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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The Power of Positive Leadership

power of positive leadershipPicture someone who’s a leader and chances are you’ll think of a corporate president, a military officer or political figure.  But the mom who is managing a household, or a coworker who’s in charge of a team, or the neighbor who shepherds a troop of Cub Scouts is a leader, too.

If leadership is one of your top personal strengths, the VIA Strengths Survey would tell you that you enjoy “encouraging a group to get things done and preserving harmony within the group by making everyone feel included. You do a good job organizing activities and seeing that they happen.”

From time to time, most of us end up in leadership positions of one kind or another.  And all of us can learn to lead well, and to exert the power of positive leadership.

In fact, it’s positivity that gives leadership its real power.   Read through lists of the qualities that good leaders possess and you’ll  find  characteristics such as:

  • Integrity, Honesty
  • Flexibity
  • Respectful
  • Quiet Confidence, Humility
  • Enthusiastic
  • Open-Minded
  • Open to Change
  • Trustworthy
  • Compassionate
  • Empowers Others, Supportive
  • Risk Taking
  • Sense of Humor

Good Leadership is Service

Len Petrancosta, from Pittsburgh’s Sandler Training by Peak Performance Management, Inc., told me that the primary benefit of leadership is “the satisfaction of helping people reach their full potential.”    And  helping people reach their full potential is exactly what a positive leader does.

Petrancosta and his colleagues train sales people, executives and managers to achieve their potential using a beautiful model called The Leadership Challenge® based on the best-selling book by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner.  The model teaches the five practices of good leaders, the ones that all of us can use to lead well, regardless of how humble our leadership roles may be.

  • First, good leaders identify the values that will guide their work and do their best to embody them.
  • Second, they hold a clear, high vision of what they want to achieve, of the best possibilities, and they communicate their vision to others.
  • Then comes the challenge of looking for opportunities and means to achieve their vision.  They purchasepropecia.net experiment and take risks; they try new avenues.  They evaluate the outcomes and make adjustments, building on small wins.
  • Fourth, good leaders build relationships within and between their teams.  They promote cooperation, build trust, and encourage self-determination and competence in their people.
  • And finally, they lead from the heart.  They recognize the efforts of others and express their appreciation.  They celebrate achievements and wins; they applaud excellence and adherence to values.  They acknowledge the cooperative efforts of everybody involved.

By following these practices, leaders serve both their purpose and their people.  They keep focused on what they want to achieve and about how they want to achieve it.  They understand the essential ‘Why’ behind all that they are doing.

Knowing Your Why

To be a great leader, knowing your ‘Why’ is essential.    Here’s how author and motivational speaker Simon Sinek, author of Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action explains it:

Knowing your ‘Why’ is working from the inside out.  It starts with your core values, what you care about most deeply.   And it moves right through the five leadership principles, serving as the foundation for them, and ending in celebration as your purpose is advanced and achieved.

That’s the place to begin.   When you’re leading your kids to cleaning their rooms, let them know it’s because you value beauty, cleanliness and order.  When you’re leading your sales force to achieve new records, remind them of the way your product serves its users and contributes to their lives.

That’s where the power of positive leadership resides: in serving your values and in helping others reach more of their own potential by joining in the effort.

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If you enjoyed this article please pass it on.  This is one in a continuing series of articles on positive psychology’s 24 character strengths.  To find the others, go to our Article Index and scroll down to, “Strengths, Individual.”

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The Excellence of Effort

Perseverance: Power Key to Success


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Perseverance – The Power Key to Success

Key to SuccessIn our instant-gratification, short-attention-span, multitasking world, we’ve lost sight of one core element of high achievement.   That element is perseverance – the power key to success.

The ability to keep on keeping on, even when our efforts are met with disappointment or failure, is an ability that can make all the difference in the world.  And that’s the definition of perseverance: to keep on keeping on.

It comes from being committed to your goal, and from believing in yourself and in your goal’s possibility.  It borrows strength from resilience and optimism and brushes elbows with courage along the way.

Listen to the story of anyone who has reached a significant goal and you’ll hear a drama about someone who had to rebound from setback after setback along the way.  There’s an old adage that says you can’t defeat a man who refuses to quit, and it’s as true today as when the words were first uttered.

