At this stage of whatever new year it happens to be, we often focus on areas of our lives that need to be overhauled in one way or another. Perhaps you want to drop a few pounds. Or finally start that novel you’ve had an idea for since junior high. It might be that you’re determined to reinvigorate your love life (with an old or new flame). Perhaps you want a new job or to get that promotion (or, after the calamity that was 2020, simply find any kind of work). No matter what “get” you’re after (even if it’s more general—such as attaining more mindfulness in your daily life), it’s likely to require some kind of mental or physical change. And there’s the rub.
Many of us subconsciously think of “change” in a negative way—often because it connotes shame or guilt; in that we’ve been doing something wrong and, therefore, must be punished for it by altering our lives in seemingly untenable ways. Perhaps some of these change-isms are familiar to your psyche:
I’m not allowed to have ice cream because I have to lose weight.
I can’t watch the football game because I have to work on my resume.
I’m not attracting the kind of mate I want because I’m not attractive enough.
I don’t deserve “wins” in life because I’m not manifesting them properly.
I could go on and on with these kinds of examples. But I’m going to stop short because I want to suggest that we (yes, even myself) change the way we think about “change” in this new year.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to evolve—however that might be defined for you. As someone who once weighed over 450 pounds, I can assure you that dropping the excess weight and getting fit has changed my life in both expected and unexpected ways (all of them very positive).
After attempting to stay on diets time and time again (literally from when I first began putting on extra weight in the first grade and my parents took me to a doctor who put me on a restrictive diet), I associated change with lack and restriction (punishment as it were). I became laser focused on everything I was giving up in order to lose weight—instead of everything I had to gain (pun intended).
After what seemed like a million different attempts at successful dieting, I finally nailed it when I focused on what I was getting as opposed to what I was giving up. To do so, I created a scrapbook that became my personal bible of sorts. In it I placed motivating magazine articles, pictures of clothes I wanted to fit into, helpful advice I cut out of newspapers, photos of vacation spots I wanted to visit in the future, images that captured my relationship goals and more. Then, anytime I wanted to stray from my healthier eating plan, I would pick up this book and instantly be reminded of why change was going to bring me so much more than I thought it would take away. This wasn’t so much a vision board in book form as it was a useful reminder as to why I was enacting the changes in my eating and exercise habits. In other words, I changed how thought about change.
This concept that change didn’t have to be horrible also taught me that there didn’t need to be any kinds of “forbidden foods” as I ate in a healthier way and lost excess weight. Sure, I could adjust the portion sizes. Suddenly what had been eating two quarts of ice cream for dessert became eating one precisely measured cup. Again, I found a way to make the change more positive than negative.
I also worked on not shaming myself for decisions I’d made in my past. About eating. About exercise. About not wanting to leave my home because I felt like the world was adversely judging me. Permanent change is not often born from negativity. If we’re constantly berating ourselves for decisions made in the past (decisions we cannot un-make no matter how often we scold ourselves for making them), how can we possibly feel good about the changes we want to incorporate into our lives?
As you contemplate what it is about this year you want to be different and how some positive (and dare I say fabulous) change might improve your life, think about it from a place of plenty—rather than a place of lack:
I can lose weight, exercise, get healthy and occasionally enjoy dessert.
I’m going to create a resume that attracts an employer that offers the kind of pay and benefits I deserve.
I’m going to have fun dating all sorts of people as I look forward to meeting that special someone.
I deserve good things and I’m going to remind myself of that daily.
Temporary setbacks do not mean I’m not manifesting properly. I’m happy in this moment. No magical thinking necessary.
Try shifting how you think of your new tasks at hand and remind yourself you’re enacting them for a reason. You deserve happiness. You deserve success. Not in the future, but right at this very moment—even with all the wonderful and well-deserved changes ahead of you.
