• Alisa

You’re achieving more than you think

The power of the ‘four Ws’ – ‘what went well and why?’

I’m a firm believer in positive psychology – the science of human flourishing, which includes a focus on the strengths and virtures that enable us as individuals, but also as communities and organisations, to thrive.

Within that context, I want to introduce a simple tool that, when used consistently, is proven to increase your awareness of the power you have to positively influence outcomes and events in your life. Put simply, it demonstrates that you’re already achieving more than you think.

This tool is strongly connected to self-efficacy, which is a key component of resiliency. People often confuse this with self-esteem, which is how you feel about yourself, but self-efficacy is your belief that you have control and power to affect situations and achieve intended results.

The ‘four Ws’

By now, you’re probably familiar with some different ways people practise gratefulness – whether it’s reflecting on three things that made them feel good, or considering three lessons they’ve learnt that day.

Like those examples, this is a simple exercise you can do at the end of the day called ‘what went well and why?’ – the ‘four Ws’. It involves identifying something that went well that day, and then taking the time to recognise the three things you did to make that positive situation happen. It’s pretty simple. You can verbalise it to someone else, sit and write it down, or just think about it it when you’re lying in bed before you go to sleep.

The key benefit of this exercise is that it promotes self-reflection in a positive sphere. It's not looking at what mistakes you made, where your weaknesses are or how you need to improve – it’s about what went right and how you made it happen.

When you identify your role in a situation that went well, you learn about your strengths, which enables you to have repeat success in the future.

The ‘four Ws’ in action

Recently, I had to go to South Korea for work and leave my family behind – a 12-month-old, a three-year-old, and a husband who works full-time. There was a little bit of stress in the preparation and lead up, but it actually went well for my family and showed me that, as a professional working woman, I can go away for a week and the whole house isn’t going to fall apart.

I did three things to enable this.

Firstly, I put a support structure in place, which relates to the mental wellbeing building blocks of connectivity and goal achievement. I scheduled friends, family and babysitters in for every afternoon, particularly for the 4pm–7pm stressful block of getting the kids home from childcare, fed, bathed and put to bed. Having this team of people and a support structure in place helped the kids continue a somewhat normal routine and, more importantly, it alleviated stress on my husband and helped him feel less alone.

The second thing I did was extra planning and scheduling. I had a fridge full of simple ingredients and a straightforward meal plan on the fridge, I booked a cleaner to come in and help out with tidying the house, and I scheduled regular daily FaceTime chats with my family. I also took out an overseas phone plan so I could send my husband lots of encouraging and supportive texts.

The third thing I did was empower my husband. I told him, “I totally trust and support you, just do whatever you need to do to get through the week. You are a great parent, so have fun – you can do this.” It was important to actually articulate my trust and belief in him. To be honest, as long as everyone was safe, then that was enough.

By doing these three things (the ‘why’), it enabled my week away to be positive, not just for me, but for my husband and my family (‘what went well’).

It’s a simple approach, but now I feel confident that next time I have the opportunity to travel for important work, I will be less likely to hesitate. In fact I’ll probably be more excited to go, drawing on this past success to propagate my future success.

How this helps

Practising the ‘what went well and why?’ exercise allows you to focus on the positives and to give yourself credit for the things you’re accomplishing. To appreciate the small things, and to be proud of some of those innate capabilities and skills that aren’t usually celebrated.

When you do this, you gain evidence that you do have control and influence over your life, and that you’re achieving something every day.

Dr Monique Crane is a lecturer at Macquarie University and academic Member of the College for Organisational Psychologists. Her primary area of research examines how organisations are able to foster psychological resilience in the workplace.

Planning is setting yourself up for success. One of the important things the above example illustrates is creating a plan for things that you can control. One of the important things that helps us develop our self-efficacy is doing our best to set ourselves up for success, rather than failure. When we experience success in a task or situation, typically these successes increase the expectation that we have the personal capability to achieve success again in that given situation. This is often talked about as specific self-efficacy. However, it’s critical we set ourselves up for success through planning.

For example, working mums and dads sometimes have to travel or spend long hours in the office. This is often an uncontrollable part of professional working life. Planning involves identifying where the ‘friction points’ are that may create stress for ourselves or others we care about. Once these friction points are identified, we can then ask ourselves, ‘Is there any way of making this less stressful? Are there any resources that I might be able to draw on (e.g., family and friends)?’ Resilient people tend to use their support networks effectively in this way. They are able to anticipate potential problems and put support in place early.

Planning may also involve thinking about the situation in a way that allows us to take a new perspective on the stressor. Recently, my husband was away for three-weeks and it was just me and my two-year old. I work long hours and was a little concerned about how we would cope. However, I also thought about the opportunities in the situation, like getting more time with my son and developing our relationship. Thinking about the opportunities in stressors is also part of the planning process – what am I going to show myself I am capable of? What am I going to learn from this?

Originally published on www.onelife.aiavitality.com.au on November 14, 2017.

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