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Beyond resolutions: five ways to create a brighter 2021

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Beyond resolutions: five ways to create a brighter 2021

After a taxing 2020, most of us will be keen to start the new year on a brighter note. Maybe you’re diving into a new exercise regime, learning a new skill or improving a relationship.

But how many of us will take a critical look at the way we think?

Our thought patterns power the achievement of so many of our goals, but it’s easy to become stuck in negative patterns that hinder us.

Way back in Victorian times, the pioneering American psychologist William James wrote that the greatest discovery of his generation was our ability to change our lives by ‘choosing one thought over another’.


So here are five ideas for adopting a more positive outlook for 2021.


Draw your Zorro circle

Feeling a sense of control in our lives is a major driver of happiness. But in our pandemic-ravaged world control can feel more distant than ever, with many of us worrying over things we cannot directly influence.

In the film The Mask of Zorro, the ageing sword master Don Diego trains his impetuous protegee Alejandro by drawing a circle around him in the dirt. “This circle will be your world,” Diego tells him. “Until I tell you otherwise, there is nothing outside of it.”

Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage, suggests we draw our own metaphorical Zorro circle to help focus our attention.

We can use this idea in two ways. If you’re worried about something, decide whether it belongs inside the circle – meaning you can do something about it – or outside, meaning you can’t. Focus on what’s inside your circle.

We can also use it to focus our attention on achieving small, easily obtainable goals which give us a sense of control and progress. Once we’ve achieved these, we can draw a wider circle to include more stretching goals.


Choose a positive interpretation of events

When things go wrong our brains create our own interpretation of the situation, viewing the event as either fortunate or unfortunate.

Achor explains how, in these situations, we’re more likely to see the negative. In a national lockdown, for example, we may focus on the lack of social contact, the cancelled plans, economic distress. But we could also choose to look for the benefits: a slower pace of life perhaps, more free time, wildlife returning to towns and cities.

The same principle can be used in our relationships. We have a tendency to attribute other people’s negative behaviour to their character rather than the situation they find themselves in – a cognitive bias known as fundamental attribution error.

Indra Nooyi, the former Chairman and CEO of Pepsico, had a simple approach to combat this tendency. Asked for the most important advice she had ever been given, she responded:

Whatever anybody says or does, assume positive intent.

By choosing a positive interpretation of events, we’re better able to deal with them.


Craft your own narrative

From Moneyball to The Big Short, the author Michael Lewis has told some compelling stories about real-life events. But when researching these stories, Lewis found that people tend to craft narratives about themselves. As he told The Tim Ferris Show, these stories can soon become self-fulfilling prophecies – for better or for worse.

Lewis decided to create his own narrative: that he was the happiest person anybody knows. “And it’s amazing how happy-inducing it is,” he says.

If you think this is harder than it sounds, our Victorian psychologist William James can offer further insight. As Richard Wiseman explains in Rip It Up, James proposed the extraordinary ‘As If’ principle: that people may be able to change their mood simply by changing their actions. Over a hundred years later, dozens of experiments have shown its validity.

So if you want to feel happy, simply behave as if you are. To feel younger, act younger. To be more energetic, act more energetic. Why not give it a try?


Visualise the positive

Whatever your goals for this year, you’re likely to want to perform better at something. Perhaps it’s running a difficult meeting, delivering better presentations or perfecting your tennis forehand. The way we think about these challenges can have a big impact on our success.

In The Pressure Principle, performance coach Dave Alred describes how moving towards something – wanting to achieve it – is far better than moving away from something, by not wanting to fail. If we try to avoid failing, we’re putting the fear of failure in our head. Visualising a positive outcome, on the other hand, can significantly increase our chance of success.

So instead of trying not to get nervous, visualise yourself delivering a smooth and professional presentation. Picture hitting a smooth, powerful forehand, rather than trying not to hit the ball long.


Infuse your work with new purpose

If you’ve been in your role for a while – or are still reeling from the onslaught of 2020 – you may feel your spark for work burning a little less brightly. If that’s the case, there are ways to infuse your role with a new sense of purpose – simply by viewing it in a different way.

Achor recommends summarising your job description to highlight the impact it has on others – whether that’s colleagues, customers or the public. Simply reminding ourselves of the impact of our roles can help refresh the way we look at them.

Or try a tip from Dan Pink in To Sell is Human. Authors, Pink points out, frequently dedicate their books to other people. So why not dedicate your own work – a campaign, a new website, a difficult project – to an important person in your life? This extra dimension can help infuse your day-to-day work with new meaning and satisfaction.

Whatever our goals for 2021 and beyond, the way we think will play a key role in our success. We really can, as William James discovered, improve our lives by choosing one thought over another.


Here’s to a brighter 2021.

By Dave Wraith for Alive!

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Jo Hobbs — Communications Manager

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Sarah Crowdy — Campaign and Media Officer Communications, South East Water

“We went to ‘Alive’ for ideas on how to run a specific employee program in Europe. Alan and his team were brilliant in coming up with fresh, creative and practical approaches. The team took charge and executed brilliantly. We are pleased with the progress made so far and hope to have the same level of partnership and commitment going forward.”

Sobha Varghese — Tata Consultancy Services

“Alive helped us create a video of our response to the floods of winter 2019. Our Chief Officer received messages from all round the country praising us for it and was really pleased with both the video and the response to it.”

