Even in stable, relatively predictable years, the winter months can be challenging to our mood and outlook. Reaching the goals that we set at the beginning of the year may still feel a long way off. Frustrations can be more difficult to ignore or shake off. Unanticipated challenges and setbacks can have a greater impact on our confidence than they have in the past. In short, we can find ourselves in a funk.
We can choose to “wait it out,” hope that our mood lightens, and life improves on its own, or we can change our focus, improve our outlook, and choose a better path. Importantly, we do not have to change our entire lives to make a difference. One of the most effective ways to make such a change is to adopt a few key behaviors that, over time, become habits. Here are four impactful behaviors that can become habits and shape our path to success and satisfaction, even now.
We can start by focusing on our strengths. Research has repeatedly shown that when we pay attention to, build on, and rely on our strengths we are more successful than over-emphasizing and focusing on fixing faults or shortcomings we may have. When we focus on our strengths we gain confidence, experience more success, and are generally happier. Of course, there may be skills for us to strengthen, areas of our practice to shore up, and new practices to adopt. However, when we approach these challenges from the perspective of our strengths, we are almost always more successful. For example, using our relationship building skills to enlist the experience and talents of a team will usually be more successful than trying to solve a problem by ourselves, especially if we don’t do well working alone.
We can spend our attention and energy on what we can control. It’s a fact that much of what we face in life is beyond our control. Other people may make decisions that have an impact on us. Circumstances within which we find ourselves may have origins in areas well beyond our span of control. A major source of stress in life comes from trying to manage and manipulate items and events over which we have no power. On the other hand, when we focus on those things we can control, we can achieve greater success and derive greater satisfaction. Interestingly, when we focus on what we can control, we often find that the elements and areas of life beyond our control consume less of our energy and we can often find ways to cope and respond that lessen their impact. For example, we might prefer to avoid a mandated professional learning activity, but we can choose to find value in and learn from the experience rather than spend our time resenting having to be there.
We can pay attention to and appreciate what is good. Even when we live through a bad experience, there still may be elements that are good and worth appreciating. One of the truths of life is that we tend to find what we look for. If we pay attention to everything that is wrong, we can miss many important things that are right and worth celebrating. On the other hand, if we commit to look for what is good and worthy of appreciation, we tend to find those things, too. Remarkably, an attitude of appreciation can be contagious. As we find and note good elements and aspects of life, others notice them too. Consequently, we have more positive topics and experiences to share about and more to appreciate.
We can also choose to lift others up. This behavior may seem counterintuitive. Yet, the act of doing something good for others is a great way to feel good about ourselves. When we notice and compliment good work, share the work of others as examples to emulate, and adopt good practices we learn from others, we feel better and we do better. This habit is not only effective among adults. When we compliment students to their parents, especially when students are within hearing distance, the benefits can be significant. Parents feel good about their children. Students love to “overhear” good things about them and their work. We can also benefit from the learning confidence and effort students will give in response.
Changing the emotional path on which we find ourselves does not mean having to change everything. In fact, trying to change everything can be counterproductive. Rather, focusing on a few key shifts that become habits can make a lasting difference in the success we experience and the satisfaction we feel from it.