7 Ways that New Year’s Resolutions Can Sabotage Your Success

Failed ResolutionsThinking about making some resolutions for the New Year?

Unless you’ve been seriously planning and preparing for the change you have in mind, making New Year’s resolution can sabotage your success.

Here’s why, and what to do instead.

1.Hastily formed resolutions tend to be counterfeit goals.  The goals you’re most likely to reach are the ones that come from your heart.   Too often, when we set resolutions just because it’s the New Year, we’re basing them on the “shoulds,” the things we think we ought to do.  We end up choosing the goals that our culture, or that a partner or parent, child or boss thinks we ought to adopt.

2.The timing is faulty.  However fun they may be, the holidays take us away from our comfortable patterns and routines.  They create stress—whether it’s of the positive or negative variety—and burn up a lot of energy.  Trying to jump headlong into a whole new pattern of behavior plunges us into more stress and sets us up for failure.

3.They don’t allow time for thinking things through.  Successful  life change needs to be built on a foundation of thoughtful visualization, preparation and planning.  What will you need in order to make it happen?  What resources? Time? Support?  Information? Where will you start?  Adopting a goal to change a fundamental part of your life without this kind of preparation is like building a sand castle at the ocean’s edge.  It’s sure to wash away the moment the tide turns.

4.They prompt you to take drastic action.  New Year’s resolutions tend to come with a big bag of magical thinking.  We expect that we’ll wake up January 1 with the power to accomplish whatever we set out minds to.  Yesterday you craved chocolate.  Today you can easily let it go.  Yesterday you spent three hours on Facebook.  Today you’ll read a book instead.  You expect to be able to leap from couch potato to exercise fanatic in a single bound.  But real change happens in tiny increments, one small, consistent action at a time.

5.They don’t give you a chance to form a complete picture.  When you pick a resolution out of a hat at the last minute, you don’t have time to think about all the ways your life will be different or how it will effect and involve key relationships in your life.  The ability to hold in your mind a vivid, well-crafted image of what it is you want to be or do is a key success factor in life change.

6.They rely too heavily on will power.  Analysis of thousands of surveys of personal strengths name will power as the strength most likely to come in at the very bottom of the list.  Even people who are gifted with a big helping of it need to apply additional abilities in order to achieve significant personal transformations.

7.They undermine future efforts.  Because, on some level, you know our resolutions aren’t really going to work, making them is a kind of sneaky way to let yourself off the hook for planning real changes that could benefit your life.  “I tried that last January,” you’ll be able to say. “It’s no use; I can’t do it.”

What to Do Instead

The New Year is a wonderful time to review your life and consider what you could do to bring more zest, joy, satisfaction and meaning to it.

The essential question to ask, of course, is “What do I really want?” And while you may not know exactly what that is or what form you would want it to take, chances are you have a general sense its direction.  And that general sense is what you can profitably adopt as your guideline for the new year.

Identify what you aspire to, rather than what, specifically, you will achieve.

How to Set a Direction

In the past couple of years, I’ve experimented with choosing a key word for my year instead of setting goals.  It’s an idea that I’ve noticed is catching on.   It keeps you focused while allowing you a measure of spontaneity.  It lets serendipity enter into the picture.

Personally, last year I decided that I wanted to encourage myself to take more risks, to be more daring.  So I adopted the phrase “Why not!”  And it has served me well.  It’s let me try new things and to push past procrastination, fear and hesitancy when I didn’t know if I could master a challenge.

One increasingly successful man I know shared that he chose the word “Leadership” for his guide word last year.  The year before, he’d chosen “Business Education.”

The word that I’ve chosen for 2014 is “mindful,” and I’m excited to see what new vistas will open for me as I let it remind me how I want to be.

You can use the list below to help you hone in on your own preferred direction, and then come up with your personal guide word from there.

When I reviewed lists of the most popular New Year’s resolutions, I discovered that they fell into twelve main categories.  As you read through them, notice which ones set off a spark for you.  Which ones seem to be calling to you most strongly?