Alexander Mills, Communications Manager — South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue

“We had the privilege to work with the Alive team. It was our first time to be involved in creating an animation for our patients within paediatrics. The team were approachable, friendly, creative and very accommodating. Your vision for what you want to create, is at all times acknowledged, appreciated and accommodated by the team. They worked effectively and with great passion towards our project and worked not only alongside health professionals but also our patients who really enjoyed the experience of working with the Alive team. It has given our team the confidence and inspiration to do further projects in the future. We highly recommend Alive and their exceptional team.”

DR ELENI ATHANASAKOS, Lead Paediatric Clinical Scientist — NHS Barts Health

“‘The short animation developed in co-production with clinicians and young people is outstanding! Informative, developmentally appropriate, vitally fun and engaging. We are really grateful for the expertise of the Alive with Ideas team for their innovative approach in building children’s health literacy.'”

Kath Evans — Director of Children’s Nursing at Barts Health

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Lianne Springer — Communications and Engagement Lead

“Alive wowed us during the pitch process and they didn’t stop wowing us throughout the whole project. Every person we worked with at Alive were so friendly, knowledgeable and clearly passionate about what they do. They have worked with us to really understand what we do and have created a new brand and website that really stands out from our competitors. Thank you!”

Louise Burnard, Head of Marketing and Communications UK — Be | Shaping the Future

“I think the team have done such a brilliant job, particularly with responding to our requests. It's one of the best mental health videos I've ever seen. Very proud to be associated with your exemplary work. Thank you so much.”

Dr Anna Batho — Clinical Psychologist – Critical Care, UCLH

“We have worked with Alan, Caroline and the wider Alive With Ideas team for many years. In that time, they have provided a dedicated service that is second to none. We appreciate their attention to detail and creative approach to bringing our brand, communications and stories to life. And would recommend them to anyone looking for creative communications support.”

Georgia Beech — Internal Communications Specialist, Ocado Group

“This is brilliant. I wanted to give my heartfelt thanks to all of the team who worked on this. You all understood exactly what we wanted to communicate and why, and then managed to do it in a way that was far better than anything I could have imagined. I’m a bit choked up to be honest!”

Sarah Wright, Head of Communications and Campaigns — NEA

“Each time I work with the team, I am always stunned at the effort and creativity that goes into each detail and am always eager for the end result. The team is extremely accommodating and always provide a fresh approach to our projects that elevates our communications materials!”

Alana Khaytin, Communications Specialist — Braskem America

“What I really appreciate about Alive is that they work with us as partners, and care as much about getting it right for our patients as we do.”

Sara Langston, Patient Engagement & Marketing Manager — italk

“Alive are unique in how much they deeply listen and invest in you and your ideas. I have not come across a company that listens as much as they do to ensure your needs are understood and met (actually - they always exceed my needs and expectations). Everyone I recommend Alive to has an equally brilliant experience. When you work with Alive, you are not only getting some genius creativity brought into your life, you are also hanging out with some of the best examples of human beings I’ve ever known.”

Steph Tranter, Hybrid Exec Coach & Psychologist —

“The (Alive) team were able to creatively pull together and document (in just over 2minutes) everything our service has achieved over the last few months, from thousands of prescriptions deliveries to hundreds of phone calls made to the vulnerable. The final product was so powerful and reflective of what our service has and continues to achieve. It couldn’t have been better received within the service – thanks Alive for once again helping us to communicate our vision!’”

Emma Wright — South Yorkshire & Rescue

“We worked with the team at Alive to create our staff recognition video.
At a time like this, its never been more important to share the amazing work that our staff have done and continue to do on a daily basis under very difficult circumstances. We wanted to shout about this and recognise that when the time came, South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue stepped up to the plate. We didn’t want an ordinary thank you post on social media or a basic email sent out internally, we wanted something special. Enter Alive. ”

Emma Wright — South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue

“Our company is fun, we have great brands, but most importantly we’re all about our people – and I wanted an agency who would understand that and help us bring it to life through our website and other comms. Straight away I felt that Alive ‘got’ us and provided the creative inspiration exactly where we needed it, as well as the technical expertise to deliver a well-functioning website.”

Keren McCarron, Head of Corporate Affairs & Communications — KP Snacks

Thank you so much. Incredible work done at incredible speed by incredible people.
Outstanding work as ever and what a turnaround. As for the concepts – wow. These are that good it would be an insult to describe them as just good. It’s a joke, quite frankly. This is exactly the Alive effect I was after. Right now I feel like I am living in an Alive With Ideas wonderland. Thank you!”

Jack Grasby, Campaigns Manager — SYFR

“If you are looking to improve creativity and build teamwork, I highly recommend a session like this for your team. No matter where you are in your creativity journey, a workshop like this can give your team a boost of energy and ideas to invigorate their creative thinking.”

Amy Lilja, IC Manager — Hennepin Healthcare

“Alive were there to help when we were working every hour to respond to the coronavirus outbreak. They gave us the creativity, ideas and support we needed to deliver campaigns which empowered our residents in the most difficult time most of us have ever seen, personally and professionally. The team understood what we needed, worked closely with us and delivered fast without any compromise on quality. Working with Alive has been a joy in the darkest of times and I have no doubt will have helped to save lives. Thanks team x”

Julie Odams, Assistant Director of Communications & Customers — Derbyshire County Council

“We got 'Alive' involved to help us shift mindsets across our organisation and they delivered! Using simple, clear and creative ideas the team have delivered us a campaign which has seen a dramatic increase in idea sharing and development. They’ve also played a significant role in creating a culture of shared success. I wouldn’t hesitate to work with again, in fact, we already are!”

Gavin Buckle — B&Q
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