Martin Seligman, one of the founders of Positive Psychology, points out that many resolutions are about quitting a bad behavior. People give up junk food, vow to drop weight, or swear off cigarettes. And, as the folks who took up gym memberships in January are realizing about now, these types of resolutions don’t often stick.
[A note on these New Year’s gym rats: I’d argue they’re not taking up exercise so much as trying to give up their sedentary lifestyle. There’s a survey waiting to happen there.]
Seligman encouraged his family instead to choose positive goals for the upcoming year. Even more than that, he suggested the goals align with each person’s signature strengths, or their areas of natural talent and passion. He believes that rather than using resolutions to correct shortcomings, people can create happiness and success by focusing on the areas where they are their best. This also transforms resolutions from a chore to a joy; rather than abstaining from something desired, you get to indulge in something you like.
Focusing on your strengths as a strategy for performance makes sense from a self-determination theory perspective, too. You’re likely to see positive progress when you work on tasks you’re good at; this supports a sense of competence and helps engage you in using that strength. It’s analogous to the positive upward spirals Barb Frederickson describes in her broaden and build work: Stretching your talents leads to accomplishment leads to more use of your talents leads to more accomplishment, and so forth.
If you want help identifying your strengths, Seligman and his colleagues have a free strength-finder tool online that you can try. After you’ve labeled your strengths, think about what you might do to live into them a little more this year. Your strengths-related goals should make you feel excited and be something you’ll want to tackle. Some of mine include:
- Reading 150 books, related to my love of learning
- Completing Boston Marathon training in a rough, snowy winter, related to my perseverance
- Traveling somewhere new, to nurture my appreciation of beauty and excellence
What are your strengths and how will you encourage them this year?