Ditch the resolutions and focus on building a positive mindset in 2018


Many people start each new year with good intentions and resolutions, however, most break these within a few weeks. One of the reasons for this is not just that long standing habits are tough to change as author Charles Duhigg points out in his bestselling book, the Power of Habit, but that our mindset may not be sufficiently tuned in to learning, experimentation, curiosity and adaptation.

If you start by developing a positive, growth-oriented mindset, new successful habits will be easier to learn and sustain. You will also be able to unlearn unproductive habits more effectively. This will enable you to achieve your personal and professional goals more easily throughout the year, while fostering higher levels of wellbeing and happiness. So what do we mean by a positive mindset?

Path of Possibility versus Path of Limitation Thinking

Every day, all of us face challenges and opportunities. Choosing how to respond in any given situation provides a “moment of truth”. Such “moments of truth” determine a person’s effectiveness in building strong relationships, delivering results and achieving their full potential.

Most people find themselves alternating between the two distinct paths shown in the diagram below. How they view situations, challenges and people they encounter place them at some point on either path and directly influence how they respond to their circumstances and the level of success they achieve.

Path of possibiliy

The lower path, the Path of Limitation, drives thought and actions narrowed by a negative mindset that focuses on problems, issues, failures, weaknesses and independent action. It results in fear, mistrust and pessimism. This in turn fuels what psychologists call “learned helplessness” where individuals feel stuck and powerless when they face obstacles and encounter tough challenges such as high workload or relationship problems. When this negative mindset endures, a vicious cycle arises where performance, learning and confidence are undermined.

The upper path, the Path of Possibility, is far more productive and healthy. Thoughts and actions are focused on strengths, successes, opportunities and solutions. Behaviour is based on collaborative working, hope, optimism, purpose and energy-boosting habits. This leads to a sense of powerfulness, positive energy, confidence and meaning at work and beyond, which fuels higher performance and improved relationships. People with this mindset tend to be more successful in dealing with challenges and setbacks as they are engage in positive thinking, learning, and adaptation, even in the toughest circumstances.

Shifting to a more positive mindset

By following the seven steps below, you can start 2018 by strengthening your positive mindset ‘muscle’:

  1. Firstly, it is important to understand where you are at any point in time, and to understand the implications of your mindset on your performance, relationships and learning. Identifying those triggers that move you to the Path of Limitation will enable you to recalibrate, change course and stay on the success-enhancing Path of Possibility.
  1. Ensure you understand your strengths (i.e., what energizes you and you are good at and have potential to be great at) and those of your colleagues so you can focus on tasks and activities you are passionate about more of the time at work and outside. Understanding and calling on strengths of your colleagues will also enable you to achieve your 2018 goals in a more fun, collaborative and effective manner.
  1. If you generally have a negative mindset and spend most of your time on the lower path, don’t worry. Research shows that when people consciously choose to focus more attention on what’s positive and good in their life, new habits and beliefs will over time replace the old, less productive ones, and you will develop a more positive, growth-oriented mindset.
  1. Keep an online or hardcopy journal of activities that boost your energy positively to help you understand areas of your work and life you find most energizing and enjoyable. Focusing more of your time on these areas in 2018 will help ensure a more positive mindset and higher levels of success in areas you choose to prioritize.
  1. People who habitually experience positive emotions become more resilient over time and develop a greater sense of emotional well-being. At the end of each day or week, write down three things that went well at work and in your personal life. This will train your brain to focus on positive experiences rather than negative ones. It is important to take time to reflect on these experiences to fully appreciate them and learn from them.
  1. Stay positive and curious when you experience setbacks. Keep going and treat change and learning as an exciting experiment, rather than a chore to be avoided. Remember that all great learning and innovation always involves setbacks and a lot of trial and error before major breakthroughs happen. People like Elon Musk, Sheryl Sanderg and Mark Zuckerberg lean into problems and challenges and persevere until they get it right.
  1. If you are naturally a more pessimistic and critical thinker or have poor self-confidence, leverage the art of complementary partnering by bringing in positive, optimistic co-workers, family members and friends to help build your confidence in taking on stretching goals, spot the possibilities in tough situations and encourage you along the way. This will ensure a more balanced perspective and keep your negativity bias and limiting self-talk in check.

A positive mindset doesn’t mean that so-called “negative emotions” need to be switched off 

There are many who assume that a more positive mindset means that people should always be happy and upbeat. This is not only unnatural but also diminishes the value of the full range of emotions we experience as humans.

As was depicted so well in the recent Pixar movie, Inside Out, every emotion – including sadness and anger – has a role to play in ensuring success, productive interpersonal relations and wellbeing.

Working to achieve a more positive mindset doesn’t mean you have to suppress or ‘switch off’ emotions from others. It simply involves being more aware of them and the implications of these on your behaviours, relationships and results. For example, if you are angry or disappointed that you missed an important session at the gym at the beginning of the year, try to refocus on how you can use your natural strengths (and those of others around you) to help deal with the situation more positively, as well as opportunities to ensure you don’t miss your regular gym session in future. This will enable you to overcome your negative emotions more quickly and constructively and get back to the Path of Possibility.

Rather than loading pressure on yourself to meet tough New Year’s resolutions, ditch them entirely in favour of building a more positive, growth-oriented mindset. This will prepare you to take on inevitable challenges during the year and outperform against stretch goals you set for yourself. Building and maintaining a positive mindset in 2018 will enable you to find more purpose, passion and performance in your work and personal life.

James Brook, Joint Managing Director, Strengths Partnership Ltd and co-creator of the Strengthscope® Profiling System 

Further reading:
Duhigg, Charles. (2012) The power of habit: why we do what we do in life and business New York : Random House,