In 2014, I am not going to stop any behavior that has adverse consequences for me. Nope. I am done with trying to stop negative behavior. Instead, I am going to do more. Except…I am going to do more of those things I enjoy and I know are already doing good for me. Why? At a personal level, I am going to take my own professional advice. When I work with leaders and organizations I focus on helping them identify what they are doing well and, then, amplify it. That is, I help them do more of what is already working well for them. This is straight from the Appreciative Inquiry playbook, a development and change strategy that I use as often as possible in my work.
Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is, by its nature, counter intuitive. Rather than search out individual and organizational problems that need to be fixed, it focuses on what is working well and simply doing more of it. Some folks, who are trained to sniff out and fix problems find the approach a little frustrating, even a bit crazy making, at first. I work with a lot of social workers and public health professionals. My experience with them has convinced me that much of social work and public health training must be focused on identifying problems and finding solutions, both for individuals and systems. (If this is a misperception, I am sure some of my readers will be happy to offer a correction.) I have rarely worked with social workers and public health professionals who did not love problem solving and solution creation. Hence, asking them to take an “appreciative” perspective by identifying what is already working well often meets with baffled silence.
For example, doing SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis with social workers and public health folks is a fascinating experience. Most will fill up page-after-flip-chart-page of weaknesses and threats…and about a half page each of strengths and opportunities. In recent years I have stopped using SWOT analysis in favor of the Appreciative Inquiry SOAR (strengths, opportunities, aspirations, and results) analysis. This pushes folks to really think more deeply about what is working well and how they can amplify it to even better effect. At first, my social work and public health friends struggle with the exercise because there is no opportunity to list out the problems. (Once, I had an exasperated participant finally cry out in frustration, “WHEN are we going to talk about the problems?!?!”) Actually, we never did because we did not have to.
There are a lot of reasons why AI works so well, but there are two that are most important with regard to new year resolutions. First, by focusing our attention on what is already working well and doing more of it, we are also focusing our energy in a positive direction. Rather than working against something (e.g., trying to stop a behavior) we are working with the natural flow of our success. Who does not want more success in their lives, right? It is far more appealing and energizing than the failure that we often meet by trying to stop doing something we might really enjoy, even though it is not doing us any good. Appreciative Inquiry asks us to focus on replicating our successes. Over time, this focus on replicating success, and the good feelings that come with it, captures so much of our time and energy that we no longer have any left for the things that are not working well for us. As a result, the things that are not working for us tend to end on their own and we do not often miss them until some time later.
Second, AI allows us to define the future we want. That is, the more we do the positive things that are working well and that are being successful, the more likely they are to become a habit and, eventually, part of our nature. In this sense, through an appreciative approach, we construct the future we want to become our daily reality. Therefore, as I do more of the things that I enjoy, are good for me, and cause me to feel successful and good about myself, the more likely it is that they will become simply a part of who I am and what I do.
So, what is my list of counter intuitive, appreciative new year resolutions?
- I am going to continue eating tasty things that are good for me and I am going to eat more of them. Nearly four years ago I lost about 60 pounds by changing my diet with the help of Weight Watchers Online for Men. I did not eat much less nor did I eat things I do not like. I just learned to eat better. Whenever I put on a few pounds (as I have over the holidays) it is not because I am eating too much of things I like that are good for me, but because I am eating things I like but are not good for me. Confession: I am a Holiday Cookie Monster (especially springerle made from my mother’s recipe).
- I am going to continue to enjoy silence. When I went back to school to earn a Ph.D. in organizational leadership, I discovered the beautiful silence that is created by turning off all media. There was nothing in my life noisier than television. While I clung to my addiction to 24 until the series finished its run, once it was over, I rarely watched television. Now that the Ph.D. stands for Phinally Done, I’m finding that I can still live a happy, productive, and interesting life without much media. When I do watch television or engage with the media, I do so in a more mindful way today than I did in the past. I have come to love the calm focus that I can have as a result of the silence in which I prefer to work and live (I am also a practicing Quaker). You know, those Trappist Monks are on to something besides really good fruitcake!
- I am going to take more walks…without our dogs…in the coming year. I walk each day, usually to give our miniature
schnauzers their daily exercise. However, walking our dogs is complicated by too many distractions for curious schnauzer schnauzes. It has become even more complicated over the holidays by the addition to our family of my son’s dog, Guy Noir, a 16-year-old (80+ in dog years) miniature schnauzer that is blind and can barely walk. Sadly, we are thinking of this as hospice care for Guy. I love walking around some of the beautiful lakes in our community with my spouse…alone…without the dogs…and will do more of this in the coming year.
- I am going to do more dancing. We are ballroom dancers. No, you will not be seeing us on “Dancing With the Stars” nor will we be dancing in a competition near you. We are not competitive dancers…except sometimes we compete for the lead (even though, and this is an important point for my spouse, who reads these posts, to remember: I am the designated leader on the floor by all conventions of ballroom dance). We dance strictly for fun…and it shows. In fact, later today (New Year’s Eve) we will be dancing in the new year at our favorite ballroom with good friends we made dancing nearly eight years ago. My paper chase made it very difficult for us to maintain our regular dancing schedule. Now that “our” Ph.D. is behind us, my spouse and I are free again to dance as much as we can though it is never as much as we would like.
Those are my Appreciative Inquiry-informed, counter intuitive new year resolutions. I’ll let you know how it goes. Happy 2014!