Whether you’re working to master a skill that will qualify you for the next step up in your profession, or fielding interruptions from kids while you try to finish a household task, your success often hinges on your ability to refocus on your goal again and again.  To give it one more try, and then another, and another still, is to walk the path that leads to achievement.

Angela Duckworth and her colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania looked at a trait they call grit, a combination of perseverance and passion, the sustained and focused application of a talent over time.  And what their research indicates is that “the quality that distinguished star performers in their respective fields was not necessarily talent, but exceptional commitment to ambitions and goals.”

Perhaps more than any other quality, perseverance is what gets our projects out the door, lets us master our talents, and that turns dreams into living, breathing realities.

The Benefits of Perseverance

But perseverance does more for you than to help you master a skill or complete a project.  As great as those achievements are, the ability to keep on keeping on serves you in other ways as well.

  • It makes you trustworthy in other people’s eyes.  They know you won’t quit when an obstacle comes along.
  • It increases your sense of self-worth to take full ownership of the goal you set out to achieve.  You accept that your destiny is in your own hands.
  • Your commitment to your goal enhances its value for you and heightens your motivation.
  • It leads you  to unexpected discoveries and expands your knowledge, both about yourself and about the field of your endeavor.


How to Build Perseverance

Perseverance is a  strength onto itself, and some people naturally possess more of it than others do.  But everybody can build her perseverance muscles.  As with all of our character strengths, attention to it and practice will take you a long way.  The three steps below are tools that will build your perseverance and propel you to success.

The 10-Minute Practice

You can begin to practice with little things.  Pick a project that you would really like to do and decide that you’re going to get it done, starting this week.  (Pick one that you think you can  finish in a couple of weeks at the most.  If what you want to do is bigger than that, break it down into more manageable pieces.)  Then make a commitment not to quit until it’s finished, even if you can work at it only 10 minutes a day.  If you let yourself off the hook for a day, don’t let yourself quit altogether.  Start on it again the next day.

That 10-minute commitment is important, by the way.  You know that you can do almost anything for ten minutes, no matter how unappealing it is or how pressed you are for time.  Ten minutes a day will move you forward; it will keep you in the game.  And often, once you have begun the work, you’ll find yourself caught up in its flow and willing—maybe even eager!—to continue.

Develop Your Dream

Before you begin to work on your project, take time to imagine how you will feel both as you work on it and when it is completed.  Imagine being engaged with it, and feeling the harmony, fulfillment, mastery or pride that will come with it.   You might find yourself visualizing the stages of the work and how it will look when it’s done, and that’s fine, but what we’re really after now is a deep sense of the feelings involved.   Set aside some quiet time and imagine those feelings as deeply and vividly as you can.

This is step one of the Resonance Performance Model developed by Douglas Newburg, Ph.D., based on his study of world class performers in fields ranging from art, to sports, to business, to medicine.

The next steps in the model involve preparing for the work, and planning how you’ll meet the inevitable obstacles and setbacks.  As you do these steps, revisit the positive energy of the feelings you tapped as you dreamed about accomplishing your goal.

Cultivate Your Optimism

Positive psychology leader Martin Seligman found in his research that the difference between people who give up when faced with difficulties and the ones who keep on keeping on is how they think of good and bad events.  

Optimists see negative events as temporary and narrowly focused.  An optimist who gives a stumbling presentation, for example, sees that she had a really hard time with it, but that she also learned a lot and will do better next time.   Pessimists, on the other hand, see negative events as set in stone and affecting everything.   If a pessimistic youngster flounders at basketball, he concludes he’s no good at sports at all.

On the other hand, optimists see good events as long-lasting and affecting a wide range of their lives.  Pessimists see good events as a one time shot, a fluke.

The key, then, is to listen to your self-talk and to work at intentionally moving toward an optimistic view of events, both the good and the bad ones.  “By adopting the optimist’s explanatory style,” says positive psychology master Douglas B. Turner,  the pessimist begins to challenge the sweeping statements they make about the bad things that are happening in their lives.  Over time and with practice the pessimist learns to describe good things as permanent and pervasive.  As this skill grows and becomes more and more natural the loud pessimistic voice softens.”  And the ability to persevere in the face of difficulties expands.

