woman scratching her headWe all have good days. And bad days. I learnt from Caroline Webb how to have more good days and thought it’s a tip worth sharing. I was originally introduced to Caroline at The Peak Work Performance Summit. Here they focus on practical ideas to make you healthier, happier and more productive. Here, have this tool that will change your life.

We have a coach at work who likes to say “It will be the year of your making.” He means it will be what you make of it. It’s up to you. It’s under your control. Caroline says it too, but in a different way. She says you can have a good day. And a good year. Because it’s under your control. It turns out they are right.
Caroline went around for about 15 years asking people what is a good day for them, what is a bad day and what would it take to get more good days. The answers were really clustered around three things:
• Feeling great about having done stuff that matters. (Do I feel that I focused on the right things today.)
• Feeling great about how you did it. (The quality of your interactions, whether you were on your game and people were really paying attention to you.)
• Feeling that it was enjoyable and sustainable. (At the end of the day you feel you still have some energy left in the tank and you feel good about picking it up again the next day.)
We all have good days. Days when all three things are in place. Why are these days so hard to come by? Why is every day not a good day? It is because we feel much of what happens to us day-to-day is out of our control. We’re not saying everything is under your control. Bad things can happen in your life, but there are lots of things we assume are imposed on us but can be brought back into our control and be subject to our own influences.
Here is the kicker! There is one thing most people would assume is not under our control, but in fact is under our control.
It’s Reality! Reality is under our control.
Let me explain.
Our brain is great, but also has its limitations. The conscious part of our brain has limitations on the amount of information it can process at any given time. It can’t cope with all the little bits of pieces of information all at once and gets overloaded quite easily. To cope with this, our brain unconsciously filters out tiny details. Whatever is already top of mind for us, our brain will assume is most relevant to us and won’t filter it out. That’s why when you are buying a new car, you’ll suddenly notice all the cars on the road that are the same model. Caroline explains that she recently bought some Nike sneakers, a brand she didn’t own before. As she walked out of the shop, she suddenly noticed that half of city were wearing Nike sneakers too. She noticed them because suddenly they were top of mind for her. It’s a simple example, but it explains something really deep. The reality we see is shaped dramatically by what is top of mind for us.
This is also how confirmation bias works. If we go into a conversation expecting someone to be a jerk, you will notice everything that confirms this guy being a jerk. And we might miss the one moment where they are being a bit more helpful or trying to reach out.  If you go into a meeting being very focused on getting your point across, you will notice every instance of being interrupted and you not being able to get your ideas. We like to say, “seeing is not believing”. People can look at the same thing and see it differently. What you see is not what you get. What you see is what you expect to see. The truth is, you see what you expect to see.
Once you understand that the reality of what you perceive is shaped by what is top of mind for you, you can be way more deliberate about what you bring into a conversation or bring into your day.  It will affect what you actually get to see and hear.
How do you use this insight to have a good day?
If you decide to notice three good things in the next ten minutes, you are now looking for good things and you tell your brain what is now salient to perceive. You might notice a book case behind someone’s desk and appreciate how it helps them de-clutter their desk. You might notice something small that makes you happy. It doesn’t have to be big things, but it will be things that make you feel good. All of these add up and the habit of looking out for good things will turn the cycle from a vicious one to virtuous one.
It’s not just about re-setting your mood. It’s about decided where you want to put your attention.  Your perception is way more malleable than you realise.
Be deliberate about your perceptual filters. And it will be the day of your making.

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