“I Did It!” – Reaping the Joys of Accomplishment

Gold MedalWhat does accomplishment get you?  One look at the face of a medal-winning Olympian or at a toddler who just took her first solo steps will tell you.

There’s something about “I did it!” that sets all kinds of positive emotions racing through us: pride, satisfaction, gratitude, and joy.   And our accomplishment doesn’t even have to be spectacular.  It can be as mundane as finally getting the laundry done, or the garage cleaned out.

We love the feelings of achieving our goals, of winning, of mastering something.  They add to our sense of competence and self-worth.  They let us know we’re capable of doing what we set out to do.

And for all these reasons and more, Martin Seligman, one of the founders of positive psychology, names accomplishment (or achievement) as one of the five pillars of well-being.

The Joy of Achievement

According to a study by Julie Ashby and colleagues, people who are motivated by a desire to achieve tend to be independent and self-sufficient.  They believe that effort and skill determine results.  Because their goals matter to them, they keep going when obstacles confront them.  In fact, obstacles make them turn up the steam.

They thrive in high-stress situations that the less confident might find crushing.  And they experience high levels of satisfaction and joy.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd President of the United States, was one of these achievement oriented people.  He linked happiness itself to accomplishment:  “Happiness lies in the joy of achievement,” he said, “and the thrill of creative effort.”

Avoiding Frazzle; Finding Flow

Not everybody is cut out to be a high-achiever.  But everyone can claim the joys of accomplishment for themselves to add to their store of well-being.

In his article, “The Sweet Spot for Achievement,”  Emotional Intelligence author Daniel Goleman, Ph.D.,  says that to glean maximum joy from accomplishments we need to find the balance between boredom and overwhelming pressure.  Then our striving for achievement generates the kind of stress that’s exhilarating and healthy.   Find that, and you find yourself  in a state of flow “In flow,” Goleman says, “we channel our positive emotions in an energized pursuit of the task at hand.  Our focus is undistracted, and we feel a spontaneous joy, even rapture.”

Even when you’re doing a mundane task, you can intentionally increase the challenge just by challenging yourself to complete it in record time, or to do it flawlessly or with maximum creativity or style.   Likewise, if your tasks are too daunting, scale them down.  Give yourself more time to complete them or enlist some help.

The key to getting into flow is to keep your attention on what you’re doing without being distracted either by boredom or by pressure.  What you want to create is a situation where the demands of the situation are well-matched by your  skills, when you’re challenged to use them to the best of your ability without feeling that the situation is way beyond your reach.

Cultivating Attention

The more you can keep your attention on what you’re doing, the more you will accomplish in any given time.  You gather the heightened sense of well-being that achievement more frequently by cultivating your mind to pay attention more fully.

One way to do this is to practice mindfulness, the art of keeping your attention in the present moment.  My friend Cristina Diaz  suggests describing to yourself what you’re doing as you do it:  “This is me, brushing my teeth.”    “This is me, washing this blue dish.”   “This is me, walking down this sunny sidewalk.”

Another friend of mine plays what she calls “The ‘I Like’ Game.”  She looks for things in her immediate environment that she can appreciate.  “I like the warmth of the air.”  “I like that person’s smile.”

Or just notice, with curiosity, and without judgment, what data your senses are bringing you.

Practicing simple meditation is another excellent way to cultivate your attention.  In fact, the word “meditation” actually means “cultivation.”   Boiled down to their essence, most meditation techniques involve nothing more than choosing something to focus on—a word or phrase, for example, or your breath.  Ideally, you want to be comfortably seated and to close your eyes to minimize distractions.  Then simply place your attention on your word or breath, and when you notice that your thoughts have distracted you, gently return to the object of your focus.

If you can do that regularly for as little as two or three minutes at a time to begin with, your ability to keep your attention on what you’re doing will begin to increase.   I sometimes practice when I’m in the checkout line at the grocery store, choosing a nearby item to focus my attention on instead of closing my eyes.  I’ll stare at it, diffusing my focus, and pay attention to my breath, allowing myself notice objects and movements in my peripheral vision, and coming back to my breath when I’m distracted.

