I don't know about you but I rarely take time to reflect on events during the past year unless it is just before New Years Day when considering New Year's Resolutions. And even then, it is more of what has gone well and what were the difficult times rather than just looking at success.
I've just celebrated yet another birthday and I was asked a slight variation to this question -
"What's been the biggest successes so far in your life?"
I loved this question for several reasons - firstly, it's such a positive question - it's all about the good things you've achieved; not what could have, might have or should have happened. It's all about what actually has happened - the positive achievements that have occurred in your life. Therefore, your mind is only thinking positive thoughts which are always good for your mind and body. Secondly, it's definitely a mood-enhancing question - and as a result, makes you feel positive, better about yourself (if you're feeling down or in a negative frame of mind) because you are thinking about your successes. Thirdly, it's a great way of boosting your confidence; as you very rarely reflect on what you have achieved to date but rather, spend most of the time trying to achieve the next "success" or spend time worrying about why you have not achieved your next goal or met your next target.
What is success?
Asking this question then makes you think about the meaning of success? At first glance, it seems straightforward - you might immediately think of what you have achieved - but in what? Do you define success in monetary terms; how much money you have earned, how much money you have saved etc? Is it related to career success? How many promotions you have achieved? Your seniority at work? How brilliant your children are? Or is it about your efforts - how much you've tried to achieve certain targets?
It soon becomes apparent there are so many different possibilities of what success looks like, depending on how we view our lives and what is of importance to us. There is no single correct answer or definition of success - I believe each of us though, should have an idea of what success means to us.
But how often, if at all do we pause and actually think about this question? And is it worth thinking about? The answer to both is definitely yes - the answers to the second question can have a profound impact on the quality and direction of our lives.
The 10-minute exercise - list your successes
There are a number of different ways of making this list- I have no preference. I have listed 2 ways but there are also other ways.
Chronologically, in date order: Highlight the decades of your life; 0-10, 11- 20, 21-30 etc and record all the successes/achievements under each decade. What you record is up to you. E.g. it can be your school achievements - sports day winner, or academic prizes or achievements related to your hobbies, health, etc - anything that is important and of value to you.
By category; Make a list of categories that are of importance to you such as :
And list all your successes under each one. The only drawback of this method is that you might fail to recognise or record a success if you have missed a category.
Once you have completed this list, ask someone who knows you very well ( family, friend etc) to also do this exercise, i.e. record your successes from their perspective and knowledge of you.
What did I discover and learn?
After doing this exercise I was pleasantly surprised as I learned much more than I expected! I found the exercise illuminating and a great learning experience.
It brought a smile to my face recollecting some of my successes relating to an earlier time in my life - even if they were related to my hobbies and sports many years ago! It brought back a lot of happy memories during my younger school days.
I easily remembered and noted all my "successes" relating to my personal and family life. However, it took more focus for me to recall and remember my work achievements. I seemed to place much more emphasis and priority on recalling my personal achievements. Is this because my personal achievements were much greater according to my perceptions? Interestingly, when I compared my list with that from my wife, her list of my work achievements was a lot longer than mine! Or is it an indicator of the greater value I place on my personal achievements compared to my work successes?
It is important to note that we all have achievements - I guarantee that - without exception! However, in times of crisis of confidence, we have a tendency to forget these - so what? Self-belief and/or belief in our capabilities is a key attribute of resilience - and plays a crucial part in helping us get through difficult periods. Therefore it is important to remember our successes, especially during our dark times.
I also think that it's very useful to recall those moments of achievement during non-stressful times too - they cheer you up and you should rejoice in what you have achieved - the act of recalling those successes can help re-energise and lift your spirit and even recreate some of the initial joy of the original occasion. This is a good thing and will definitely make you smile!
The exercise also demonstrates and highlights where your priorities have been focused to date - for example, if 80% of your successes are work-related, clearly work has been central to your life but does that indicate that your life has been overly focused on your work? To answer this question I would ask a number of questions.
The answers to these questions will guide you and give you a comprehensive understanding of whether there has been too much focus on the pursuit of successes in one area of your life and, therefore, provide an indicator of whether there is an imbalance in your life.
It's also useful to compare your successes to your core values ( please see my earlier articles on the importance of core values) to shed light on any mismatches between your successes and values. This will then act as a timely wake-up call to refocus your time and energies on areas that are of greater value to your life and lessen the focus on less important areas.
Looking through your successes to remind yourself of your achievements is a very worthwhile and positive exercise to do; as well as guaranteeing to put a smile on your face, it will make you realise that you are capable of achieving success in your life and therefore to give you confidence that you can achieve successes in the future too!
It's also a useful exercise to do if you are thinking about the next chapter in your career - use the successes you have recorded and ask yourself what character traits do these show. Is there a pattern emerging? Maybe it will highlight strengths you didn't realise you had, giving you the confidence to try something different.
Given the frantic nature of our lives, it's also important to pause and reflect on your life - a type of mindfulness exercise - a life scan on your own life. Do you need to rebalance some of your priorities and efforts and refocus to ensure there is a balance between what is important to your life and what you are trying to achieve?
As your life changes, events such as marriage, children, health all have a major impact on you and necessitate a rebalancing of what "success" means. Therefore reviewing your successes should be done yearly - this ensures you are able to celebrate your successes regularly and also helps to ensure you are aware of any imbalances before too long.
I would love to hear your thoughts on the meaning of success and what insights you learned from doing the exercise. I'm also happy to answer any questions you might have too - please send your comments to email@example.com.