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Forget about that New Year’s resolution thing. Today is as good a time as any to take stock and do an upgrade on your mental and emotional software, and your life. Here are some topics and tips to get you started:
Upgrade your emotional awareness
Know thyself better. Know what is going on when things are going on. Two good places to look:
Stress signals. Do you know what are your unique indicators of stress: that you’re ready to walk out on your job, that you think your nose is too big, that your-partner’s shoes-left-in-the-living-room-again is driving you crazy?
You can tell that these are signs of stress because on a good day and actually most of the time they stay dormant; it is on those bad days when you are emotionally maxed out that they rear up. Use them, and be grateful for what they are: signs that it’s time to chill, to take some deep breaths or walk around the block. Focus on knocking down stress rather than getting tunnel-vision and feeling that you need to take radical action.
Increase your emotional range. Those prone to anger and / or anxiety often have difficulty identifying other, more subtle emotions. Having a limited emotional range keeps you from effectively sorting out what is bothering you most, and keeps others close to you from understanding what you are truly feeling and needing.
If this is you, if you tend to rely on one or two emotions to express how you feel, the challenge is stretching your range, much like you would do to stretch your muscles. It involves 2 steps — slowing down so you can detect those subtle shifts in feelings, and then having a vocabulary to match them.
Do check-ins. Once an hour or at least several times a day, check in with yourself: On a scale of 1-10 with 1 being emotionally fine, 10 moving into rage or psychosis, ask how you are doing. When your mood starts to climb, when you sense that stirring of irritability or anxiety, ask yourself what else you may be feeling besides these emotions and give it a label — maybe frustrated rather than irritable, or worried rather than just anxious. Simply by asking these questions you are becoming more alert to what is happening within.
When you get to a 4 or 5 it’s time to see if there is problem that you need to fix: that you haven’t heard back from your supervisor about that report. Take action — text, call or send an email to your boss; don’t get hung up on doing it “right”; the goal is to change your feelings through action. If you decide there is not a real problem to fix and you are just tired or stressed, label this too, and again take action — a 20-minute nap at lunch, a break from the computer and a walk down the hall, a quick look at Facebook to re-center your focus.
By practicing this even for a week or two, you will become more sensitive your inner life.
Upgrade your communication skills
Broadcast your emotions. This means letting others know proactively what’s your emotional state, rather than acting clueless and spraying your emotions around the room. Obviously, being able to do this is directly linked to your own self-awareness. When you are driving home from work, check-in with yourself and let your partner know before you hit the door where you are at — tired and grumpy and need a half hour of down-time to level out; feeling good and ready to engage.
Realize when conversations are going off-course. Easier said than done, but again a skill that you can practice and master. The key here is recognizing when your or the other person’s emotions are starting to take over the conversation: defensiveness sets in, voices get louder, one or both of you start stacking up evidence to make your case.
Time to cool things down. Be quiet, listen, or say calmly you can tell that you and / or the other is getting upset. The topic is no longer on the table; the goal now is putting out the fire of the emotion.
Talk about your intentions. People only see our behaviors, not our intentions. Let others know what is behind what you are doing or saying, particularly when they seem to be struggling to understand, or are emotionally over-reacting: “The reason I’m asking about _____ is because I’m worried about_______.” “I’m suggesting this not because of _______ but because I’m thinking about ________.” Help others understand what makes you tick.
Open up. If you’ve had a traumatic history, if you’ve learned it isn’t safe to trust, if your personality tends to be introverted and quiet, your challenge is taking the risk of opening yourself up to others. Ultimately this is about increasing intimacy in your relationships — letting others more fully into your head and heart, stepping outside your verbal and emotional comfort zone in order to make it larger.
Here you share your dreams or you share your anger, or you say what you are beginning to think or wonder about even though the thoughts are half-formed, the underlying feelings but a whisper. Resist the men-are-from-Mars thing where you hole up in your psychological man-cave for days, ponder and then pronounce. Let others in earlier, don’t hold back out of fear.
You’ll know when you’re stretching that comfort zone when you can feel that flutter of anxiety — push ahead.
Like increasing your emotional awareness mastering these skills is about setting a practice goal — pick one area at a time — then slowing things down, focusing more on you and less on the other guy. Adopt an attitude of experimentation, rather than do-or-die do-over.
Upgrade the quality of your everyday life
It’s so easy to go on auto-pilot, filling your life with those well-ingrained routines and habits. Time to step back and see if it needs some tweaking:
Put problems to rest. Solving problems that you have been ignoring is like getting all clutter off the floor that you have been tripping on. Get them out of the way. Girl or boyfriend perpetually running late starting to get on your nerves? Work schedule wearing you out? Been ignoring those bills stacked up on the bookcase?
Time to take action — talk to your girl / boyfriend, to your boss, sit down on Saturday morning for an hour and knock out the bills.
Rebalance your priorities. You say you want to exercise but find yourself sleeping in? Working too hard and not enough pleasure, or too much pleasure and not working hard enough? Too isolated and lonely, too bored, too much to do? Again, habit and routines take over. Time to readjust, create a new normal.
What’s the one thing that if you did it would have the biggest impact on your everyday life? Do it. What the one thing that if you stopped doing it would have the biggest impact on your everyday life? Stop doing it.
Make a plan for a week’s worth of change. Pick one thing to do or stop, make it a priority, work it into your daily routines. After the week evaluate and tweak.
Upgrade your vision and values
This is big step-back to see the larger picture. You’re a different person than you were a year ago, 5 years ago. Time to upgrade your dreams and core beliefs to fit who you are right now. What do you want today in your future? Where do you see yourself 10 years from now? What’s on your bucket list? What behaviors and values do you need to incorporate into your life to become the person you want to be?
Be careful here about the “buts” — the “it’s not practical,” “I can’t afford it,” “who am I kidding” voices. You can edit and fine-tune later. Right now the starting point is passion, desire, imagination.
Schedule some time to put your feet up on the desk and ponder… who you are, what you want to be. Pay attention to those whispers of yearning, those fleeting images of a new you. Brainstorm a goal and then fine-tune it. Set 3, 5-year concrete goals.
The theme running through all of these is pushing back against complacency, about getting excited about you and your life by taking action.
Time for a You 2.0?