How to Harness a Strengths-Based Approach to Reach Your Goals in the New Year
The start of a new year can be full of hope and promise. The idea of starting over — particularly in a new decade — can fill some with excitement and others with dread. If you’ve ever experienced the act of overpromising to yourself and underdelivering on your goals, you’re certainly not alone.
While New Year’s resolutions are intended to motivate us and improve our lives, they can also make us focus on all the things we are not. Let’s face it, eating healthier, losing 15 pounds, joining a book club, going back to school, and having a REAL savings account (Hello new home, 2025!) sure sounds exciting! But how do you actually do it all? Is it even possible to start chasing after new goals with your already busy work/social/family life schedule?
The thing is, we often wait and wait and wait to get started on our goals or give up early on our New Year’s resolutions because we get lost focusing on what we consider to be our “downfalls.” We hinder our progress before even starting.
I have some good news for you today. This year, 2020, is YOUR year. Here’s why! In my work as both an in-person therapist and online therapist, I like to take a Strengths-Based Approach to help my clients reach their personal goals and I’m sharing it with you today! In this article I am going to be answering the following questions:
- What is the Strengths-Based Approach?
- Why is the Strengths-Based Approach successful time and time again?
- Who is the Strengths-Based Approach for? (Hint: YOU! And you’ll find out why.)
- How can you start using the Strengths-Based Approach today, and what are some practical tips for getting started?
Everything You Need To Know About The Strengths-Based Approach
What is the Strengths-Based Approach?
Focusing on one’s strengths falls under the Positive Psychology umbrella, and it essentially entails focusing on your internal strengths and resourcefulness. This inherently begins building a more positive mindset and can help increase resilience.
How often do you sit and think of your positive qualities? In the hustle and bustle of daily life, my guess is…NEVER. Since our brains are wired to watch out for danger and to identify patterns, our brains tend to pay more attention to negative information than positive information. We might not notice every time we do something successfully, but we sure do notice if we mess up.
Many people might feel that focusing on your good qualities is being self-centered or arrogant, but I’m going to call BS on that one. It is extremely important to be able to articulate what we like about ourselves. This is a key component of self-worth and self-love, and is something we are pushed to think about as children but not as much as adults.
Here is where the Strength-Based Approach comes into play. Thinking about our strengths involves considering what we are good at or what is already going well in our lives.
I like using a Strengths-Based Approach with my coaching and therapy clients because it starts a dialogue around how we feel about ourselves and our self-esteem. If you find yourself struggling to think of anything you do well or like about yourself, this is a huge indication that your self-esteem is in need of a tune-up. Focusing on the positive aspects of ourselves has the potential to be transformational, starting with how we feel about ourselves.
Why is the Strengths-Based Approach Successful Time and Time Again?
When we are solely focused on the ‘problem’ or what we want to change, we can self-sabotage by failing to recognize what we are already good at, and how that can help us!
Every time we remind ourselves of our good qualities and the ways we feel we excel, we get a little boost of those feel-good hormones and brain reactions. It sounds simple, but it’s true. Being positive and focusing on the good can make us happier. Focusing on what is going wrong or on our negative qualities can make change seem impossible and overwhelming. Instead, start focusing on your inner strengths, resourcefulness, and resilience. This way of thinking can create hope and confidence to push on, especially when the going gets tough. Another reason the Strengths-Based Approach is successful is because it can generate long-standing change in how you think about yourself, others, and life events. Looking for the positives and strengths within yourself and others turns into a habit, and eventually won’t need conscious effort.
Focusing on your strengths is about cultivating a positive mindset, and recognizing the resources and resilience you already possess within. Honing in on what you do well can open up possibilities and new strategies that may never have occurred to you if you’re steeped in “the problem” and can open your mind to creative new solutions to try.
Creating a more positive mindset can empower you to push through the difficult times, and even increase your self-confidence. This occurs as a key part of the Strengths-Based Approach in the idea of resilience, or being able to “bounce back” from difficult times. Resilience also includes being able to overcome obstacles and cope with them, and realizing your own resilience that you possess is extremely powerful.