This new year isn’t going to be like the others. Instead of creating goals we can’t possibly live up to, let’s celebrate exactly who we are at this moment — then let’s use that loving energy to create a vision for 2021 that’s full of hope, creativity and peace of mind every step of the way.
It turns out Red and Green might actually be the new Black. Over the past several years, watching TV Christmas movies has become less of a pastime and more of an obsession for many of us. Why else would television destinations like Hallmark Channel be producing over 40 new holiday-themed movies this year—even during the pandemic, which has made it much tougher to produce these movies (many of which began airing before Halloween)?
Even pre Covid-19, Christmas movies had become a soothing “visual white noise” to many. Hallmark Channel Christmas movies have become such a cottage industry that other cable channels including Lifetime and Freeform have followed suit. Lifetime will premier 30 new Christmas movies this year while Freeform will continue with its annual 25 Days of Christmas viewing schedule.
As the life-altering effects of quarantining due to the coronavirus became a reality in the early spring, many people began making social media posts about displaying their Christmas decorations early (or leaving them out all year). There is definitely a familiarity about the Christmas season (no matter what date the calendar says it is) that seems to tame the savage beast—even for those who aren’t necessarily religious. In fact, Hallmark Channel began airing Christmas movies weekly beginning in the spring as a way to appease the demand of its yuletide-loving audience in need of a salve for the realities of the “new (hopefully temporary) normal.” Not to mention holiday movies are more often than not a form of entertainment the entire family can watch together.
While some are quick to pass such holiday offerings off as “fluff” and a recent call for more diversity in the lead characters in these types of movies is rightfully being addressed by the networks, there is a reason so many of these television movies resonate with their viewers and are watched again and again (even during Hallmark Channel’s “Christmas in July” presentation, which lasts for several weeks during the summer). Amidst the now-familiar stories of two lead characters “meeting cute” and then “accidentally falling in love” as they join forces to take on various Christmas traditions like decorating trees, making cookies and attending, participating in or even saving Christmas pageants, there can be genuine heart to be found—along with subtle and not-so-subtle reminders that there is joy waiting to be rediscovered in the everyday (even if it’s every day during the month of December).
For the sake of full disclosure, I must confess that as a screenwriter, I myself have helped to propel this seasonal phenomenon with a 2016 movie I wrote, the Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation of A Heavenly Christmas, which starred Kristin Davis, Eric McCormack and Shirley MacLaine. When pitching the initial concept of a newbie Christmas Angel who doesn’t know much about Christmas to the network, I hadn’t prepared much else beyond the logline. To my surprise they responded enthusiastically and soon I was constructing the story of a wayward angel who learns about herself and her own shortcomings while trying to help an earth-bound potential love interest discover his.
When writing A Heavenly Christmas, my mother-in-law, Becky, was waging a brave battle against bone cancer. So I decided that she would inspire the inciting incident in the movie’s proceedings and created a character named Becky that Max, the male lead, lost in an accident (thus upending his music career and lust for life even as he was saddled with raising his sister Becky’s daughter). Enter overworked Eve, an expert on pretty much everything—except matters of the heart. When Eve takes a spill on ice that lands her in heaven, she’s quickly re-routed to earth where she must help Max rediscover his love of music, recommit to living and save his relationship with his niece (whose grandparents wanted her to relocate with them).
It’s all pretty familiar, right? And happily so. But by weaving my real-life experience of losing my own Becky into the story, I was able to add a layer of heart that permeates all the surface-y goings on. And at the end of the movie (spoiler alert!), as Eve and Max have both healed themselves and even fallen in love (despite that having been against the rules for Christmas Angels), we find out that it was the now-angelic Becky who put all of this into play in order to ensure her brother’s and her daughter’s lasting happiness after her departure.
While most people watching A Heavenly Christmas, which I’m honored to report shattered ratings records on the channel, don’t know who the character of Becky is based on, the story still resonates. Many watching have their own “Becky story” in their lives. And for others, a reminder to rediscover the magic of falling snow or the memory of a first kiss can also be enough to help them get through another day.
