Dr. Phil McGraw Recommends Ringing in the New Year by Taking Time for Self-Reflection

Published On Dec 29, 2020

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Welcome, everyone. I'm Dr. John Whyte, Chief Medical Officer at WebMD. COVID has changed everything. It's changed how we work, it's changed how we celebrate holidays, and now it needs to change how we do New Year's resolutions. So to help provide some guidance as to how to do that, I've asked Dr. Phil to join us. Dr. Phil, thanks for coming on again.

Well, very excited to do it. I'm very passionate about this whole concept of New Year's resolutions, and never more than this year when we're really happy to put 2020 in our rearview mirror.

You and I are working on an editorial. And we've talked about, now more than ever, let's stop doing these, going to lose 20 pounds, going to save more money, I'm going to do charitable work, learn another language. That just sets us up for failure. Is that right?

It really is. And you mentioned that when we were talking about the op-ed we're working on. And it was such a good point. And I just read a study recently that-- our mental health right now is at an all time low, with anxiety, stress, and depression as high as it's ever been in America.

So we don't need to add additional pressure to ourselves right now. And when we set these lofty goals, these one-sentence, I'm going to do this, I'm going to do that-- 92% of us fail achieving those goals. We abandon them by mid-February.


So we don't need another failure experience on top of already being at an all time low for our mental health, self-image, self-worth right now. Let's not set ourselves up for a failure experience kicking off a new year.

It'll just lead to depression on top of depression. You've talked about-- New Year's resolutions are artificial, doing it at the end of the year. But you've been pointing out it's a great time for self reflection. But many of us don't know how to do that.

And I remember when we chatted, you said you asked people what they don't like about themselves. They can rattle off 10 things they don't like. But then when you ask them what they do good, they often struggle. So how do we do this self reflection, Dr. Phil, that's productive?

Well, how about we substitute that for these artificial resolutions we've set up. And you're quite right. I'll ask someone, what are your problems? List what you're struggling with. And boy, rapid fire-- bang, bang, bang, bang, bang.

I'll say, OK, but now flipside, tell me what you like most about yourself? What are your assets and resources? And sometimes, John, they're just struck dumb. They just, well, I don't know.

How about instead of making these resolutions we ask people to take a few hours to really reflect and say, what do I have to bring forward into the new year? What are my assets? Am I caring? Am I loving? Am I intelligent?

Do I have some sticktoitiveness Do I have compassion for other people? What skill sets do I have that I can market my education, my work experience in a new way because we're going to have a new normal? So maybe my job's not going to be there. Maybe I can find a way to use my skill sets in a different way.

So self reflect and come up with a list of, here's what I'm taking forward into the new year, so self reflection instead of just making some kind of one-sentence mindless goals. I think that might be a great way to use this one day of setting our sights on what we want to do with the new year.

You've called it a personal inventory. We need to take stock of what we're good at, where we need to improve. Should people actually write it down? Should we put it in our phone? It's easy to forget about something a couple of days later. Does the act of writing it down help?

Well, I can't tell you how much it helps because we forget. I can remember my address in the sixth grade, but I can't remember why I went in the kitchen sometimes. So if we write things down, it gives us some distance, some objectivity from it.

And it also lets us revisit the list and add to it, sometimes. So if we'll make a list, one thing triggers another. And then, we can go back to it a month later. And it really helps if we can understand how to do the self-assessment.

And here's what I recommend. Ask yourself how you form opinions of other people. And you do that by watching what they do and listening to what they say. If you have someone that is the first one to the office every morning and they always turn the lights on and they're never not there, then you attribute to them being reliable and dependable, buttoned up. And you do that by observation.

Well, that's how we form our own self-image and our own self-worth. So ask yourself, what have I observed about myself? For example, this has been a very tough year. Well, you know what? You survived. You're still here. You made it through enough that you're planning for the next year.

Give yourself credit for that. You're a survivor. You got through this. So that goes on your list in your self-assessment.

Ask yourself what you've observed yourself overcome and mastered during the last year. That's a good place to start in your self-assessment.