You might not believe that you are a resilient person, but you absolutely are and I have proof! You have survived and made it through the difficulties of life thus far. You are here. Now take a moment to reflect on how you did that. Were you able to handle stress well to see a problem through? Were you able to access resources or help from family and friends? Maybe it was your drive and determination that helped you get through those long hours at work and school without giving up. Either way, this aspect of your strengths is essential for building up self-esteem and confidence.
Utilizing your strengths can better connect you to your identity and remind you of who you are, while also building up your self-worth.
Realizing your self-worth and recognizing your strengths helps your relationships too, such as through enforcing boundaries when needed and helping others realize their strengths as well.
Who is the Strengths-Based Approach For? (Hint: YOU! And here’s why.)
Whether your goal is to create healthier habits, improve your relationships, or move up in your job, your strengths can help you get there! No matter the goal and even if your strengths don’t seem related to it, it is all connected. The common denominator here is you.
Since a common New Year’s resolution is weight loss, let’s use that as an example to see how this approach works. If someone feels that a strength of theirs is being kind, we can use that to help them be successful in their weight loss goals. I know what you’re thinking: “How can being nice or kind help someone lose weight?” Well first, what is being kind? A part of it is being nice, but other parts of kindness might be being considerate, thoughtful, and supportive.
Instead of using negative self-talk to bully oneself into not eating certain foods or using other “punishing” tactics, why not use kindness to lift yourself up? Kindness in this scenario might be giving yourself grace or compassion if you slip up, but also setting yourself up for success through creating realistic expectations for yourself.
Setting yourself up for success might be meal planning for the week, preparing healthy meals or snacks before the work week starts, and going to bed at a reasonable time so you have energy to exercise. You wouldn’t expect someone to jump into a new task without proper preparation and do it perfectly, so why put that on yourself?
Kindness towards yourself might involve having daily mantras of gratitude for how hard our body works and what it does for us every day. This kindness can guide our thoughts and behaviors rather than focusing on what our body isn’t or what we want it to be. Kindness could be changing our view on food and nourishment, and wanting to be kind to our bodies through nourishing it with the beneficial food it needs.
Start using the Strengths-Based Approach Today!
Okay, dear reader, here is my advice to you on how to get started harnessing your strengths for success in the New Year!
Start by sitting with a notepad and pen and really think a minute about the things you love and value about yourself. Think about the things that have helped you in life thus far, what you think is a strength and what sets you apart from others. Write these things down, and then also write out a goal. If you have multiple goals, do one at a time so as not to overwhelm yourself.
Now look at your strengths and goals together to see where there is overlap. Next you can put your creative thinking cap on to see how you can use your strengths to help you reach that goal!
If one of your strengths is being friendly and you want to advance in your career, consider reaching out to a mentor or supervisor about grabbing lunch or offer to buy them a coffee to pick their brain about an idea you have. Connect with this person and tell them about your goal, and how you would appreciate some extra support from them in that. I think you see where I am going with this, and the goal and strength combos could be endless. Don’t be afraid to be creative, as you possess the tools and power to create the life that you want!
Five Practical Tips to the Strengths-Based Approach
- Make a gratitude list of things you are grateful for about yourself.
- Start practicing self-compassion.
- Set yourself up for success: create a plan, write it down, and leave it somewhere you can see it.
- Create realistic expectations.
- When you slip up (yes I said when, because it is only a matter of time before we slip up or miss a goal and that is OKAY people) do not engage in negative self-talk. Instead, remember all the things you successfully did that day or week. There will be times we slip up; the point is to not let that make us give up, but to keep going.
Here’s to a happy and successful new year!
Meet Josephine: a warm, kind, and affirming therapist and couples counselor who specializes in communication, compassion, and connection. Her effective blend of emotionally focused therapy and positive coaching techniques can help you heal and grow, and create positive change in yourself and your relationships.