Aim High

Performance coach and author Caroline Adams Miller says the way to garner the rewards of accomplishment is to ask more of yourself than you think is possible.  Hundreds of studies, she notes, have found that the best kind of goals are are “challenging and specific.”

“Mediocre goals,” Miller says, “or no goals lead to poor results and poor well-being.  You will go farther and have higher self-esteem if you always shoot for something slightly beyond your grasp.”

It’s a simple formula.  Set goals for yourself.  Pay attention.  Do your best.  Challenge yourself to reach higher.

Put it to use in your life and watch it make things more fun.  See how much you can do and how well you can do it.  The reward is in the doing, and in crossing the finish line with a triumphant, “I did it!” in your heart.

 

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This is the final article in a series about Martin Seligman’s five pillars of well-being.  In addition to Accomplishment, the other four pillars are: Positive Emotions, Engagement, Positive Relationships, and Meaning.

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Positive Questions for Powerful Change

Question MarkWhat if you could trick your brain into making all the right choices for you?   What if you sneakily set it up to choose the apple over the chocolate cake, of to stick out its tongue at your impulse to put that tempting trinket on your credit card?

Way back in 1980, Master NLP trainer Rex Steven Sikes, discovered a simple way that anyone can use to direct their thinking toward finding the solutions they were after.  He called it Directed Questions™.   Unfortunately, the method never got the attention it deserved.

Then, in 2008, Noah St. John stumbled on the method one morning in his shower when he was mulling over the lack of results he was getting using affirmations to create new behaviors.  He called it Afformations™ and has been making a great living telling people about it ever since.

In that same year, motivational trainer Kevin Hogan  picked up the idea and gave it the descriptive—and non-trademarked—name “positive affirmative questions.”

That’s what I call it, too; I abbreviate it as PAQ .    And because it’s one of the easiest and most powerful tools you can add to your personal growth toolkit, I want to share it with you today.

So, What’s a Positive Affirmative Question?

Simply put, a PAQ is a question you ask yourself in order to focus your brain on a positive behavior or attitude that you want to create or expand.

Their power comes from your mind’s need to search for answers to questions that you pose to it, and from the fact that, unlike affirmations, PAQs don’t give your brain something to argue with.

Let me give you an example.  Suppose you want to lose weight.  You could bombard your brain with an affirmative statement like “I enjoy eating healthy foods and exercising every day.”   That might help.  But if it were true, you would be eating healthily and exercising already.   So some part of your brain considers it a lie—or, at best, a wish—and refuses to see it as a reality.

But suppose, instead, you asked yourself questions like, “How many ways can I find to eat healthier foods?”  and “How can I add more activity to my day?”  How do you think your brain would react?

Here are a few more examples of positive affirmative questions:
(Note: when you say “I wonder…” you’re really asking a question.)

  • Why do I feel so good about myself now?
  • What’s good about this situation?
  • How quickly can I finish this project and do a fantastic job?
  • I wonder how soon I can reach my ideal weight?
  • How many ways can I find to stay within my budget?
  • What are some fun ways that I can learn this faster?
  • Why am I seeing so many great traits in my partner now?
  • Why am I feeling so much more confident now?
  • What’s good about this situation?

Why Positive Affirmative Questions Work

Rex Sikes, the fellow who calls these Directed Questions™, explains that questions direct the mind.  They send it inexorably on a search for answers.  They focus you on what you want and help you discover avenues for getting it.  And what we focus on becomes dominant in our lives.

Sikes claims they have 300-400 times more power than affirmations do.

Because PAQs are rooted in positive assumptions about your life rather than negative ones, they’re empowering.   They utilize your imagination and creativity and put your focus on you want instead of what you lack.  “Why am I so fortunate now?”  “How can I slim down and enjoy the process?”

A third reason for their power is that the answers come from within you.  They’re from the expert who knows you best, not some outside authority or guru.  So they feel more authentic, making it natural for you to accept the answers they generate for you.

