Sensational Living®

January 2004
© 2004 by Bret S. Beall


Hopefully, you followed the advice in my December column to dance your way into the new year! Now, you should be happy and healthy enough to begin a new year of Sensational Living®.

With each new year, many people feel obligated to make New Year’s Resolutions. These are often grandiose declarations made with the best of intentions, and then abandoned due to busy-ness, or boredom, or lack of incentive, or temptation, and then they are replaced by guilt. This is a sad, sad cycle that must be broken.

Let’s begin with an assumption: every single resolution made at the new year is about living a better life. It’s about improving an existing life, and it’s about motivation to move one’s life in a new direction. These are all noble goals. So let keep these goals, and approach them slightly differently.

The Number One change I would encourage you to make in terms of resolving to live a better life is to celebrate every single success, no matter how small. Celebrate first the decision to make a change. Then, for every tiny bit of progress, congratulate and celebrate your success. While long-range, specific goals have some benefit, too often people focus on the end result and not the path to achieving that result.

The Number Two change I would like people to resolve to make when they make resolutions is to remember that life is gray. You don’t have to think in terms of absolutes; think in terms of gradients. Think comparatively: eat MORE healthily, or smoke LESS, or exercise MORE, or drink LESS alcohol, and so on. You don’t have to STOP drinking or smoking, just reduce. You don’t have to reach your ideal weight overnight, just move toward it. You don’t have to become a marathon runner, just increase your exercise.

The Number Three change everyone should make is stop trying to be perfect. You are a human being. By definition, you are not perfect. To think you can be perfect is the epitome of arrogance (and trust me, I’m a recovering perfectionist! I’m not proud of some of my perfectionist behavior …it wasn’t very pretty). Just try to BETTER today than you were yesterday. Just keep trying to improve, and you can’t go wrong. You don’t have to be THE best, just be YOUR best.

For Number Four, I would encourage people to focus on positive changes in their lives; so many resolutions are about stopping behaviors that we neglect to replace negative actions with positive actions. By focusing on positive changes, sometimes the negative behaviors just cease. It’s really surprising how this works. And even if they don’t cease, stopping negative behaviors can have a secondary role to full-fledged embracing of positive behaviors.

Finally, Number Five is about extending your focus to others. Numbers One to Four are about directly improving yourself. Number Five involves resolving to help others more, to serve others more, to think more about how your behaviors and deeds impact others. It revolves around developing empathy, and then acting on that empathy. Much of this is encapsulated by the concept of “random acts of kindness.” Try it; you’ll like it.

By outlining these five recommended resolution changes, I’m practicing a bit of subterfuge. Yes, if you do all of these things, if you spend more time thinking about improvement rather than some abstract perfection, if you embrace “half-full” rather than “half-empty,” if you start consciously thinking about helping others, you will be living more mindfully. You will be living your life with intention, and THAT is the key to a better life.

One major aspect of living with intention is living intelligently. This means not listening to what some “authority” says unless that “authority” explains his/her reasons for saying something. If the “authority” becomes annoyed when questioned, then your “authority” isn’t one.

Even more importantly, be wary of whom you consider to be an authority. On the day that I am writing this in late December, I saw a network anchor hosting a cooking segment featuring some rich food, and she said that this would be a great dish to eat until the New Year, when we would all have to start eating BLAND, healthy food. Now, she is not known for her food knowledge, but saying something like that is just blatantly wrong. Bland food is responsible for much of the epidemic of obesity we are experiencing in America today, not to mention in other parts of the world as they become homogenized with American fast “food.” Healthy food is about the mindful selection of ingredients, mindful preparation, and mindful emphasis on maximum flavor and variety of textures.

