Uh-oh. It's that time of year again. No matter how good or bad your past twelve months have been for you, the reality of starting a new year almost automatically trips off feelings of sadness or regret.  And in these tough economic times, it's easy to fall into the "I Shoulda/Why Did I?" trap.  But instead of kicking yourself, try these tips for both overcoming those end of the year regrets and for making New Year's resolutions that have a better chance of working.

1.  Play it forward.  Instead of wallowing in regret, ask yourself what you learned from your painful experiences. If you are really brave, put in the effort to do this exercise.  You'll need a sheet of paper. 

a. Make a quick list of the top things you regret this past year.

b. Under the item write in a few words why you think you made that mistake. Think deeply. Aim to make sure you can "handle the truth."  For example, if you hung in there too long in a relationship, write down reason you did this.  Perhaps you were afraid of being alone?  Maybe you were betting against yourself that you could find anyone else?

c. Now write down what you will do to avoid making this mistake again.  Solutions might include getting therapy, getting out there to meet more new people and not acting on those internal messages that say things such as "time is running out" or "you are lucky to get anyone."

2.  Set reasonable goals that include action plans.  Can you guess which New Year's resolutions are the most frequent?  The answer is losing weight, finding or improving love and getting your finances and career in order.  However, few realize that none of these are small, easy tasks. However, there are some ways to make these plans work.

a. Think small.  Don't set your goal to lose twelve pounds by Valentine's Day or to find the best job or the love of your life by Spring.  Instead, ask yourself what you can reasonably accomplish in a week.  Perhaps you can work out twice a week for half an hour at a time or go to professional network and community events once a week. 

b Get a buddy.  Don't go it alone.  Recruit your best friend or family member to check in on you to help you stay on course.

c. Get professional help if you find yourself faltering quickly and need the extra push.

3.  Keep up a positive talk with yourself. Activate and keep running your unique internal conversation with yourself. This way you can strengthen your resolve as you simultaneously forgive yourself for your missteps and perfectly normal setbacks.  One method that my clients have found helpful is to establish an imaginary verbal battle between your Angel on your right shoulder and your Devil on the left shoulder. Here are the most common examples from my clients.  Modify them to address your issues.

a. Devil: You made really stupid decisions--from overspending and not budgeting to making excuses and getting defensive when it comes to love.

Angel: So what. I feel braver now. I won't be a victim or punish myself.  I will be brave enough to face my truth and think first, get help and then act.

b. Devil: I knew you'd fall off the wagon.

Angel: Life is trial and error.  It's how most of us learn. 

c. Devil: Your regrets are here to stay.

Angel: Okay, some of them are.  You can't change everything.  But I'm not letting my past errors keep me in a rut. My new life starts today and everyday.  Besides, maybe my past mistakes made me stronger and smart enough to make changes now.

d. Devil: Life is short and your time is running out.

Angel: I got it.  That's why I'm acting now.  I'm moving forward even when I'm anxious.  And I'm not beating myself up for not being perfect.

Happy New Year.  Keep your Angels alive!