So as we all face various battles, the unknown of the continuing pandemic and the ups and downs of life, we have Christmas movies to turn to for momentary respites amidst the chaos. Suffice it to say, our love of Christmas movies (whether year-round or simply seasonal) calls to mind the brilliant summation from the editors of New York’s Sun Times on September 21, 1897 when responding to an 8-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon’s heartfelt query, “No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.” And so it seems will be true of all the feels we get from Christmas movies as well.
There is a lone Chorisia Speciosa Floss-Silk Tree in my neighborhood that blooms only once a year. This is a tree I regularly pass when walking my dog, Latte. While early autumn results in brilliant flowers on the tree, it remains dormant and bare throughout the rest of the year.
I remember this past winter, walking by the tree’s stark, empty branches just days after my husband had abruptly lost his job. We were crushed, scared, and unsure of how things would right themselves — and not yet knowing that the coronavirus pandemic was around the corner, which would add even more challenge to the job hunt we were already facing.
And so on that chilly January day, I stood before the tree and took note of its bare, lifeless branches—no blooms to behold. Since I was beset with upsetting news, I decided the tree looked too lifeless, too baron to ever blossom again. I then remembered thinking that every year around this time I’d decided the tree wouldn’t bloom again even though I’d walked past it enough autumns to see that its flowers always returned on the regular.
After a moment, while standing there with Latte on that cold winter day, I took a deep breath and assured myself, “When this tree flowers again, a lot will have changed and this current state of dread will be behind us.” In other words, I gently reminded myself that there was reason for hope. Time would go by. Life would go on. And (hopefully) positive changes would occur. The tree would bloom again. . . and so would our household, job-wise.
As this current autumn returns and the tree has once again brought forth brilliant flowers, change has occurred. My husband now has a job that he’s really enjoying, miraculously secured during the days of the pandemic. Of course, other changes have come our way as well, not all of them stellar or necessarily welcomed. But here these flowers are—reminding us that change is constant. And so is hope.
Too often we get caught up in the emotions and panic that come with sudden bad news or a switch in circumstances we weren’t expecting or flat out didn’t want. When people tell us that with time the change might prove to be for the best, we sometimes want to plug our ears and ignore them. The fear, pain, and unknowing are all too real. But time does march on, whether we want to acknowledge it or not.
Of course, time doesn’t always proceed at the pace we might desire, especially when in the throes of what seems like a dire situation. And we sometimes need to be careful to not react in a way that reveals more of our angst than it does our acceptance of the volatile situation at hand.
Sometimes the unknown can offer more stress and fear than a particular situation we have to face or tackle. During these days of quarantining and locking down, none of us can be sure where different aspects of society are headed.
Similarly, even good news or current states of joy can be fleeting. Another reminder to stay present, soak in “What is,” and know that everything is evolving and that change is not only constant but imminent.
This is where taking some deep breaths and encouraging our own mindfulness comes in. If you don’t have a meditation practice, this might be a helpful time to begin one. The less we deny what’s going on and the more acceptance we embody, the sooner we can allow life to go on, which can lead to new and, perhaps, unexpected options.
But we needn’t rely entirely on our own psyche. Challenging situations and times offer a chance to look for guidance from nature, which can include a very unique tree that we think might never bloom again.
The gorgeous, once-a-year flowers on the Chorisia Speciosa do return. They remind us that life is a cycle. And that if we stay present while remembering change is coming, we—even if currently dormant in our own way—will also surely bloom again. And brilliantly at that.
As someone who was overweight for most of my life, weighed over 450 pounds by the time I graduated from college and then finally took off the weight sensibly without surgery or prescription medicine (and has kept the excess weight at bay for almost two decades), I’m often asked: “What’s the secret to successful dieting?” To which I often want to reply, “Don’t.” (Diet, that is.)
While this response might seem factitious to some, I assure you it’s not. It’s communicated with compassion and understanding.