This same network featured a medical doctor discussing current health issues, such as the flu and mad cow disease. I had listened to this professional in the past, and had generally been impressed by her knowledge. All of a sudden, she suggested that one solution to mad cow disease was genetic modification. Once the ramifications of genetic manipulation are fully understood, this technology MAY be a solution to many of our problems. Right now, however, ALL of the genetic modification being done around the world is being done with a cowboy/gonzo mentality. It is not being done according to rigorous scientific methodology, and it is being motivated by profit rather than intellectual advancement. This mindset toward genetic modification has placed us potentially next to a ticking time bomb. Otherwise intelligent people are embracing this technology without entirely understanding the ramifications, such as a very kind man who suggested that God was the ultimate genetic modifier; we had a rather intense genetic and theological “discussion.” Yet others seem to understand the ramifications, but don’t care, such as a well-to-do dentist who argued that all of mankind’s greatest achievements were due to taking chances, and such is the case with genetic modification/manipulation; of course, he lives in a gated community in southern California, and is certain no problems will occur in his backyard (NIMBY … “not in my back yard”). The upshot of this tangent is to encourage you to question all authorities, and to demand justification for their positions. “I know more than you” is NOT an explanation.

This tangent has an additional purpose, to segue into a new kind of resolution: Self-Education! Empower yourself! You can change the world. Don’t underestimate yourself or others. I still laugh about the woman who called to ask me to donate my services to her charity. She had found my web address on some other site (that she couldn’t remember), and then started attacking me over the phone, telling me that I couldn’t do everything that I currently do. Since I clearly CAN do everything that I do, and since my clientele can document that, I knew that what was actually going on was that she was saying SHE couldn’t do all of the things that I do, and therefore, she had to attack and belittle me. FYI, I didn’t donate my services to her charity.

Years ago, I resolved to make resolutions of Self-Education and Self-Improvement. This was after years of resolutions such as “Make more money” or “Get a better job.” I started out by taking a passion, and formalizing it: I loved to cook new recipes, but was always a procrastinator, so one year, I resolved to “Try one new recipe every week.” This eventually transitioned into “Create one new recipe every week,” until today, when I create an average of one new recipe daily.

Notice that I used the term “average” to describe my frequency of creating new recipes. This is one psychological tool to use to get beyond “missing a day.” Sometimes, when I have a heavy client schedule, or if I’m writing, I may not create something new. As it happens, today I did create a couple new versions of cookies, and one of them bombed. I was mixing them and talking to a friend on the phone, and telling her that, at least theoretically, these should be my best version ever. I was wrong. But, that’s OK, because I’m over trying to be perfect (thanks to my counselor extraordinaire, Judith Ann Arbetter!). They are perfectly edible and delicious, just not as sensational as most of my recipes. In fact, I am grateful for their imperfection, because they have given me an anecdote for this column!

Even though I won’t be losing any sleep over the less-than-perfect cookies (or the oddly dry cranberry nut bread! It must be the ambient humidity today, or lack of same), I am still saddened by others who feel anger, or guilt, or shame, or any other negative emotion when they don’t live up to their resolutions. Remember, you are only human. If you don’t succeed on your first effort, just try it again. And again. And yet again. If anyone else is keeping score, tell them to stop it. It isn’t their business. I become very annoyed when I hear some say that they are “hurt” by someone else’s behavior (“Oh, it hurts me to see you so fat.”). These are people who allow themselves to be hurt; the party they are blaming had NOTHING to do with hurting them. And, as is always the case, the blamer will truly end up hurting the blamee, contrary to the words of the blamer. It’s an odd cycle.

There’s also the issue of avoiding arbitrariness. I just heard of someone who has resolved to not eat any chocolate in 2004 (except for hot cocoa!). Not only is this entirely illogical (cocoa OK; chocolate bad?), but I find myself asking, “How does this make her a better person? How is her life enhanced? WHY?” In truth, I know why: She is prone to creating “drama” in her life, so this is just one more example of living for the sake of others, rather than living for herself. It is very sad.

My philosophy (and that of GOD-DESS) is “Live Better, Live More, Be More.” See? Every word is comparative. No “best,” as superlatives are vastly overused in today’s society, and most of the time, they are unsupported by data. Because of natural biological variation, not everyone will like the same things, so if I called something “the best,” I would be lying (and so is anyone who claims otherwise). By making “Live Better, Live More, Be More” my “generic” resolution each year, I succeed without qualification. So can you.

Specifically, I resolve to continue with Self-Education and Self-Improvement. I resolve to live every day mindfully, with gratitude. And I resolve to help more people this year, through both random acts of kindness, and through the many services offered through GOD-DESS. How may I help you?