Another Winter of Discontent? Reclaim Your Sanity in 10 Steps

02/02/2011 02:44 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

With the holidays and all those hearty "Happy New Year!" greetings behind us, this is around the time that depression typically sets in. It's a season of rampant colds, flus, fatigue, weight gain, credit card bills, work pressures and general malaise. If you are among the many for whom the New Year has already lost its sheen of hope and rejuvenation, this post's for you. Chances are, you've already slipped back into your old patterns and are throwing far too much of your energy and resources into the mad cycles of modern living. Here are ten proven steps to help guide you back to your center, your sanity, and your joie de vivre -- come rain, snow or shine!

  1. Figure out your personal mantra.

A very wise friend of mine likes to say, "Keep the main thing the main thing." In other words, what's the most important theme in your life? What set of core beliefs and values keeps you going? It's different for everyone, and for you it might evolve over time. Whatever it is, it should have restorative power for you whenever you say it to yourself. And you should say it often. For me, it's honesty, harmony and life-generating progress.

  • Hold your center.
  • Once you have your personal mantra, let it center you. Then do everything necessary to hold your center. This might mean carving out time in your schedule to meditate or exercise every day, or to do something creative -- again, it's different for everyone. Only you know what it takes to keep yourself centered day to day, and only you know what will throw you off. Don't be a slave to time; bend time to your needs. Don't try to align yourself with someone else's center; align the elements of your life with your own.

  • Know when and when not to question yourself.
  • We live in a world of seemingly infinite choice. Our popular culture is glutted with talking heads vying to tell us what we're doing wrong and what we should be doing instead. All too often, family members, friends and colleagues say things that plant in us a worm of self-doubt. It's wise to be receptive to constructive criticism, but if you always question yourself when the world demands it of you, you'll never know which foot to lead with. You'll be paralyzed with self-doubt. You know what's most important to you. Own your choices with confidence.

  • Remember that what you don't do is as important as what you do do.
  • I'll let you in on a little secret: I sometimes tell people I'm so busy and overwhelmed that I can't take on another project. While technically this is not always the case, it's my way of saying, "If I do this, it will mean sacrificing other commitments that I've made to my family and to myself, and it will throw me off my center." People tend to assume that if you're not losing your mind trying to juggle too many projects at once, you're not really busy. A key to maintaining sanity and harmony in your life is to know when piling on yet another commitment simply won't serve your greatest good -- or that of anyone else around you!

  • Remember that simply feeling alive in the moment is okay.
  • This goes for both adults and children. At a young age we are forced to adapt to a world of intense competition and performance pressure, and the stresses only build from there. While it's important to learn how to survive in the modern world, there can be no quality of life without the ability to tap into our inner child. Let's not rob ourselves -- or our children -- of the ability to live, breathe and play in the moment.

  • Recast the stories you tell about yourself so they empower rather than inhibit you.
  • We all tell ourselves stories about our lives that direct our choices and set the tone of our days, for better or for worse. For example, I often feel trapped by the frustrations of living in New York City. Since it's not realistic -- or even ideal -- for me to live elsewhere right now, I've decided to change the story that I tell myself. Instead of "Life in New York is impossible," I now say, "I live in the most dynamic city in the world, and I'm here for a reason."

  • In any challenging situation, ask yourself, "What is the gift?"
  • There is always a message, a wake-up call or a golden opportunity that can arise from conflict. Whatever the situation, look for what it can teach you. Do you need to change something externally about your life? Or is it something within you? Rather than bemoaning your fate, think, "At least now it's clear that something isn't right. Something isn't working for me. This situation is causing me pain, but at least it means I'm alive and sensitized to my surroundings. This new awareness is a gift."

  • Protect yourself from the negativity of others.
  • Don't let the projected anger and disappointment of others flatten you. For example, over the holidays, a dear friend of mine said some things to me that were really unkind. A part of me was so hurt that I wanted to cry, but I found my center and stood there for a moment to discern what was really going on. I knew that this person's life wasn't working for her, and it was obviously easier for her to unleash her negativity on me than to confront the real source of her pain. When I understood this, rather than absorbing her negativity as my own, I gently redirected her focus. Exercise compassion, but protect yourself as well.

  • Stand strong in the face of peer pressure.
  • When it seems everyone around you is tugging at your sleeve to engage in certain activities, it can be tempting to set your own judgment aside and just go with the flow -- even when you know it will only end up making you feel worse. Whether it's gossiping, consuming products that are loaded with harmful chemicals or watching TV programs that clutter your head with images of violence, you always have a choice. Some people may act surprised or offended when you opt out of the group activity, but those who truly know and love you will respect you for it.

  • Think about what you would like to experience and communicate before you die.
  • The idea of mortality can be a powerful agent of change. No matter who you are, facing your mortality requires courage, but it can be a highly effective way to reorder your priorities. It can also be extremely liberating. If you know your time here is limited, will you continue to let the small stuff bother you? Will you keep putting off all those things you've been meaning to do and say for later? Of course not. You'll want to live all the more passionately and make every moment count!

    These exercises have saved me again and again from the brink of much chaos and confusion in my life. By now they've become almost second nature, a kind of inner compass that keeps me oriented in a world of misdirection. So I urge you to make them your own. Stop letting the winter push you around and drag you down. It's time to reclaim your sanity and live your life!