When PAQs Backfire

Unlike affirmations, PAQs have a very low backfire potential.   When you use affirmations your mind has that tendency to argue with you.  If you say “I easily and confidently close sales,” your brain is likely to scoff, “You do not, you big coward.  You fumble and bumble and blow it every time.”

Well, on rare occasions—and I do mean rare– some PAQs can backfire, too.  It’s happened to me.  “Why am I so happy now?” was a signature question for me a couple years ago.  It’s what motivated me to start my blog, High on Happiness and I use it to this day.

Sometimes, in the beginning, when I was in a particular funk and I asked it, a grumpy inner voice would growl at me, “I’m not happy.  I’m a miserable wretch.”   And you know what I did?  I refused to accept that as an answer and growled right back, “I know you’re not happy.  But why am I so happy now?”  And my brain would, Oh!” as if it understood now, and go in search of things that were delightful, or comforting, or satisfying in my world.

Of course I was a newbie with PAQs at the time.  If I had understood them as well then as I do now, I would have known to rephrase the question:  “What are some ways I can begin to feel happier now?”  or “I wonder how many things I can find to feel happier about?”

I could even have used a PAQ to find a better question.  “What are some questions I could ask to help myself feel happier now?”

How to Put Positive Affirmative Questions To Work for You

By now, you probably see how easy it is to create PAQs.  First, you decide what you want—a change in attitude, a new approach to something, a behavior change, even a tangible acquisition.

Next, you form a question based around it, using words like “why,” “what,” “how,” “how many,” “how quickly” and “I wonder.”

Finally, you take action on the answers—not only because the answers will lead to success,  but to reinforce the whole process and prove its worth to you.

Sikes recommends that you think up questions for yourself every morning and every night, and that you practice with the method for 21 days in a row.   If you decide to adopt this as your positivity practice for the month, I guarantee that one month from now, you’ll see concrete evidence of this little tool’s mighty power.

You can start right now.  Ask yourself, “How many ways can I show Susan how much I liked this article?”

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Starting Anew: Three Easy Steps to a Happy New Year

WhooHoooo!  Here comes another one!  A brand new, never-before-seen year is inching toward the horizon.

What are you going to do with it?  More of the same?  Something new?

If “more of the same means” life has been grand and your intention is only to make it even better, super!  And if you want to change a few things, that’s great, too.  “Better and better and better” is what gives life its zing.

Of course we don’t need a whole brand new year in order to make new beginnings.  Every morning, every moment, holds the potential for making new choices and reaffirming old ones.  The key to personal power is owning the choices that are ours to make.

The problem is that it’s not always easy to recognize those choices, let alone embrace them.  We get so mired in programmed behaviors and old stories that we lose sight of our alternatives.  But here’s a way to spot them, and it’s as easy as 1-2-3.

Finding Your Path to Happiness

If you’re looking for ways to define the choices that can give you fresh direction for the New Year, think about what brought you the greatest joy, satisfaction or personal pride in the year that’s so quickly coming to a close.  Then decide to do more of it.

That’s a formula that’s sure to bring you good fortune.   And unlike formulating  resolutions based on heavy “shoulds,” you won’t give up on it three weeks down the road.

It’s easy and fun to do.  Here’s a simple 3-step process:

Step 1

Look back over the past year—longer, if you like, and jot down ten experiences that brought you happiness, satisfaction, or meaning.   You can use the following question to trigger positive memories.

  • When did you feel most alive?
  • Whose company did you most enjoy?
  • What achievements left you with a soaring sense of accomplishment?
  • What activities gave you the most pleasure?
  • When did you feel most relaxed and complete?
  • When did you feel most authentic?  The most free?
  • What did you learn that was most valuable for you? What helped you grow?
  • What gave your life a sense of meaning in the past year?

Step 2

Let yourself remember and savor the experiences that  you wrote down in Step 1.  Which five stand out as the best?  Try to re-create the memories that triggered them so they’re vivid and alive for you.  Where were you?  Who was with you? What did it look like?  What did you hear?  What did you feel?