  • Adventure/Recreation: Have More Fun; Travel; Explore; Sports; Play
  • Business/Career Development: Leadership, Productivity, Creativity, Career Change
  • Community/Service: Volunteering, Political Action, Participation in Clubs, Organizations
  • Family: Spend More Time With Spouse/Partner/Family
  • Finances: Reduce Debt; Save More; Earn More
  • Happiness: Enjoy Life More, More Down Time
  • Health/Fitness: Better Diet/Exercise/Sleep/Drop Harmful Habits
  • Home: Beautify/Organize
  • Learning: Read More, Take Classes
  • Image: Improve Wardrobe, Grooming
  • Personal Development/Spirituality: Develop self-knowledge, practice self-growth techniques/enhanced spiritual awareness, spiritual/religious practice
  • Social Life/Relationships: Build more, deeper friendships/More Time Enjoying with Others

Narrow your list down to about three, then choose the one that draws you most strongly.  A year from now, how would you feel if you had let that category shape your life, if you had let it be your focus for the entire year?  What word or phrase can you use to represent that idea for you, to set your direction for the year ahead?

Devotion, Not Discipline

“People think I’m disciplined,” said world-famous opera star Luciano Pavarotti.   “It is not discipline. It is devotion. There is a great difference.”

Discipline arises from your will.  Devotion comes from your heart.

When you choose a direction because it sings to you, because it shines so brightly in your mind, you can give yourself to it with a sort of consecration, a dedication based in its deep meaning for you. In the face of the inevitable setbacks and deviations from your path, devotion to your chosen direction will call you back to it.

It will bring you joy in your efforts and make your sense of purpose strong.

So if you must make a resolution at all, resolve to identify a direction to follow.  Then carve out the time to discover which path most clearly calls from your heart.  It can make all the difference in the world.

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Would you like some support in finding and following your direction?  Let’s talk!  My specialty is coaching people get to the heart of their dreams and then to make them come true.

If you enjoyed this article, do share!

You may also enjoy: If Wishes Were Horses: How to Make Real Change Happen in Your Life and If You Want to Change Your Life

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Finding Meaning in Your Life

Finding MeaningIf  you got to this page because you were searching for an article on finding meaning, chances are you’re feeling dissatisfied with your life in some way, as if it should be more than it is.

Maybe you’re lonely or feeling empty, or insignificant.  That’s what meaning is, a feeling of personal significance, a feeling that your life matters, that you’re important in some way.

You are.  You do.   That’s the bottom line.

Need more convincing?  Read on.

Four Things to Know About Meaning

First of all, you’re not alone in looking for meaning in your life.  All the Big Brains who study and research and contemplate meaning agree that, on some level, every single one of us searches for it.  We all want to know that there’s some purpose for our being here.

Meaning, says psychologist Michael F. Steger, Ph.D., lets us make sense of our lives and lets us live purposefully in the world.  “Meaning,” he says, “is a unique expression of what makes us human, and what makes us great when we’re at our best.  The data from four decades of research are clear, meaning matters.”

Secondly, you matter to you If you didn’t, you wouldn’t even be looking for answers.  You wouldn’t care about relieving the pain of your loneliness, or your dissatisfaction, or your sense of insignificance.  Let yourself say this to the person reading these words:  “I matter to me.”

You’re important to yourself, too.  You’ve set everything else aside right now just to search for some understanding, comfort and healing.  You’ve let yourself be your top priority.  Own it: “I’m important to me.”

A third thing to know about meaning is that it isn’t the same thing as happiness, or success, or fulfillment, or being loved.   You can experience your life as meaningful even in the midst of great sadness, or failure, or loneliness, or pain.  You still matter; you’re still important.  There’s still a reason for your being.

“But what is that reason?” you may cry back to me.

Well, that’s where things get a little complicated.  I can tell you my personal answer and I can tell you about the reasons that others have suggested, but in the end, you have to discover your answer for yourself.  Because the final thing to know about your life’s meaning is that it’s personalized.  Your reason for being may be the same as mine.  But it may be different, too.  You get to decide.   Meaning isn’t something that the outside world gives you.  It’s something that your life offers you through the living of it.

How to Find Your Meaning

Viktor Frankl, a psychiatrist from the last century who probably thought about meaning more than anybody else ever has, said that we can find meaning in three ways.

