The No.1 New Year’s Resolution: Manage your energy not your time

How did you get on with your New Year’s resolutions last year?Nature does not hurry - with my tulips crop

If you are shrinking back into your seat as you answer this question with the small embarrassed whimper of a reply – not very well! Fear not, you are not alone!

Research from Time Management firm FranklinCovey found that only one in five people keep their new year’s resolutions with over a third giving up before the end of January.

Each year do you find yourself doing the same thing? Starting out with high hopes on January 1st, but then by December 31st somehow find yourself disappointedly staring at your list of unaccomplished goals wondering what went wrong.

Is it because you’re not setting the right goals?

Well, what do your goals usually consist of? Are they about getting fit and healthy? Spending more time with your family and friends? Building a prosperous  career or business? Saving up for that house in the country? Getting out of debt? Or simply just getting everything done on your to do list without being exhausted by the end of the day? All seem like solid achievable aspirations to me!!

I don’t think it’s anything to do with the achieveability of your goals, in fact I actually think we often under reach in our goal setting. What I believe lies at the heart of those unfulfilled resolutions is the fact that we have things all mixed up.

What I mean is that whatever makes up your wish list of goals and things you want to achieve, I suspect you want those things because you believe they will ultimately bring you happiness. Have you heard yourself saying…. When I get that job or when I finally get out of debt, then I’ll be happy!!

But as I said, we’ve got it all the wrong way round. There is a growing body of research in the field of Positive Psychology that is proving that…

Successfully achieving your goals does not necessarily bring happiness!

But happiness does in fact bring success.

People who feel happy are much more likely to achieve the things they want.

Therefore managing your state or your energy is far more important than managing your time or in fact working harder and longer; the latter unfortunately is often our default strategy to getting things done.

The evidence now shows that being in a positive state (i.e. being happy, relaxed or playful) can make you more productive, resilient and creative whilst also enabling you to build stronger relationships at home and at work.

In fact Shawn Achor in his book The Happiness Advantage described how a meta-analysis of nearly every scientific study on happiness (200 studies across 275,000 people worldwide) – found that:

…happiness leads to success in nearly every area of life.

There have even been studies showing that happiness can help you to fight off disease quicker and live longer.

A great example of how a positive state can affect your physical health is in the story of Norman Cousins.

Norman Cousins was diagnosed with a life threatening and incurable illness. But he refused to believe this and had such a strong will to live that he found ways to completely defy the verdict given by his doctor. One of the biggest things he ascribed to his success was his prescription of laughter.

He literally made sure he watched something that made him laugh every day. This regular activity of what he described as full on belly laughs resulted in significant pain relief and an unexpected improvement in his condition.

In his book Anatomy of an Illness he tells his story and explores the chemical effect of positive emotions on your brain and the resulting improvements in health.

I therefore wanted to use this last in my series of 3 blogs on Resilience to suggest some ways that you can induce more positive feelings more often.

For some this will come more easily than for others! But, if you begin to put in place some of the activities below, you will soon find it is possible to generate positive emotions more often, and as a result have a much higher chance of achieving those New Year’s resolutions.

It really is simply about creating a habit of positivity.


How to Create a Habit of Positivity

There are many ways you can begin to create a habit of positivity; I have included here my top three tips.

  1. Identify who and what gives you energy and the things you love to do. Then do more of them.
  2. Create a daily practise of looking for and writing down all the positive things in each day
  3. Accept when you don’t have the energy and just rest. And, more importantly don’t judge or criticise your desire to take some time out.

Who or What Gives You Energy?

Spend a couple of minutes answering the questions in the table below.

Think about last week (or if last week wasn’t a typical week, wait until you are back at work and then do this exercise).

Energy table pngIf you have not been feeling particularly positive recently then I would hazard a guess that the right hand column contains more stuff than the left.

If you find that you have been spending more time in the right hand column, think about how you could redress the balance the following week.

What small steps could you take to do more of the stuff you enjoy and less of the stuff you don’t enjoy?

