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The Anti-New Year's Resolution: Don't Focus on Goals

Dawn Zinkewich

PsychologistThis year I am not making a New Year’s resolutions list. Instead, I am just going to give everything my best possible effort. According to the essay, “The Power of Negative Thinking” recently published in The Wall Street Journal, it might be the ticket to achieving success.

The piece, which was adapted from a book, entitled The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking, suggests some very interesting ideas:

  • Thinking darker thoughts can actually make us happier
  • Sometimes the best way to address an uncertain future is focusing not on the best-case scenario but on the worst-case scenario
  • Sticking too closely to “goals” may actually lead to underachievement

What the author is saying makes a lot of sense to me. If you think happy perky thoughts all day and only concentrate on what you want to happen, you will surely end up disappointed. We all know in business and in life, there are obstacles to face. If you’re not facing tough decisions, you can’t possibly be challenging yourself. The easy road inhibits your ability to learn, improve, and be creative.

According to the article, thinking about worst-case scenarios can diffuse “the future of its anxiety-producing power.” This is also called “defensive pessimism.” Here, I’d say we call it productive paranoia, one of the distinctive behaviors of successful people outlined in the book “Great by Choice.” Essentially, be prepared and take clear-headed actions -- channel the paranoia into something productive.

And, if you’re focused too much on goals – setting and meeting goals – you might actually sell yourself short. For example, the article says that “many New York taxi drivers make less money in rainy weather than they could because they finish work as soon as they reach their mental target for what constitute a good day's earnings.” Instead, if you strive to do your best you can achieve and generate more positive results.

So this year, consider doing away with resolutions, goals and overly rosy outlooks. Be a realist and give everything your best possible effort. You might just find yourself being more productive, more successful – and happier!

Happy New Year!

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