Ask Yourself, “What Went Well?”​

Well, we didn’t hit anything.

That was my thought as we swung the boat alongside the dock at the end of the morning row.   The sky was colored white and red with dawn just breaking. We gathered the oars and made our way up to land. 

The next thought running through my head was, should I apologize to my crew for doing such a lousy job?

We were out in a quad boat for rowing practice this morning: four rowers, each with two oars. I was in the bow seat, the other three rowers sitting in front of me, and my job was to steer the boat while facing backwards. It’s the backwards part that really gets me since it’s difficult to row and turn your head around to check your direction.  Oh, that and the dark, the large tugboat, the blinking channel markers I didn’t want to hit, and the four other boats making their own way alongside me. 

Despite rowing for some time, I was a novice at this particular skill, in part because I was often asked to be the front rower to set the pace, and in part because the thought of being responsible for a fast-moving boat along a changing body of water scared me, and I avoided it.

We washed the boat and put it away. The other three rowers in my boat – really really nice people – said encouraging things about the learning curve. I went out to my car and took a deep breath. Now is when I do what I do after every row: open an Evernote file and write down what went well and what didn’t. But I didn’t want to! The mistakes I had made loomed large in my mind. 

Taking a deep breath, I typed the words “Quad row 2/10/22. Bowing Geeks Quad.” (that’s the name of our boat, go figure).  “What went well.”  Hit return. 

Hmm.  Well, I got the boat to the dock really smoothly. I made the last turn into the channel on a good line. Pause. And then, some things that I had done well way back at the beginning of the 90-minute row came to mind. I wrote them all down. Somewhere along the way I started the second part which was “what I did badly”  “Learnings.” That filled up too, but what amazed me was all the stuff in the “Went well” category.

There is an overused saying that an unexamined life is not worth living. I don’t know if I believe that, but I do know that these lists are my friends. Our brain naturally remembers what went wrong, in another one of its archaic self-preservation strategies, no doubt.  If I hadn’t gritted my teeth and made the list, I would not have remembered all those things I did well, and importantly, better than the last time. 

In five minutes, I had turned the experience around. 

Knowing that our brains will always remember the bad stuff, it’s worth the extra effort to capture the good, too. Try it. After a meeting, a presentation, or even just a workout, open a note, grab a piece of paper, and write: What went well? It may surprise you.

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