created aren't what you genuinely want in your heart.  Or, they just need to be modified to be more in line with what you want.  There are several ways to confirm or refine your desired outcomes to ensure you feel happier and more excited about pursuing them.  Here are a few examples I've used:

  • Ask yourself, "What is the purpose behind each outcome?  Is it something I want to pursue or feel like I have to pursue?"  If you feel that you "have" to pursue it, then get rid of it.  If it's an outcome you "want" to pursue, remind yourself of why it is important to you.
  • If you feel that you haven't made much progress towards your desired outcomes, visualize how you want to feel and what you want your life to look like when you're achieved each one.  Use that vision to identify an incremental next step that will move you in the right direction.
  • If you're still unmotivated to take next step toward your desired outcome, try to make that action step more fun.  For example, if you don't like exercising at the gym, bring a friend along who energizes you, or go for a hike instead.
And then, after you feel that your desired outcomes really resonate with you, make sure you have the structure and support needed to sustain the energy to achieve them.

Studies have shown that season depression does in fact exist.  What are some tips you can give to people who are having a hard time coping with the long winter months?  Everyone cannot get away for the season, what can a person whose budget or time will not permit traveling to a sunny tropical climate do to keep "sane"?
Obviously, getting the light you need (possibly through light therapy) along with proper nutrition and fitness makes a difference.  But, there are a few other ways to generate, maintain, and revitalize your energy.  One way to generate energy is to help others through volunteering.  Positive psychologists say volunteering helps provide you a sense of purpose by committing yourself to something outside of yourself.  You'll also create connections which can help safeguard you from feeling isolated and ultimately boost your mood.  Research actually shows that expressing compassion and generosity impacts your well-being, and reveals that when you give, the pleasure centers of the brain are activated (just like when you enjoy dessert or sex).

A way to maintain your energy is to visit with friends before you start feeling down.  Don't wait until you're feeling the effects of seasonal depression to reach out to friends.  They'll help you keep you good mood intact.

Finally, a way to revitalize your energy is to create and use a "Happy Box."  Remember that happiness isn't an absolute or a destination.  Instead of asking "Am I happy?" ask yourself "How can I be happier?"  Write down several actions you can take that make you feel happier (e.g. calling a friend, meditating, taking a bath, etc.) and put them in a box.  Whenever you're feeling disconnected from your best self or feeling down, reach for your "Happy Box" and do one of the things to feel happier!

Regarding both romantic and familial relationships in general, winter can feel lonely and isolating at times, what can single people or people who are away from loved ones do to keep their spirits up?
Because it's difficult being away from loved ones, it's so important to remain connected to them - even if only phone.  Connecting on a consistent basis will keep your spirits up because you can enjoy the anticipation of talking with them as well as the actual discussions.  Try to ritualize the behavior by planning ahead and blocking out time in your calendar to reach out to loved ones.

I'd also suggest contemplating what you love most about those relationships.  Is it how safe you feel, loved, inspired, or connected?  Whatever it is, take time to be grateful for those relationships and really feel the feelings associated with them.  A study by Robert Emmons and Michaels McCullough (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology) revealed that people who focus on what they are grateful for are both emotionally and physically healthier.

If you keep thinking about what you're lacking, you'll keep noticing what you don't have, and you'll keep thinking you're not getting what you want.  If you shift your thoughts to focus on what you do have and what makes you happy, your brain will continue to notice the abundance in your life, leaving you feeling grateful and ultimately happier.

What do you say to people who have the philosophy that winter should be reserved for hibernation:  "I'll start exercising, dating, looking for a new job, break up with him/her, eat better when the weather breaks"?
I think you can positively leverage the spirit of the winter season, which includes slowing down, resting more, and reflecting while the weather is cold.  But, I don't recommend waiting to live the life you desire.  My philosophy is to create your vision for the future and balance that with your current realities.  This approach allows you to effectively pursue long-term desired outcomes while living a happier life every day.  So even during the winter, let your vision guide and inspire you during your daily life and find the baby steps you can take toward your desired outcomes.

And remember, to remain motivated during the cooler winter months, confirm your desired outcomes are based on what you truly want and aim to keep your spirits high.  By the time the weather is warmer and Spring begins, you'll be in a better position to experience the renewing energy of the season ans even more inspired to pursue your desired outcomes.

     Rosie Guagliardo has loved being a life and career coach for 7 years and the founder of InnerBrilliance Coaching, LLC.  She is also a beauty-seeking, lover of life, Italian-American who wears "Rosie-colored" glasses while being pragmatic, purposeful, and results-oriented.  The combination of these qualities inspires her to help women honor themselves and each other by seeing perfection within and all around them -- in themselves, in others and in every moment of life.  This approach to life motivates a woman DAILY to realize her life vision with ease, joy, and grace.  
     Ultimately, Rosie's desire is for a woman to radiate her true essence and navigate life gracefully so she can experience her deepest wishes.  And, for her 80 year old self to have stories she would be proud to tell.  Rosie's philosophy is become passionate about your already perfect self, others, and life...and your path becomes perfect for you.  Click to find out more.

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