Put it to the test for yourself.  Brush off some abandoned dreams or projects, or choose a new one, and see what persevering will do for you.  Bolstered by optimism and fortified with a strong sense of the positive feelings that achieving your goal will bring you, you’ll be turning the key to your success.

To learn eight more powerful ways to flourish in your life, grab your free copy of our Quick Start Guide to Positive Well-Being.  It’s right up there at the top of the page.

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The Positive Benefits of Creativity

energy of creativityQuick: Think of five things you could do with a new box of crayons. (C’mon.  Play along.)

Got ‘em?  Now notice how thinking of those five things made you feel.  If you laughed at the silliness of your ideas, you’re feeling one of the positive benefits of creativity—and you didn’t have to write a single sentence or draw a single line.

Creativity comes in all shapes. What you just engaged in is a sample of the practical, problem-solving kind that we engage in every day.

In fact, it’s one kind of what’s called “everyday creativity” by the people who study the subject.  They also call it “little c” creativity, as opposed to the “big C” kind that stands for works of genius and great art.

Everybody is Creative

In his wonderful TED talk, “You’re a Lot More Creative than You Think,”  internationally renowned fine artist John Paul Caponigro says “The human being is a creative species.”  We’re born creative.  But we’re not alike in our creativity.  We use it in different ways and in different degrees.

Business creativity consultant Dr. Lynne Levesque identifies eight different styles of creativity that she uses to develop top performance in an organization:

  1. The Adventurer, whose Improvisational Creativity is exemplified by photographers, jazz musicians, and talented sports figures;
  2. The Navigator, whose Adaptive Creativity show up in determined inventors and impressionist painters;
  3. The Explorer, whose Catalytic Creativity is like that of Walt Disney and many serial entrepreneurs and successful marketers;
  4. The Visionary, whose Futuristic Creativity is represented by internet gurus, prophets, and strategists;
  5. The Pilot, whose Strategic Creativity we see in skilled project managers and organizational designers;
  6. The Inventor, whose Paradigm Shifting Creativity is found in philosophers and architects;
  7. The Diplomat, whose Collaborative Creativity is revealed by humanitarians, civil rights activists and caring leaders; and
  8. The Poet, whose creativity is thoughtful counsel.

There’s no “best” way to be creative, she says.  The important thing is to decide which style is your favorite and to put it to work for you.

But her model is just that, a model.  Your way of being creative may be something else entirely.  The point is that creativity shows itself in a wide range of activities.

The only mistake you can make when it comes to creativity is to think that you don’t have any.

“Buying into a limited definition of creativity prevents many from appreciating their own potential,” writes Carlin Flora in an article in Psychology Today.  “That would be a shame in any era, but in today’s economic environment, no one can afford not to innovate, whether it’s doing more with a shrinking budget (household, corporate, you name it, it’s contracting), or positioning oneself to join a new industry. You may have to be creative to survive right now.”

She quotes Michele and Robert Root-Bernstein, coauthors of Sparks of Genius, as saying “It’s too bad that when considering what endeavors may be creative, people immediately think of the arts.  It’s the problem-solving processes they exhibit rather than the content or craft that make them so.  Just about anything we can do can be addressed in a creative manner, from housecleaning to personal hobbies to work.”

The Benefits of Creativity

Practicing creativity generates a lot of payoffs.  I’ll give you some ideas on how to boost yours in just a minute.  But, according to researchers Ebersole & Hess, (1998) here’s a list of things that creative expression may do for you:

  • Create balance and order
  • Give a sense of control over the external world
  • Make something positive out of a loss, bad experience or depression
  • Maintain your sense of integrity
  • Help resolve conflicts
  • Make thought and feeling clear
  • A greater sense of well-being and personal growth

In addition, creativity can help you build better relationships.  Imagining how things look through another person’s eyes can enhance your empathy and understanding.  And deciding to try a different way of responding than usual when someone irritates or annoys is a creative way to avoid difficulties.

