What’s Going Well?

My training and experience as both a teacher of literature and as a personal productivity coach have shown me time and time again the value of asking simple questions. A good question doesn’t have to be long or complicated. A good question shouldn’t be an argument misleadingly packaged as a query. A good question often opens up other questions.

So here’s today’s question: what’s going well for you right now?

I like this question for several reasons:

Most people don’t spend enough time thinking or talking about what’s going well. At a deep neurological level, our brains are designed to pay more attention to potential danger than to neutral or beneficial things. Learning to pay more attention to the good stuff, even just with simple journaling exercises or breathwork, can help create new, more positive neural pathways.

Most people find it easier to focus on or complain about what’s not going well. I’ve written about this before, in relation to the social scripts that academics often engage in. (Have you heard anyone say “oh, I didn’t get enough done over spring break” lately?) Rewriting those scripts has the power to shift your energy and that of people around you.

It’s also the case that our intellectual training tends to be organized around critique and competition. It’s much more challenging to sustain a conversation about what you liked and agree with in a text than about what you disagree with (try it with your next graduate seminar and you’ll see what I mean). There’s nothing wrong with intellectual critique — but it’s good to experience appreciation and celebration too, of yourself and others.

We can learn from what’s going well. By exploring what’s going well, you can discover core values and habits that you can extend from one area of your life to another. Do you prefer to be alone or with others? What do you find motivating? What helps you be persistent? Whether it’s writing, exercising, or cleaning the garage that you want to improve, you can apply strategies and ideas from some other area in which you feel more successful.

[Creative Commons licensed image from flickr user evocateur]

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