How do we break that mindset where sometimes it seems like we're programmed to focus on the things we don't have, and especially this year, things we missed out on? And we don't focus as much-- it's hard, let's be honest. It's a really difficult year. We're not focusing on things that we can be grateful for or happy about it.

And some people might say to you, Dr. Phil, there's nothing I'm happy about this year. So how do we help them do this personal inventory and this reflection in a positive way that doesn't make them more upset, and as you've talked about, create a program for success rather than these lofty goals which sets people up for failure?

Well, that's the thing. And I think old sayings get to be old sayings because they're profound. That's why they last generation to generation. For example, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. And the problems are the squeaky wheels. They're the things making the noise, so they get our focus.

And we take for granted the things that are good and are working. We need to not take those for granted. Let's actually focus on them.

I think a great exercise to do is sit down and make a list of 20 blessings in your life, 20 things that you really have to consider to be blessed about. Maybe it's your health, your family members, your children, your sense of humor, the fact that you have friends in your life, whatever your blessings are. And it'll be different for everyone.

But if you actually write down 20 things that you're thankful for in your life, I have to tell you, you can't do that and not feel better about your circumstance in life, your predicament. And then, if you say, OK, we've had some moral moments, some teachable moments in America in the last year, what do you want to carry forward? What do you want to leave behind? And then, that's when you get to the programming where you say, OK, how can I set this new year to support those things that I want to sustain?

For example, in this new year, if you do want to focus on more family time because you've been forced to stay at home some, and maybe that's caused you to spend some of the time you might not have been able to spend with your children or your loved ones, and you want to sustain that, program that in where you say, Thursday nights we're going to have as family nights, or Sundays we're going to spend together.

Then program that so it's not a matter of willpower. Because willpower is a myth. It's emotional. It's fickle. It goes up and down as motions do. Emotions are labile. They come, they go.

But programming is something that's set. And it supports you when you don't feel like it. That's why people make these resolutions like, I'm going to really lose those 15 pounds, I'm going to exercise.

And you get those jogging shoes, and you put them on the porch, and the damn things just won't jog. It's like, well, that's willpower. It's cold in February. You don't want to do it. But program yourself for it, and you will do it.

And you've talked about, we need to create the environment. In many ways, that's creating the environment, isn't it, which takes work. That's the issue. We don't just do a one and done and make our resolution and don't think about it. Is that right? We have to work on it every day to get to that point of being successful, however that is we want to define it.

It is. But the thing is, if you set your environment up, then the environment actually supports you. You surround yourself with people that want you to succeed. Eliminate toxic people from your life.

Maybe you've got a habit. Maybe you're struggling with your weight, and you've got a habit of parking your car when you get home in a garage. And maybe that brings you in through the kitchen and you smack around before you go change clothes.

Well, you know what? Change your pattern. Park your car. Walk around and come in through the front door. Don't go through the kitchen. Set your program.

No one comes in the front door. Why is that? Why is that, Doctor?

Exactly. And it's so simple to change. But we don't actually break habits. We replace one behavior with a new behavior. So choose a new behavior if you want a new outcome. And it's really so easy to do.

But then days turn into weeks, weeks turn into months, and small changes aggregate into big results. And days are going to add up. And really, the first three months of the year are going to go by whether you're doing something about those things that you want to really put into your life or whether you don't. So that clock's going to tick. Use it to your advantage by programming your environment to support the things you reflected on that you wanted to make part of your new year.

Let's be really practical for a minute and recognize, we're all on social media. I see you on Instagram. I'm on Twitter, et cetera. For some people, social media can be harmful because they're comparing themselves to others. And it's back to this idea, everyone seems to have a charmed life-- surrounded by family, going on vacations, buying products. And some folks might not be at that point.

So we just can't think that people are just going to say, I'm just going to turn off social media. Some people are successful at doing that. But for those that are going to continue to use social media, how do they use it effectively when they're trying to program their environment for success because that can be a big distractor, can't it?

It really can be a big distractor. But you've got to go at it where you ask yourself, what is my endgame here? Why am I on social media?

