It’s January again (in case you haven’t noticed) and many of us are scrambling for pen and paper/mouse/ipad/computer/mobile phone/postit note, intent on recording our new year resolutions and by so doing, set some goals to achieve for the year. This list (or record) is a manifestation of our sincere hope to improve our future in some way, and by signalling our good intentions in black and white, we pin our colours to the mast. Before us is a whole new year – like a clean slate – and if we can follow through on our good intentions we experience a delicious sense of achievement at the year end, when we tick off some, or even one, of our goals. How will life be different if we manage to achieve some of these resolutions?

I have worked with many people for whom lists and recording have become an invaluable tool in finding a solution to their difficulties. Ray and Jess, together for 9 years and both in their early thirties, were arguing with increasing frequency, often over “silly and trivial” matters. They were unable to reach any mutually satisfactory agreement. They were at the end of their tethers and were considering splitting up, but were concerned about the effect on their two children, aged 5 and 2 years. Ray had a full time job with frequent deadlines and Jess worked part-time outside the home as well as undertaking her role as primary carer of the children. They described themselves as feeling exhausted, stressed and overwhelmed. It emerged that their aim was to share, as equally as possible, the upbringing of their children, to have more leisure time together as a couple and as a family, to manage their working lives better and to have a clearer idea of what each expected of the other on a daily basis. Neither of them really wanted the marriage to end.

What became pivotal to their solution were several lists they compiled together, which clarified for them:

  • what roles they were both happy to undertake in the marriage?
  • what responsibilities they felt were inherent in these roles?
  • what they wished to achieve as a family?
  • what elements they needed in their lives to feel they could maintain separate identities, but be part of a working and fulfilling partnership?

Using their lists (which they felt able to discuss, amend and fix as their solution became clearer) they were able to build slowly on this vision.

So how do we set about compiling such lists? When it comes to resolutions for the new year, for instance, how many goals do we go for? Are we being too ambitious? Not ambitious enough? Are we serious about our resolutions or just half-hearted? What if we fail?

From my work with clients it’s become clear to me that there are a number of processes happening here.  They are trying:

  • to clarify and define the muddle,
  • to record their thoughts,
  • sort out an objective,
  • find a way forward,
  • express their future vision.

The lists and recording provide a symbol of hope and, most importantly, allow for a glimpse of how and what will be different in their lives were they to achieve the items recorded.

Clients often don’t achieve everything on the list, but the vision of what is possible often remains clear and any small steps taken are a good start – another list can always be made and any small successes can be built upon. It may be helpful to keep asking what will be different when you make changes and who will notice the differences?

Good luck and Happy New Year!

The situations  mentioned in these blogs are an amalgam of cases I have worked with, which share a central theme.  Although universal themes emerge in discussions with clients, central to solution focused therapy is the recognition that each client experiences their problem in a way unique to them, it therefore follows that their solutions are also unique to them. My job is to facilitate the search for their solutions.   Discussing these central themes by representing an amalgam of cases allows for client confidentiality and anonymity to be protected and to this end also any identifying details and names have been changed.