It’s that time of year, at least for me, where I look back and think, where did the year go — what did I accomplish?
I was reviewing my notebooks and seeing that I’d been writing about some of the same career, music and fitness goals for years. My first thought was: “Wow, nothing’s changed!” and my achievement-loving self felt a pang of despair.
Then I thought, “Wait a minute, a lot has changed:” I’ve created a bi-continental life between NYC and Paris, for one, and have made gains on all the Olympic lifts, for another. Once I started making a list, I saw there were, in fact, plenty of positive changes in my life, large and small, that signaled I was moving toward my goals.
As humans, we’re prone to “change blindness.” Research shows that we’re surprisingly capable of missing even major changes right in front of us. (In one hilarious study, 50%+ of the people who were asked directions on the street didn’t notice when the person they were talking to was replaced by someone else after construction workers walked between them.)
We have a kind of “change blindness” when it comes to our daily lives as well. For positive change, that is — we’ll notice negative change right away.
But as Harvard professor Teresa Amabile showed in her research, we feel most motivated when we have a sense that we’re making progress. So, in the same way we can catch people doing things right, we can focus on the tiny positive changes resulting from our efforts.
It’s easy enough when the change is concrete and quantifiable: when we can point to revenues increased, subscribers gained, pounds lost, errors reduced.
Still, when it comes to behavior or performance, there’s often no way to measure incremental progress. So we have to get good at noticing subtle differences — something I learned as a musician, when the only evidence of my hours of practice was a slight improvement in rhythmic control or melodic phrasing.
Did you bounce back from a disappointing email in minutes instead of hours? Catch yourself before getting defensive in the meeting? Manage to say no to your colleague who usually pressures you into saying yes? Make it through the workout with no breaks? Forget there was chocolate in the cupboard instead of obsessing about it? (That was a big tiny change for me!)
These are all signs of progress.
Then, as Todd Kashdan said on the Mental Mastery for Mavericks podcast, you have to savor the moment: “Stop for 10 seconds and soak up all the details. It requires 10 seconds for the brain to be Velcro with the win so it’s sticky in your brain.”
There is no progress too small to celebrate. What’s one tiny positive change you’ve noticed today?
p.s. For more ideas on mindset mastery, check out the three-day free trial of my “21 Days to a Mental Six-Pack” course, with short — less than five minute — daily mental training exercises.