Lisa Nichols(Photo: Courtesy of Essence)

When we're stressed, we're not living within our power. We move to the passenger's seat and let our circumstances do the steering. Claiming your power means putting yourself back in the driver's seat and taking full ownership of your ability to navigate. I remember, for example, the moment I realized the life I was living didn't match the dream I had for myself. I'd experienced some disappointments in a past relationship, and I didn't want to risk my heart again. But rather than acknowledging that fear I busied myself with being a mommy and building my company, two areas where I felt I could control the outcome. Yet the truth was that I longed for a relationship.

So over the next few months I took an honest look at myself, at my needs and desires and fears, and I resolved to transform those realities. At the beginning of the new year I made it my goal to become dateable, and sure enough, by the end of the year I had gone on several dates. Now, as I move from dateable to marriageable -- my goal for 2012 -- I'm once again actively transforming my reality. What are you dreaming of doing in this brand-new year? Here are steps you can take to guide your journey:

1. RESET YOUR DEFAULT MODE

Too many of us live in what I like to call "familiar discomfort," that space where being stressed feels normal. Some of us have resided there for so long that emotional and physical exhaustion have become our default. We've accepted burnout as our life sentence. How do you trade that reality for a more energized one? You begin by changing your mental ZIP code. You have to set up your internal GPS by establishing your starting position, as in admitting "I am overwhelmed." Or "I don't manage my finances well." Acknowledging your unvarnished truth is the first step in letting go of your contract with stress, discontent and chaos.

2. START WITH YOUR "ALREADY DONE" LIST

What did you accomplish in 2011? When were you at your strongest, and what lessons did you take from those experiences? Maybe you earned a promotion or powerfully ended a relationship. Get out a piece of paper and write down what you achieved and how your life shifted as a result. Focusing on what you did well will give you the momentum to create the life you most want to have in the new year.

3. BLESS THE GIFTS THAT CAME WRAPPED IN SANDPAPER

Last year might have brought you some big challenges -- the loss of a job or a relationship, for instance. No, you didn't ask for these difficult experiences, and yet they are indeed gifts. Give thanks not for the hardship, but for the character it built in you. These challenges gave you the opportunity to rise above your circumstances. Knowing you have that resilience is a gift from the universe to you.

4. MOVE FROM REACTING TO RESPONDING

When you live your life in reaction mode, you say things like, "That man made me curse him out." Or you live passively, as if you are a victim of circumstances. Reaction is of-the-moment, and it robs you of forethought and peace of mind. But when you respond, you think, How will what I'm saying or doing affect my future relationships? My self-esteem? This situation? Response is an empowered decision that involves forecasting into the future. Take note of how often you live in the space of reaction, and then begin intentionally replacing that habit with the more positive approach.

5. LASER YOUR FOCUS

Some sisters operate like a floodlight: We cover a lot of territory, we multitask, and we're everywhere doing everything for everyone but ourselves. But we're not effectively penetrating any one area, only wearing ourselves out. This year choose to operate more like a laser: Select three things you can do to improve your quality of life. That short list might include setting aside time to spend with family or choosing to exercise three mornings a week, no matter what. Pick a few priorities and stay with them.

6. TURN OPTIONALS INTO NON-NEGOTIABLES

When you really want something -- like to eat more healthfully -- that's an option. It's on the "it would be nice" list. But if someone asked you to show up for a friend who had cancer, you would do everything in your power to deliver. Your presence would be nonnegotiable. In 2012 show up for yourself the same way you would for a friend. Start taking your own desires as seriously as you do the needs and desires of others. For example, if your nonnegotiable goal is to start your own business, write yourself a check on every payday to finance that dream. Or make a choice that you will free yourself by no longer holding grudges. Or that you'll stop cutting and pasting your past into your future, letting it trip you up yet again. Refuse to let your "next" pay for the sins of your ex. Whatever your goals, devote as much effervescent energy to them as you would for those of a loved one.

7. PLAY IN YOUR PASSION

With all the talk of a douple-dip recession and all the responsibility of our lives, some of us have stopped doing the things that bring us joy. I love to dance, and I love spending time with my mother, so we signed up for salsa, tango and step classes together. When you do what you love, you're more vital, your mood-boosting endorphins are released, and your passion feeds and fuels you.

8. INVEST IN YOURSELF

Fiscal responsibility is your destiny, and you can live it starting today. Decide that you'll be a good steward of whatever money you have, because when you handle money well, you actually attract more money. It's not magic. It's a law of the universe: Energy grows where energy goes. Yes, we're in an economic downturn, but a recession is about paper and coins, and there's no need for us to buy into that scarcity mentality. You have to manage your dollars and cents, but you don't have to live from a mind-set of lack by constantly focusing on what you don't have. Choose to operate from the expectation of abundance. Then watch your finances improve as you invest energy and attention there.

9. FIND A WAY TO GIVE BACK

If you have love, hope or graciousness in abundance, go someplace where it is needed, like a women's shelter or an elder-care center. What you offer won't cost you anything, but it will be priceless to those who receive it. When you serve others, that service comes back to you in the form of compassion and gratitude. And as you reach out to others, you'll see that your struggle, your chaos, your stress isn't so enormous, and certainly not insurmountable. You'll settle into the understanding that we share the challenge of being alive with every other human being on the planet. There is great peace in that awareness.

10. KEEP THE END IN MIND

Once you make a list of what you will create for yourself in 2012, write yourself a letter of congratulations, as if you've already accomplished those goals. Date the congratulations letter for December 31, 2012. Looking at your future self not only gives you insight into the sweet life you will have but it also allows you to change the cyclical and toxic patterns that stand between you and your goal. For instance, if one of your goals is to become more fiscally sound, congratulate yourself on saving $5,000. That's when the light comes on and you think, I can't go on mindless shopping sprees if I'm going to make that happen. I did this exercise last year: I wrote a letter congratulating myself for being more health-conscious. By December 31, I had exceeded my own expectations and lost 30 pounds. It was a powerful lesson. Let us each resolve to put our dreams into action this year as we transform our challenges into opportunities and exceed our expectations in 2012.