ONE NIGHT I was getting ready for bed and I felt disappointed in myself. It had been a busy day but I didn’t feel like I’d done much to advance my goals, and I did a couple of things poorly. I didn’t want to end the day feeling down. Days like that I feel like I’m spinning my wheels and going nowhere. I feel frustrated and don’t look forward to tomorrow. Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever wished you had a way to bring yourself out of it?
Well, from now on, you’ll have something you can use. I invented a technique that night and I’ve used it many times since, and it works every time to raise my spirits and make me feel strong again, looking forward to another day.
I asked myself, “What did I do today that was right?” As soon as I asked it, I thought of something. Earlier that day I was going to say something in anger, and I held my tongue. “That was a good thing to do,” I thought to myself. And I already felt better. I had done at least one thing right.
But I didn’t stop there. I asked it again. What else did I do right today? After only a minute’s thought or less, I thought of another one. There were three small items on my desk I’d been meaning to do but not getting around to, and I got them done that day.
I felt better still. The day wasn’t a total loss. Not at all. And even though I did a couple things poorly, I had also done a couple things right, and this made me feel better.
I asked the question again a few more times and went to sleep feeling relaxed and satisfied, looking forward to a new day.
If this technique did nothing more than make me feel better, it would have been worthwhile. An improved mood is a definite asset. But the question does something else that may be even more valuable: It made me look into my day to see which actions I took were the most valuable.
Each right thing you do is something you do voluntarily — you have a choice in whether to do it or not.
By paying special attention to which ones are the truly good choices, you clarify your goals and moral principles. You clarify what you think is good. You clarify what you want more of. This clarity has practical, long-term benefits.
Ask yourself the question tonight. What did you do today that helped you achieve your most important goals? What did you do right today? What did you do that you can feel good about? Think of something, even a small thing. Enjoy it for a moment, and then ask the question again. What else? And what else? It’s an excellent exercise to help you feel good more often and increase your ability to accomplish your goals.
Give yourself credit for what you do right or well. A variation on this question is, “What would I do differently if I could do the day over?” And then “What am I really glad I did today?” Very helpful. Very productive.
Another version is: “What did I do today that was productive and what was a waste of my time?”
Another version is: What did I do that makes me feel proud of myself?
These are all questions to help solve a common problem: Neglecting to take credit for what you do right and focusing your attention on what you do wrong. The negative bias gives this tendency to nearly everyone.
The simple solution is to start taking credit for the things you do right. Ask yourself what you’re doing right, and keep asking, getting more and more answers. It is amazingly relaxing. It is a relief to know you’ve done some things right, and it makes you more aware of what you consider to be “right.” It makes you clearer about your values.
The question is a great one to ask at the end of the day, but you can ask it any time. In the car on the way home from work, for example, ask yourself, “What did I do right today?”
What can you take credit for? Go ahead and feel good. It doesn’t do any good to feel like a loser, which is the result of overlooking what you’re doing right. It accomplishes nothing to feel like a loser. In fact, it hinders your motivation.
Bragging may be a social blunder, but giving yourself legitimate credit, in the privacy of your own mind, for the good things you do is healthy, it feels good, and it supports your feelings of motivation (so it helps you accomplish your goals).