As one year comes to a close and another begins it's natural to think about how we want to be better next year. Many of us make New Year's resolutions or look back on the past year focusing on our shortcomings. We might resolve to lose weight, meditate, and be more organized. The problem is that these are focused on things we identify as deficiencies.
Why do we focus on our weaknesses? A study from 2016 found that we tend to see weaknesses as more changeable than strengths. The good news is that the opposite is true. There is a better way.
Studies have shown that we grow faster when we focus on developing our strengths. Not only that, people who focus on improving their strengths are more confident, less anxious, and happier.
This could be because most of us have a pretty harsh inner critic whispering in our ears all day long. If we keep our strengths front of mind we counter that voice and keep in mind what's really true about us.
What if we focused on the strengths and behaviors that are already supporting our goals? We could start by noticing the small things we did that day that we feel good about. We could note, for example, that we ate a healthy breakfast, made a meditation out of a daily chore, or wrote a to-do list at the beginning of the day.
Where attention flows energy goes. -James Redfield
If we practice this, over time we might see that we're doing better than we thought. We notice strengths we can build on.
For me, that meant noticing that I have created a very productive morning routine but that by four o'clock I'm done. Instead of having some caffeine in the afternoon to extend my work day, I focused on using my already effective morning routine to front-load my day.
I use the 5 Minute Journal to jot down three things I am grateful for every morning. In the evening there are three slots for Highlights of the Day. In this space, I write three things I did that day that I feel good about. Yesterday it was:
- I sent an encouraging text to someone who needed it.
- I spent time reading and learning.
- I stopped and watched the crows fly by my window and marveled at their grace.
Instead of wishing I was a kinder person, more committed to learning, or more present to the small joys of life, I make a point of noticing times when I already exhibit those qualities. I feel a little happier with myself, a little more satisfied with my life, and a little more optimistic. Meanwhile, those qualities are strengthened by the simple act of noticing them.
At the end of each year, I write an entry in my journal on the things that went well, what I learned and how I grew in the past year.
Don’t take my word for it; see and test for yourself” The Buddha
If building on your strengths resonates with you, try noting the things you did well at the end of each day for a week. What did you discover about yourself?