The first way is through creating something or doing some kind of activity or work.   The second way is through engagement with the world or with another person.  And the third way is by taking an attitude of defiance toward suffering.

Defiance Toward Suffering

Let’s start with the last one first.  If you’re suffering, just by finding this article you were exercising your defiance of your pain.  You had already made up your mind not to let it rob you of your meaning.   You had chosen to rise above your pain, to be greater than it.  And you were doing more than that, too.  You were exercising courage and the will to keep on keeping on.  Both of those qualities are personal strengths and clues to what gives your life meaning.  You’re saying, “I’m important to me.  I matter.”

I knew a woman who suffered from an incurable disease that slowly paralyzed her body.  When it forced her to retire from her work, she vowed that she would do at least one useful or creative thing every day.  And she did, and it gave her life meaning.

Toward the end, the only creative thing she could do was smile.  And she did that, too, every day.

She used her ability to accomplish something to defy her pain and suffering.  What a valiant spirit!

Finding Meaning through Work and Activity

In his beautiful  article on finding meaning through work and activity, minister Lee Woofenden offers this explanation for the way that our work contributes to our life’s meaning:

“…our most real and human aspect is the love and understanding that forms our mind or spirit. This is what makes us truly human. And the world of our thoughts and feelings is the one that we inhabit most intensely and deeply.

“And yet . . . if our thoughts and feelings have no means of expression, they also lack a certain sense of reality. It is not enough for us to simply feel strong feelings and think enlightened thoughts. We humans have an innate drive to express those thoughts and feelings through our words and actions, and in our relationships with our environment and our fellow human beings.”

It’s the physical expression of our inner spirit, Woofenden says, that allows us to feel fulfilled.

I heartily invite you to read his entire article for deeper insight.

“Work” doesn’t necessarily mean the job you do for a living, of course.  It can mean gardening, washing the car, or sweeping the floor.  But it does also mean your job.  And if you think that what you do for a living isn’t meaningful, you might benefit from looking at it a little differently.  Try seeing how what you do fits into the bigger picture, how it has its place in a complex organization that, in some way, helps your fellow man.

Whatever work you’re doing, the more of yourself you can put into it, the more meaningful it will be for you.

Engaging with Life and People

Psychologists who are studying the ways that a sense of meaning shows up in our lives are discovering that when you ask people what was meaningful to them in the past couple of days, they’ll name times when they were doing things they enjoyed, whether that was a solitary hobby or having lunch with a friend.

It’s often the moments of simple pleasure that make our lives feel worthwhile.

“Finding meaning in life can be exciting when you bestow loving focus, attention and care on to what you do,” writes Naveena Gerrits  in her wonderfully helpful article on engaging in meaningful activities.

She provides a big clue to extracting meaning in that sentence: give your activities your loving focus, attention and care.

Doing that will keep you rooted in the present and help you enter the flow state, that space where you’re so engaged that you lose all track of time.

If you want to find a path to meaning that suits your personality and style, Gerrits’ article is a fabulous place to go for suggestions.  She lists dozens and dozens of activities you might explore, broken down into the headings:

  • Creative Forms of Expression
  • Hobbies  – Work – Career
  • Ethics – Contribution – Society
  • Environment – Nature – Cosmos
  • Relationships – Family – Home
  • Spirituality – Religion – Philosophy

The Ultimate Meaning

Throughout the ages, humans have been trying to find the meaning of life.  The ultimate reason for our being is one of life’s ultimate mysteries.  The answer you choose to the question, “Why are we here?” like the answer to finding the meaning in your own life, is a personal matter and depends, in large part, on your spiritual or philosophical orientation.

You may even decide that, because it has no one-size-fits-all answer, the only honest answer is “Beats me!”  It’s too big a question for most of us.

But “What makes my life worthwhile?” is a question that hits home for us all.  Your answer may change as your life changes.  You may find it in relationships today, in your work tomorrow, or in overcoming suffering at some point along the way.  Think of discovering the meaning in your life as a day by day adventure.

Every day, try to do something that gives you a sense of satisfaction, achievement, relatedness, contribution or pleasure.  Let your personal interests guide you in finding them and experiment from time to time with new things.  You can print out a copy of Gerrit’s list or bookmark it and review it every now and then for ideas.

