Start the New Year with a Clear Mind

After a handful of years making and inevitably breaking New Year’s Resolutions, I’ve learned what works for me. Major overhauls sound great in theory, but they simply don’t last. Instead, I need to take baby steps toward a larger goal and create new ways to keep motivated along the way. Bonus points if each step of the way is enjoyable too, so the changes don’t feel like a chore and I can stick with it long enough to see results or reach my goal. This next year, I’d like to improve my mental fitness and get fully on board with the meditation trend. Sanam Hafeez, Psy.D., a New York City-based licensed clinical psychologist, teaching faculty member at the prestigious Columbia University Teacher’s College, and the founder and clinical director of Comprehensive Consultation Psychological Services shares some key ways to get mentally fit for the new year so you and your clients can move forward successfully.


1. Clear clutter.

Look at your surroundings. If you have junk drawers galore, a messy car, countertops and cabinets that are full of stuff you don’t even use, it is time to clear the clutter. According to Dr. Hafeez, “cluttered spaces reflect a cluttered mind. If you want to wipe the slate clean to allow room for new people and circumstances that serve you, you must get your mind clear. Many of my patients who describe themselves as anxious, stressed or even depressed say they feel better when they start clearing up their physical space.”


2. Exercise a little bit.

Hafeez, who also helps people overcome body image issues, encourages aiming for smaller attainable wins. “People set high fitness goals for the new year and then fall off after a month or less. This leaves their self esteem shot which is when self loathing and depression can sneak in.” She advises setting a reachable daily goal of perhaps walking 10,000 steps per day. There are step-counting apps available to measure how much you walk and they add up quickly. “When you see accomplishment on a daily basis you stick with it, this sets your mind in a positive direction,” says Hafeez.


3. Eat mind-boosting foods.

Mental fitness also has to do with how well our minds work. A loss of memory or the ability to concentrate or focus can easily shift with an improved diet. “Research finds that along with other benefits, foods rich in Omega-3, such as some fish and nuts, as well as those full of antioxidants can help protect the brain from memory decline.” So eating more fish such as salmon and add fruits such as blackberries and blueberries to your diet can help. The good news is that brain boosting foods include delicious options such as chocolate, guacamole (avocados) and sunflower seeds.


4. Color!

The adult coloring book bandwagon is a good one to jump on. According to Hafeez coloring requires total focus on the present. The repetitive motion of coloring provides relief from stress and anxiety by entering a meditative state. “Not everyone can sit still and breathe for 15 minutes per day, but they certainly can color,” says Hafeez. “It’s absolutely a fun way to achieve mindfulness and shake off the day."


5.  Apologize and forgive.

A fast way to mental fitness is forgiveness! “Carrying around resentments and guilt wears us down and can lead to serious illness such as cancer or stroke,” says Hafeez. “If you experienced a tough break up, divorce or perhaps the 2016 political climate led to arguments and lost friends, reach out apologize and seek forgiveness and move on. Remember, forgiveness doesn’t mean you condone a hurtful behavior. Forgiveness frees you and the other person making it easier to move forward.”


6. Learn something new.

Challenge your brain by learning a new language, how to cook, paint, do Tai Chi. Pick something you think would be interesting or useful to learn and learn it. If you avoided cooking your whole life, learning the basics will serve your brain very well. According to Hafeez, “the more we can activate the cognitive functions of our brains the better our short and long-term memory and hand eye coordination will be.”