If you're using it to have connectivity with other people, that can be a good thing. If you're using it as a yardstick for your self-worth by how many people like your picture or your video, then that's a really bad thing. Ask yourself, what's my purpose in doing this? And define that purpose for yourself.

Are you wanting to put out good things into the universe? Are you posting something positive, something that will make someone smile, that will help someone through the day? But have an objective, have a goal. And we've got to realize that you can't live on social media, even though right now we're kind of forced into that, and it can take over our time because we can't be with people that we want to be with.

But make sure that it's a quality time and it doesn't just turn into-- and certainly with your kids, don't let it be an electronic babysitter. Don't let hours go by where you're not doing something important.

And we can't be so hard on ourselves, particularly this year as well. Wouldn't you agree? We have to let some things roll off our back as well. It doesn't mean everything, but sometimes we can be our worst critic.

You don't have to react to everything that happens. Sometimes you can just-- you've got to pick your battles with yourself and with others. And we know in the first part of 2021, we're still going to be dealing with some of the rudimentary aspects of this COVID problem.

The vaccine is probably not going to be widespread until at least the second quarter. So this isn't going to end on December 31. This is going to carry into the next year.

Let's decide to have as good an attitude about that as we can and not be hard on ourselves because we can't launch that new career, we can't solve these financial problems right now. And maybe we're in a bit of a holding pattern. But that's OK.

Like I say, you're still here. You've survived. And you've kept your family together. And give yourselves credit for the things that you are doing well. And don't expect yourself to solve problems that the United States Congress hasn't solved, your local politicians haven't solved.

We're not going to go there. We're trying to be positive, Dr. Phil. Let's not go there.

Exactly. Don't hold yourself to a real high standard is the point.

All right. I'm going to put you on the spot if I may. I'm going to ask you, I'm sure what's on everyone's mind right now. So how's Dr. Phil going to phrase his resolution for 2021? What can you share?

Well, I think for me-- and actually Robin and I have talked about this as I've been preparing for this. And that the things that we've reflected on are really the blessings that we have. We've got a new grandchild on the way. We have two grandchildren. We have two sons that are healthy and happy.

And we really started reflecting on this over Thanksgiving because we realized, as much as the world is not the way that we would like it to be right now, we have so much to be grateful for and thankful for. And I've learned that the best way to fill any void that I'm feeling is to give away that which I need the most.

So if I'm feeling lonely or empty or isolated, the best thing I can do is find someone that needs that even more than I do and reach out to that person and give away what I feel like I need. And every time I do that, it fills me up faster than anything else I could do.

Maybe there's somebody that lives down on the corner or a few floors down in your apartment building or something. And maybe they live alone. And you knock on their door and take 12 steps back and say, hey, you don't know me. But I just wanted to stop by and say, hi. Is there anything I can do for you? I'm going to the store. Can I pick something up? I'll leave it on your doorstep. Or maybe you mow your neighbor's yard.

Just give away what you need the most, and I promise you it will fill you up faster than anything else. So we've just decided that we're going to really focus on the things that are positive in our life and see if we can pay those things forward to those that might be less fortunate than we are.

Well, Dr. Phil, I want to thank you for sharing your insights as well as your personal resolutions. And what about if we ask our viewers to send us their ideas, how they're going to handle New Year's resolutions-- they can send it to me at [email protected]. They can have it on our social media properties when we post our editorial. And can they also put it on your Facebook page? Or how could they send it so then you and I can talk about it at a future time, Dr. Phil?

That would be great. They can put it on my Facebook page for Dr. Phil. And then, we can accumulate them and share them.

And maybe we can talk about some of those things because I think we're all in this together. And I think there's a collective consciousness in America. And as divided as we are described sometimes, we really are all in this together. And I would love for us to share some thoughts with people and them with us because I think everybody's walking this walk together. And I think it would be a great way to come together and share some thoughts.

Well, I want to wish you and Robin a very happy New Year. I want to wish our viewers a happy New Year. And we'll look forward to seeing you in 2021.

Thank you so much.