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Solve anything with Dr. Mark: Career advice for the working class; Take the Teflon out of New Year's resolutions

Q: OK, I know. It’s a New Year and another chance to make more New Year’s Resolutions that I won’t keep. But I do seriously like the opportunity of starting off a brand new year with things I will do differently. So at the risk of triggering an edgy response, can you offer some tips that will increase the chance of my doing it right this year and making resolutions that will stick?

A: Oops, ouch, “stop it Mark!” Okay, I’m doing my best to keep my resolution to be kinder and less flip when I receive a question like yours. It’s sometimes a losing battle for me, which is why I reached out to Barbara Rubel, Keynote Speaker and Stress Management Expert. Fortunately I was able to forward your question to her without some extra asinine comment by me. And even more fortunately, she came back with some great suggestions.

1. Regrets; everyone has them, but how do you manage them so they don’t compromise your happiness right now?

Right now, you can manage regrets so they don't compromise your happiness. When you identify the regret, get in touch with the feeling the regret engenders, understand the consequences of it, and be open to new ways of thinking about it. Focus on your personal strengths which can be beneficial as you manage your regrets and put your regrets in proper perspective.

2. How do past experiences, good and bad, shape the person you’ve become?

Experiences, whether good or bad, shape the person you've become because each experience teaches you something about your value system, your beliefs about your basic assumptions in life, and how much control you have over your world. When you find yourself thinking of what you regret, turn your thoughts to the things you have learned from it and the opportunities that are now yours - even if they are not what you would have preferred.

3. Is living with regret useless?

Living with regret is not useless as it teaches you that the choices you make in life will have consequences. Future decisions are made based on the experience of past regrets. It is a learning tool that can also bring about spiritual awareness.

4. How do you find meaning in past decisions and move forward being thankful for them?

To find meaning in past decisions you will need to find value in them (even the negative meanings of blame and shame). Move forward while appreciating the value of the experience and what it has taught you about your life. You can be thankful for regrets when you recognize that they help you to understand the lesson learned that makes you wiser in your current choices.

Engage in mindfulness strategies, work with the narrative and realize that although painful, possibly evoking sadness, it can help you to move forward.Meaning making can be a shared experience. Be thankful that you can share your regret with others.

5. Should your 2011 new year's resolution be Living Without Regret?

Your News Year's resolution can be Living Without Regret because it shifts the focus from self-reproach and sorrow to optimism and growth. Replace negative thoughts with positive thoughts when it comes to living without regrets in 2011. Instill hope into your new year's resolution.

6. How do you do it?

Review your beliefs about the regret and let go of the negativity. Focus on positive coping and reframing. Don't attempt to avoid the feelings. After you experience the emotions, thoughts, behaviors, and physical manifestations the regret engenders, find meaning in it and finally recognize the connection between the regret and how you have grown from the experience.

Create a list of those things you could have done differently. Are those things based on what you knew at the time or what you know now? Consider being a flexible thinker. Restructure the way you think about the regret and look at it in a different way. Process your thoughts and actively problem solve.

Make a list of your assumptions about the regret that might be incorrect.

It takes your brain 21 straight days to form a habit. You can change the way you think about what you regret in that timeframe. Tell your brain that you will think positively about the regret every day for 21 days in a row. After 21 days you will start believing it. You can do it by visualizing the people in your life you feel close to. Create an image in your mind of your own personal routing section of those who truly care about you.

Start your day with positive self-talk moving you from the disturbing thoughts of regret and self-reproach.

Thank you for your question. Barbara, thank you for your smart, wise and practical advice. And Happy New Year to both of you and all my readers.


Mark Goulston is a Santa Monica-based management adviser, executive coach and author of the book, “Just Listen: Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone.” Question him at:

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