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Looking Back, Looking Forward

written by Senia Maymin and Kathryn Britton 2 February 2018

Senia Maymin and Kathryn Britton are the senior editors of PositivePsychologyNews.com. Together they have edited two books in the Positive Psychology News series: Resilience: How to Navigate Life's Curves and Gratitude: How to Appreciate Life's Gifts. Kathryn co-edited the third book in the series, Character Strengths Matter, with Shannon Polly. Their co-authored articles are here.

Senia Maymin, MAPP '06, is the coauthor of Profit from the Positive. Maymin is an executive coach to entrepreneurs and CEOs. Her PhD is in organizational behavior from the Stanford Graduate School of Business. Full Bio. Her solo articles are here and her articles with Margaret Greenberg are here.

Kathryn Britton, MAPP '06 also co-authored Smarts and Stamina on using positive psychology principles to build strong health habits. Blog. Full bio. Her solo articles are here.

Janus: looking back, looking forward

Editor’s Note: Most years we have run an article very early after the turn of the year with ideas for resolutions. This year we decided to ask our authors to look back at something they learned in 2017 and to look forward with a suggestion. We told them it could be something they plan to try or a way they plan to think. We’re running it a little later than usual. In fact this is about the point when many resolutions run out of steam. So it’s a good time to think again about how to be in the year ahead.

Lisa Sansom, Looking Back: My New Year’s Resolution for 2017 was to get more sleep. I declared it my “year of sleep.” With teenagers, I realized that my old habits were no longer working. When the kids were little, they were in bed by 8pm. I had a couple of hours each evening for me: to clean, to catch up on emails, to call friends or family, to run errands. Oh, the fond memories of shopping at Toys R Us at 10pm during the holiday season…

Blessed sleep

But now that my boys are teens, they are up later. I am not only am missing evening “me time,” but I’m also missing sleep. For a couple of years, I had been yawning my way through the afternoons. I thought about hydration, vitamins, nutrition, exercise, everything, it seems, except sleep. I’m a slow learner apparently.

So for 2017, I vowed that I was going off duty at 9:30 pm. I told my kids that if they needed anything from me, they would have to ask in time to make sure it was fulfilled before 9:30pm. That gave me about an hour to do “me things” before my 10:30pm bedtime. I got about 8 hours of sleep since I usually get up at 6:30am. Guess what! It mostly worked! My kids adjusted (yay!), I stopped yawning my way through entire afternoons (yay!), and I felt more able to cope resiliently with the daily nonsense that life throws at me.

Lisa Sansom, Looking Forward: For 2018, I will continue to emphasize sleep for myself and, as I always have, for the rest of my family. It’s back to basics for me in 2018: sleep, food, water, exercise, nature, sunshine, community. If I’m not looking after the fundamentals, then I’m not looking after me. The cult of self-care meaning massages and yoga is over-rated and over-commercialized. Just get enough sleep.

Scott Crabtree, Looking Back: In 2017 I learned that positivity and happiness, while generally awesome, can lead us to take risks that we should not. I was very happy at the beginning of 2017. I optimistically hired two employees without a lot of due diligence. Deliberative is strength #33 out of the StrengthsFinder 34 for me. I did not deliberate.

I should have. Neither employee worked out. It was expensive in terms of money, time, and heartbreak to find that out the hard way.

Keep choosing happiness, but for the most important decisions in life, slow down and even let some skepticism help you make better decisions!


Scott Crabtree, Looking Forward:

Use gamification to engage others. Video games have been the subject of scientific study in recent years. Many of those studies were led by Richard M. Ryan. What makes video games so engaging to the over 155 million players who spend over 15 Billion dollars in the US alone?

Games are so engaging because they satisfy core human needs: Autonomy, Relatedness, and Mastery. Surprise helps hook players to come back for more.

More on this in my free e-book, Level Up Your Leadership: The Science of Gamifying Engagement.

Orin Davis, Looking Back: Spending a month abroad gives some perspective on how big of a deal we want to make of certain issues in our environments. I found that I value caring a lot about a few issues deeply more than I value being a jack-of-all-issues.

Orin Davis, Looking Forward: I watch too many of my students set their sights on being happy. I suggest to them that they take a look at the Satisfaction With Life Scale and realize that what we call “being happy in life” is a lot fuzzier than we think. Even looking at the SWLS, we need to stop and think about what the important things are along with the ideals to which we compare our lives. Make sure they’re YOUR ideals!

Art of Reflection

Seph Fontane Pennock, Looking Back: I have always valued my rational/cognitive skills so highly that I neglected my sensitive, more feminine side. Last year I learned to listen more closely to my intuition and feelings and to act on them which has led me to experience less conflict. Life flows more naturally now.

Seph Fontane Pennock, Looking Forward: I’m definitely going to continue my Naikan gratitude practice and can recommend everyone to try it. Start with Gregg Krech’s book on Naikan and go from there. See where it takes you and thank me later 😉

Donald Officer, Looking Back: I learned from my reading, writing and the IPPA Congress among other less specific experiences that even up to the last of your earthly minutes your life is about looking to the future and that’s really, if paradoxically, your legacy.

