Have you ever gotten caught up in the “New Year, New You” trap? It’s an almost guaranteed way to set yourself up for disappointment and failure. But there is a better way – and you already have everything you need to make it work for you.
Why "New Year, New You" doesn't work
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but you’re exactly the same person at 00:00:01 on the 1st of January as you were at 11:59:59 on the 31st of December (barring a few cells that were born or died in those 2 seconds).
Got bad habits? They’re still with you. Got good habits? Yep, they’re coming along for the ride. Got dreams and goals? They’re still there too.
Behavioural psychologists have shown over and over again that when we try to make a massive and sudden change, we usually face an equally massive resistance. And that usually leads us to quit before we’ve gotten to our goal.
That’s why many New Year resolutions don’t last beyond the first few weeks of January. And it’s why books like ‘Atomic Habits‘ by James Clear and ‘How to Change‘ by Katy Milkman are so (deservedly) popular – because they break change down into little, managable steps. But little steps, by themselves, still aren’t enough to help you get to where you want to go.
The alternative to creating a "new you"
Instead of striving to become a new, different version of yourself to achieve your goals, why not nurture the best version of who you already are?
You already have everything within you that you need to achieve your goals and dreams. But you’ve probably spent way too long focusing on the things that are holding you back, so you’ve missed all the skills, experience, and knowledge that you possess.
And because these things are already with you, you don’t have to learn something new. You just need to turn your attention towards them and put them to good use.
It's time to use your strengths
In the world of The Strengths Deck, strengths come in a few different types: Genius, Reputation, Potential, and Proficiency. There’s also a category for weaknesses, which we’ll talk about another day. This post is about your strengths!
Genius strengths are the things that you are great at and love doing – they light you up as you use them. When you use them, you often find yourself in flow, able to produce excellent results in an enjoyable way, so absorbed in them that you lose sense of time, space, and self.
They are the ‘holy grail’ of strengths, because while you might work hard when you’re using them, it doesn’t feel like hard work. In a way, they energise you as you use them.
But you might not be familiar with your Genius strengths, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, they often feel really ‘natural’, so you might assume that everyone can do what you can do in these areas. And secondly, most of our business and social culture focuses on the things we aren’t good at, so you might not have taken the time to identify what you’re great at.
How to use them
The key strategy for your Genius strengths is to use them wisely – that might mean dialling up their use in one situation, and dialling them down in another.
Problem-solving is a fantastic strength to have and use. But if you are always in problem-solving mode, you might be missing opportunities to use other strengths, such as empathy or support, to help others solve their own problems.
Reputation strengths are things that you are great at, but that you find de-energising, or that you don’t enjoy using. They can be draining and depleting.
The reason they’re known as “reputation” strengths is that other people recognise these strengths as something you’re great at doing. That is, you get a reputation for them. And so they’ll often expect you to undertake tasks that call on these strengths, not realising that you find such tasks unfulfilling or unenjoyable.
However, you are great at these things, which means they can be useful to you, if used in the right way.
How to use them
The key strategy for your Reputation strengths is use them when needed, and in conjunction with other, more energising strengths.
You may find it depleting and exhausting to be the centre of attention, but if the only way to achieve your objective is to get up on stage, then you can bring in other strengths, such as storytelling, leadership, or humour to boost your enjoyment and energy while you’re in the spotlight.
Potential strengths are things that you really enjoy, but aren’t very good at. That might be because you haven’t used them enough to be able to hone your performance. It’s possible that, with a bit of practice, you could begin to see excellent results.
Or you might never see great results with them. They might simply remain an enjoyable pursuit or hobby. There is no rule that says you have to work on them until you get great results. In fact, it’s perfectly ok to be mediocre – or even terrible – at something that brings you joy!
Either way, using these strengths is a great way to bring more energy and enjoyment to what you’re doing. After all, we humans have a hedonistic streak, so we generally prefer to do things that feel good. Your potential strengths can be an excellent way to help you stick with a project or goal.
How to use them
The key strategy for your Potential strengths is to use them like seasoning to enhance what you are doing.
Gratitude might not be a regular part of your daily habits, and yet on the odd occasion when you do remember to think about what you’re grateful for, you might experience a surge of joy, energy, or satisfaction. Why not set up a couple of weekly reminders in your diary to prompt you to jot down a couple of things you’re grateful for?
Proficiency strengths are things that you’re pretty good at, and reasonably happy doing. They don’t light your fire like your Genius strengths do, but they’re reliable and consistent.
You’ll probably find your Proficiency strengths coming out on Friday afternoons – when you still want to be productive, but don’t feel like working intensely in a flow state like happens with your Genius strengths.
These are the workhorse strengths, because you’re able to turn in decent results consistently over a long period, without draining your battery.
How to use them
The key strategy for your Proficiency strengths is to build a solid core of them into your work and life.
You play a range of roles at work, home, and in the community (church, networking groups, neighbourhood networks, charities etc). Look for big and small ways you can bring more of your Proficiency strengths to the foreground – that could be volunteering to coordinate a project, party, or working bee, welcoming new faces to the organisation or community, or inspiring others to step up and do their part.
Not "new you", but "you you"
You are the only person who can be you. You have a unique strengths fingerprint, unlike anyone else on earth. And you have a unique mix of personality, experience, values, goals, and dreams to boot.
So there’s no need for a “new you”, now, or at any other time of year. Just be (with thanks to Dr Seuss for the inspiration) the you-est you that you can be.
That means leaning into your strengths, experimenting and playing with them until you find the combinations that nurture your wellbeing, boost your results, and help you create the life and work you’ve been dreaming of.
And by doing that, you’ll show those around you how to do the same for themselves too.