Five Things That Will Improve Your Life in 2013

December 28, 2012

No matter where you turn at this time of year, you’ll be hit with advice from everyone about how to save more money, set better resolutions, be a better parent, act a little happier, and be more successful in 2013.  Some of the advice will be good, some will be the same old stuff you’ve heard for years that sounds like white noise to you, and some will get your attention because it’s landing in the right place for you at the right time.

I hope that this post lands in the right place for those of you who want change, but who want something unexpected in the advice arena to grab you.  Goal setting and its intersection with well-being is my specialty, so I’m always studying new findings in these areas, trying to find ways to translate it into practical applications for clients, students, readers and those with whom I come in contact.

Because my training is outside of psychology, and more in the areas of history and journalism, my brain connects disparate points in unexpected ways. This is what “disruptive innovators” do; they assess information differently from people who have always been in a certain silo, whether it’s psychology, chemistry or economics, and instead think in patterns that are familiar to them.  The “disruptive” thinking often produces unexpected innovations.

“US News and World Report” used to list “50 Ways to Change Your Life” at the start of every year before the magazine was sidelined in recent years, and it was always so thought-provoking that I can honestly say that something important shifted every year as a result of their off-beat ideas.  In homage to them, here are five – not fifty – ideas that I hope are disruptively innovative to your life in 2013, and that lead to greater flourishing in meaningful areas.

1.  Get yourself a new gang to supplement your current crowd.  I’m not suggesting that you should ditch tried and true friends who make you a better person, and vice versa.  Following on research from multiple domains, I think we all need to pick one of our top goals for 2013 and deliberately find like-minded people with whom you’ll spend time this year to up your chances of success.  Why?  People who do things together in pursuit of shared goals tend to elicit better performances from themselves, even if they are already accomplished in that area.  For example, American distance runners began to train on their own in the 1990’s, which mirrored a decline in the country’s dominance in these events, while countries where runners trained in packs – like Ethiopia, Kenya and Japan – rose in prominence.  The pendulum has swung back again as pack training has taken off, with one of the top coaches, Kevin Hanson, noting that if one member has success, everyone else in the group has confidence that they, too, will succeed, which is an additional benefit.  Other research has found that groups that simply walk in step are happier than solo walkers, and most recently, it was reported that rock-and-rollers who pursued their careers in groups as opposed to solo careers lived twice as long as artists who went out on their own.

Research finds that one of the top regrets of the elderly is not pursuing bucket list goals earlier in life – so don’t let 2013 pass without checking one off your list, particularly in the travel arena.

2.  Go away somewhere that’s on your bucket list.  Yes, you’ve heard that vacations are important, and that Americans tend to power through them by refusing to disengage from technology, but there are other reasons why you should always have a trip you are anticipating on your calendar.  The “Cornell Legacy Project” has surveyed hundreds of Americans in their golden years and asked them to pass along their wisdom so that others might learn from their mistakes.  One finding is that most people regretted not having a bucket list of trips to check off in their adult years, and instead put off traveling the world – or even their state – until it was too late to do so.  Experiences that you share with others appreciate in value over time, adding richness and variety to your life, but if you don’t cement them on your calendar, they won’t happen.  Added bonus: as you approach the time of departure, your immune system will improve in anticipation of pleasure.

Some playground equipment is so “dumbed-down” that children have learned that taking risks is dangerous, leading to extra anxieties and phobias, according to research.

3.  Take a massive risk towards a valued goal.  Hard to believe, but our society has stripped so much risk out of daily life that even children’s playgrounds have been impacted – and it’s not good.  Psychologists say that playgrounds have been so “dumbed down” to avoid injury or litigation that there is nothing thrilling left there to test one’s skills.  This leads to children who not only avoid going to playgrounds, they have so few risks in their lives that they develop more anxieties and phobias than children who are allowed to test their limits.  For example, children who don’t climb trees end up more afraid of heights, according to a study from Norway.  Risks are the growing edge in life, and we need to be there regularly or we’ll lead safe lives that don’t challenge us.  A few more facts: entrepreneurs are risk-takers who have “functional impulsivity” that leads them to make positive economic decisions at high-stress times.  Leaders also develop confidence from “facing down their fears,” which separates the bold from the timid.  “If you don’t test the muscle by putting yourself in uncomfortable situations, the muscle doesn’t grow, it shrinks,” according to Alfred Edmond, CEO of Black Enterprise magazine.

Revisiting an old regret and creating a happier ending is advice that flows from the “peak-end” rule: we remember things at their peak and their end, so fashion the end you want, not the one you were stuck with.

