It’s that time of year again. If you are anything like me – Type A, and goal-oriented – your annual list of New Year’s resolutions is beginning to take shape. My usual approach to the process has been to look back on the year gone by and identify all the many things I wanted to accomplish and didn’t, a sobering exercise at best and one guaranteed to put the “Bah, Humbug” mind-set into your holiday celebrations! In prior years, I would construct my new resolutions on the shaky foundation of last year’s failures. I didn’t get to the gym enough last year… this next year, I’d typically resolve to go 5 days a week, maybe even 6. As a writer, I never did meet my goal of waking every morning and going straight to my computer for 3-4 uninterrupted hours of writing a day, so that one would be another candidate for top of the list. I think you get the picture. As you might expect, somewhere around mid to late January, my motivation and enthusiasm for my new set of resolutions fell flatter than a day-old flute of champagne.
This year, I am determined to change it up and see what happens when I add some positive psychology principles to the mix.
Appreciatively Ask Myself
My first step is to inquire appreciatively as to what went right for me in 2008. While the concept of appreciative inquiry developed by David Cooperider in the 1980’s is best known for its results in bringing about transformative changes in groups and institutions, the idea of focusing on what has worked rather than what has not can be equally powerful in promoting change in individuals.
For example, when I look back at the periods last year when I was most successful in maintaining a consistent pattern of exercise, I noticed that it was the several months right before the presidential election. I was riveted by the primary season and once the candidate slates were selected, they never failed to disappoint. Several days of the week I’d go to the gym and watch MSNBC and CNN simultaneously, switching between the 2 channels depending on the images on the screen and the crawl below. Before I knew it I had done 50 minutes on the elliptical machine without ever having looked at my watch. Now I know I can’t wait another four years before I go back to the gym, and even I have a limit for listening to pundits speculating about the Obama’s search for a new puppy, but I have learned that exercising while engaged in watching something that captures my attention makes the time fly by.
Building on Strengths, Not Weaknesses
Another step in the process is to build on strengths, not on weakness. It is no surprise that when I took the VIA questionnaire, self-regulation was lowest on my list. An unrealistic directive that I must exercise six-days-a-week is a recipe for failure for someone like me who is missing the “self-regulation” chip in her brain. I have other strengths like zest, wisdom, and love of learning and I can already envision numerous ways I can use these strengths to achieve my exercise and other goals. I found a yoga class I love (which allows me to connect with my inner wisdom), and going there twice a week has been a joy not a chore. I don’t need to resolve to go there; I want to go there, and that has made all the difference.
Recognizing and Being Grateful for My Wins
Finally I plan to add the practice of gratitude to the New Year’s resolution process. Robert Emmons’ new book thanks! is a comprehensive review of the power of gratitude and its ability to positively impact our psychological and physical well-being. Each of us may not have the self-regulation required to keep a nightly gratitude journal, but this time of year is a natural point of endings and beginnings, and so it is a perfect time for introspection and reflection on the many reasons we have to be grateful. It is through the lens of gratitude and on that far sturdier foundation that I will choose to look forward to 2009 and plan my future.
A Small Gift to You
In closing, I have a small gift for all the readers of Positive Psychology News Daily. It is one of my favorite poems. It is taped to the inside of a closet door in my home office. While I wish every reader a year of good health, happiness and prosperity, this is a gift for you when life disappoints, and you face challenges big and small or even those that blindside you and take your breath away. I have been there, it has comforted me, and I hope whenever you may need it, it will comfort you as well.The Guest House
Translated by Coleman Barks
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
Some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
Cooperrider, D. & Whitney, D. (2005). Appreciative Inquiry: A Positive Revolution in Change. San Francisco: Berrett- Koehler Publishers.
Emmons, Robert A. (2007). Thanks!: How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company.
Rumi, Jalal al-Din (13th century, 2004). The Essential Rumi, New Expanded Edition. Tr. Coleman Barks. HarperOne.
VIA Questionnaire retrieved from Authentic Happiness website. http://authentichappiness.org.
New Year’s Resolutions,
Gail,the irony is that the yoga class is actually working on your self regulation chip. One of the themes that underlies yoga is the development of mindfulness – awarness of thinking but without judgement.
And interestingly as you become more mindful, goals (new years resolutions) become less important.
Good luck in discovering your inner wisdom.
Thanks for throwing in the wonderful poem by Rumi! I am going to pin that one up as well.
Happy new year.
Thank you so much, Gail, for this article, and especially for the poem by Rumi. I don’t feel at all like that’s a small gift at the end of your article – I feel like it’s the most powerful part. Rumi’s suggestion (so beautifully phrased) that we drink in all of life’s experiences – the pleasant, the humbling, the ecstatic, the devastating – each as valuable as the others, is at the heart of true growth and authenticity and love. I think it’s through this very act (which is sometimes called mindfulness or nonattachment) that we become powerfully courageous to tackle the world in ways that are far beyond any goal list we would normally come up with.
I’d like to share another poem by Rumi that speaks of what is at stake when we accept with nonjudgment our life circumstances.
“Why does the soul not fly when it hears the call?
Why does a fish, gasping on land, but near the water, not move back into the sea?
What keeps us from forming the dance the dust particles do?
Look at their subtle motions in sunlight.
We are out of our cages with our wings spread, yet we do not lift off.
We keep collecting rocks and broken bits of pottery like children pretending they are merchants.
We should split the sack of this culture and stick our heads out.
Leave your childhood.
Reach your right hand up and take this book from the air.
You do know right from left, don’t you?
A voice speaks to your clarity.
Move into the moment of your death.
Consider what you truly want.
Now call out commands yourself.
You are the king.
Phrase your question, and expect the grace of an answer.”
I want to echo thanks for the Rumi poem.
Thanks for this article, Gail. I’ve been thinking on new years goals for the past foew days and this certainly helps me frame the possibility of an abundant ’09. I wish the same for you.
Loved the other Rumi poem. Thank you, Kirsten. The common thread that runs through all the postings to me is the importance of being present to your life, accepting what it brings and trying to find the message and the meaning in it, even in the dark times. For the poetry lovers…another great one with a similar theme is Love After Love by Derek Walcott. Let me know what you think of it.
Great Rumi poem Kristen. I put it up on my desk. Thanks.