Many of us go through life (I know I do), too often, wondering what’s wrong — with me? with my life? with my work? I listen to this question almost daily in my work. Once that question is asked, we go about trying to fix an illusive problem — unhappiness, anger, lack of motivation, failure, shortcomings, and on. I’ve heard myself asking this question and then feel even more dissatisfied. I’ve heard parents say it to their children and then watch as the child withdraws a bit into the question or fights back.
Our parents want(ed) what’s best for us and think that by pointing out our shortcomings we’ll become better people. I remember when my Dad once said that he raised all his children without any common sense. I spent months trying to assess and prove him wrong by exercising common sense as often as possible only to realize I, indeed, had common sense most of the time.
What if there is nothing wrong? What if we could spend equal time acknowledging and noticing what is right? There will always be things that we are not good at no matter how hard we try. There are more things we are good at. Science is now showing that we become better people when we know what we are good at AND know where we can improve. What are you good at? Choose one thing. How can you become even better at it?
What if, instead of asking “what was wrong with my day”, we began to ask what went well today and where can I improve? A practice I used when I worked in preschool, when I worked with children at Kripalu Center, and, again, with my own daughter when she was young was ‘the three plusses and a wish.’ This is a practice to learn to notice the good and then frame what could be improved as a wish. I can only express the wish after I’ve identified the three plusses or positive attributes about myself or someone else.
Have you found yourself asking “what’s wrong with me?” Perhaps you made a mistake at work, heard someone criticize you, wonder where you went wrong — with raising your children, being in a job that is unfulfilling, or being alone when your friends are all in relationships? Many of us seem wired to point out the negative shortcomings in ourselves, our situations, and our world. Yes, when we lived hundreds of years ago in the wilderness of nature, it benefitted us to be vigilant for warning signs of lurking danger. Yes, we are, even today, focused on what’s wrong. We go to the doctor and are asked, what’s wrong that needs fixing. We go to a therapist to get help fixing a shortcoming. We even call our mechanic to fix what’s wrong with our car. Rarely do we schedule many appointments just because we feel good and want to feel better.
When was the last time you noticed what’s right and what’s good? When did you last celebrate, really celebrate, a success? When we change our focus and notice the good, the good appreciates. When we notice our moments of kindness, gratitude, or a job well done, we prepare for more good. In short, we become happier and healthier.
With our children or grandchildren, teach them to notice what went well. How easy it is to point out their shortcomings — their outbursts, their sibling disagreements, or their whining. Remember, we all want what’s best for our children just as our parents wanted the best for us (in most cases). When we focus on the negative, we fuel the negative. When we focus on the positive, the positivity grows.
My first career was teaching preschool. I remember deciding to focus on trusting the children to do good and spent time each day teaching positive ways to communicate, both talking and listening. When two children had a disagreement, which often included violence, I’d have them sit in chairs facing one another with the simple instruction to sit with one another without touching until they could resolve their disagreement. They could get up on their own once they felt resolved and could drop their negativity. Around five minutes was a magic time and they would get up and go off to play and laugh together as BFF’s. Then, I didn’t really understand what happened. All I knew is that I trusted them to figure out how to resolve their disagreement without violence. That time sitting together provided the space and time to refocus their attention on the good — they were very creative in their conversations that lead to resolution. They also made eye contact which leads to a calm and connect response.
Another practice I used was the ‘three plusses and a wish’ in order for them to learn to focus on the good and frame their negativity as a wish. Over time, that room full of preschoolers from challenging homes began to be happier and kinder to one another.
For today, I challenge you to ask what is going well and ask “what is right with me?”. And, if you must, frame the negative as a wish, only after you can identify and state three positive things about yourself and your day. Try extending my one day challenge into a 30 day challenge. For the next 30 days – write down at the end of each day what went well and what is right with me. I am certain you will be pleased with the outcome.