Ask yourself what made each of these five experiences so good for you.  What part of it was especially pleasurable, or meaningful or satisfying for you?

Step 3

For each answer, brainstorm a list of ways you could bring more of these kinds of experiences into your life in the year ahead.

Why Bother?

When I read lists like the one above, I usually just read them and stop there.   The idea of doing the exercise is interesting, but actually doing it sounds too much like work.  Besides, if you’re like me, you probably tell yourself that you don’t have time right now.

But let me ask you, is that really true?  What would it be worth to you to have a genuinely clear, vibrant, appealing sense of direction as you step into the weeks ahead?

Well, according to happiness researchers Foster and Hicks, one of the things that the happiest people among us have in common is that they know what brings them joy. (See Who’s Driving Your Happiness Bus?  ) Not only that, but they make the conscious choice to ensure that they give those things have a place in their lives as often as possible.

Planning for increased happiness is wise because happiness brings all kinds of benefits in addition to experiencing the pleasure, satisfaction and meaning it provides.  According to the work of positive psychology researchers like Dr. Barbara Fredrickson and Sonja Lyubomirsky, it promotes better health. It enables you to be more resilient and resourceful when life’s challenges come your way.  It makes you more attractive to other people because they enjoy its contagious effects.  It gives you greater calm and a greater sense of authenticity.  Looking forward to positive events increases your sense of purpose.

It makes you strong.  It makes you whole.

And all this can begin by simply writing down a little list of the things that brought you joy and choosing to do more of them in the New Year.

That’s why you should bother.

It makes you strong, and vital, and whole.

Give it a try!  You have everything to gain, including a fresh, new direction for your brand new year.

 

 

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Personal Strengths–An Expanding View

Reaching the Top.

“Using our strengths is the smallest thing we can do to make the biggest difference,” says founder of Centre for Applied Positive Psychology (CAPP), Alex Linley.

The idea has been around for centuries:  To live our best life, we need to play to our strengths.  Aristotle said so 300 years BCE.  But when asked, only about a third of us can name our own best strengths.

Can you?  Do you know what your top strengths are?  Can you spot them in your partner?  Your kids?  Your best friends?

How might it impact your life—and theirs—if you could?

That’s what this post is all about.

Why Strengths Matter

When you’re aware of your strengths, you can leverage them to create a happier, more authentic, fulfilling, engaged and productive life.   And isn’t that what we’re all after?

Not only that, but when we put our strengths to use, doing what we do best and most joyously, we contribute more to our families, communities and, indeed, the entire world.

Recognizing and encouraging others’ strengths enables them to be their best as well.  When you notice and openly appreciate the strengths of your partner, child, coworkers or friends, they feel truly seen and uplifted.

In fact, in his book Average to A+, Dr. Linley makes a strong case for the proposition that we have a responsibility, not only to ourselves, but to civilization itself to use and develop our strengths.

What Are Strengths, Exactly?

All living things share the tendency to grow, to develop, and to realize their potential, humans included.  Each of us has within ourselves a kind of internal compass that directs us toward the paths that will lead us toward becoming the best that we can be, that provides us with a sense of what is right for ourselves.  To the extent that we follow its guidance, we live authentically, in harmony with our unique individual self.

Our strengths represent our alignment with that internal compass.  They’re signaled by our personal combinations of interests, natural capabilities and preferences.  And it’s when we put them to use in our lives that we feel most authentic, energized and fulfilled, confident that we’re being who we were meant to be.

Strengthspotting

The scientific study of strengths is a relatively new field and so far only some have been named that meet the researchers’ strict definitions of “strengths.”  The VIA Strength list counts 24; the Centre for Applied Positive Psychology (CAPP) names 60.  But the list is expanding all the time and researches agree there are probably hundreds of strengths.

In practical terms, it doesn’t really matter what you decide to call a strength.   Dr. Linley says that whether you can name a strength succinctly in one or two words or not, it will have the same impact if the label you give it is meaningful for you.  So feel free to make up your own labels for your strengths.

