For a variety of reasons ranging from sorrow over the deaths of some beloved cultural icons to the bitter acrimony that characterized much of the political scene, a fair number of people were happy to say “so long” to 2016 when the ball dropped on December 31.
But the reality is that New Year’s Eve is just a day on the calendar—there’s no firewall that prevents some of its negativity from drifting onto our shiny new 12-month slate. Being more positive in the new year requires an active choice—and a range of new habits. Here are 10 ways to start now.
You may know that deep breathing can improve your mood and outlook, but did you know there’s a “right” way to do it? Jeffery A. Martin, cofounder of the Transformative Technology Lab at Sofia University, says there are specific numerical patterns in breathing rhythm that work better than others. The first is to breathe in for five seconds and out for five seconds. The other is to breathe in for five and out for seven.
Such modulated breathing is an effective way to stimulate the vagus nerve—part of your parasympathetic nervous system that affects your heart, lungs, and digestive track. Regular deep breathing can have significant health benefits, including reducing your stress levels, Martin says.
Many people give to charitable organizations at the end of the year, but giving your time has positive mental and even physical health benefits. A 2013 study by United Health found that 94% of people who volunteered in the 12 months prior to the study said that doing so improved their mood. In addition, 76% said it made them feel healthier. A study published in the June 2013 issue of Psychology and Aging found that those who had volunteered at least 200 hours over a one-year period were less likely to develop hypertension than non-volunteers.
If you are constantly burning the candle at both ends, it can be difficult to feel positive, says clinical therapist and yoga instructor Jenny Giblin. Schedule time for relaxation and doing the things you love to do—and protect that time like you would an important appointment, she says.
“Many of us feel guilty internally for taking time for ourselves, or we just feel like it’s already too overwhelming and scheduling something in to relax would be counterproductive because it’s adding more to our list that’s already too busy,” she says. Taking breaks can make you more productive, even if it means time away from the office. So do it.
Visualization—picturing the outcome you want—can be an effective practice to create change in your life. If you want to be more positive, you can use a visualization practice to help you do so. But, you might want to think about your “why”—the reason you really want to change—first.
One study found that health-related behaviors can change even more when subjects affirmed their core values, also called “self-affirmation.” In other words, when they reflected on things that were important to them prior to hearing messages about improving their health that may ordinarily make them defensive. When study participants reflected on the health-related issues that were important to them prior to receiving the information about their health, they were more likely to see it as relevant to themselves and change their behavior.
Gratitude journals are nothing new. Executive coach and speaker Dawn D. Mitchell, chief executive adviser of The Corporate Couch, a workplace consultancy, says incorporating gratitude into every area of your life will have a more dramatic effect on your outlook–and many other aspects of your work and personal lives.
In addition to a daily practice of writing down five things for which you’re grateful, she advises regularly thanking co-workers, supervisors, and others in your life. Look for a reason to be thankful or positive, even in troubling or challenging situations. Is there potential for positive change? Is there something good that could come out of the situation? “Gratitude combats anxiety and sets the stage for peace to follow,” she says. “There is always a reason to be thankful. Always.”
Take a walk in the park. Sit by the water. Get a little fresh air. Being out in nature has some science-backed benefits, Giblin says. While her clients sometimes resist this recommendation because they don’t consider themselves “outdoorsy,” or they believe they don’t have time, they are happy once they’ve done it.
And the science indicates she’s right. One study published in the March 2012 issue of the Journal of Affective Disorders found that people with major depressive disorder showed improvement in mood and short-term memory after taking a walk alone outside. Another study found that participants who took walks in the forest had better moods and lower heart rates than those who walked in urban areas.
While you may bristle when someone tells you to smile, just the act of moving your facial muscles may help your mood—even if you’re not feeling it. A 2012 study by University of Kansas researchers published in Psychological Science found that people who smiled, even when the smile was caused by manipulating their facial muscles, have lower heart rates after completing a series of stressful tasks than those with neutral expressions.
- In the morning, repeat a mantra, such as “love,” “peace,” or another word you choose that will set the tone for your day. Think of the word, then as its impact fades, repeat it out loud or in your mind. (In your mind might be better if you’re in the workplace.) When your mind drifts, focus on the word again.
- Focus on how your breath feels flowing in and out of your nostrils or on the rise and fall of your chest while you breathe.
- After exercise, your brain has increased neuroplasticity. Schedule some time for meditation immediately after you exercise for maximum effect.
Mitchell says that “feeding” your brain by reading material that helps you think more positively or inspires you can also improve your outlook. Exactly what type of reading does that for you will vary from person to person. But, reading for pleasure has a host of benefits ranging from helping to fight off stress, depression, and dementia to leading to stronger feelings of overall well-being.
If you’re harboring feelings of bitterness, betrayal, anger, or other negative emotions, find a way to work through or resolve them or let them go in the new year. Those feelings do damage to your overall outlook and well-being and don’t serve a purpose, she says.
Mitchell takes a page from author Marianne Williamson’s Course in Miracles. When a betrayal or grievance occurs, then we should “pray for the happiness and well-being of the person who we perceive has caused the grievance for 30 days,” she says. If you’re not particularly prayerful, you can engage in a practice of actively forgiving or thinking positive thoughts about the person. She says that when she engages in this practice—even when she’s angry—she begins to have more insight about the person and their humanity.
“This works because if you decide to hold on to toxic feelings, it doesn’t hurt the ‘offender’—it only disrupts your peace. Vow this year to release grievances faster through practicing forgiveness,” she advises.