Feeling the glow of our achievements helps us to keep on track
19th February 2018
Feeling good about what we’ve achieved shouldn’t be difficult – should it? Well, it turns out that enjoying good feelings about good stuff actually takes a little work. Case in point, a couple of weeks ago I was having coffee with a friend who was telling me that although she was very disappointed to have missed out on a recent promotion, she’d bounced back and was now determined to fill any gaps in her experience and skills so that she’d be ready when the next opportunity came along.
As I sat there admiring her pluck, I couldn’t help noticing that every sentence seemed to include some sort of personal put-down, such as “I should do more”, “I wish I had said that”, “I can’t believe I haven’t done this before” etc. I said it seemed that she was doing a huge amount and I was sure it would pay off, to which she said “I know I shouldn’t be so hard on myself but I can’t help it”.
Listening to this strong, intelligent woman who was moving forward so positively with her life, but seemingly not allowing herself to feel good about it, got me thinking about how many of us have a tendency to focus on the areas where we feel we fall short rather than our successes and progress.
Rick Hanson is my guru on this aspect of human nature, which he and the famous Roy F. Baumeister describe as our negativity bias, a tendency to be ultra-aware of negative things which is rooted in our ancestral survival instinct – if we see a tiger once in our lives, we have to keep constantly remembering that tiger in order to be prepared if we come across it again. Rick describes how the “brain is like Velcro for negative experiences, but Teflon for positive ones”. It reminds me of when I worked in the NHS and patients told me about their experiences of healthcare, mostly good but some not so good – when people told me about the good ones it was a really short email or conversation. The complaints, however, ran to pages.
So, with this negativity bias in mind, we have to make a bit of a conscious effort to shift the balance so that we get to enjoy the good feelings that come from the good things that are happening. As well as losing out on nice feelings, if we don’t give enough value and attention to our successes, we don’t build on them, gain confidence from them or keep track of our goals. .
Here are a few tips that I’ve found useful to help us BIG UP the good stuff:
Write things down: I have a wonderful coach and one of the first things she advised me was to get a little notebook (little so it can go with me everywhere) to write down my plans after each session to keep me on track. There is nothing more satisfying than ticking things off that I’ve done and makes it hard to ignore that you have made progress.
Reflect on the positive: Make it a positive intention to reflect on the good. Start noticing lovely things that happen and letting yourself dwell in the glow. I’ve got a friend who when we meet, her smile always lingers a bit longer than other people I know and when something gives her joy she seems to be basking in it. I can feel her savouring and enjoying those moments. Rick has lots of tips on how to develop this within yourself in his Just One Thing book.
Tell someone: Can you identify one or two people in your life who are really interested in your stuff and want to hear about the latest thing that has happened? Rather telling them in detail about that annoying colleague or that recent tax bill, tell them (and enjoy the moment) about something good and blow your own trumpet a bit. That way it makes it bigger than just going round in your head.
I’ll end on this great, enduring quote (wrongly and weirdly attributed to Nelson Mandela, maybe because we can imagine him saying this) by Marianne Williamson. It reminds us that feeling the glow isn’t selfish or self-indulgent, it’s good for you and for everyone around you…
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate, our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.