Many New Year’s resolutions fail because they focus on fixing or changing ourselves. There is a better way to start anew.
The start of a New Year often comes with the promise of a New You. Come January 1st – perhaps nursing a headache from the festivities the night before – and we vow to eat well, exercise more, go to bed earlier, quit this, and change that. While goals can be a helpful motivator, often when we try to fix our weaknesses or set the bar high, we fail.
'How many of your New Year's resolutions have been about fixing a flaw?' asks Jonathan Haidt, author of The Happiness Hypothesis. 'And how any of those resolutions have you made several years in a row?'
We fail because it’s very difficult to change our personality or the habits of a lifetime – and it’s also not very fun to continually focus on our flaws.
'If it is a weakness you choose to work on, you probably won't enjoy the process. If you don't find pleasure or reinforcement along the way, then – unless you have the willpower of Ben Franklin – you'll soon give up,' explained Haidt.
It turns out when we focus on improving our existing strengths, we flourish. Better yet, it actually changes our brain to make us happier and healthier. Harvard Business Review showed that once people focused on their strengths, they felt more satisfied with their lives and believed in new possibilities, rather than getting stuck in the ‘not good enough’ trap.
Haidt’s advice is to embrace imperfection and relinquish the need to be good at everything. 'Life offers so many chances to use one tool instead of another, and often you can use strength to get around a weakness.'
If you have trouble identifying your strengths, begin with a test such as Myers-Briggs, which will give you an overview of your personality or a positive psychology quiz such as those on Authentic Happiness.
You can also approach close friends, family and trusted colleagues for their thoughts. We can be our own worst critic, so often it helps to ask for an external opinion to discover what we are good at.
Now that you know where to find your strengths, you can make resolutions that build on them. To buck the trend of fixing ourselves, here is a collection of resolutions that are about improving what already enhances your life, not changing who you are.
1. Consume more enjoyable activities
Instead of working more to buy things you don’t need, look at how you can consume more of the things you love. As Haidt writes: 'Stop trying to keep up with the Joneses. Stop wasting your money on conspicuous consumption. As a first step, work less, earn less, accumulated less and “consume” more family time, vacations and other enjoyable activities.'
2. Read, watch, or listen more
Whether it’s seeing theatre, reading books, or listening to music or podcasts, commit to building on your existing passions and interests in 2017. Art has been proving to expand your view of the world, increase empathy, spark creativity and contribute to the good life – and the world needs more people engaged and informed.
3. Find out how much sleep you really need
The arts industry has a negative attitude to sleep – long hours are often expected and congratulated, and we wear our weariness as a sign of how hard we are working or our strong creative output.
But it’s so important to our daily functioning and the amount we need differs from person to person. While some people's natural biorhythms afford them less sleep, it’s important to figure out what works best for you.
Read: Be more productive: sleep
4. Test your ‘prime time’
Similar to how we all require various amounts of sleep, we all work differently and our energy and focus changes throughout the day. Spend a week monitoring your own energy levels to determine when you work best – is your mind clearest first thing in the morning? Do you have a burst of energy in the late afternoon? Are you a night owl? See if you can adjust when you attend to your most important tasks to fit in with this time of day.
5. Build on an existing skill
Why not get better at what you're already aceing? If you have a gift for public speaking and want to get better, try improvisation classes or Toast Masters. Take a dance class. Attend a book club. Be an observer and listen and go to talks at The Wheeler Centre or The School of Life.
6. Take a course to improve a creative passion
With a boom of short courses and workshops, you can hone any creative skill you can dream of in a weekend workshop or an ongoing classes. Make 2017 the time to build on or rediscover your talent.
7. Pursue experiences, not accomplishments
Say yes to things you’ve never tried before, pursue new experiences, meet new people, and try to diminish expectations in favour of learning and being with the moment.
8. Build in a pocket of creative time in your day
Even if it’s just ten minutes a day, commit to improving a creative pursuit – be it free form writing, practicing a musical instrument, or drawing.
9. Use procrastination to your advantage
There are two types of procrastinators: active and passive. Passive procrastinators are procrastinators in the traditional sense. They are paralysed by their indecision to act and fail to complete tasks on time.
In contrast, active procrastinators are a "positive" type of procrastinator. They prefer to work under pressure, and they make deliberate decisions to procrastinate in a finite and controlled way in order to be more productive or creative in the long term.
Use active procrastnation to help you digest ideas, feelings, concepts and come up with new ideas.
10. Do a review of the past year
We may be used to setting goals at the beginning of the year, but how often do we have a stocktake and review what went well? Make a list of your accomplishments, insights around how you made things happen, what didn’t go so well and why, where you improved, and so on to shape new goals for the year ahead.
Remember, focus on what you can do to get better in your work, personal life and creative practices, and make this a year where you stop trying to change yourself.
This story is from the ArtsHub archive.