When you’re working towards spotting a strength in somebody else, check with them when you think you have identified one and see if they agree on your description of what you observed.  People love to have their strengths noticed and identified, and looking for others’ strengths will help you been more aware of your own and of the ways that all of our strengths contribute to the world.

The key to identifying your strengths is to think about the kinds of things that make you feel most alive, that feel like “the real you.”  They’re the sorts of things that you look forward to doing, that catch your interest the most, that you learn most easily and do quite naturally and well.

Here are some other clues that Linley says you can use for spotting strengths:

  • You feel really energized and engaged and may lose track of time when you use them.
  • You learn new information or skills quickly in the areas associated with your strengths.
  • You tend to succeed when you use them and to do well
  • You don’t procrastinate about things associated with them; in fact areas involving your strength have a great appeal and you tend to give them priority attention and time
  • You love using them, even when you’re tired or stressed or otherwise worn down.

Strengths Surveys You Can Take

Positive psychologists are hard at work to identify strengths formally and have developed formal assessments that you can take that will tell you what your strengths are.   The classic measure is called the “VIA (Values in Action) Inventory of Strengths”, and you can take it  online for free here.   This survey measures 24 strengths that are rooted in your core values.  (See “What’s Right with You: How to Discover Your Personal Strengths,” and “The 24 Personal Strengths: An Overview.”)

For a small fee, you can take the interesting “Realise2” strengths assessment from CAPP that measures 60 strengths.  I strongly recommend the Premium Profile for the additional information it gives you.  You can read about its enhanced features at the site.  The Standard Profile is fine, too. (I am not affiliated with either survey or organization, by the way, and receive no commissions from them.)

While you’re at the CAPP website, take advantage of the free downloads of additional strengths and strength-spotting information under the “Resources” tab.  And be sure to check out the “Strengths Dynamics” tab at the site where Alex Linley publishes interesting new strengths-related essay every two weeks.  Regardless which strengths are yours, his tips give you great ways to apply them.

Personally, I found both the VIA and Realise2 assessments extremely valuable in terms of the insights they gave me.  Both did an excellent job of identifying strengths that I heartily agreed were really “me,” and knowing them felt genuinely empowering.

The top strength the VIA assessment identified for me was “Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence,”   and CAPP’s Realise2 assessment identified my top strength as “Scribe.”   Obviously, I love writing, and I love promoting excellence here at Positive-Living-Now, and sharing my love of beauty with you at High on Happiness.   Each survey captured a different side of me and I related to them both.

The additional strengths the surveys named for me validated other aspects of my life that I highly value and consider central to who I am.

That’s what identifying strengths does for you: it validates and encourages you.  It confirms your sense of who you are and that you’re on the right track.

Start thinking about your own strengths today.   What values and activities turn you on the most?  See if you can names some, then take the assessments so you can think about your strengths in depth.

As Lindley said, it’s a small thing to do, but it can make a really big difference—both in how you see yourself and in how you live your life.

Speaking of validation, if you enjoyed this article, you can validate my efforts in writing it for you by clicking “Like” or “+1” below.  Thanks!  I appreciate it!

 

 

VIA Classification  © by The VIA Institute on Character
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The Excellence of Effort

Mountain HikingSeventh grade is tough.  Suddenly you’re thrust from the comfort and security of a well-known environment where you were the big fish into the new, sophisticated world of junior high school.

Even if you have done pretty well in school until now, if you’re like most kids, your first report card is going to be a shock.  Your math scores, if you’re normal, are going to plummet.

Psychological research and author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Carol Dweck, set out to see if she could change that.

She and her team went to several New York City public schools and separated the new seventh graders into two groups.  For half an hour once a week for eight weeks, they taught the kids about the way our brains work.

One group, the control group, learned about various brain functions, such as memory.  The other group learned how experience and genuine effort can make brains smarter.  Intelligence, they found out, was like a muscle.  The more work you give it to do, the stronger it gets.

