Tips for Positive Change in the New Year

11/17/2011 09:02 am ET
  • Colleen Perry Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in the state of California

With the New Year approaching, I know I'm not the only one thinking about changes I'd like to make in 2009. To do this, I ask myself, what qualities really worked for me this year and what qualities didn't serve me so well that I can "let go" of.

For instance, I made a commitment to myself in 2007 to "let go" of self-consciousness. The result was that I had to come to terms with my perfectionism and how I view myself. Self-consciousness cannot exist without self-judgment... I have been militant about looking at all my self-judgments and combating them with compassion. (I'm noticing my use of the terms "militant" and "combating" and realize I still have a way to go as far as compassion for self is concerned). Sometimes that compassion comes in the form of positive affirmations or self-talk, and sometimes it means giving up certain behaviors, like working out in order to "deserve" to like myself. This has helped me enormously when trying to prioritize my time. I now ask myself "What feels joyful?" and then I do that! I've also chosen to examine where those judgments come from and what parts of me need healing for all my years of self-abuse.

This year I'm focusing on the quality of patience... never my strong suit. I'm finding that by waiting, either to act or to say something that's bothering me -- often situations tend to resolve themselves. That doesn't mean that I'm passively living my life. On the contrary, I'm usually quite pro-active about things. But sometimes, in my need to express my negative feelings without censoring, I'll act too quickly when waiting would have been more prudent. This emotionally-laden tight rope that I walk is a direct result of years of "people pleasing" and suppressing negative feelings. Everyone needs to find the balance between patience and expression that is right for them.

So patience is the quality I'm embracing. What I would like to have less of in my life is my need to make my point of view the right point of view. What I'm realizing more and more is that my feelings are always right (feelings don't lie, they're automatic, no sense judging them), but that everyone feels that their point of view is the right one. This year it's my intention not so much to be "right" but to have my needs for understanding and consideration met. And when I'm determining my priorities this year- what to fit into my schedule and what to get rid of, I always consider the following story that was told to me many years ago by my dear friend, Ana...

The Mayonnaise Jar and 2 Cups of Coffee

When things in your life seem almost too much to handle, when 24 hours in a day are not enough, remember the mayonnaise jar and the 2 cups of coffee.

A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, he wordlessly picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was.

The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with a unanimous "yes".

The professor then produced two cups of coffee from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed.

"Now," said the professor as the laughter subsided, "I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things- your family, your children, your health, your friends and your favorite passions-and if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full.

The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house and your car. The sand is everything else -- the small stuff. "If you put the sand into the jar first," he continued, "there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff you will never have room for the things that are important to you.

"Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Spend time with your children. Spend time with your parents. Visit with grandparents. Take time to get medical checkups. Take your spouse out to dinner. Ride your bike with friends or just feel the breeze. Play another 18.

There will always be time to clean the house and fix the disposal. Take care of the golf balls first -- the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand."

One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the coffee represented. The professor smiled and said, "I'm glad you asked. The coffee just shows you that no matter how full your life may seem, there's always room for a couple of cups of coffee with a friend."