Congratulate yourself if you made it through 2010 with your business and personal life relatively intact. Even if you're a bit bruised, bummed or burned out, you still need to pat yourself on the back--you survived! In my last column, I mentioned some of the difficulties and challenges that the year presented me. In 2010, most of my friends, family members and colleagues had their share of personal, medical, business and financial hurdles to overcome, but they are still here, too.
Most artists, gallery owners, editors and writers I know are persistent types who are also resourceful and resilient. Most small business owners who are surviving in this gloomy economy have to possess those qualities. But what else can help to get us through rough times?
Make gratitude lists
By nature, I'm fairly cynical and have a glass-is-half empty world view (OK, I hear ''duh!'' from some of you). So seeing the positives in situations can be a stretch for me. But I've learned some useful tools that help me refocus or try a different perspective. One really effective practice is taking time for gratitude.
When I was a substance abuse counselor, my newly recovering patients were easily able to catalog all the negative things they'd experienced at the height of their drinking and using. Shifting their thinking patterns into a more hopeful, forward-thinking light was tough. But Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), which is sometimes chided for its corny slogans, always seems to have a good, applicable principle for these situations. At meetings, AA members are asked to be grateful for things (''Attitude of Gratitude'') that are beginning to happen for them in recovery.
As a treatment exercise, I asked my patients every day to make a ''gratitude list'' of five to eight things for which they were grateful. Most struggled with this at first, but it clearly helped refocus that negative energy. I adopted this process, too. On some really bad days, all I could come up with were, ''I'm grateful I didn't drop my keys down the garbage disposal.'' Take a look back over the past year and find items for your list.
I asked fellow writer and friend Dawn Allcot what is on her gratitude list. She was quick to respond: ''This past year, more than ever before, I learned how to develop a support network of friends, family and business associates that I can rely on to inspire and help empower me. This includes my husband, my life coach, my fellow writers and other business owners.''
Appreciate your process
In business and in life, we get too focused on outcomes--an ''eye on the prize'' mentality. How about recognizing and focusing on the processes rather than just the outcomes? Not everything we do will have a good result, but there are opportunities to learn from every situation. Did a new product line design not get the reception you expected from your customers? What did you discover from it? Don't let that setback stop your creative flow or desire to try new things.
Lately, I've combined this awareness of process with gratitude. A good pal suggested I write down several ''small victories'' each day in a journal. Sometimes they're silly things or tasks, but I give myself credit for accomplishing them.
This was a year of significant loss and change for me. In addition to using the tools above, I've been working on acceptance. It's a hard concept for me and most people to grasp. I can't make other people do what I want, but I can practice letting go. Self-acceptance is part of this, too. I'm cutting myself some slack and repeating the mantra, ''I am where I am and it's OK.''
Although we just celebrated (or survived!) the holiday season, I want to share something I print and hand out to patients and friends during the holidays--but it's applicable year-round. It addresses acceptance of our family relationships and ourselves as less than perfect beings. By an anonymous author, it also captures the concepts of gratitude and respecting our process:
''Holiday time is here: so is the challenge to treat one another with grace and to remember the importance of the connections between us.
It isn't easy, so here are a few rules:
Then thank everyone for staying alive so you can love or hate them for another year. Your family may not be perfect, but they're yours!''
Take very good care of yourself so you aren't stressed out or crabby.
Don't expect or attempt perfection; settle for anything short of a disaster.
Don't ask if the pies are homemade.
Don't correct or criticize anyone.
Choose to be happy, not right.
Don't care who gets the credit for whatever.
Avoid competition and comparison; don't keep score.
Give up playing martyr or victim.
When in doubt, keep quiet.
Remember, very few things are important.
Again, congratulate yourselves for getting through this past year. Here's to 2011!
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