Consider the following experiment: researchers asked employees of an outpatient family practice clinic – nurses, assistants, and receptionists – to complete an online “survey” at the end of each workday. They were unaware of the purpose of this exercise. The survey asked them to spend five to ten minutes writing about events that had gone “really well” that day and to explain why they believed they had gone so well.
The participants could write about anything—events large or small, personal or work-related. Responses ranged from a colleague bringing in delicious food to a thoughtful story of a meaningful interaction with a patient or co-worker. One nurse wrote:
A doctor gave me a compliment today because I knew exactly what to do in an emergency situation, and I helped a patient who was having a seizure.
In just three weeks, stress levels and mental and physical complaints declined in small but significant amounts. On the days they wrote about good things, the participants were better able to detach from work stress when they got home in the evening.
This simple practice—writing about three good things that happened—creates a real shift in what people think about, and can change how they perceive their work lives.
Moreover, it creates a positive feedback loop. People who reflect on good things that happened at the end of the day are more likely to share them with loved ones. This, in turn, bolsters social connections which reduces stress even more. Another positive by-product is improved sleep. A good night’s sleep leads to greater alertness and a better mood the following day. Noticing good things may even make you more creative. Research shows positive emotions enhance creative thinking and innovation.
Focusing on positive events does not come naturally for most of us. Evolution has programmed us to notice negative events and anything that may be perceived as a threat. This made sense for our ancestors but no longer applies today.
As the above study highlights, just because your inclination may be to ruminate on the negative, it does not mean your fate is sealed. By intentionally noticing good things you can overcome the gravitational pull into thinking about what can or did go wrong.
Practicing this activity every day will provide you with strength and a positive outlook.
Start capitalizing on it today.