What will it take for you to define this year as a success?

What will it take for you to define this year as a success?

Is it about what you achieved?

Is it about getting a promotion or an increase in salary?

Is it about whether you felt happy?

What if we expand to a larger scale? What would it take for you to define your life as successful? Would it be whether you became a CEO? Or made a million dollars? Or got married and raised some children?

It can be easy to focus on these external markers of success or failure and believe that this is the route to happiness. One problem with this is that the research suggests that we over estimate the impact of these events (Wilson & Gilbert, 2003). We think that if we get the good job and nice house, we will be happy, so we pursue those goals. But happiness actually seems to be much more about:

One of those habits of thinking is psychological flexibility.

“Contacting the present moment fully as a conscious human being, and based on what the situation affords, changing or persisting in behavior in the service of chosen values” (Hayes & Smith, 2005)

Psychological flexibility seems to be a key factor in well-being (Kashdan, T, 2010) even helping people to cope better during the Covid-19 pandemic (Dawson, D. L. & Golijani-Moghaddam, N, 2020).

Psychological flexibility invites us to define success differently. It involves developing an internal yardstick for measuring success. Choosing your values and then intentionally putting those values into action based on the needs of the situation.

Using this yardstick, external achievements start to matter less. What matters more is: How much am I showing up as the person I want to be?

And paradoxically, measuring success by whether you’ve lived your values and whether you were the person you wanted to be, is actually more likely to create richness and meaning in life (Aaker, J, Baumeister, R, Garbinsky, E & Vons, K, 2012).

This year, try using these three questions to define success:

  • Was I present?
  • Did I show up as the person I want to be?
  • Did I notice with kindness those moments when I wasn’t being the person I want to be and adjust my behaviour accordingly?

References

Aaker, J, Baumeister, R, Garbinsky, E & Vons, K. (2012). Some Key Differences between a Happy Life and a Meaningful Life. Stanford Business. https://www.gsb.stanford.edu/faculty-research/publications/some-key-differences-between-happy-life-meaningful-life#:~:text=Happiness%20was%20linked%20to%20being,higher%20meaningfulness%20but%20lower%20happiness

Archer, R. (2022). The Great 2022 Reset: You don’t need new habits, you need a (high-performance) routine. Working with ACT. https://workingwithact.com/2022/01/19/the-great-2022-reset-you-dont-need-new-habits-you-need-a-high-performance-routine/

Archer, R & Collis, R. (2013). What is Psychological Flexibility? Working with ACT. https://workingwithact.com/what-is-act/what-is-psychological-flexibility/

Collis, R. (2021). How to Choose Your Values and Why it Matters. Working with ACT. https://workingwithact.com/2021/12/27/how-to-choose-your-values-and-why-it-matters/

Conkle, A. (2008). Serious Research on Happiness. Association for Psychological Science. https://www.psychologicalscience.org/observer/serious-research-on-happiness

Dawson, D. L. & Golijani-Moghaddam, N. (2020) COVID-19: Psychological flexibility, coping, mental health, and wellbeing in the UK during the pandemic. Journal of contextual behavioral science. [Online] 17126–134.

Gilbert, D & Wilson, T. (2003). Affective Forecasting. Harvard. http://wjh-www.harvard.edu/~dtg/Wilson%20&%20Gilbert%20%28Advances%29.pdf

Hamzelou, J. (2010). Daily Choices Can Affect Long-Term Happiness. New Scientist. https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn19545-daily-choices-can-affect-long-term-happiness/

Hayes, S & Smith, S. (2005). Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life. https://www.newharbinger.com/9781572244252/get-out-of-your-mind-and-into-your-life/

Kashdan, T. (2010). Psychological Flexibility as a Fundamental Aspect of Health. National Center for Biotechnology Information. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2998793/

Kurts, J, Lyubomirsky, S & Nelson, K. (2012). What Psychological Science Knows About Achieving Happiness. http://www.sonjalyubomirsky.com/files/2012/09/Nelson-Kurtz-Lyubomirsky-in-press1.pdf

Slatcher, R. (2021). Speaking of Psychology: How close relationships keep us healthy and happy, with Richard Slatcher, PhD. American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/news/podcasts/speaking-of-psychology/close-relationships

Step 1 for Success: Choose What You Value

If you were completely free to make your life about things that truly matter to you, what would they be?

Pause and let that question sink in. Let the words settle within you….

If I was completely free to make my life about things that truly mattered to me, what would I choose?

Your mind will likely come up with all sorts of limitations – “But I am not free…

Remind yourself that you are just thinking thoughts – you don’t have to act on those thoughts.

If you could just let yourself answer that question, what would the answer be?

If you have a moment – jot down your answers to that question.

I encourage you to sit with the question slightly longer than feels comfortable.

See what bubbles up for you.

Now ask yourself the opposite question:

If I was completely free to make my life about things that truly mattered to me, what wouldn’t it be about?

If you were to let the answers to these questions run your life, what might change?

If I was watching you live this life – the life where you give time, energy and attention to what really matters to you and you don’t give time, energy or attention to what doesn’t matter to you – what would I see and hear you doing?

Some time ago, I was suffering from writer’s block, feeling stuck. Finding myself avoiding writing, even though I wanted to do it. I talked with my friend, Paul Atkins, a wonderful coach, and it became clear that I had got myself in a muddle. The joy of writing (something I value) had got mixed with an unhelpful focus on whether others would approve of my writing. Paul helped me to come up with a phrase to remind me what really matters to me:

‘I choose a life where I value writing and learning and connection rather than chasing approval, materialism and prestige’.

I keep reminding myself of this. This is what I choose. I get side-tracked. I get hooked by what others want of me or what the world tells me is important…and then I remind myself:

‘I choose a life where I value writing and learning and connection rather than chasing approval, materialism and prestige’.

Go back to what you wrote earlier, give yourself some time to mull it over and then choose your own phrase.

A phrase that describes the life you would choose, and perhaps also what you wouldn’t choose. Don’t stress about making it perfect – you can adjust it whenever you want to.

Once you have a phrase, then, with deep curiosity and kindness, notice what you do. Notice the moments when you are aligned with your own definition of success and moments when you aren’t.

“In this very moment, will you accept the sad and the sweet, hold lightly stories about what’s possible, and be the author of a life that has meaning and purpose for you, turning in kindness back to that life when you find yourself moving away from it?”

(Wilson & Dufrene, 2010)