Happy Twixtmas: Pottering with Purpose
Twixtmas is the time between (betwixt) Christmas and New Year. This precious pot of me-time occurs when the days are short, energy levels are low and the out-of-office assistant is on. You can let yourself go with the rhythm of the season, turn inwards and enjoy getting cosy. They call it hygge in Denmark and we can surely take a wellbeing tip from the Danes as Denmark often tops the league of happiest nations. Pottering around is good relaxation but the risk with this unstructured time is that it can lapse into a wasteland of mindless eating and mind-numbing TV. Twixtmas is however a great opportunity to reflect on the year that’s been and begin to plan the year ahead. So light some candles, make some tea, choose a comfy sofa (you may already be there) and when you’re feeling ready, try out the following practices from positive psychology.
What were the high points of 2016?
1. Begin by running through your calendar to discover the peak moments of the year. You’ll have a head start if you keep some kind of gratitude journal as a record of all the positive events that happen. (If you don’t keep one take the hint for your happiness and begin one for 2017). Reflect on what the highlights have been month by month and savour all the details as you reminisce. Having a sense of appreciation for the year that’s been can help build optimism for the year ahead. Gratitude is a positive emotion oriented towards the past whereas optimism is a future-focused positive emotion. The glass half-full towards the past helps to build the glass half-full towards the future.
This form of life planning is based on Appreciative Inquiry, the change management process which builds on team strengths and what is already working well to move forwards. You make more progress when you focus on what’s gone right but sadly we invest more in analysing what’s gone wrong and take the triumphs for granted.
2. Now think about which of your strengths contributed to those peak experiences? There are two main types of strengths – positive characteristics such as perseverance, courage and emotional intelligence. These are your personality or character strengths. The other is your performance strengths – the talents which help you achieve. It could be anything, being a whizz at numbers, a natural diplomat, a good communicator. Add other strengths that you noticed coming through during the year.
You now have a list of positive experiences and strengths that make up the positive you in 2016. You’ve completed the first step in the Appreciative Inquiry process which is to Discover. This gives you something to build on for 2017.
The Appreciative Inquiry Cycle
(c) University of British Columbia.
The next step is to Dream. What would you like for 2017? It’s good to get yourself into the mood to dream. Put on some music or go for a walk. This will help generate positive emotions, which in turn will stimulate your creativity and fire up your imagination for the year ahead. Allow yourself some blue-sky thinking and let go of any restrictions. What do you want for 2017? What is next to build on those peak experiences of 2016? Look at the list of your strengths. How else could you apply them in 2017? Finding new ways of using your strengths raises your well-being.
Step 3 is to Design. What is the first step on the path to realising the dream? And the next step? Some useful questions to ask yourself: What has to happen in order to reach the goal? What’s stopping you? These two questions will identify the obstacles that stand in the way and yield a plan of action.
Personally I prefer setting intentions over goals. The word ‘goal’ can sometimes provoke anxiety especially for those who are feeling low. It can bring up a sense of failure attached to previous unaccomplished goals. The energy around ‘intentions’ is lighter and easier. We will put the effort in but can be flexible if something better comes along.
The final step is to Deliver the Destiny. Have a look at your list of strengths. These are your inner resources. Ask yourself how you could apply them to realise the dream. How can they help get you started and then sustain your progress? Think of what steps you need to take and write them down. There is research that shows that the act of writing your goals makes it more likely that you will achieve them. Identify the steps to take along the way from the short term to the long term. This will help you break it down into manageable steps to get you en route to realising the dream.