You might need to remind yourself here of the things you love to do or the people you love to be with. If so, spend a quick minute or two jotting them all down now. This could include reading a book, going out for a walk, or having a meal with your favourite friends.

Now think about how you can do at least one activity or spend more time with one person on the list next week.

Whether you have felt really good or pretty rubbish, this is a great exercise to do at the end of each week because it enables you to get clearer on what you enjoy doing and what you hate (or at least mildly dislike).


Create a Daily Practice of Looking for the Positive

This quite simply is about setting aside 5 – 10 minutes at the end of each day to write down a number of positive things about the day. Maybe try setting a target of 5 things at first and then gradually increase the target.

The sort of things you might write down could include something someone did or said, or an outcome to something you’d been working on, or perhaps about something that thankfully didn’t happen. Really challenge yourself to do this daily.

The process of writing down positive things that happen daily works by training your brain to search for and see the positive in any situation until you no longer have to record it at the end of each day.

Total success of this process is when you find yourself spotting the positive as it happens in the moment. Or better still, when everything seems totally and utterly crap, you still find yourself finding something positive to say about it.


Accept When You Don’t Have the Energy – REST!

We seem to be in a culture where resting, or slowing down is frowned upon both by ourselves and by others. If you’re not working at your absolute maximum capacity all the time then it is believed that you must either be weak or you just don’t care enough. This is absolute rubbish!

I’m not saying I don’t believe in hard work and determination, but I am saying that these qualities alone will not always help you to achieve the things you want in life.

Chris Evans who it seems to me has achieved pretty much everything he has ever wanted and stayed smiling throughout, included in his autobiography a list of top ten things to do when the odds are against you.

Among the top ten were:

  • sleeping well,
  • exercising, and
  • eating healthily.

Here he is talking about managing your energy by giving your body what it needs to be able to perform at its best.

Evolutionary psychology theory also tells us that we have three emotion regulation systems in our brain that drive our behaviour. These are the:

  1. Threat Response system,
  2. Resource Seeking system and
  3. Soothing, Affiliation system.

We are generally familiar with the Threat Response system as it is linked to the flight, flight or freeze response and is often used to help explain stress and how to manage it.

We are less familiar with the Resource Seeking system but can see how it helps explain our drive to seek out and achieve more things for ourselves and our families.

But very little is ever mentioned about the Soothing Affiliative system.

The Soothing Affiliative system is all about resting our bodies, enabling us to digest and restore.  Understanding and paying attention to this third system is just as essential as the other two in fulfilling our needs as human beings, yet very few of us seem to talk about it or value it, let alone respond to its suggestions. We generally just fight it.

So my final top tip is the simplest but probably the hardest:

Plan in time to stop and to slow down.

But, most importantly, don’t judge yourself for doing it.


A parting thought…

I hope you have enjoyed this series of 3 blogs on resilience, and would just like to leave you with this last thought.

I have never been a naturally resilient person, I absolutely don’t thrive on pressure, and I’m a bit (a lot actually) of an introvert. However, having discovered and applied the tools and techniques described in these blogs, I have not only found ways to deal positively with whatever gets thrown at me, I also have found myself achieving more than I ever dreamed I could (including some previously reoccurring New Year’s Resolutions).

Through consciously practising these techniques I have been able to create the habit of resilience so that it has become much more of an automatic reaction now and therefore takes far less energy to conjure up than initially it did.

So this year, why not make one of your new year’s resolutions to try out one of the tips in these three blogs on Resilience.Whether that is to:

  • Pay more attention to how you are feeling,
  • Challenge some unhelpful thinking habits, or
  • Manage your energy not your time.

From personal experience I would say that it really is worth a try, and who knows, it might just turn 2016 into one of your best years yet!


If you would like to read the other 2 blogs in this series of 3 on Resilience, please click below:

Resilience – How to thrive, not just survive!

You Need To Choose Your Attitude – but how?


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