Start your New Year with a Clean Slate!

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Joan Lunden

Aging Well /


“My tormentor is myself left over from yesterday.”
Deepak Chopra

Every year at this time, it has become traditional for people to make New Year’s Resolutions. Unfortunately most people don’t keep them. Even worse, people are frustrated and disappointed in themselves for breaking them. Truth be told, our resolutions are usually “too lofty” and too hard to maintain – since they often involve breaking lifelong bad habits or resolving issues that have perplexed us for ages.

I’d like to suggest another way to approach this annual "new beginning – to treat it as exactly that, a new beginning. Instead of setting up resolutions to be met, why not look at the New Year as a chance to wipe your slate clean and get a new, fresh clean slate upon which to write your hopes and desires for coming year. This was a phrase my mom always used with my brother and me when we would be at odds … “Hey guys” she would say, “Why don’t you wipe the slate clean and start over”. It was like a breath of fresh air, and always seemed like a manageable way to approach “letting go” of what had a hold on us.

So why not take this opportunity at each New Year, to wipe away everything on our slates from last year? That includes all the unresolved arguments, the slings and the arrows that have come our way, and all the hurt and resentment. Remember, the same fence that shuts others out, shuts you in.

Come on, we are all guilty of piling on negative emotions throughout the year, and for some reason we tend to hang on to them. However we soon come to realize that “our slates” can become very heavy to lug around. And if we are really honest with ourselves, we often don’t even remember why we are angry or feeling hurt, we just know we are.

Carrying around negative emotions not only weighs us down, it also causes us to miss out on the joyous moments of life. I am reminded of a phrase that Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote “The days come and go, but they say nothing, and if we do not use the gifts they bring, they carry them as silently away.” Don’t let negativity steal your life’s gifts of joy. Holding on to anger, resentment and hurt only gives you tense muscles, a headache and a sore jaw from clenching your teeth. However forgiveness can give you back the laughter and the lightness in your life.

A lot of people have a difficult time with the idea of forgiving others. They feel its equivalent to letting the person off the hook or OMG admitting they were wrong. Maybe you felt you deserved an apology….maybe you did deserve it. But now, holding onto that, is allowing that other person to control how you live your life. It may sound crazy but when you don’t forgive a person, and are then consumed with the negative emotion, it's like that old Indian saying, “Not forgiving someone is like you taking poison and hoping the other person dies.” Oh yeah, did I mention that the “forgiven person” never needs to know that you’ve forgiven him or her. This “cleansing” is for your benefit alone.

You all know Bobby McFerrin’s song, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy. This philosophy may seem too simplistic to be realistic. But the truth is, we can all have happiness in our lives, for happiness is a choice. It’s a hard concept for many people, but psychologists tell us that all emotions are choices. We choose to be angry, sad, happy or bored.

So how do we begin to exercise this kind of control over our happiness? Many people are unaware of the emotions that hold them prisoner. In your quiet moments, examine your thoughts. No one is creating this anger or resentment within you. Only you can do that. We have over 50,000 thoughts per day and if we’re thinking mostly negative thoughts as we move through life, it is only natural that it will affect how we experience life. We can start by identifying which of our expectations are realistic and unrealistic…do our thoughts tend to be positive or negative? Do we give enough importance to that which we have in our lives to feel a sense of gratitude? All too often, we sabotage our happiness by concentrating on whatever is missing or flawed with our lives. Whenever my children grumble about something they don’t have, I always tell them to be grateful for what they have and enjoy those things, as opposed to complaining about what they don’t have. Every now and then, I even hear myself and am reminded to practice what I preach! I have found that when you become grateful, you become a much happier person. So, if there is a “secret to happiness”, I think it is gratitude. The more I practice this in my life, I find the happier I become.

Thoughts are extremely powerful. They say all of your behavior results from the thoughts that precede the action. By changing your thoughts and nourishing yourself with positive messages, you can change your mood and your behavior. We tend to think that it’s being unhappy that leads people to complain, when actually it is complaining that leads people to become unhappy. Dissatisfaction and negative thinking become habits. But as we all know, habits can be broken.

So let’s take Bobby McFerrin’s advice, “Don’t worry, Be Happy.” I’m serious, try it. Simply decide to eliminate all of your negative thoughts for one week. That’s right, no worrying, stressing or complaining. OK—I didn’t say this was going to be an easy exercise, but it’s definitely worthwhile. For one week, resolve that you will stop comparing what you have right now with what you hoped you’d have. Let go of the need to “be right” or “get back” at anyone. Take a breather now and then to stop down, relax, assess the situation before responding, put your molehills in perspective and not let them become mountains. And be gentle with yourself, learn to love yourself, to forgive yourself, for only as we have the right attitude toward ourselves can we have the right attitude toward others.

John Wayne once said, “Tomorrow is the most important thing in life. It comes into us at midnight very clean. It’s perfect when it arrives and it puts itself in our hands. It hopes we’ve learned something from yesterday.”

Here’s to learning from last year, and letting go and starting with a fresh clean slate. Wishing you health, happiness, healing and hope in the New Year! They are all yours for the taking. You just have to decide you want them.

Categories: Emotional Health
About The Author
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Joan Lunden truly exemplifies today’s modern working woman. An award-winning journalist, bestselling author, motivational speaker, successful entrepreneur, one of America’s most recognized and trusted television personalities, this mom of seven continues to do it all. As host of Good Morning America for nearly two decades, Lunden brought insight to top issues for millions of Americans each day. The longest running host ever on early morning television, Lunden reported from 26 countries, covered 4 presidents and 5 Olympics and kept Americans up to date on how to care for their homes, their families and themselves.

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