Life is full of triumphs and disappointments, but it’s telling that we often focus on the disappointments and remember them better than the triumphs. Last year I experimented with keeping count of both.
I’ve often used the ‘write down your problems’ – or disappointments or lack of achievement – as a solution-finding exercises, and this in itself can provide motivation. Yet it seems somehow vain and self-congratulatory to write down achievements, as if I am showing off.
Part of this experiment was to tell people about both my triumphs and disappointments, rather than be continuously negative. People are so used to moaning and complaining about the bad things that happen to them (usually someone else is to blame) and it’s rare to see someone smiling widely and telling people that they have achieved something worthwhile, and that they are proud of themselves. This didn’t go down well at all. Like Internet consumer forums, where we often only hear about the bad side of products and services, life has turned into a huge self-depreciating moan-fest where statements of achievements are greeted with suspicion and scorn. However much people say they wish they were more optimistic, they often still seek out problems and complaints.
So, I kept a list. I counted up all my problems and all my achievements. After a while, a strange effect emerged. Whereas the ‘problem’ column was initially much longer than the ‘acheivements’ column, that position reversed. I began looking for achievements, no matter how small. It felt so good to write down something that I had done right, that I could celebrate, that I began to seek them out. Curiously, many of the achievements I identified were within the disappointments: near misses and learning opportunities that I would have otherwise missed.
The problems were many, and the potential achievements, that is the projects I had put in motion in order to write down as an achievement, started out as unsteady ideas. Often half-formed as they hatched into the world, some of them faltered, and some of them struggled on until the final hurdle, then tripped and fell before the finish line. The crucial point is that I was cheering them on with a feeling of pride and optimism.
It was only then I realised that while triumph and disappointment were opposites on an axis, optimism and pessimism cross that axis and balance it. Pessimism goes hand in hand with disappointment – ‘it didn’t work last time so don’t try again’. Therefore, focus on problems and failure and pessimism will follow. However, focus on achievements and triumphs (however small) and optimism will grow.
At the end of 2011 I achieved a goal that I had been working towards for more than ten years. I had been putting off the final step of this goal, as the outcome was by no means certain and required a certain amount of courage to even try for. Many of my triumphs and disappointments had been circling this seemingly unachievable goal. This year I finally found the courage to try. In the end, it came in the form of a letter, telling me that I had been successful. Although the letter simply stated that I had done it, I knew that within those few words there was a party, complete with streamers and champagne, a cheering crowd and a proud addition to my list. I know that in the process I had slightly changed the world for the better, and hopefully improved people’s lives, and by focusing on this instead of the length of time it took and the sacrifices I have made, I am able to be optimistic as I move onto my next project.
So this year I’ll be bathing in optimism and giving my whole attention to counting my many self-made blessings, and steering clear of negatively driven people who are focused on self-loathing and attention seeking. I know there are problems ahead, but I’ll meet them as a learning curve and try not to be despondent. I’ll be keeping away from those individuals who are convinced that they are right and therefore have a closed mind. I’m making a list and searching out success, however small and hidden, and, even in these uncertain times, looking forward to 2012. My mantra for next year will be ‘Don’t give up, you’re closer than you think.’