I started to gain excess weight during the first grade. And my parents, thinking they were making smart decisions on my behalf, immediately put me on a strict diet, which taught me the rules of what and what not to eat. Naturally, I was more drawn to the “forbidden fruit” (the richer, more caloric foods) than I was to the iceberg lettuce and cottage cheese. So my parents next started locking up crackers, chips, sweets and any other foods they deemed not diet-worthy. Although still at a young age, I quickly learned the concept of being “on” and “off” of a diet.
For anyone reading this with a furled brow, I will quickly point out I do not demonize my parents for doing this. Again, they were making the best decisions they knew to make. My father was in the Air Force, so his whole family being perceived as trim and “in shape” was very important to him (and, he believed, to his job).
But mentally armed with knowing what it meant to be on a diet, I knew exactly how to go off of said diet. I eventually began stealing money out of my dad’s wallet and used the cash to buy sweets and treats that I would hide in my bedroom closet. My “secret stash” as it were. By the time I was a teenager (still being put on various diets—some even completely liquid-based), I was buying “contraband” food while my friends were trying to get their hands on “contraband” beer.
You can probably surmise that as my constant dieting efforts continued, so did the excess weight gain. Because we were stationed on an air base in Germany, I was forced to shop for clothes from the Sears Big & Tall catalog (nothing like forcing yourself into a pair of large-sized Toughskins jeans to remind you of even more ways you didn’t fit in at high school). But not even that kind of self-perceived shame kept me from going off of whatever diet I happened to be on. And certainly there were times I stayed on the diets. But that was usually just the first day of them—after which all bets were off.
I continued to try every kind of diet known to man as I gained more and more weight. Sometimes I’d actually lose weight on the diets. But I’d eventually re-gain the weight I lost along with some extra “bonus weight” when I finally went off of the diet I’d been most recently “successful” on.
On. Off. On. Off. On. Off. All with more and more weight gain. And what was the common denominator? The diets themselves.
It wasn’t until I finally dropped the diet mentality that I began to make some real progress toward getting healthy. Healthy being the key word. Suddenly I wasn’t as focused on getting thin (and getting out of those damned Toughskins jeans) as I was on feeling good. When weighing as much as I did, I would get breathless just talking on the phone. I would become winded walking up a single flight of stairs. And I even had broken a movie theater seat that buckled under my weight (while on a date no less).
When I focused more on feeling good and the benefits that working my way to a healthier weight would bring me, I realized the “diet” wasn’t as necessary of a tool as it had been originally presented as.
This doesn’t mean I didn’t do everything I could to learn about nutrition. But I also dedicated myself to embrace the concept of moderation. As I learned to enjoy food in a way that wasn’t like it was the last time I would ever have it, I didn’t have to overeat extreme amounts. I could have one scoop of ice cream because I knew there would be more reasonable amounts of ice cream in my future. The concept is simple I know. But sometimes it’s the simplest changes that lead to the biggest triumphs.
I did a lot of work on my mental self as well—realizing that after many years of child abuse (separate of the extreme diets I had been put on), I had as much mental weight to get rid of as I did physical weight. But this was all do-able. And it began with reminding myself of my true goals: Feeling good, being healthy and loving myself (no matter what brand or size of jeans I was wearing)—all while being able to enjoy the occasional rich food in moderation.
Don’t get me wrong. A reasonable (and nutritious) food plan is something that can definitely help you learn portion sizes. But you might want to drop the word “diet” while incorporating the food plan. And the plan shouldn’t be as much about restriction as it is about delicious, healthy choices in quantities that satisfy your hunger while fueling your body.
Dieting can be a concept that doesn’t work for a lot of people. Otherwise those of us with “diet mentalities” wouldn’t have to keep starting and re-starting diets over and over again. For some who are trying to change their lives and better their health, it might be time to try dropping the D-word from their vocabulary as they commit to their overall goal of living a happier, healthier life.