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Capturing the Wins

I don’t have to tell you how weird Thanksgiving and the holidays are going to be this year. I’m accustomed to a dozen cars in our driveway; shopping and cooking that takes days; family, friends, and neighbors in and out of the house; washing dishes late into the night…

This year, it’s the four of us and a roasted chicken. And yet, we’re setting the table. We’re making all the fixings, putting out the place-settings, getting flowers… It is our way of treating ourselves. We are worthy of the details, worthy of the effort, and worthy of celebrating. What does this have to do with work? Many of the communal experiences we count on at work to remind us we’re doing great things aren’t around right now. Ordinarily, we’d enjoy the appreciative high-fives or shared laughs in the office when something goes well… We’d walk to lunch with a friend and talk about how well that presentation went, or how that comment in the client meeting really moved things along. You’d stop by a colleague’s office and hear: thank you, great job, that was awesome!

In a shared, co-working space with another entrepreneur or job-hunter you'd check in and get the reinforcement: keep going, you're getting closer, that's a great step! In another year, we might be out for holiday lunches or after work parties where we honor our achievements, recognize each other, and take time to celebrate. What do you do when no one is there to celebrate you? No one to witness your wins? The answer is that we develop our own habit to celebrate ourselves. We create the moments and artifacts of recognition, the victory laps, the personal dance parties to commemorate the wins – even the small ones. Why does this practice matter?


Every time you pause to recognize and articulate your wins, professional or personal, you are exercising the muscle and the voice of inner wisdom. This is one of the internal voices that exist in contrast to the inner critic… The inner critic is that familiar voice in our minds that tells us we’re not ready, we didn’t do enough, are inadequate…you know the drill. Whereas the inner critic is always on your case about what could go wrong, what did go wrong, how you ARE wrong…the voice of wisdom reminds you that you're capable, that you're worthy, that you are creative and resourceful... The voice of inner wisdom knows that good things can happen and that you can make good things happen. And that voice of wisdom gets stronger every time we use it. Every time we bother to credit ourselves and give ourselves a personal high five, we give that voice of wisdom center stage, give it a workout, amplify it.


Your brain has a valuable and overused negativity bias. In the interest of never forgetting the things that cause you pain or danger, your brain will retain all kinds of memories about what went wrong and what hurts you. You will start anticipating – catastrophizing even – in an attempt to prevent those events from ever happening again. That’s why the embarrassments and setbacks, the grievances in relationships, the disappointments, are so easy to remember – even visceral at times. All that mental negativity trapping doesn’t leave much room for the good stuff… Rick Hanson says our brains are like Velcro for negative experiences, and Teflon for positive ones – the good things can slip right out of our awareness. Unless the positive experiences are quite significant, we’re likely to forget them as our brain goes hunting for negative reminders to keep us safe. Knowing that, we must develop the purposeful practice of documenting, reflecting upon, and celebrating even the small wins. This helps us grow our mental capacity for resilience and better habit building. A great phone call with your boss? High-five! Reached out to two old colleagues for networking? Yes! Positive feedback from a recruiter? Write that down!! A successful pitch for new responsibilities on your team? Dance party! I often capture the wins on colorful post-it notes on my office walls or in my journal so they stand out.


Whatever you want next: more flexible work arrangements, a new set of responsibilities, a new job, to start a business, you’re going to have to make a case for it to someone…your boss, your HR rep, an investor or client... I often work with coaching clients who have to spend weeks going through old notes and documents and calling up former co-workers to get details about the success stories in their work histories. Sometimes they have to start from scratch to pull up the stories that highlight their greatness and feature their best. Give your future self the gift of having those success stories at the ready. Your own documentation of even the small victories creates the record of achievements and good things to share with the people who need to know AND makes it easier for you to draw on past wins to fuel future effort. ‘Energy begets energy’, says the great Dolly Parton. I keep both a physical box and a digital folder of artifacts that celebrate the wins – thank you cards from students and clients, mementos from events and milestones, feedback from great projects… When I was leaving a 17-year career in one organization, my personal archive offered the evidence I needed that my skills and experience could be valued elsewhere. It provided me the energy to keep going forward. This holiday season, cultivate the habit of celebrating yourself. Pull out that journal. Write the good thing down. Rather talk than write? Use the voice memo feature on your phone. Throw yourself a little party to celebrate just how great you're doing. You’re worth it.


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