Three things

Remarkable, really. And I thought it was just me until client after client who gave it a try reported how much of a difference it made to adopt the simple daily practice of writing down three things that went well, and what made those good things happen. This 5 to 10 minute habit seems to have an outsized effect — sort of like a personal “butterfly effect” — where a very small action can have a profound systemic effect.

It started with an article I stumbled across in the New York Times: Get Happy: Four Well-Being Workouts, a piece by Julie Scelfo based on Martin E.P. Seligman’s book Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being. Seligman, considered the father of positive psychology, is a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and director of the Penn Positive Psychology Center. Find the Good is the practice that landed for me from this article. Give it a read. You might want to try the other workouts.

I began this practice after I left my last full-time job — the kind where you get up in the morning, rush around, brave a soul-crushing commute only to turn around and repeat it in the other direction at the end of the day. I didn’t mind it, I thought. I felt really connected to the work and especially to the product. And, I could listen to NPR and podcasts while captive in the car. It was a surprise, then, when after a month of writing my “three things”each day, the number one reason for these things happening was captured in three powerful words: I had time. I had time to meet a friend spur of the moment, to really do things right, unrushed, or to read that book that was collecting dust on the nightstand. This led me to craft a future of work for myself that fiercely protected my time. The practice was a twofer in my case: it gave me a great start to my day, and helped me unearth the importance of time in my life.

I sure wish there was a better way of labeling the practices of positive psychology, mindfulness, and meditation. While they’ve become much more mainstream, they still evoke a “that’s not for me” reaction for many of us. I LOVE that the New York Times puts all of this in the blender of “Better Living.” These really just boil down to a set of practices that do for our brain what physical exercise does for our bodies: they build mental muscle, emotional resilience, and help bring our best most creative selves and energy into the world.

Three threes

Over time, I’ve evolved my daily routine to the “three threes.” I’m a morning person, so I do this after coffee and meditation. It takes no more than 5 to 10 minutes to commit this to paper, even when my cat is batting at the pencil or plopping herself on the journal as I write.

  1. TGTs: Three good things: three things that went well yesterday, and what made those good things happen. I dropped the “really” from Scelfo’s Find the Good. Honestly, after a not-so-good day, I sometimes have to stretch to find three things that went well. With the high bar of “three things that went really well,” well, that could be a problem.

  2. TATs: Three appreciated things: I don’t struggle with this one no matter what’s going on. Nor do I seek to be high minded about it. Sometimes it’s just the ice cream shop around the corner from my office, or that the sun (finally!) beat the fog back and showed up.

  3. MITs: The three most important things for me to focus on that day: often, I admit, “listen and hear” is one of the three. Oh boy, sometimes that’s the hardest thing to do.

If I’m coming off a tough day, am exhausted, or in a funk, this reframes. Ten minutes max. Free of charge. Remarkable, really.

Sunday Morning Reflection

What three things went well for you yesterday? What made those good things happen?

Sunday Morning: 107