Increase the attention you give to your health, too – to the quality of your nutrition, to giving yourself adequate amounts of hydration, exercise and sleep.   The healthier you are, the easier it is to feel zest for life.

Take the VIA (Values in Action) Survey and learn what your highest personal strengths are.  Then find ways that you can use them more often and in different applications in your life.

Try keeping a gratitude journal to increase your awareness of the things that let you feel good about being alive today.

And every day, tell yourself “I’m important to me.  I matter.”  Because you are, and you do.

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Our site has a wealth of articles that can help you live a more meaningful, flourishing life.  Browse through the topics in the Article Index while you’re here and see all that’s available to you. And pick up a copy of our free Quick Start Guide to Fabulous Well Being for more easy and powerful ways to enrich your life.  Just fill in your email at the top right of this page.


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Are We Having Fun Yet? The Power of Humor and Playfulness

PlayfulnessIf you’re one of the lucky ones who rank high in the personal strength of humor and playfulness, chances are good you’ve had your fun and giggles today.   Good for you!  And good for the rest of us, too–because you brighten our slightly dimmer worlds.

If, on the other hand, you take life and your roles in it with a strong dose of grown-up seriousness, you may want to seriously consider adding more fun to your days.  Here’s why.


The Benefits of Grown-Up Playfulness

The idea that cheerfulness is good medicine has been around for centuries.  You have probably heard about the healing role that comedy and laughter can play in cancer recovery, and that cheerfulness contributes to a healthier heart.

But it turns out that an attitude of playfulness comes with a barrel full of benefits in addition to its medicinal value. In face, empirical evidence shows that it’s related to:

  • increased flow experiences
  • enhanced teamwork
  • greater creativity and spontaneity
  • better quality of life
  • decreased computer anxiety
  • more positive attitudes towards the workplace, job satisfaction and performance,
  • more innovative behavior, and
  • higher academic achievement


How to Lighten Up

Everybody ranks differently in terms of their personal strengths.  But all of us can build any strength that we focus on.  It’s really just a matter of making the decision and committing a little bit of regular time. And what could be more fun than learning to have more fun?

If you’re not inclined to playfulness in your daily life, you can find ways to add more fun to your days in ways that are comfortable for you.  Not all playfulness involves bubbling exuberance or silliness.  Experts in playfulness say that it comes in five different flavors – spontaneous and impulsive, expressive, creative, fun, and silly.  Pick one to cultivate that suits your personal style.

If the idea of being more spontaneous appeals to you, for instance, you might consider joining an improvisation class.  In his article “What I Learned from Improv Class,” blogger Scott Berkun busts some myths about Improv (“It’s not about being funny.”  “You don’t have to be a natural performer.”  “It’s not hard to learn.”) and makes the experience sound wonderfully worthwhile.

If you lean toward introversion, look for activities that let you combine playfulness with your sense of beauty and appreciation and find yourself splashing along a shore at sunset, or blowing soap bubbles out the window or at the park.  Spend time with your pet, or cuddle up with some Mark Twain or a comedy film.

If you’re a people-lover, put together a group or find a friend who enjoys similar hobbies or interests.  You can check out meetup.com to find existing groups in your locale that may appeal to you.  Join a laughter yoga group.  Or round up some neighborhood kids and head for the park.

Playfulness for you might involve sports or games, playing music or engaging in one of the arts or in a craft.  Look for classes or workshops in things that interest you.  If you enjoy music, for instance, take learn to play an instrument.  Join a choir, or a Sweet Adeline group, or a barbershop quartet.

Ask yourself what’s fun, and do more of it.  If you can’t think of anything, take a little trip back to your childhood for ideas.  How did you have fun when you were ten?  Could you do that now, or some version of it?

For more ideas, visit a craft or hobby shop, or an art supply store.  Wander down the aisles of a toy store and see what’s there.  Take home a few things to play with.

 Where to Start

The best way to begin adding more humor and playfulness to your life is to set an intention when you wake in the morning to see the humorous side of things and to let yourself be more playful.   In other words, make a commitment to lightening up.

