A Kinder Take on New Year’s Resolutions Using Positive Psychology



We all engage in goal setting.

Historically, we do more of this as we approach the New Year.

I like to look at resolutions as wolf-like goals, but in sheep’s clothing. They are every bit as challenging to accomplish; perhaps even more so, because they are often vague, unstructured and have limited context. As we’ve discussed previously, goals can help or hurt us — depending on their inherent ability to energize us. As a workplace strategist, I’ve incessantly advised clients to refine or even lose goals that no longer serve them. Why? Goals can actually let us down and fail to direct our behavior in a meaningful way.

Resolutions often fall prey to this same malaise. So, I’m wondering — can we craft resolutions that are better for us?

One promising strategy, is to apply what we already know about positive psychology to the process. With roots in humanistic psychology, positive psychology theorizes that we have the power to re-frame our life experiences to help us become more positive and productive.

Goals & resolutions could stand some re-framing right now. So, let’s pull that thread & throw in something potentially useful.

Consider the following passage:

“Positive psychology is…a call for psychological science and practice to be as concerned with strength as with weakness; as interested in building the best things in life as in repairing the worst; and as concerned with making the lives of normal people fulfilling as with healing pathology,” – Christopher Peterson

We could re-cast resolutions (and goals in general) with a nod toward what has gone right and not wrong. As we look toward the future, we might recognize what has worked over the past year — taking the time to remind ourselves of what we have accomplished. To acknowledge all of the positive steps we have forged, even if the end-state has not been reached. This might provide the fuel that we need to protect energy and build resilience.

So — ask yourself: What has brought you some measure of accomplishment recently? Have you overlooked some of the good? Have you cast a shadow over the small successes?

We should take a second look and consider that sustaining energy requires that we actively acknowledge all of our effort. That we acknowledge how small steps have power and can prove instrumental. That we make progress in ways that are often subtle, yet foundational.

Step 1.

Carefully consider a previous goal or resolution — and take a second look at what you have done to achieve it. (Offer yourself credit, for your efforts). If this is something new, skip to Step 2.

  • Draft a list of all of the steps already taken.
  • Do not apply a value judgement as grounds for inclusion.
  • Be sure your list is complete. All steps are progress. No step too small.
  • Now, what was obviously successful?
  • What steps may not have been entirely successful, yet had real value, after a second look? Why?
  • What have you learned from detours, failures or disappointments?
  • How have you managed to actively recover and continue to move forward? (This is also a success.)
  • How did the acquired knowledge in general, inform your journey?

Step 2

Write down your goal/resolution. Craft behaviorally-anchored steps for the future which build upon progress noted in Step 1. Be sure to integrate what you have learned from previous highs and lows. If this is a new goal or resolution, try to improve upon any broad sweeping statements such as “be healthier” or “beaming an influencer”. Be specific. Think of yourself actively engaging in goal-directed behavior.

  • What have you already done to prepare for this new endeavor? (Give your self credit for: A shift in mindset, learning from your mistakes, etc.)
  • What will you actually be doing to achieve this going forward?
  • What are the specific steps you will take?
  • Describe these steps . Verbs should figure prominently in your plan: reading, seeking, calling, contacting, developing, etc.
  • Add specificity to every single action.
  • Celebrate each step as it is accomplished,

For example, if your broader resolution is “becoming an influencer” — you should note all discrete steps that may contribute to success, applying the specificity rule. For example: ” I will submit 2 pitches a week, to these 4 media outlets for potential articles/posts.”

Consider the following as positive steps, which are often overlooked & are often uncredited.

  • Communication Channels. Establishing information networks to support your journey (joining a group, seeking guidance from a professional, engaging with social media).
  • Strategy preparation. Engaging with books, podcasts & articles to explore strategies.
  • The Deep Work. Taking steps to shift your outlook or mindset to support your journey.
  • The Everyday Work. Aligning your goal/resolution with specific habits or daily rituals.

Remember that progress is often synonymous with a collection of small steps — which occur with little fanfare. (I’ve lived this. In 2010, I made a resolution to establish myself as a work life write writer. It was pain-staking, but I tried to revel in the small successes along the way.)

It may be high time — to offer those steps the glory they deserve.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist and a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her Core Coaching Series — helps people & organizations build a stronger work life foundation. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in the Harvard Business Review, Forbes, BBC Work Life, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

7 thoughts on “A Kinder Take on New Year’s Resolutions Using Positive Psychology

  1. Happy New Year Marla,

    Love your work and wisdom. Affirming as it is I’m not sure this process brings me resolution or clarity anymore, as I always seem amazed in retrospect by my enthusiasm to generate a future oriented personal/work goal(s) and detail such plans of attainment, only to capitulate and fall back into the chasms of my own mediocrity by midyear or sooner. Is it some innate hardwired predicate or my perceived lack of discipline and control that I continually slip back into those ruts of reality? Is it a question of nature vs. nurture or perception vs. prescription? Seems to me at least from my past experiences in the workplace that “Leadership ADHD” and a “Chronic Lack of Cultural Vision” are a few of the contributing factors to much of the malaise that has sent me back into the negative feedback loops of internal corporate competition & job survival. Corporate Cultural Apathy is an epidemic sweeping across many organizational landscapes today and is mirrored in many social media forums. Equality of outcome over opportunity is the heralds cry of the day so it seems. Chaos along with the ambiguity of constant change manifested in environments requiring the constant epiphanies of creation come with a heavy social and personal price. Individual responsibility along with emotional intelligence and a healthy dose of empathy would go a long way in making our workplaces powerhouses of personal and corporate goal attainment. Sorry for the ramble, wishing you a New Year be filled with Peace, Prosperity & of course MORE KINDNESS.

    Liked by 1 person

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