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Erin Olivo, Ph.D.
Erin Olivo Ph.D.

Don’t Waste Your Time Making New Year’s Resolutions

Start maximizing your strengths instead to build a life you love.

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It’s that time of year again. Time to make your New Year’s resolutions. But should you?

You’ve heard the stats: 92% of people don’t follow through with the resolutions they set. And while I’m all for using whatever motivation we can to make healthy changes in our lives, I think the resolution strategy is fundamentally flawed.

I think resolutions fail because of these two mistakes:

1) Making an isolated choice, one that isn’t a part of a larger context.

2) Focusing on trying to fix something negative instead of building on your strengths.

You have a much better chance to make a change stick if it’s a part of an overall life plan or one that’s driven by your deepest core values. I wrote a post about how to do this and you can read it here.

Here’s what I propose: Instead of focusing on what you want to change in your life, think about how you can create a life plan for building a life you love.

Start by evaluating the major domains of your life such as relationships, career, health, etc. Then set achievable goals in each area and chart a course for how you’re going to begin working toward those goals. Achievable is the key word here! And don’t forget to anticipate the obstacles and focus on the positive aspects of your choice.

Next, evaluate your strengths and set some goals that build on these instead of trying to fix something negative. Research by Martin Seligman, the founder of positive psychology, shows that focusing on your strengths and actively trying to improve them makes you feel happier and can decrease depression.

Another research study conducted by the Gallup organization found that 7 million out of 10 million Americans surveyed said they don’t have a chance to use their strengths in their current work. As a result, they feel dissatisfied and disengaged. Interestingly, the people who reported that they do have the opportunity to focus on their strengths everyday were three times as likely to report having an excellent overall quality of life.

Sounds like a good idea to focus on your strengths, right?

Here’s what I propose: Set a goal to build on your strengths instead of setting a resolution focused on fixing something negative. The first step toward building on your strengths is to identify what they are. Use this list of strengths as a starting point and feel free to add your own:

Hope Zest Gratitude

Curiosity Love Bravery

Leadership Humor Honesty

Creativity Humility Team Work

Perseverance Kindness Perspective

Appreciation of Beauty Love of Learning Spirituality

What do you think are your top three strengths? What would your friends and family say they are?

Next, evaluate how you’re using these strengths in your work life, home life, and social life.

Get creative and find a way to incorporate more of these into your life. For example, if “love of learning” is one of your top strengths sign up for an online or continuing ed class. If “appreciation of beauty” is at the top of your list, you might want to carve out some time to visit a museum or take the “scenic” route to work. If you’re not actively using your top three strengths, it means you really need to make this a priority.

As we embark on the New Year, I hope you’ll try these strategies of making a life plan aligned with your values and building on your strengths. If you do, I know you’ll have an excellent chance of building a life you’ll love in 2017!



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© 2017, Erin Olivo, PhD

About the Author
Erin Olivo, Ph.D.

Erin Olivo, Ph.D., is an assistant clinical professor of medical psychology at Columbia University.

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