Try stepping back from your day now and then and imagining that what’s going on around you is a scene from a sit-com.  See that irritating coworker, for instance, as one of its characters.

Go on a comedy binge.  Read funny books and joke books.  Go to comedy clubs.  Watch comedy movies and TV.   Train your mind to see what’s funny in everyday situations.

Humor and playfulness alleviate life’s monotony and give us perspective.  They provide us with the moments of pleasure that make our lives feel more meaningful and worthwhile.   We don’t, after all, call it “lightening up” for nothing.

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If you found this article worthwhile, please click one of the social buttons to share it.

And for more powerful ways to live a flourishing life, be sure to grab your free copy of our Quick Start Guide to Fabulous Living from the top of this page.

This article is one in a continuing series on positive psychology’s 24 character strengths.  To find the others, go to our Article Index and scroll down to, “Strengths, Individual.”

You may also enjoy “The Positive Power of Play” and “Raging Positivity: How to Be Happy Through and Through.”

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Ordinary Meaning: Finding Your Purpose in Life

Finding MeaningIf you secretly cringe at the suggestion that you need to find your capital-P Purpose in life, you’re not alone.  Ask a hundred guys on the street to tell you their life’s Purpose and, chances are, you’ll get a hundred blank stares.

Nevertheless, the idea that each of us has some unique and specific reason for being permeates the whole of our culture.   We’re taught that until we discover our Purpose and devote our lives to fulfilling it, we have no hope of living a truly significant or life.

Happily, new research by University of Missouri psychology professor Dr. Laura A. King into the meaning of life’s meaning is putting that notion in its place.  People all over the world, it turns out, find their lives meaningful whether they’re following some grand purpose or not.  In fact, the new studies indicate, life has meaning built right in.

Meaning isn’t some lofty ideal that’s experienced only by an elite, privileged few.  It’s an automatic part of everybody’s life, tucked right into our ordinary day-to-day living.  

That doesn’t mean that identifying purpose in your life is a waste of time.  Far from it.  The reason that we’re encouraged to find purpose in the first place is because having a sense of purpose contributes so much to the meaningfulness of life.   But the new research does give us a broader perspective as we explore its place in our lives.

Why Purpose Matters

Having a purpose promotes goal-directed living.  When you know what you’re striving to accomplish with your life, you have a sense of direction.  You spend less time on things that don’t matter; you’re more focused.

Having a purpose infuses your life with more passion. It gives you reasons to get out of bed in the morning.

But above all, striving toward a purpose gives your life a sense of meaning.  And the bottom line is that it’s meaning we’re truly seeking.

If you have a strong sense of meaning in your life, says meaning expert Dr. Michael Steger of Colorado State University, “you’re much more likely to feel pleasing emotions like love, joy, and vitality.  On top of that, you’re more likely to be satisfied with your life, and more accepting and satisfied with yourself. In addition, you’re more likely to feel like you have an active hand in shaping your own life, and are likely looking forward to a bright future.”

Dr. King agrees.  People who rate their lives as meaningful, she says, are better off than those who don’t.  They have a higher quality of life, better physical and mental health, slower age decline, less Altzhiemers, better coping abilities, heightened occupational assessment, longer lives, and are more socially appealing.

During times of challenge, having a sense of meaning and purpose can help you weather the storm and see things in the context of your life-story.   As Dr. Steger says this in his article about facing the loss of your job:

Nietzsche had another saying, “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.”  If you have created, discovered, invested, and fostered meaning in your life, momentary – even severe – set-backs take their proper place in your life. You can take perspective and see that these challenges fit into the greater story of your life, and that your story intertwines with the stories of the people you love.  Your life can be bigger than the setbacks; your story can be bigger than your life.

According to the VIA (Values in Action) Character Strengths Survey™, having a sense of purpose is a part of the strength of Spirituality.  When you rank high in it, you’re told that, “You have strong and coherent beliefs about the higher purpose and meaning of the universe. You know where you fit in the larger scheme. Your beliefs shape your actions and are a source of comfort to you.”

That definition takes purposefulness into the metaphysical realm.  From this perspective, it’s more than just knowing what you want to accomplish; it involves a set of beliefs about the meaning of the universe itself and your place in it.

