When the end of one year is in sight, we start to hear a lot about about making resolutions for the next one. And those resolutions tend to take the form of “Here’s what I’m finally going to fix about myself.”
That approach may sound like it makes sense. After all, if we want to make things better, we need to start by fixing what isn’t working, right?
Well, no. There’s plenty of research that demonstrates that it’s far more effective to focus on what is working and find ways to build on that.
Why? There are at least three reasons.
1. What’s working has already shown itself to work! Something about it is going right. So it gives us something productive to build on.
2. Building on what’s working is far more enjoyable than knocking our heads against what isn’t, so we’re far more likely to stick with the changes we make that capitalize on the things that are going well.
3. When we add to the total volume of things that are going well, they begin to crowd out the things that are going poorly, which can pave the way for really substantial change.
Does that mean that if we’ve recently gotten into a great exercising routine but things are going badly at work, we should just keep working out and ignore the problems in the office? Not at all. We need to pay real attention to the areas where we’re struggling. But the attention we pay to them will be a lot more likely to be productive if we start with something that is going well that we can build on — even in those areas of our lives where most things aren’t working as we’d wish.
So that’s the background. Now here’s how you’re going to be your own coach this week.
Think of an area of your life that’s important to you. It might be family, work, friends, health, or anything else that matters to you. It can be an area in which things overall are going well or in which things in general aren’t going so well.
Now ask yourself two questions. When you answer, be as specific and concrete as you can be.
1. What is one specific thing that’s working well in this area of my life?
Remember that “working well” doesn’t mean “working perfectly.” If you’re having a hard time naming something that’s going well in a particular area, lower your standards — at least for the moment! Think of something that’s going better than other things in that part of your life.
2. What small, specific thing can I do to build on that?
For example, something that’s going well in my work life is that I’m making progress in focusing on one thing at a time rather than pretending that I can be effective at doing multiple things at once. Focusing in this way has helped me to be more productive and feel a lot less harried. One way I could build on that might be to shut down my email when I write so I’m not tempted to check out new messages as they come in.
Okay, here’s the part that really matters. You just came up with one small, specific way that you can build on something that’s going well. Now get even more specific and concrete. How would you do it? When would you do it? How often? How would you begin?
Then commit to doing that one thing — that one small, concrete thing.
A key part of making these commitments stick is writing them down. Another is being specific about when you’ll do them. For example:
– I’ll do ________ for five minutes every morning before breakfast.
– Tomorrow afternoon when I see my boss, I’ll __________.
– Every time ________ happens, I’ll _________.
That’s it. You did it. You just served as your own coach.
And now you get to be your own client! Of course the way to do that is simply to do what you just committed to doing, and to do it immediately, repeatedly, and consistently. That is the key to sustainable change — taking small steps immediately, repeatedly, and consistently.
One more thought. As you act on your commitment, try to pay attention to how it’s going. In other words, notice what’s working, even about this. That way, you’ll be able to find more ways to build momentum as you move forward.
Lynda Wallace is a highly sought-after career, life, and executive coach who meets with local clients in her sunny office in Montclair, NJ, and with clients from around the world by phone and video. She wrote the best-selling book A Short Course in Happiness, and teaches her evidence-based coaching methods to hundreds of coaches every year. Lynda spent twenty years as a senior executive at Johnson & Johnson, holds an MBA from the Wharton School, and is a Certified Positive Psychology Coach.
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