Miriam Akhtar, MAPP from the University of East London, runs Positive Psychology Training, which provides courses, coaching, and communication in the science. Miriam is the author of Positive Psychology for Overcoming Depression and the co-producer of The Happiness Training Plan. Twitter: @pospsychologist. Full bio.
Miriam's articles for PositivePsychologyNews.com are here.
The period between Christmas and New Year is for many a pot of unstructured time that can lapse into a wasteland of mindless eating and slumping in front of the TV. The days are short and energy levels are low. But this time is perfect for reflecting on the year that’s gone and planning the year ahead. Take a life audit of 2014 as a basis to plan for 2015.Here’s a way to plan for 2015 based on Appreciative Inquiry, a process of change used in organizations. It starts with appreciating what’s already working well, identifying individual and team strengths to power a forward move. We make more progress when we learn from what’s working well. Ironic then that we tend to spend more time analyzing what’s gone wrong, take the triumphs for granted, and fail to pause to reflect on what’s gone right.
So choose a comfy seat (you might already be there), light the fire, make some tea, and reflect on the following questions that come from positive psychology. Ask yourself first:
What were the high points of 2014?
If you already keep a gratitude journal (a diary of the positives in life) then this will make the process much easier. If not reflect on what the highlights have been per season or month. Having a sense of appreciation for the year that’s just happened can help build optimism for the year ahead. Gratitude is a positive emotion towards the past that often arises through noticing and appreciating life’s positive events. Optimism, on the other hand, is a future-oriented positive emotion. The glass half-full towards the past helps to develop the glass half-full towards the future.
What made the high points happen?
Now think about the strengths, talents, and resources behind those peak experiences. This might be a positive characteristic of yours like courage or perseverance or a talent such as effective communication. It could be an inner resource such as having lots of energy and drive. It could be an external resource such as good friendships.
What were the low points in 2014?
These usually come to mind so much easier than the high points, but instead of ruminating over 2014’s setbacks, you can still find something positive in the lows by asking yourself what helped you cope? What were the strengths that helped you keep going and be resilient?
Now you’ve completed the first step of Appreciative Inquiry which is to Discover what gone’s well. This gives you something to build on for 2015.
Step Two is to Dream.
Think about what you would like for 2015. This is a good point to put on some music or go for a walk to stimulate some positive emotions that will give full rein to your imagination so that you can think creatively for the year ahead. Give yourself the space to do some blue-sky thinking and let go of any restrictions. Ask yourself what you wish for? How might you build on those high points of 2014? Look at the list of your strengths, talents and resources. How else could you apply them in 2015? Finding new ways of using your strengths is a good way of improving your well-being.
Step 3 is to Design.
So what is the first step or next step on the path to realising the dream? Identify that step and the one after that. Another useful question is to ask yourself, what has to happen in order to reach the goal? Conversely what’s stopping you? These two questions will yield a plan of action.
I, personally, don’t get on well with setting goals. I find the word goal can sometimes provoke anxiety and other negative emotions. It can bring up a sense of failure attached to previous unaccomplished goals especially for those who’ve experienced depression.
So I call them intentions. The energy around intentions is lighter. We have the intention but maybe something will come along that is even better. Now there’s an optimistic thought!
Step 4 is to Deliver the Destiny.
Have a look at your list of strengths and ask yourself how you could use them to help you realize the dream. These are your inner resources after all. How can they get the ball rolling and then sustain your progress? What are the medium-sized steps and even the giant steps that will take you in a positive direction and get you en route to realizing your dream?
Appreciate 2014 and savor the anticipation of 2015.
Editor’s note: Twixtmas is a Welsh term for the period of time between Christmas and New Years. Yes, we’re publishing this at the end of the period, but this year it is somewhat extended, since many people don’t go back to school or work until January 5.
This article was also published on Miriam Akhtar’s Positive Psychology Training site, along with links to two classes starting in January: Positive Psychology for Overcoming Depression (an online course) and Positive Psychology Masterclass (an in person training event in the UK).
Cooperrider, D. and Whitney, D. (2004) Appreciative Inquiry: A Positive Revolution in Change. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.
Cooperrider, D., Whitney, D. and Stavros,J. (2008). Appreciative Inquiry Handbook, 2nd Edition (Book & CD). Brunswick, OH: Crown Publishing, Inc.
Ludema, J., Whitney, D., Mohr, B., & Griffin, T. (2003). The Appreciative Inquiry Summit: A Practitioner’s Guide for Leading Large-Group Change. San Francisco: Berrett-Kohler.
Orem, S., Binchert, J. & Clancy, A. (2007). Appreciative Coaching: A Positive Process for Change (Jossey-Bass Business & Management). San Francisco: Jossey Bass.
Fireplace courtesy of Anthony Eastman
The AI 4-D cycle image was created with permission by the University of British Columbia Human Resource department for their description of Appreciative Inquiry.