For many of us, that’s a tall order, and outside the scope of our interests.  And it’s this exalted view of meaning that Dr. King’s work addresses, bringing the topic of meaning back to the ground.

Built-In Meaning

Meaning isn’t always something that we have to stop and create or construct, Dr. King said in a recent private teleseminar.  It’s something that can happen to us, that can emerge from the world.  It can come from unexpected places to sit in our lives of its own accord, as happens with intuitions and synchronicities that spontaneously guide and confirm us, often in significant ways.   Then it’s just a matter of noticing something that’s signaling us about something that we need to know.

The world, says Dr. King, is not inherently meaningless.  It’s characterized by natural regularity, by associations between events that have importance to us.   Rats in labs, to take a simple example, learn that pressing a bar when a light turns on means food will appear.  Their readiness to learn about associations shows that the natural world is not chaotic or random.  The reliability of such associations is necessary to their survival – and to ours.

When over 100,000 people in 32 nations were asked if their lives had meaning, 91% of them said yes, they did.  And the biggest percentage of those who agreed lived in the impoverished nation of Sierra Leone.   The ability to find meaningful connections is more important when it is plainly necessary to survival, says Dr. King.

That’s the adaptive problem that the feeling of meaningfulness solves: the connection between events.

The body is wired to make reliable connections from an environment that is filled with them in the same way that it’s filled with oxygen.  The meaningful associations are everywhere, all the time.  Meaning tracks the presence of the world making sense, Dr. King says, and it comes in on a non-conscious level, an intuitive level that serves adaptation.

We, as human beings, are lucky that we get to recognize meaning for what it is, to feel it.  We understand that the convergence of things matters.

Everyday Purpose and Meaning

Whether your daily activities are in service of some higher purpose that you have identified for yourself or are simply the routines you do to get through the day, the web of meaning is always operating for you, revealing the connections that are available to help you fulfill your intentions.

In fact, Dr. King’s research shows a positive correlation between a routinized life and feeling a sense of meaning.

You are a living part of the web of connections that arises from an inherently meaningful world.  It will trigger meaningful associations for you whether your purpose is to cure cancer or simply to figure out what’s for dinner.

Dr. King’s research also shows that the strongest predictor of whether a day feels like it was meaningful is the simple experience of pleasure that day.  When you ask people what the most meaningful events of their lives are, they list the same kinds of things:  the prom, graduation, marriage, childbirth.  But when you ask them about the most meaningful things in the last two days, they tell you about everyday events they enjoyed—like chatting with a friend about a problem over lunch.

Meaning isn’t something that you have to work for, Dr. King says.  Notice the simple pleasures in your life.  When you’re enjoying life, it feels more meaningful.

But notice, too, she advises, the range of emotions you feel.  Sadness, loss, and grief can be meaningful, too.  In fact, the richly emotional life is often the most meaningful one in the long run, the one that contains both the highs and the lows.

And above all, notice the magic and the connections.  In the end, Dr. King says, we’re born into a world that makes sense.

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If you found this article worthwhile, please click one of the social buttons to share it.

And for more powerful ways to add meaning to your life, be sure to grab your free copy of our Quick Start Guide to Fabulous Living from the top of this page.

This article is one in a continuing series on positive psychology’s 24 character strengths.  To find the others, go to our Article Index and scroll down to, “Strengths, Individual.”

You may also enjoy “How to Live a Meaningful Life.”

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Living with Heart: Hope, Optimism and Future-Mindedness

“The very least you can do in your life is figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof.”  ~Barbara Kingsolver, Animal Dreams


Of all the character strengths, one of my very favorites is the strength of “hope, optimism, and future-mindedness.”   When you have hope, when you believe there’s a reason to keep on, your life takes on a luster and an energy that encourages you even on the darkest days.

I’m talking about hope as a noun, a state of being.  Yes, sometimes it has an object attached to it and acts like a verb:  I hope he wins.  I hope it doesn’t rain.  But even then, what we’re really saying is that we have hope inside us, that it’s active in our lives.

