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What Do You Want More Of?

It’s that time of year again – the time to think about (or ignore) New Year’s Resolutions. I’m not a huge fan of them, but that may be in part because they’re often framed in the negative, as what you want to lose or stop doing.


Lose weight. Eat less sugar. Spend less time watching TV. Don’t work as much. Spend less. Don’t buy as much stuff. Cut back on drinking. Don’t go on social media so often. You get the idea.


The problem is that thinking about resolutions this way puts the focus on the negative. What if, instead, you focused on what you want to gain? What is it that you want more of in your life?


Why focus on positive additions

When you cut something out of your life, or even reduce it, that leaves you with a hole. It might be that you now have more time, or you have more empty spots in your menu planning, or you might even know less about what’s going on with people in your life if you cut back on social media.


Those empty spots aren’t bad, exactly, but you may have heard the phrase, “Nature abhors a vacuum.” That means when you have a hole or empty spot, something will rush in to fill it.


And if you haven’t planned what to fill it with, you may not like the results. Say you want to eat less sugar. You might focus on sugar-free foods, including ones with artificial sweeteners, and you may feel that because they don’t have sugar, you can eat as much of them as you want. That’s pretty much guaranteed to backfire.


Or say you want to cut back on social media. That’s not a bad idea, but with the extra time, maybe instead you decide to watch more YouTube videos. That still keeps you on a device and may not help achieve what you actually wanted, which is less screen time. (Although maybe you have a different goal.)


Instead, if you focus on what you want to do or have, then you can find an approach that helps you get there. That approach will likely mean making other changes, perhaps taking out something from your life, but this way, you know what to fill the empty spot with.


How I’m thinking about it

Although I don’t typically do resolutions, I’ve been thinking of how I might apply this in my own life. One example is travel.


Even before COVID hit, I had cut back on some travel, mainly because at the time, I had elderly cats who needed regular medication. Then COVID happened, and I had no interest in flying anywhere.


Now, COVID is a little less of a concern (though it’s sure sticking around), but I’ve been thinking about the climate impact of air travel. I thought about it before, too, but in earlier years, I thought carbon offsets were a good way to go. Now I know that carbon offsets aren’t very effective – if at all effective – and the impacts of climate change are becoming much more immediate.


Given that, I’m trying not to fly unless it’s something I need to do or really, really want to do on a limited basis. So far, I haven’t found a reason to fly.


For quite a while, I thought that meant no more travel at all, which was a little sad to consider. Travel takes a lot of planning, and catching up at work afterward is a pain, but it’s also nice to see new places.


Then I had a (very obvious) epiphany – flying isn’t the only way to get places.


Earlier in the year, someone mentioned the CAT ferry to Nova Scotia, and I realized I could do that pretty easily. I would also love to get back to see the museums at the Smithsonian Institution in D.C., given that it’s been almost 20 years since my last visit and I’m sure a lot of things have changed and been added.


For that matter, there are quite a few places in Maine I’ve never been to, to say nothing of New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Pennsylvania, all of which are within driving distance (or accessible via train service).


So, instead of thinking about cutting out travel because I’m trying to avoid flying, I’m thinking about how I can add small trips to places I can get to in other ways.


What do you want to add?

If this approach appeals to you, think about what you want to add. Maybe you feel like you don’t want to watch as much TV, but what do you want to do instead? Do you want to read more? Start painting? Play a sport? Play games with friends?


Or if you want to eat less of a certain food, it can help to take the approach of “crowding it out” with other foods that you like or want to experiment with. That way, you’re not cutting it out so much as you no longer have room for it, and that can make the change much easier.


You can get creative with this, but keeping the focus on the positive and on what you want to have more of in your life will set you up for greater success.


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