Want to be successful? Give yourself a pat on the back

smile-1188654_1920 (2)Just last week one of my lovely contacts on LinkedIn hit ‘like’ on an alert they’d received that told them it was the 1 year anniversary of my new business venture. I confess, if it hadn’t been for that ‘like’ I might have missed the moment as I’d completely forgotten to make a note of it. Poor show, I know, especially for a coach who knows how important it is to reflect and draw confidence from past experiences and achievements – oops! Being your own boss means nobody else is going to remind you to take stock, so it’s doubly important to set time aside for yourself. With a big thank you to the wonderful lady concerned, I took myself off to a café, settled down with the most disgustingly calorific coffee-based beverage you can possibly imagine, and set to work. This was the mind map I created:

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When was the last time you sat down and reflected on your progress? Your last annual review maybe? Did you focus mainly on things you want to improve, the things you could have done better? When you ask for feedback, do you find yourself glossing over all the positive comments, barely listening to what’s said, because what you really want to know is what you need to improve? I’m not suggesting that you ignore your opportunities for development, but if you brush aside the positives, you’re missing out on a golden opportunity to build your confidence and increase your satisfaction. Here are two big reasons I spend more time focusing on the positives than I used to.

Feeling good = less fuel for my inner critic + more success

A review that only focuses on what we need to improve gives plenty for our inner critic to use as a stick to beat us with. It has the potential to reinforce your poor opinions of yourself, which will leave you feeling less resourceful for the future. In contrast, if we focus more of our attention on the positives, then we start to challenge the opinion of that inner critic, giving it less power. We also focus our minds on the things we do want rather than the things we don’t want; to quote Tom Peters, “Celebrate what you want to see more of.” If we’ve fully acknowledged where we have built our expertise and our successes, then we are more likely to draw on those strengths when we next encounter a similar situation.

In addition, positive psychology research shows that happiness is a driver of success and intelligence, not the other way around. Focusing more of our attention on the positives and allowing ourselves to feel good about our experiences to date leaves us feeling happy, which will then result in more success in the future. In fact, to make the absolute most of this, we should probably take time out at the end of each week, even just a few minutes, to consider what was great, what we’re proud of or what we’re grateful for (note to self to do this more consistently). If you want more on this, watch this great talk by Shawn Achor, positive psychology researcher and author of The Happiness Advantage.

It keeps my imposter syndrome at bay

There are lots of articles about imposter syndrome and its effects; if you’re interested in reading more, I’d recommend starting with this Psychology Today article. Briefly though, if you’ve ever had the feeling that at some point you’re going to be ‘found out’ and exposed as a fraud because you’re just not as good as everyone thinks or says you are, then you’ve experienced imposter syndrome. Some people suffer only momentary bouts, but some of us can be simultaneously crippled by self-doubt and high-achievers, driven to work harder and harder to quiet our inner critic that constantly chips away at our confidence. It can also lead some of us to avoid new challenges for fear of failing, and that keeps us from really achieving our potential and/or being completely fulfilled.

I was a classic case of imposter syndrome, and spent much of my life working myself into the ground and then putting my successes down to good luck or the generosity of others. Learning how to properly reflect on the part that I’ve played in my personal and professional journey has left me much more resourceful and balanced in my thinking, as well as allowing me to be bolder and more confident in taking on new challenges. I certainly wouldn’t have started my own business if my thinking was where it had been several years ago!

If you identify with some of the feelings that result from thoughts of not being ‘good enough’ then the questions below might help you shift your focus to the strengths, skills and qualities you have that make you the successful person you are.

Questions to help you reflect on the positives

  • What were my biggest achievements? What am I most proud of?
  • What were the smaller things that gave me a lot of satisfaction?
  • What do I know now that I didn’t before?
  • What did I learn about myself?
  • In what ways did I surprise myself?
  • What strengths have I used?
  • What skills did I acquire/master?
  • What did I enjoy the most?
  • What would I like to get even better at?

If you’ve reached a milestone (work or life), completed a project, you’re feeling a bit lack lustre, or it’s just the end of a busy week, why not take a proper break and look back over what you have accomplished and enjoyed, the skills and strengths you used, and what new things you’ve learnt along the way. I bet your mind map or list will look busier than you ever imagined.

Coaching is a great way to support reflection time, increase your knowledge of yourself and your skills, and build your confidence. If you’re interested in some quality thinking time, I’d love to hear from you; just get in touch and we can arrange an introductory session.

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