I recently started reading Flourish by Martin Seligman, the psychologist who established positive psychology, a domain of psychology that focuses on positive human functioning and flourishing, in 1998 when he was president of the American Psychological Association.
In the book Martin describes a daily 10-minute exercise that has been shown to improve well-being and combat depression via random-assignment, placebo-controlled studies (aka science). The exercise is simple and has a lasting positive impact, so I decided to give it a try starting a few days ago.
He calls it the What-Went-Well exercise, and it goes like this. Every night write down 3 things that went well that day and next to each one write about one of the following:
- Why did it happen?
- What does this mean to you?
- How can you have more of this good thing in the future?
The 3 things don’t have to be earth shattering; it can be as simple as “my boyfriend picked up my favorite ice cream on the way home from work because he is really thoughtful sometimes.” But you do have to write it down, and you do have to do it every day.
The reason this works is it helps “train” your unconscious mind, the elephant in the elephant and rider metaphor in Jonathan Haidt’s amazing book, The Happiness Hypothesis, to become better at focusing on good things.
Unfortunately (or fortunately since we’re still alive), our brains have evolved to be much better at focusing on negative events because from an evolutionary standpoint the max potential impact of missing one, death, was much worse than the impact of missing a positive event. So we need to practice and develop the skill of thinking about good things to counter our brain’s ingrained negative bent.
If you are looking for a quick exercise to raise your spirits in 2018, it might be worthwhile to take 10 minutes a night to try the What-Went-Well exercise for yourself.