New Year, new beginnings? At this time of year, my mind seems to naturally reflect on the year that was and my aspirations for the year ahead. Like me, many people focus on all the things they would like to stop doing or things that they would like to start. Setting new goals and challenges is a firm favourite topic of conversation.
One approach that I think is rather neat when it comes to tackling the challenge of change in these early stages of the year is to think strategically beyond the new goal. For instance, once a goal or challenge is set the thinking we do next is all-important in terms of gaining momentum and making progress. We can very quickly find ourselves problem-solving to make progress towards our goals because we assume that this is a useful strategy for making progress but focusing on a problem can harm progress by taking our focus away from our goal. An alternative way of thinking, which is tried and tested, is to search for moments in life where that target or goal has already been met and begin the behaviour change build from there. This way we can build on success that already exists rather than facing the sheer intimidation of starting from scratch or being derailed by being overly focused on problems.
How does it work?
A good way for me to explain is to use an example from my own life. Hopefully, you will be able to take your resolutions and apply the same ideas.
Let's say I set myself a goal of becoming fluent in French by the end of 2024. This is a very important goal for me. I have lived in the French-speaking part of Switzerland for over three years and to date, I have not made a great deal of progress in improving my French fluency. With this goal set, I could begin a reflective process which focuses on how hard a goal is for me to achieve and all the barriers that I face in its pursuit. It is natural for us to focus here but it takes a little more effort to think differently. I hear myself saying things like "l can't speak French" and "It's hard because I work mostly online and only ever in English". Focusing attention here, on problems, minimises any experiences, skills and natural talents that I already possess about making progress toward this goal. This hurts my motivation and damages my confidence.
Alternatively, my reflective process could, initially, be less about problem-solving my inability to get past the basics and more about recognising times when I have been successful in progressing my language skills. Even though these moments may be very few and far between if they exist they offer fertile ground in which the seeds of solutions may grow. Seeing that there are exceptions to the pattern of behaviour I want to change will boost my motivation and confidence. It will be much easier for me to foster belief in myself. It's a vital head start.
In solutions-focused psychotherapy, a popular approach used in sport and performance psychology, this method is called looking for the exception. It calls for us to ask ourselves reflective questions which are both future-focused and goal-directed. It feels better to focus on moments when "the problem" or lack of goal achievement in our case does not exist. Are there moments where I am speaking and understanding French? Even if those moments are fleeting.
These reflective questions ask us to examine the details of our experiences to find what's working and then we are challenged to, do more of what works! The really difficult bit might be recognising the conditions under which those exceptions occur. Continually recreating those conditions may call for focused, disciplined and spirited changes to your status quo.
For example, the exceptions that I can identify concerning my goal are that I have spoken quite well while out and about in the town where I live so I can make a point of increasing the number of times I speak to my neighbour or a fellow dog walker in French. I can use any opportunity presented to speak French. No matter how well I can do that right now, I can only get better by doing more of what works as often as possible.
The point here is, regardless of the goal, that if you focus on moments where your outcome behaviour has been present you can build on those moments in this new year by simply increasing the time you spend in those moments deliberately. For me this means getting out of my home office and immersing myself in situations where I am compelled to communicate in French, for you it might be recognising when you have been successful in progressing towards a goal in your past and doing more of what you were doing back then.
So often when we set a new goal we completely overlook opportunities on which we can build making our progress harder. So as you get into this new year give yourself a boost by focusing on what already works. The year might be brand new, but your beginnings are waiting to be built upon. New year, old beginnings.
Happy New Year , Bonne Année.