Acknowledge daily wins

“If it’s not big it doesn’t count”. Do you think like that? Do you dismiss the hundreds of small accomplishments that you manage to complete every single day? Perhaps the simplest and most classic of these daily small accomplishments is to make your bed.

Make your bed

Tim Ferriss popularised this notion with his 5 Morning Rituals That Help You ‘Win the Day’. It’s the same notion that Navy SEAL commander Admiral William H. McRaven also earlier spoke of in a 2014 commencement speech he gave to students at the University of Texas. He includes this as one of his ten small things in his book, Make Your Bed: Small Things That Can Change Your Life … and Maybe the World.* 

Today my mother-in-law was coming to stay for a few days, so there were some things that needed doing in preparation. Each one small but essential to making her stay comfortable and her room inviting. The beautiful spring weather had suddenly turned chilly and so the bedding needed to be warm and layered with plenty of options. And I hung a soft pink warm gown nearby, just in case. 

She is an ex-florist, so I knew a vase of fresh flowers would be appreciated. I wandered through the garden to gather what was in flower – an eclectic posy formed of lavender, bottlebrush, fressias and seaside daisies which I placed in a cutglass rose bowl my own mother had given me when she started to pass on her treasures several years ago. She’s still going strong at almost 99!

Simple joys

Both small tasks were simple and enjoyable in the doing and in the finishing. The wander through the garden was a sensory meditation, the eyes being drawn to the colours of the flowers in bloom and the freshness of them, the hand’s awareness of the foliage when touched and then the fragrance emitted. And all the while an appreciation of where to cut each stem to create the final posy. The simple being in “the doing”. It was such a simple joy and adds to the meaning of the day, it’s an essential part of a good life.  

Every day is filled with mostly unrecognised completions and wins. To stop and take the time to see these and acknowledge their value in your life brings satisfaction and just a little more joy.

Celebrate or Acknowledge?

Quite often the advice is to “Celebrate the wins”. In 2020, “celebrate” usually means a rowdy occasion mixed with alcohol and a few speeches. But the origins** are different:
from Latin celebratus – much-frequented, kept solemn, famous; past participle of celebrare –  assemble to honor, commemorate or honor with demonstrations of joy

So “honour daily wins” could hint at the true presence we find when we are “in the moment” and “aware of being in the moment” so that joy emerges. It points to “honour daily moments” as the place where magic happens.

A little bit of science

And scientifically we know why acknowledging wins is a good thing. Jonathan Cawte writes: “Dopamine is the achievement hormone; it makes sure we get to the goal. Dopamine narrows our focus and responds strongly to visual cues. Each time we see the goal we get a hit of dopamine. As we get closer to the goal the dose increases until we are rewarded with a mega dose on its achievement.” 

We need to see our goals, write them down, just as we need to acknowledge our wins – write them down, acknowledge them in a visual way, journal them. “Without a visual cue there is no dopamine,” Jonathan Cawte states.

We need to be careful that whilst goals are useful, they may crowd-out the simple joy of doing. Goals are very “left-brain” and will take control if allowed – this is one big driver in the western workplace. 

For example, it’s understood that dopamine can actually make us addicted to checking things off our lists because it makes us feel good physiologically! As with everything there can be a downside. If you find yourself adding items to your list just so you can tick them off, then step away from the list!

In contrast, we want to be in “serious play” – a skillful balance of right-brain and left brain contributions, not be all one-side or the other.

*Make Your Bed: Small Things That Can Change Your Life … and Maybe the World
by William H. McRaven ISBN:9781405934466, 1405934468 Published:15 June 2017


Take Care

Often when we wish someone good-bye – we say “take care”. Like most language habits it’s trotted out unconsciously, just part of the sleep state we spend most of our time in.

But is it worth pondering what “take care” might mean in your day? What would it be like to approach things with care? Not so seriously to crowd-out a care-free demeanor, but…

This morning I finished a yoga session and had allowed it to be more than physical – there was more space induced by the breath, postures and released endorphins. The wind is blowing a gale today – I stepped toward the window to close it.

I’m pretty good at closing windows, done it thousands of times. So my hand grasped the window unconsciously and automatically and started to slide it shut.

Blown by gusts inside the window there were small end branches of a bush (planted outside the window). I could have easily crushed them in closing the window. Luckily* there was enough space in me to see the branches and STOP.

Still, mostly automatic, I reached to carefully moved a branch outside the window. Then everything changed – in the caring touch, I saw the scene for the first time.

I really could see it.

For the first time I watched these branches – they were flashing and sparking with the morning light as the gusts jostled them around. The tints of green, the veins of growth rippling through the leaves and the sturdy and the willowy resilience of the end stems of the branch. And the truth was there of why branches bend in a gusty wind.

It was over in a few seconds, but it was a privilege to have taken enough care with the branches to be gifted that experience in return.

So it seems that “taking care” is a great example of “give and you shall receive”**.

* The yoga had made my own luck.

** I’m not invoking Christianity with this quote, just the naturalistic experience seems to match the words.

Note: I owe:

a) both “take care” and “make your own luck” to Henryk, who I have posted about previously.

b) STOP to my teacher Ron. This is the first part of the “Stop, Breath, Stillness, Balance” practice.

Living a good life

We all drift… sometimes an hour is lost scrolling (more on that another time). Sometimes for weeks or years.

Pam recently read Julia Baird’s book Phosphorescence*.  One of the key themes that resonated with Pam was “Living deliberately” – it seems a sure antidote to “drift”.

Julia Baird is a political journalist and presenter in Australia and Phosphorescence has been read by several women in my life – it’s apparently a journey worth taking.

When I looked Julia up, she is the daughter of highly regarded state politician Bruce Baird and sister of Mike Baird who became Premier in NSW. Julia, aside from writing, co-hosts a political affairs show on the ABC, so this family are full of public service and lives very deliberately.

Discussing “Living deliberately” (over toast), we brainstormed what that might mean. We came up with:

  • 2 big dimensions: Personal (self) and World (others)
  • Combined with:
    • WHATS (principles of “living deliberately”)
    • HOWS (tools, rhythms and skills)
    • NOURISHMENT (things that bring joy and recharge your resources)

Above is one visualisation. We also thought “Living well” or “Living a good life” might have a little more balance than just the mental fortitude of “living deliberately”. It’s far from perfect but it might be a useful reminder for us and others. 

Drop us a note if you think we’ve missed something or could make it better.

We’ll write a few blog posts on some of the sections – any idea which should be first? 🤷‍♂️

Below is another visualisation of the same content.

* Phosphorescence: On Awe, Wonder & the Things that Sustain You When the World Goes Dark (HarperCollins)