New Year’s resolutions often lose their power so quickly and completely that they have become cliché. But there are real, easily achieved ways to positively impact your life beginning January 1.I’ve assembled a cheat sheet of 15. They aren’t in any particular order, so you can pick any one to start with.
If you complete just five, you’ll notice a demonstrable improvement in your existence. But if you get through all 15, you could remake your life.
1. Try to recall one dream you had as a kid — whether it was being a poet or a rock drummer or a multimillionaire stock trader — and take just a single step in that direction. So often, the ideas we had as children were good ones, and we abandoned them out of fear. The step in the direction of your childhood dream can be very modest — signing up for a symposium on poetry, scheduling a single drum lesson, buying a DVD on stock trading. Frozen dreams have a way of thawing out rapidly when you warm them just a tiny bit.
2. Think of your life story, going all the way back to infancy, as an autobiographical book that you can hold in your hands. Now, imagine which page or paragraph you are tempted to tear out and remove from the story. That page or paragraph might be the one that makes you feel profoundly sad or powerless or guilty or ashamed. Next, share it with someone who knows you well but has never heard about that event or phase in your life. Being willing to disclose the events in life we want to turn a blind eye to takes away the power those events have over us.
3. Give a meaningful gift to a friend of yours on a random day — not his birthday or her anniversary or Christmas. Giving gifts on those days is fine, but that isn’t the same as an unexpected, unscheduled gift. Those are the ones that feel riskier to give and have more power to bond you to others who receive them. And that’s because they’re real and independent expressions of friendship, affection, admiration or love.
4. Send handwritten notes to three people you admire most in the world, no matter how powerful or famous, tell them sincerely exactly why you admire them and ask to meet for 10 minutes. There’s a real chance one of them will take you up on the offer. And that one meeting could change you, because great energy is contagious and being in the company of it can stay with you.
5. Give some amount (no matter how small) to the charity you care most about. Giving is a miracle, because it helps others while also telling your unconscious mind that yours is a life of abundance, not scarcity. And that invites more treasures into your existence.
6. Stop telling yourself you love people just because you grew up with them. This is a big one, but a really important one. Did your parents and siblings earn your love by unconditionally loving you as a child? If so, great. But if you’ve been wishing that had been the case and have felt unwilling to let the dream of having had unconditionally loving parents or siblings slip away, then loosen your grip. If the people you grew up with weren’t focused on helping you stay true to yourself, then admit it to yourself. You might stop unconsciously recruiting people just like them into your life.
7. Schedule an initial psychotherapy session. Psychotherapy is the gold standard way to begin to get to know yourself more deeply. In a world of distractions and depersonalization, it remains the technique most reliably focused on restoring your connection to your true self. Hopefully, that first session will convince you of the power of psychotherapy to change your life, and you’ll schedule more. No one with the financial ability to be in psychotherapy should deny himself or herself that transformational opportunity.
8. Get angry about something unfair, say so out loud and don’t stand for it. Anger gets a really bad rap in our culture; it’s accused of everything from destroying people spiritually to causing heart attacks. But suppressed anger can be more toxic. When you’re offended by something you hear about in the news or you see unfolding in your personal life, try saying so, in no uncertain terms, when you’re asked about it — or maybe even if you aren’t. For those of you who have been living lives of quiet frustration, letting yourselves be very direct and very mad about something that sincerely outrages you can start to crack the shell that has your most powerful self inside it.
9. Take two minutes to think about life as a labyrinth. Mazes are built to frustrate people and get them lost. They’re full of dead ends designed to make people give up and call for helicopters to pluck them out. Not so with labyrinths. Labyrinths may wind this way and that way. They may take you far from where you thought you were heading. But they always, always lead to the center. And that’s what life is like. Keep walking, keep your faith and life will take you where you are supposed to go. The turn toward the center could be just a few steps away, when you least expect it.
10. Try praying, at least once. If you haven’t prayed ever or haven’t prayed lately, you’ll discover that the act of praying for what you care deeply about has the effect of reminding you what that thing or those things really are. It also has the effect of reminding you that there is a great power in the universe that you are a part of. There’s something interesting about praying; even people who say they don’t believe in God are loathe to pray for the opposite of what they really want. How come? Is it because that, underneath all that cynicism, they actually do believe?
11. Read "Franny and Zooey" by J.D. Salinger, "The War of Art" by Steven Pressfield or "Blue Dog" by George Rodrigue (or, even better, all three). These slim volumes have the power to transform people, and I keep handing them out to patients and friends (along with — please forgive the narcissism — my book, "Living the Truth").
12. Buy one piece of art. It doesn’t need to be expensive. It just needs to appeal to you. Why? Because art is the antidote to our sometimes sterile, technologically driven culture. It makes humanity go viral in a way that YouTube can’t. It also confirms your connection to things that can’t be measured — like your personal vision of beauty.
13. Watch the movie "Miracle," with Kurt Russell. This film about the 1980 U.S. Olympic men’s hockey team defeating Russia’s team is so good, it can convince you to take on the next great challenge in your life. I don’t know anyone who has watched it and been unaffected by it.
14. Tell your romantic partner one thing you would find exciting that you have not yet told that person. In my experience as a therapist, I’ve found that people can remain strangers to one another, in terms of passion, even after 10 or 20 years of marriage. We keep sexual secrets. Let one out. See what happens. Take the risk.
15. Stand up for someone else. You’ll have the opportunity in 2015. I promise. Maybe in your home. Maybe in your neighborhood. Maybe at work. Defending someone will reassure that person and empower you.
So, there are your 15 keys to making 2015 a transformational year.
Don’t delay. Start on the list January 1, and by this time next year, God willing, you’ll be ready for the 16 steps for 2016. Like is life that: a never-ending process of self-improvement.
Keith Ablow, MD is a psychiatrist, and was host of the nationally-syndicated "Dr. Keith Ablow Show." He is a former member of the Fox News Medical A Team.