I recently taught a workshop on the topic of getting organized for the New Year at my local public library. It is an exercise I do every year, mostly because I’m asked, but also because it is an opportunity for me to focus on my own ‘stuff’’ and confront the challenges that prevented me from doing things I wanted to do the previous year.
The small room was filled to capacity and I could feel the sense of anticipation as I scanned the faces staring back at me. I found myself wondering if any New Year Resolution workshops were ever really effective, and why so many of us do this exercise year after year! We are like anxious children waiting for Santa Clause to deliver our every wish…and of course we truly believe that this time will be different. I knew I wanted this workshop to be different too! I wanted the outcome to be sustainable and uplifting so that when folks left that day they not only felt good about their thoughts and decisions, but also motivated to see them through!
Of course I was prepared! I had all my handouts and work sheets and my white board pens; I knew exactly how I would present this workshop and what I would speak about. But how could I make this one different so the outcome could be more effective? As I stood there waiting for one last person to take his seat, it suddenly hit me - an ‘Ah-Ha’ moment!
The usual focus for New Year Resolution talks is from the perspective of “What new or different things do you want to happen in your life in the next 12 months?” While that is still an appropriate question, without an emotional (feel-good) attachment to those objectives however, the focus of that question often presents itself from a place of demand, drained energy and interest, unrealistic expectations, frustration, sabotage and resulting disappointment. Instead, I decided to change my approach. After a brief introduction and icebreaker, I asked the group to pull out their handouts and turn to the page that says “Goals and Objectives.” I asked them to cross off those words and replace them with “Little and Big Things That Made Me Happy in 2011.” Instantly the energy in the room shifted. People began to smile with sounds of “Oooh” as their pencils wiggled upon the worksheet. I told them that tonight’s class would focus on extracting all the things that made them HAPPY or ‘feel really good’ last year, and how they could bring those or similar things into tonight’s class so they could create a plan to replicate a similar outcome in 2012…making 2012 a much happier year to look forward to!
The remainder of the work sheets facilitated a similar process to the usual list making of activities, needed tools and timelines. The actual ‘New Year Resolution’ process was the same, but the motivating factor for achieving success was different. The participants were energized with their memories and outcomes, making the room all a-buzz with chatter. Their goals were no longer drudgery thoughts filled with doubt and cynicism. Instead their ideas and thoughts were about real personal experiences, experiences that were rewarding and made them feel, well…HAPPY, which meant that focusing on creating similar experiences were actually attainable. It is possible the reason so many New Year resolutions peter out by March is because we’ve ignored the importance of attaching a positive emotional feeling to our goals based on something we’ve already experienced. At the close of the workshop I was asked if we could all meet again so they could all share their results with one another. We agreed to meet every quarter as an accountability check-in. I was moved by their genuine sense of confidence and enthusiastic willingness to commit to one another! Motivation to achieve a specific goal is better realized and sustained when emotionally driven.
As a professional organizer I learned something very valuable that day. I learned that different roads can lead to the same destination, and sometimes with greater results if one is willing to blaze a different path. Being and getting organized is about flexibility, and a willingness to look beyond the standard, or the obvious. Instead of only focusing on what isn’t working with a client, I ask them to tell me what IS working for them, and we use those positives as a springboard toward their vision and hopes. It is that same concept that was applied to that day’s workshop, and with powerful results.
Of course my workshop scenario may not be fitting for all ‘New Year’s Resolutions,’ and of course there is ample room for other thoughts and ideas on the subject. This is just one approach I found to be effective. By bringing positive events from the past and acknowledging them in the present, we can create a plan to help ensure similar results into the future.
May your happy events from last year continue throughout the year that follows. Make yours a very “Happy New Year,” 1012!