4.  Revisit a regret.  According to “peak-end” theory, we remember events in our lives based on the highlight of that event, as well as how it ended.  Often, our regrets center on how we ended something of value in our lives – relationships, a hobby, a job, or goal pursuit.  I’ve discovered that I can create new memories for myself in areas that used to carry regrets by going back to them, and re-engaging in them so that I can pick whatever ending I want.  For example, two hobbies that ended abruptly for me in my early twenties didn’t conclude on a high point, which always made me uncomfortable and sad when I thought about them later.  Several decades after they ended, though, I returned to both activities by joining a swim team and also taking jazz piano lessons while being the accompanist at my children’s elementary school.   So find something you regret and brainstorm a new way to conclude it so that “peak-end” theory predicts future positive memories.

5.  Do different things every single day.  Whether we know it or not, every day we tend to do what we did yesterday, or what we’ve done on a regular basis.  What that means is that we literally live on auto-pilot, rarely being proactive and mostly reacting to what is in front of us.  The problem with this is that the brain loves novelty, and is stimulated by something as small as driving a new route, parting your hair on a different side, or switching the side of the bed you sleep on.  It’s been reported that couples who shake up their social lives by doing different things with new couples on a regular basis have happier marriages, and even that dieters who do something different every day lose more weight and keep it off.

What would my readers suggest as ways to disruptively innovate their lives in the coming year?  And happy new year!  May 2013 be your best year yet, with many flourishing returns.

If you’d like to know when the next free five-day class on “Creating Your Best Self” begins, please go to and sign up for my newsletters.  My next self-paced paid class on how to live “Your Happiest Life” begins on January 14, 2013.  The class is four weeks long and includes evidence-based exercises from Positive Psychology and elsewhere to help you manifest change and set the most productive goals of your life. I’m purposefully including information, worksheets and reflection questions that have never been seen in most places because of my commitment to bring the findings of academia to the general public.  If it’s not proven, I won’t promote it!

Caroline Adams Miller

Caroline Adams Miller, MAPP is a pioneer with her ground-breaking work in the areas of goal-setting/accomplishment, grit, happiness and success. Caroline is the author of eight books, including Positively CarolineMy Name is Caroline,  Creating Your Best Life and Getting Grit. Live Happy Magazine named Creating Your Best Life one of the top ten goal-setting books ever published and Getting Grit one of the ten books that will change your life in 2017.  Her new book, Big Goals, is anticipated for release in the fall of 2024.  Caroline has been featured in BBC World NewsThe New York TimesThe Washington Post, USA Today, U.S. News &World Report, ABC, CBS, NBC, NPR and CNN.  She is a graduate of Harvard University and holds a Master’s degree in Applied Positive Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania.

Related Posts

12 Responses
  1. Great tips, Caroline! For me, #4 would mean taking up competitive ballroom dancing again – it was what I thought I “wanted to be when I grow up” I was a teenager, but was persuaded to drop as an impractical career… Hmmm… 🙂

    1. The ‘compromise’ I struck was picking up salsa dancing. I did so back in 2005ish and am a happier person for it. I never say never- who knows, maybe I’ll be one of those old ladies dancing in the viral videos people pass around some day… 😉

  2. Terrific innovative ideas. Yesterday I was honored to be a rare volunteer to add to Puerto Vallarta’s newest art attraction, “The Wall”, a block-long 8′ tall masterpiece in progress of beautiful mosaics. I began the word, “Love” and also drew a peacock feather that will be done in a stunning array of brilliant colored marbles. Goody! I plan to go and work/play next few week.

    Revisiting the past? You bet. When I was in high school, I used to do mosaics on a small scale. Mom and I made plates, table tops, and gifts. Mom passed in SE this year. I know she is smiling down from Heaven appreciating her special tile Natasha Moraga, the Wall creator, made for her. You can see photos on my FB page a /judykrings

    Thanks for the memories, Caroline.

  3. Great article Caroline. Here’s one way my husband and I keep innovating our relationship. We take turns each month for one of us to come up with something unusual and different to do that we have not done before, and to plan an activity around it.

    For example, last fall we went to a Fairie Conference . We thought it would be a hoot, and if nothing else that it was a weekend away. But it had great Celtic music that we loved (we danced our butts off), and very unusual artisans. And definitely different. It’s a fun way to keep things innovative.

  4. Amy

    Hi Caroline. On page 137 of “The Confidence Code,” it stated that “Caroline Miller and other psychologists contend that the volitional contribution to a trait like confidence may be as high as 50 percent” and in the references, it showed that I could find the original information on this Dec. 28 posting. I don’t see the 50% information here. Has it been removed? Can I find it somewhere else? I’d really like the primary source that describes the methodology if possible. Thank you.

    1. Caroline Adams Miller

      Amy – Here’s the reference for the Happiness Equation research, which has been replicated over and over, and is mentioned throughout the Positive Psychology research.
      Lyubomirsky, S., Sheldon, K. M., & Schkade, D. (2005). Pursuing happiness: The architecture
      of sustainable change. Review of General Psychology, 9, 111-131.
      Some of the wording and references in the Confidence Code aren’t always written in the same way I would articulate them, but this is what they are referring to. Hope this helps.

Leave a Reply