Studies of older people who practice creativity found that they stayed healthier longer and enjoyed health more, had fewer visits to healt care providers, used fewer medications, were more outgoing, had higher moral, and were more socially active, less lonely, and more optimistic.

Ruth Richards, psychology professor at Saybrook University and Harvard Medical School says that engaging in creative behaviors makes us more dynamic, conscious, non-defensive, observant, collaborative and brave.

“It makes you more resilient,” Richards says, “more vividly in the moment, and, at the same time, more connected to the world.”

And of course, one of the best rewards of practicing creativity is that it’s just plain fun.

How to Boost Your Creativity

As with any of the personal strengths, you can boot creativity simply by paying more attention to it and intending to incorporate more of it into your life.

Start by simply asking yourself “How can I do this differently?” or “How could I do this better?”

Tap into your child-self and look for ways to be more playful, to make your tasks more fun.

Try changing a habitual pattern.  Take a different route to work, for example, and notice what you see.

Renew an old hobby.  Dig out your old guitar or your scrap booking supplies.

Start a new hobby.  Begin keeping a journal.  Record your dreams.  Try your hand at writing stories or haiku.  Buy some art supplies and play.

Expose yourself to more arts.  Visit galleries and museums, go to concerts, the theatre and ballet—even if its only at your local high school.

Read biographies of great scientists, business leaders, musicians, dancers, artists.

However you choose to nurture it, decide to reap some of the positive benefits of creativity beginning today.  You’ll be healthier, happier and enriched.

And if you enjoyed this article, please share it.

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The Love of Learning: Pass It On

Love of LearningIn May of 2008, David McCullough,
two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom,  gave the commencement address for the graduating students of Boston College.

“For many of you of the graduating class,” he said, “the love of learning has already taken hold.  For others it often happens later and often by surprise, as history has shown time and again.  That’s part of the magic.”

His own love of learning shines through his entire address,  and I heartily encourage you to read it.  You’ll be the richer for it, I promise.

I have to assume that if you’re reading this post, love of learning ranks fairly high on your list of personal strengths.  To you, I say indulge it!  And more than that, pass it on.

The Benefits of Lifelong Learning

Consider what lifelong learning does for us.  Learning guru, Nancy Merz Nordstrom, director of The Elderhostel Institute Network,  lists these delicious benefits:

  • It helps us fully develop our natural talents.
  • It opens our minds through the free exchange of viewpoints and ideas.
  • It creates a curious, hungry mind.
  • Through the community service aspect of learning, it lets us make the world a better place.
  • It helps us adapt to change and can even make change fun.
  • It helps us find meaning in our lives.
  • Participation in educational programs keeps us involved as active contributors to society, lets us make friends and establish valuable relationships.
  • It leads to an enriching life of self-fulfillment. (Original article here.)

That’s a lot to gain from exercising a single personal strength!

It’s Not Just About Books

Learning isn’t just about reading, although as Dr. McCollough  says in his commencement address,  “We’re all what we read to a very considerable degree.”  And he encourages you to read widely.

Nevertheless, as Scott Young mentions in his excellent and helpful article “15 Steps to Cultivate Lifelong Learning,”  Albert Einstein once said, “Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking.”

Learning is about exploring the world, expanding your interests, and about developing your skills and talents.  It’s about trying new things and meeting new people.    Through all of our  learning activities, says Nordstom, “we expand our awareness, embrace self-fulfillment, and truly create an exciting multi-dimensional life.  It doesn’t get any better than that!”

Pass It On

Why not share the joy?   Teach somebody else how to do something that you love.  Start a blog.  Teach an enrichment class at your community college.  Talk about ideas with your friends.   Find a book club or a fun workshop  at your local library or on meetup.com.  Or start one of your own. Over dinner, ask your family members what interesting things they learned today.

Statistics released by the U.S. Education Department in 2009 show that “some 32 million U.S. adults lack basic prose literacy skill. That means they can’t read a newspaper or the instructions on a bottle of pills.”  Consider finding a local literacy group and teaching someone else to read or to improve his or her reading skills.

Most of all, let the children around you see your love of learning.   Show them what fun it is; invite them to share in it with you.  It’s one of the greatest gifts that you could ever give.