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Creating Positive Life Changes

By Diane Dreher

Setting New Goals

At the start of a new year, many people set goals and resolutions, grateful for a fresh start. It might be time to initiate some type of change in your life, and for many people, change can be intimidating. However, it doesn’t have to be.

In the coming weeks, you can prepare for the new year and chart a new path by following four steps: Discovery, Detachment, Discernment, and Direction (Your Personal Renaissance, Dreher, 2008). These steps will help you to create goals that are well-aligned with your personal strengths and values, giving you a greater advantage for success.

Learn the 4 D's for Positive Change


Positive psychologists have found that everyone has five top character strengths or “signature strengths”. These are the characteristics that come most naturally to you and make you feel authentic when you are using them. You can discover your top 5 by taking the VIA Survey. Research has shown that using these strengths regularly can help you discover your calling and become happier, healthier, and more successful (Seligman, 2002; Seligman et al, 2005). Before you consider your goal, reflect on these strengths. Consider why strengths such as love, teamwork, prudence or judgment are important to you (view all 24 strengths here).


Have you been rushing from one commitment to the next without thinking about what you want or where you’re going? Detachment is about making more space in your life for what you really want by eliminating activities, situations, and people that drain your time and energy. As you prepare for next year, ask yourself, “Is this thing or obligation really necessary? Does this bring greater joy and meaning to my life?” If not, find a way to let it go.


Connect with your values by listening to your heart. Does what you’re doing bring you consolation or desolation? Consolation is a deep sense of communion with life, bringing feelings of love, joy, peace, inspiration, authenticity, gratitude, altruism, trust, creativity, and expansive growth. Consolation helps you create a meaningful life. Desolation closes you in and cuts you off from others, bringing feelings of fear, isolation, anxiety, worry, hostility, self-pity, guilt, depression, and lack of meaning. As you go through your days, listen to your heart and remember your top character strengths for greater discernment in doing things that make you feel authentic.


Set a goal that reflects your deepest values and begin using your strengths (such as perseverance, zest, creativity and curiosity) to get you there. In a process from hope psychology: write down a personal goal, then three steps to reach that goal, an obstacle that might come up for each step, and an alternative action to overcome each obstacle. When you’ve done that, close your eyes and visualize yourself taking these steps, overcoming the obstacles, and celebrating as you reach your goal. Open your eyes and when you’re ready, take the first step (Feldman & Dreher, 2012).

In this new year, you can chart a new path by discovering your strengths, detaching from distractions, discerning what you truly value, and following your new direction with hope.


  • Dreher, D. (2008). Your personal renaissance: 12 steps to finding your life’s true calling. New York, NY: Da Capo.
  • Feldman, D. B. and Dreher, D. E. (2012). Can hope be changed in 90 minutes? Testing the efficacy of a single-session goal-pursuit intervention for college students. Journal of Happiness Studies, 13, 745-759.
  • Seligman, M. E. P., Steen, T. A., Park, N, & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: Empirical validation of interventions. American Psychologist, 60, 410-421; Seligman, M.E. P. (2002). Authentic happiness. New York, NY: Free Press.