HOW ARE YOU FRAMING SUCCESS? – The importance of giving yourself credit for the small things.

“The secret to navigating change is not just about being able to let go of the past, but being able to let go of our idea of what we think the future should be.”

It is well known in psychology that a key source of unhappiness and low mood is when there is a mismatch between our expectations of how things should be versus our lived experience.

Assessing our performance or success against pre-COVID criteria may be a trap that we should be careful of falling into. With many people losing jobs, businesses struggling to survive, anger and animosity rife in public life, and big restrictions on what we can and cannot do, the context has become extraordinarily challenging. We need to be wary of framing our idea of what personal success and achievement means based on pre-COVID expectations.

One of my coachees said to me recently “To be honest, at the moment, just getting through the day feels like an achievement.” Perhaps we need to give ourselves credit for the smaller things, that in ordinary times may not have been such a big deal – but in this context – they are!
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is a pioneering new branch of psychology which talks about the importance of the state of acceptance. Rather than being a position of passive resignation, on the contrary, acceptance is a very active and empowering position. The more we can accept our situation for what it is, paradoxically the more we are likely to make effective progress, because we focus on what we CAN do rather than frittering away energy on wasted anguish of what is not possible.

One of the most inspiring athletes I have ever met is Clare Griffiths, five times Paralympian champion and now a leadership consultant and coach.   Suffering a devastating accident in her early adult life, what struck me about Clare’s story is how the progress she made in her recovery seemed to come when she was able to accept her situation.  Rather than setting expectations or having aspirations based on pre-accident criteria, she accepted the goal posts had completely changed, and set herself small, realistic goals each day – small shifts in movement that ultimately enabled her to manoeuvre herself out of hospital.

What are the small things that represent achievement and success for you? It could be something as simple as getting up before 9 am each day that gets you a tick, or learning how to do something new on Zoom, or preparing a healthy meal for yourself and/or your family, or perhaps submitting that job application or proposal.

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