Tell Me Three Good Things

A few years ago I read an article that argued a person having a bad day/week/year should practice stating three good things about their day to help lift their spirits. Asking yourself to identify three things that went well will force you to focus on the positive and shine a light on a dark day, thus bringing you millimeters closer to coming out of the negative rut. I initially tried this out in my personal life to see the impact. My husband is an introvert, so when something goes wrong he internally reflects and only addresses it when he has considered all scenarios and feels like he can’t get any further on his own. When I recognize that he isn’t ready to talk about a specific issue he is struggling with, I will halt any conversation and say to him, “Tell me three good things about your day.” 

You’d probably laugh at the things he tells me sometimes: My wife bought me a donut. I finished ten things off my To-Do list. Gus didn’t hit us today. Gus ate one bite of a vegetable. My wife folded all of the socks. Sometimes he says these statements and immediately gets this sly smile on his face, laughing at the absurdity of what he is saying. But the reality is, it isn’t absurd. Some days the best thing that happens is you get your ass out of bed - and that’s ok. If the responses bring you to smile even slightly on a dark day, then you are winning. So what does this have to do with business?

We spend almost 1/3 of our lives at our jobs. It is safe to say that we will have amazing days and we will have days where we want to quit. We will have jobs we love, bosses we hate working for, colleagues we enjoy, projects we despise. Throughout the course of our career we will see it all. Sometimes it is helpful to take a step back and reflect on what we are grateful for in the moment. When days get tough and we don’t know how to change things at work, it can be very helpful to focus on the positive (even if the top thing on our list is that our pencil didn’t break ;) ).

I have had people work for me that are [by nature] very negative. When they come into my office and complain every day about other coworkers or their project there’s only so much that I can do to help them find immediate relief (meaning I can’t and won’t just fire someone they dislike and they can’t always be moved off of a project from one day to the next). We typically walk ourselves through different scenarios and solutions, but some of those changes are weeks or months out. When I myself get frustrated with this individual I will look at them and say, “tell me three good things about your day”. They are typically taken by surprise, questioning why I would ask them to do such a thing. I calmly explain to them why and state the request again. Then, at each subsequent meeting, I will start the conversation with that question.

As a manager I have found that this request helps me better understand my employees or colleagues. Whatever response they give generally indicates whether or not their biggest accomplishment of the day was brushing their teeth and potentially if there is a bigger issue they are struggling with in their personal or professional life. While they are never required to divulge personal issues, I find that sometimes I’m the only person that has bothered to ask them the question, “Is everything alright?” or “Are you ok?” - and that’s not ok.

Whether you are a Senior Director or junior employee, know that focusing on the negative will not get you anywhere. If stating three small positive things to be grateful for can help you escape a negative black hole, then say them to yourself. When you see others headed down the same path ask them to tell you three good things about their day. Not only will it help them see that they have someone who cares about their wellbeing at work, but it will hopefully encourage them to steer away from complaining and then you can help them focus on developing a solution for whatever issue they are trying to solve. If they are still stuck, I encourage you to ask them if you can help problem solve. Sometimes issues don’t seem so monumental when you have more people on your team. Who knows, you may just gain an ally or friend in the process.

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