12/30/2013 05:31 pm ET Updated Mar 01, 2014

Revelations and Resolutions: A Different Challenge for the New Year

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My patients have told me over the years that their average time to break their New Year's resolutions varies between two days and six weeks. Their intent is pure, their demons have weakened, and their commitment is solid, yet they cannot hold to their own promises.

The reasons are many and common to all. Too big a leap. Too many resistances. Changing priorities. Weak defenses. Not enough support. Memory lapses encouraged by stronger desires. And so many more.

So I'm going to suggest some resolutions that may actually take hold. They are gentle and easy ways to challenge the heart and seduce the demons into oblivion. They aren't hard to do, or difficult to remember. If you can hold them dear and make them part of your lives, the other not-so-successful ones may follow.

Turning Breathing into a Blessing

You probably take a breath about 20 times a minute. Each time you do, your body takes in life and gives up what it doesn't need anymore. If someone tried to stop you from breathing, you'd probably not be happy.

When you go on vacation and take in the new environment, you will automatically take in a delightful breath. When you are rushing to get something done, you probably won't even notice that your body is still responsibly keeping you alive.

So, try this. About once an hour, take that blessing breath in as if you realize the miracle that is about to happen. You are in a field of wild flowers or perhaps taking in the aroma of your mother's holiday bread baking. Hold that breath until you have to let it out, and then do so as if you have just been released from a fearful obligation, or maybe had an orgasm. Then, stay quiet and don't breathe again until your body asks you to. Then thank your body for saving your life again.

Smile Whenever You Have the Chance

My grandmother told me to be careful of the expressions I put on my face when I was young because they would form the lines for when I was old. Wise gypsy that she was. Research tells us that people are perceived as much younger when they are smiling. People also treat you better when you do.

Golden retrievers have this down. It is hard to look at one and not smile back.

Cold Showers

If you can stand it, start your shower once with cold water. Then slowly add the heat back in. That is a metaphor for feeling-better-when-you-feel-down by taking something away that you are taking for granted and then giving it back to yourself. Kind of like watching some poor soul get a ticket and remembering all the times you should have gotten one but didn't.

I remember being a poor student and either borrowing cars or driving very unreliable ones. Every morning now when I go to work and my car starts, I remember how comforting it is to not have to compensate when you need to be somewhere.

Don't do this by feeling guilty. The magic won't work.

Conveyor Belts

Food is a big word in New Year's Resolution and it is normally not used to describe something we need more of.

Think of your digestive track as a conveyor belt. Put a bunch of interesting food samples on it and rev up the speed. Your little Santa's helpers trying desperately to get you enough nutrition can only grab on to the noticeable molecules like sugar and fat. They will work tirelessly to separate out the stuff you need from stuff you do not. Could you please help them by slowing down the speed so they can have more time to get it right?

Time, energy, love, relationships, God, and the rest of what's important also pass through our lives at the speed we allow them to. If you want to have a better chance at taking in what's good for you and letting go of what isn't, quiet the whole process down. You don't want on your tombstone, "Got that crossed off my list of to-dos."


Human beings are the only creatures we know of that anticipate the future, and ruminate about the past. Most other creatures seem to have it down that the present is all we have.

Being prone to forgetting that, we homo sapiens need help to not only stay in the moment but enrich it at the same time. We do that by escaping. We give up the worries about the future and the remorse of the past by fantasizing, day-dreaming, sexual arousal and release, food, alcohol, and drugs. Okay, we need the escaping from living in the future and past, but could we do it in a way that returns us to our life challenges rejuvenated?

From now on, you have total permission to escape whenever you need to, but you can't complain if the escapes are more fun than your life is.


My teenage patients have often told me that they don't want to grow up because they've never met an adult who is happy. They do recognize temporary insanity when their parents are drunk or stoned but know that isn't what keeps people joyous inside.

"When did we stop laughing?" is too often expressed by my couples who have lost each other. They realize that laughter is a state of mind that implies that one is safe enough to remember the silliness of life. The world is spinning out of control and deep laughter only happens when time stands still.

Wryness doesn't count. Irony, either. Belly laughs are what you're after. How come so many videos of babies laughing go viral? It's because we ache for that release but have difficulty remembering how important it is.

Lighten the Turtle Shell

In my 40 years of being a therapist, I have had eight patients whose homes have burned to the ground. They are understandably in terrible grief, especially for those treasures that cannot be replaced. Yet, all of those people eventually told me that they never expected to feel the lightness of being that starting over created for them. They found that most of what they lost they didn't miss.

Storage units abound. Many people leave their "things" in them for years, often not even remembering what they put into them in the first place, let alone missing those items. Most garages are stuffed with things we mean to get to someday but never do. We can also stuff our minds, hearts, and souls with thoughts and feelings that have long outlived their usefulness and clog the space we could otherwise use for new beginnings and innovative solutions.

Lighten the load. There are five categories: things we use every day, things we use seasonally, things we truly treasure, things we need to give away so that someone can actually use them, and things we should throw away forever. We also have four other important categories: needs, desires, luxuries, and extravagances'. You'd be surprised who puts what in which. Intertwine them and truly look at what brings you joy and blessings every day. When there is irrevocable loss, people grieve the most over what they wish they'd done, said, or been. Lightness gives us more time and energy to live a life we don't ever regret.