Over the course of the school year, the math scores of the control group fell.  But the kids who had learned that working your brain makes it smarter got higher scores. 

Just showing them that it was possible to improve your learning ability motivated them to work hard enough to prove to themselves—and everybody else—that it was true.

Plenty of research since then backs up the hypothesis that Dweck had set out to prove: Whether we see intelligence (and other personal traits, too) as fixed or changeable significantly impacts our lives in surprising and counterintuitive ways.

The Flaws of the Fixed Mindset

If you believe that you were born with a fixed helping of intelligence, or of the ability to write or do math or be sociable, you’re what psychologists call an “entity theorist” and you’ll hold different kinds of values, make different kinds of choices, and set different kinds of goals than the “incremental theorists,” people who believe these traits can be developed and grown.

In her book Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals, Stanford psychologist Heidi Grant Halvorson, Ph.D., says entity theorists turn away from challenging goals.  Because they believe they are stuck with a fixed amount of ability, they only go for things they’re pretty sure they can do.  They take it for granted that there are some skills they can never possess or some things they could never be good at doing.

Yet we promote entity theorizing in some very counter-intuitive ways.

Suppose, for example, that as you were growing up everybody told you, “You’re so smart!”   Would you be willing to tackle any challenge that came your way?

Surprisingly, the answer is no.  If you failed at something, after all, it would show that you weren’t as smart as you thought—or that others believed you were.  And that would be embarrassing, maybe even crushing.

Entity theorists (who see traits are fixed), believe there are limits to what they can achieve, that abilities are set and no improvement is possible.  They believe that talent creates success without effort and give up when things seem difficult.

According to an article in New York Magazine, for example, a large percentage of gifted kids underestimate their abilities.  If math or spelling don’t come easily to them, they assume they just aren’t good at that subject and set it aside for something that is easy.

Kids “who think that innate intelligence is the key to success,” the article explains,” begin to discount the importance of effort. I am smart, the kids’ reasoning goes; I don’t need to put out effort. Expending effort becomes stigmatized—it’s public proof that you can’t cut it on your natural gifts.

Most American parents think it’s important to tell their kids that they’re smart.   “But a growing body of research,” the New York Magazine article says, “strongly suggests it might be the other way around.  Giving kids the label ‘smart’ does not prevent them from underperforming.  It might actually be causing it.”

The Power of the Incremental  Mindset

The better way to help a child—or anyone else, for that matter—is to encourage the incremental mindset by praising her for her effort:  “Wow!  You must have put a lot of work into that!”

The positive results the incremental, or growth, mindset produces even show up in the corporate world.

When CEOs believe that mistakes help people learn, they can lead their companies into greatness, Dweck says.  Such leaders encourage employees to see their mistakes as providing valuable feedback that they can use to develop different strategies.  They set up mentoring and employee development programs to encourage employee growth.

Companies that see themselves only as a showcase for brilliance, on the other hand, try to hide their mistakes and often end up failing.

Take Home Lessons

The first take home lesson is that if you want to be great at something, get to work on it.  “If you can’t excel with talent, triumph with effort,” says talk show host Dave Weinbaum, and he got it right.

At her website Mindset Online,  Dr. Dweck cites Robert Sternberg, “the present-day guru of intelligence” as saying that “the major factor in whether people achieve expertise “is not some fixed prior ability, but purposeful engagement.”

The second lesson is to challenge your limitations and dare the rough ground.   Don’t deny yourself exciting and valuable opportunities just because you’re not sure you can do them.   Keep reminding yourself that you can learn.  The science in neuroplasticity says experience even changes our DNA.

“The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it,” says Dweck, “even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset. This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives.”

Part of the reason that you thrive when you adopt the incremental mindset is that you no longer fear failure.  It falls into its rightful place as information instead of acting as a label of your abilities or worth.   It’s still not fun to fail of course. But when you see things with a growth mindset, it becomes worthwhile, freeing you to give even the scary things a run for their money.

And doing the difficult makes you feel like a million bucks.

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