Hope is a kind of positive expectancy that things will turn out well.  It believes that good outcomes are possible, even against all odds.  And it believes that even when the outcome we wanted doesn’t materialize, we’ll eventually discover that, in the long run. our disappointments contribute to our greater good.

The creators of positive psychology’s Character Strengths Survey describe someone who scores high in hope, optimism and future-mindedness this way:  “You expect the best in the future, and you work to achieve it. You believe that the future is something that you can control.”

The future is a pretty big place.  Maybe believing that we can influence it is a safer bet than believing we can control it.  But hope and optimism definitely give us stronger cards to play, and they motivate us to take the actions we can to bring our influence to bear.

How to Build Hope

If you’re a bit low on hope right now, I have good news for you.  Hope, like all the character strengths, is a bit like a muscle.  Give it some attention and exercise, and you can build it up.

Hope expert Dr. Anthony Scioli suggests five strategies for building hope:

  1. Set Goals.  Pick something that you would like to accomplish.  It doesn’t have to be anything big, just something you think is within your capabilities that you would feel good about accomplishing. Having a goal gives you some clarity in your life and a sense of purpose.
  2. Enjoy Good Relationships.  From your list of family members and acquaintances, pick one or two with whom you can be open, who won’t make you feel guarded or defensive.  As one of your goals, make a decision to spend time with them once or twice a week, even its just for a good chat on the phone.
  3. Manage Your Stress.  Dr. Scioli suggests that you identify your preferred way of coping with stress:  “Problem solving, seeking support from others, praying, planning in advance, or avoidance.”  Then, he suggests, “make a commitment to practice one or two strategies that are not part of your normal coping repertoire.
  4. Deepen Your Spirituality.  What feels spiritual to you?  Spending time in communion with your God, or higher power?  Involvement in a social organization?  Being with good friends?  Think about ways that you can spend more of your time in this area to build your sense of faith in life’s goodness.
  5. Develop a Personal Mission Statement.  What would you name as the central theme for your life?  What would give you a sense of purpose and meaning?  Accomplishing some larger goal?  Mastering a skill?  Serving others in some way?  Dr. Scioli suggests placing your written statement in a visible place to motivate you when life threatens to get the best of you.

Other practices that can help you build your hope muscle include:

  • Taking care of your health:  It’s a lot easier to feel hope when you’re full of vitality.  Get enough sleep and exercise, eat wholesome, unprocessed foods, and keep yourself well-hydrated.
  • Watching your self-talk:  Practice noticing what’s right in your life, what’s good in a situation, how well you did something, what traits you appreciate in yourself.  Learn to pat yourself on the back now and then.
  • Practicing gratitude:  It will help you notice the goodness that surrounds you and to develop your sense of life’s bounteousness and opportunities.
  • Practicing self-compassion:  Learn to be kinder and less blaming toward yourself.  Become your own best friend and supporter.  Give yourself credit for your efforts and positive attributes.
  • Accepting personal responsibility: When you accept that you’re in charge of creating your future success, you hopefulness naturally increases.
  • Keeping in motion:  Hope thrives on action.  Keep moving toward your goals.

Cultivating Optimism

Hope and optimism are strongly related.  Optimism actively looks for the good in situations, people, and things.  Optimism greases the wheels of hope and keeps it rolling.

Luckily, Dr. Martin Seligman, one of the founders of positive psychology, researched optimism in depth and describes what separates the optimist from his negative cousin in his book, Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life.

You can check out my article, How to Make Your Optimism Soar, to learn how to incorporate more of this hopeful viewpoint into your life.

Why Bother?

We live in fast-paced, challenging, often distressful times.  When you look around the world and see all the problems, it’s easy to lose your senses of optimism and hope.  The potential for doom can easily eclipse our perception of the powerful potential for triumph that exists as well.

Cultivating your own personal sense of hope and optimism is one way you can help tip the balance in a positive direction.  You can use this strength to help make the most of your own life, to motivate you toward greater creativity, service and productiveness, and that’s one more life well-lived.

And besides, it makes life a lot more fun. We used to call it “living with heart.”

To send you off with a taste of it, here’s a song extolling its virtue, from the 1958 movie, “Damn Yankees.”

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