As the New Year Unfolds, Accentuate the Positive

new year’Tis the season when many of us make resolutions for the New Year. We set goals, renew our commitment to making changes in our lives, and set forth with renewed hope and energy. Sometime in the following six weeks, most of us find that we’ve fallen back into old patterns, slid back into those habits we were so hoping we would be breaking this time around, and—more often than not—feel guilt and disappointment about once again failing to live up to the expectations we set for ourselves.

As a therapist, I approach my practice from a strength-based perspective. I help clients define what isn’t working for them, but then we use their successes and strengths as the roadmap to making the changes they want in their lives. In my experience with resolutions (mine and those of friends, family, and clients), we generally approach them from the opposite point of view.

Most resolutions seem to be an expression of the lives we feel we should be leading. They are often a critique of what we’ve been doing so far, ways in which we have fallen short of our own expectations, and as such, start us off on the wrong emotional foot. We start off in a critical frame of mind. We focus on potential pitfalls and failures. We perpetuate the idea that somehow we’ve been lacking in the past (motivation, commitment, discipline), which does not do much for building our confidence in our future. Setting the intention that this is the year I’ll finally be good can be pretty demoralizing. Usually, resolutions involve NOT doing something we’ve been doing for a while, and breaking those patterns can be so hard, particularly when we start off in such a negative frame of mind.

Instead, it might be time to look at the things in the previous year that worked for us—the things we are most proud of, that brought us the most joy, and made us feel the most competent—and borrow from them. Let’s do more of the things that bring us contentment. If we start the year wanting to do more positive things, things we know from our own experiences we are capable of doing, we set ourselves up for success in a way that focusing on what NOT to do cannot.

In the past, I have set yearly resolutions about exercise and weight loss. Each year I set a target goal or number, and each year I fall short. This year, I want to look at something I did that worked for me last year and made me feel good: I planted a garden.

Working in the garden gave me time outside (often with my son), regular workouts (preparing the beds, planting, and weeding are no joke), and in the end left me with delicious, fresh produce that we enjoyed all spring, summer, and into the fall. Coming up with new recipes for the bushels of zucchini I was harvesting fed my creative side. I also saw how my son (just 2 years old at the time) would pick cherry tomatoes off the vine and eat them like candy. When he needed a snack, we’d pop outside and see what was ready to eat. If he looked skeptically at something I had prepared for dinner, all I had to do was tell him it came from our garden, and he ate it with gusto.

Through this one activity, I was able to engage in a healthy lifestyle that I enjoy and want to pass on to my son. So this year, I want to do more of it. I want to expand the garden and, instead of giving away all my excess harvest to friends and neighbors, learn how to can and preserve our bounty so that we can be enjoying the literal fruits of our labors year-round.

Through this process, I also developed a greater understanding of what truly motivates me. Being outdoors, enjoying time with others, and creating something tangible and useful are all things that make me feel good. Any goals or resolutions I set should include some or all of these if I want to increase my chances of success.

So this year, as you sit down to write your own resolutions or hopes for the year, think about what brings you joy and contentment, what IS working in your life, and find ways to do more of those things.

© Copyright 2013 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Erika Myers, MS, MEd, LPC, NCC, Family Therapy Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • kim

    January 3rd, 2013 at 5:32 PM

    its true..thinking in terms of what I have not been able to do often makes me feel sore about would be better to think of my strengths..maybe I can list them out and see how each strength can help in attaining the goals I want to.weird how just thinking a different way about the same thing can have such a different impact.time to test this practically.thank you for this.

  • Cyndi

    January 3rd, 2013 at 8:31 PM

    A delightful story, thought-provoking, and very inspiring. What a wonderful present you’ve given to me (and also for my family)! Thank you for sharing!

  • Micah

    January 4th, 2013 at 2:24 AM

    I LOVE THIS!! I had never thought of resolutions this way and it makes so much sense. Thanks for bringing a new perspective to this tradition!

  • marcia

    January 4th, 2013 at 2:27 AM

    Man, I don’t even know what worked last year, I’m so used to thinking about what I did wrong. This will really help me because I’ll have to think of something in a new way. I love being challenged and having to look at a situation in a new way. Hmmm…what did work for me?

  • r cash

    January 4th, 2013 at 2:31 AM

    Last year was one of enormous change for me, so it’s kind of hard to tell what I should expand on in the new year. I guess I did handle the change well, so maybe it could be more of a shift in attitude when faced with something new. Rather than thinking about all of the obstacles and dealing with self-doubt in terms of dealing with the obstacles, maybe I could feel a sense of confidence knowing I dealt well with a great deal of change.

  • Calvin

    January 4th, 2013 at 2:32 AM

    Yay! A new tool for my therapy toolbox! I can’t wait to try this with my clients…

  • Ronald

    January 4th, 2013 at 4:05 AM

    I will try to do better in 2013 in highlighting the positive and not worrying so much about the negative but the whole thought of making a resolution kind of feels very backwards and self defeating FOR ME. Setting this kind of broad goals for themselves at the beginning of the new year is a great motivator to get and stay focused for many, but for me, once I slip a little and have to start over, typically there is no starting over. I feel like a failure and say that I can’t do it. Not so much about being positive, eh? So being more positive, yes I think I can and will try that. But not under the banner of a new year’s resolution, simply a lifestyle change that I need to make.

  • ian

    January 5th, 2013 at 4:29 AM

    don’t go thru life like me always being a glass half empty guy

  • Erika

    January 7th, 2013 at 7:53 AM

    @ Ronald – I think framing it as a lifestyle change sounds like a great idea. You are not alone in feeling so defeated by slip ups – that’s why so many people struggle with resolutions and change in general. Sounds like looking for strengths and celebrating successes could be impactful for you.

    @rcash – good for you for finding the positive in the midst of challenges. Sometimes simply surviving big changes is cause for great celebration – I know I’ve had days where I feel like the fact that I’m still standing at the end of it is a pretty big victory.

    @ ian – you do have the power to change your perspective. When you find yourself focused on the negative, see if you can find a silver lining. It takes practice, but expressing gratitude daily (even for small things) can have a powerful impact on your overall outlook.

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