The Successful Thing

The Thankful Thing is a powerful device. Taking the time to list the things we are thankful for forces us to notice the positives that happen, even on bad days – like “I’m thankful that Simon tried to cheer me up today, even though I didn’t let him,” and “I’m thankful that Will is funny”. When we’re really in the swing of things we come out with the big stuff, like “all the good friends and family I have that help me through the hard times” – which is one my 10 year old came up with tonight.

We fell out of the habit of doing the Thankful Thing for a while, and only restarted this week. Once again it worked its usual magic, making us all smile. We hit the sweet spot where both kids raced to find more and more positive things, and we all wound up laughing and cheerful as a result.

This time I added another device – the “Successful Thing”. After the thankful thing, we each had to name something we had achieved that day. I’ve become increasingly aware lately that I get very focused on all the things I haven’t achieved. Which is crazy because I’ve had some great feedback recently, and when I stop and think about it, I’m getting a lot done. It’s just that my aspirational to do list is longer than any one person can possibly achieve.

I don’t actually want to trash my to do list, though, because reaching further than I think I can manage is a way of pushing myself to achieve bigger and better things. I want to keep reaching for the stars. But the consequence has been that I berate myself for every star I fail to bring home, completely ignoring the magnificent constellation I have already collected.

So now, as well as noting the things I am thankful for, I note the things I have achieved today. From small things like “writing a good exam question” (which might not be something my students are thankful for!), to “keeping my temper under extreme provocation”. From “mastering a new rope trick” to “helping a student understand a tricky concept.”

Sometimes it’s achievements to do with balance, like “making time to go for a walk with Cath to get coffee”, or “spending half an hour playing the piano.” Sometimes it’s doing something nice for someone else. It might be getting an article published, or doing some volunteer work. Or it might be clearing a particularly feral patch of weeds from the garden. Anything that I can feel a sense of achievement about.

The first night we did it I was feeling impressively morose, and I doubted my ability to find even one thing to put on my list. But to encourage my girls I figured I should go first, and when I put my mind to it I discovered I had actually achieved a lot that day. My miserable mood was based on an entirely erroneous perception of how things had gone.

The kids found it hard at first, even a little embarrassing, but they soon got on a roll and started clamouring to tell us all the things they were proud of doing.

I sat down to that dinner feeling tired, dispirited and overwhelmed. But by the time we had finished both the thankful and successful things, I was feeling pretty good about my life.

Now that’s an achievement!

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