Growing up, I used to hear that expression regularly. It didn’t matter if you did 1, 100 or 1,000 great things yesterday if you totally blew it today. When that bad thing happens, it’s what’s in recent memory that counts and it wipes out all the good stuff before it.
I suppose it’s better that I learned the lesson at a young age, because the same notion can still hold true as an adult. If anything, it becomes a little more challenging because as adults we can be our own worse critics. Mistakes and criticisms, if we’re not careful, can take on a life of their own, pushing back the good stuff that came before.
It’s remembering the good that can help any of us move on, learn from the bad, and consider tomorrow a new day to try again.
So how do we remember the good when we’re knee-deep in the middle of the bad stuff? Even when it’s technically done, keeping our brains from going back there, stressing about it, reliving it, and generally refusing to get over it?
By focusing on the good.
Months ago, I wrote about comment cards, and how we are most likely to comment on experiences that are really amazing or really horrible. Generally, it’s what we as humans are most likely to act upon because there’s enough good or bad experience to have an emotion around it.
Tie emotion to a memory and we can recall it, and the emotion, for long after we forgot what we ate for breakfast or wore the day before.
When we do/experience something or receive feedback that is really bad, we have evidence in the form of emails, discussions and/or our own memory to keep it fresh. Recalling the discussion or rereading the email can bring it all back.
What about the good stuff? Do we talk as much about that? Have emails or an obsessive memory to go back to? Something that brings back a good feeling or a feeling of accomplishment?
We all should.
A colleague and I were recently discussing the “attagirl” vs “oh shit” and she asked if I have an “attagirl” folder in my email. Someplace where I can store the good stuff for later reference.
It was a relief to be able to say “yes,” knowing she had one too. For whatever reason, we’ll savor and relive the bad stuff with a sense of honor that we got through it, learned from it, etc. When we do something really good, however, keeping emails of recognition might seem like bragging or feeding our ego.
Instead, we should see attagirls (or boys) as positive energy that we can use to refuel after a challenging experience. It might be a “thank you” for a job well done or for lending a helping hand. Something small, when meaningful, can have a huge impact.
Sometimes, our attagirls don’t come in a tangible way. Often, the most meaningful moments are private interactions, such as a shoulder to lean on. An ear to bend. Advice to be taken or ignored. The giving you do because you can, and expect nothing in return.
If you’re lucky enough, sometimes a person will come back and let you know what a difference you made in their life. There’s no “folder” for these moments, just a memory. But it’s these most powerful memories that I take out when I start to doubt and wonder in the middle of an “oh shit” moment.
It’s the difference moments that I will recall on my deathbed, knowing it mattered that I was here. I’d like to hope I don’t remember the occasional blown presentation or colleague I inadvertently pissed off. I have to believe that the sum total of our lives is about the meaningful, positive influence we had on the world…the attagirls, not the oh shits.
Do you have a collection of attagirl/attaboy moments? Do you draw on it in times of challenge? What helps you move forward from a positive place? I’d love if you would share your experience in the comments and keep the conversation going.