Donald Officer, Looking Forward: Mostly I’m writing my book and expanding my range of writing. Since I made the decision to move in this direction early in 2017, I’ve found it a positive step forwards although really challenging on many levels as well.

Japanese rake

Senia Maymin, Looking Back: I learned that sometimes I need to go all-in on a plan in order for it to work. I did that in 2017 with one large client project and with one large long-term project that I started. It’s hard to go all-in, and to make sure that the rest of business still works well. But it’s worth it in order to reach the next level.

Senia Maymin, Looking Forward: My commitment this year is to move the different parts of my life forward consistently. I’m imagining a big rake in a Japanese sand and stone garden that moves the different parts of the sand forward consistently. I am a big rake this year!

Elaine O’Brien, Looking Back: I learned about the power of harnessing deep relationships and loving friendships. Those I love certainly helped sustain me over tragedy this past year, and encouraged me to rise up and celebrate triumphs this year. People and kindness matter most.

Elaine O’Brien, Looking Forward: Breathe positive psychology. Embodied awareness, attention, and actions can help lift up health, well-being, and fitness. Beyond the health club or gym, mindful movement, good sport, and positive exercise practices can be built into our days. Looking forward, learn to move more and well, and uplift your proprioception. Take time to tune into and appreciate your circadian rhythms in order to help regulate arousal levels, manage stress, and optimize your energy.

Loving Friendships

Kathryn Britton, Looking Back: I learned (again) that when there appears to be no hope, it is time to look for a different kind of hope. My cousin reached the end of cancer-treating options. She and her family faced no hope that she was going to get well. So they turned their hope toward having her life end well. Two weeks before she died, she had a wonderful adventure rafting on the Salmon River with 26 friends and family around to help her in and out of the raft. Her job was making lists and checking them off. When she died, she had said what she wanted to say to everybody. Her children were with her, the rest of the famiy on the porch waiting. Her youngest sang to her. When he finished, she took her last breath. I think everybody felt they had honored her.

Kathryn Britton, Looking Forward: I’m moved to quote my godmother, Marian Scott, in a letter she wrote my daughter. It was written to a young woman in her twenties, but I think perhaps the idea of listening to our inner selves and not being afraid of false starts never goes away.

The landscape where you stand, at the brink of your adult life, is so very different from mine. Women have been liberated, not just the exceptional ones but across the board. The choices and opportunities may be overwhelming, but at least you can’t feel limited. A few years of free fall are probably not a bad idea — just savoring life (as I would describe my early years of marriage in New Haven and Paris). Jumping from college into career or into marriage-with-children might prove too confining, even a mistake as you look backwards — as I am doing here — from your eighth decade. These are your luxury years, if you have enough money to give yourself freedom, when you can keep sensitive and searching for what your inner self really is trying to tell you. Pause and smell the roses. But don’t become passive and let the years roll on and over you. A few false starts aren’t necessarily a disaster.

I’d also like to suggest a practice that Lisa Zigarmi has been using for years to start off the year energetically. Rather than steal her thunder, I’d like to send you to the article she published today on Forbes: Resolutions are Out; Rituals are In.



Crabtree, S. (2017). Level Up Your Leadership: The Science of Gamifying Engagement.

Kobau, R., Sniezek, J., Zack, M. M., Lucas, R. E., & Burns, A. (2010). Well?being assessment: An evaluation of well?being scales for public health and population estimates of well?being among US adults. Applied Psychology: Health and Well-being, 2(3), 272-297. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1758-0854.2010.01035.x

Krech, G. (2001). Naikan: Gratitude, Grace, and the Japanese Art of Self-Reflection. Stone Bridge Press.

Maymin, S. & Britton, K. H. (2017). Thoughts for starting the new year. Positive Psychology News. Contains pointers back to previous years.

Przybylski, A. K., Rigby,C. S. & Ryan, R. M. (2010). A Motivational Model of Video Game Engagement. Review of General Psychology, 14, 154-166.

Rigby, C. S., & Ryan, R. M. (2011). Glued to Games: How Video Games Draw Us In and Hold Us Spellbound (New Directions in Media). New York: Prager.

Stanley, J. (2016a). Instead of a resolution, try a new year routine (Part 1).

Stanley, J. (2016a). Try a new year routine: Habits, practices, and rituals (Part 2). Positive Psychology News.

Zigarmi, L. (2018, Feb. 1). Resolutions are out; Rituals are in. Forbes.

Photo Credits, most from Flickr via Compfight with Creative Commons licenses
Janus courtesy of diffendale
Sleep courtesy of Ninian Reid
Japanese reflection courtesy of Dean Hochman
Japanese Rake courtesy of sam.naylor
Loving Friendships courtesy of Rafael Edwards

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