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When You’re At Your Best

This Thanksgiving do something for yourself that you will really be thankful for…get a new journal and schedule a 30-minute block of time to be alone before Thursday. No digital distractions turned on, no T.V. or music playing in the background, no possibility of someone knocking on your door to interrupt your thinking…just you and your thoughts for half an hour. Then write down ALL your answers to this question:

When are you at your best?

Think about who you were with and how those people brought out the best in you, what you were doing and how those activities helped you give your best effort, and why it was important for you to do your best work at those times.

Fight the temptation to only reflect on the vague details of your “best” experiences or ruminating on the times you fell short of what you’re capable of doing. For this exercise to be effective, you have to get at the root cause of when you’re at your best. Give yourself a full 30 minutes to think about the positive things you may not have spent much time analyzing before. The more details, the better.

The moment your mind gives you a positive answer, write it down…but don’t stop there. Ask yourself some additional questions like “who else, what else or why else” each time you move your thoughts from pen to paper. The follow-up questions will force you to go beyond the surface and create more meaningful and useful insights. If a negative thought shows up (and it will), just let it go and get back to doing your research into what it took for you to be at your best.

It’s also important for us to know our “best” ideas will not come immediately. We have to be patient. We have to learn to get comfortable being uncomfortable with silence during this time. If we commit to staying engaged with the questions for the full 30 minutes, we will create a story filled with magnificent moments that reveal our best life.

This activity will be very hard for most of us to do. Thanksgiving begins the holiday season and it’s filled with so many distractions that it’s easy to justify not making the time or just giving the most obvious one-sentence answer to the questions.

For those of us who choose to do the exercise, we will experience several benefits:

  1. It will improve our health and happiness because we have to slow down to do it. The holidays aren’t happy or healthy when we keep running from one stressful activity to the next without taking a time-out for ourselves.

  2. Reflecting on the times when we’re at our best creates good memories and positive emotions. The research of Barbara Fredrickson, author of “Positivity” and “Love 2.0,” proves the quality of our lives are dramatically improved when we recall positive experiences.

  3. Writing about our best stories reminds us to express our gratitude to the most important people in our life. No matter how successful we’ve been in the past, when we’re at our best, there is always someone to thank.

Thanksgiving Day has always been one of my favorite holidays. It’s a time for family and friends to gather for Turkey Bowls and Turkey Dinners, and most importantly, to give thanks for all the blessings we’ve received during the year. It can also be a time we miss an opportunity to be at our best when it comes to connecting with our family. The interactions we have can seem more like two ships passing in the night as we go from one room to another watching football, taking care of children, checking on grandparents, preparing the meal, eating it, or cleaning up afterward.

What if this year you added a new tradition to your normal routine? What if you asked your family members to do the “when you’re at your best” exercise with you? What if you blocked off 30 minutes before Thanksgiving meal so each of you can share your best stories with each other? And as a bonus, what if everyone also talked about how they plan to do more of what they do best next year? If you did that, I think it would make this Thanksgiving one of your best.

Let’s Get Better. Together! Bill Durkin


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