Feeling Successful

Feeling Successful

We tend to spend our lives seeking to feel good in the future, but this is stressful and tiring in the present.

With Gratitude, you feel good already. This creates positive emotions that have many important benefits such as strengthening the immune system, helping us recover from loss and trauma, and widening the perceptual field to help us see opportunities.

My new book Resilient focuses on growing 12 essential inner-strengths for lasting well-being in a changing world, and Gratitude is one of them. 

In the excerpt below, you’ll explore how to develop gratitude and other positive emotions by feeling successful.

There is an architecture of aims inside us that ranges from microscopic regulatory processes within individual cells all the way up to our loftiest aspirations. Living is inherently goal-directed. Experiences of meeting your goals feel good, lower stress, and build positive motivation. They reassure you that you’re making progress, which helps you stay in the Responsive mode – in the green zone – as you go through your day. There are outcome goals such as getting out of bed in the morning, coming to a good understanding with someone at work, and washing the dishes after dinner. And there are process goals – ongoing values and aims – such as being honest, learning and growing, and taking care of your health.

If you think about it, you can see that you are accomplishing many outcome and process goals every hour.

For example, as you walk across a room, each step is a goal. This may sound trivial, but for a toddler learning to walk, each step is a victory. In a conversation, each word understood and facial expression deciphered is a goal attained. At work, every email read, text sent, and point made in a meeting is an accomplishment.

Since each day is full of goals, large and small, it is full of opportunities to take in experiences of successful goal attainment. Doing this builds up an internal sense of being successful, which helps us weather criticism and be less dependent upon the approval of others.

Much self-importance and acting superior is a compensation for underlying feelings of failure and inadequacy. Consequently, feeling like a success deep down can help people lighten up and take themselves less seriously. A durable sense of being successful comes from internalizing many experiences of small successes, not from seeing a big trophy outside such as a fancy car parked in the driveway.

Feelings of Failure
We all accomplish countless outcome and process goals each day. Yet many people do not feel very successful. One reason is the negativity bias. Internal alarms go off when we don’t meet goals, and dopamine activity drops in the brain, which feels bad and heightens anxiety, tension, and drivenness. But when we do meet our goals, we often don’t recognize it. People can be inattentive or numb as they do one task after another, or so focused on whatever is around the bend that they zoom through the finish line as they rush on to the next race.

When you notice an accomplishment, how often do you feel the success, if just for a moment? It’s common to block feelings of success due to fears of being ridiculed or punished for standing out or thinking you’re somebody special. And when you do have a sense of success, do you slow down to take it in and hardwire it into your nervous system?

The number of actual failures in any person’s life is tiny compared to the vast number of goals that have been successfully attained. But the failures are highlighted by the brain, associated with painful feelings, and stored deeply in memory. This crowds out a legitimate and well-earned sense of being an accomplished and successful person.

The fear of failure is worsened if you grew up with with a lot of criticism, even if there was also a lot of love. It’s also worsened if you are part of a company – or more broadly, an economy – that’s incentivized to keep people on the proverbial hamster wheel, with real success always slightly out of reach. Make your first dollar? It’s on to the first thousand. Make your $1000?` Well, so-and-so made $10,000. Get promoted? Stay hungry. Win a championship? Better repeat next year. Work harder, stay later, give 110 percent . . . but it’s never quite enough. The goalposts keep getting pushed back.

Feeling afraid of being a loser can be motivating, whether for a child or for a CEO. But over the long haul, those negative feelings wear people down and lower performance. Feeling reasonably successful already helps people aim high, recover from setbacks, and achieve their best.

Since you actually are moving from success to success hundreds of times each day, it’s simple justice to feel successful.

Dr. Ramani Durvasula is a licensed clinical psychologist, author, and expert on the impact of toxic narcissism. She is a Professor of Psychology at California State University, Los Angeles, and also a Visiting Professor at the University of Johannesburg.

The focus of Dr. Ramani’s clinical, academic, and consultative work is the etiology and impact of narcissism and high-conflict, entitled, antagonistic personality styles on human relationships, mental health, and societal expectations. She has spoken on these issues to clinicians, educators, and researchers around the world.

She is the author of Should I Stay or Should I Go: Surviving a Relationship With a Narcissist, and Don't You Know Who I Am? How to Stay Sane in an Era of Narcissism, Entitlement, and Incivility. Her work has been featured at SxSW, TEDx, and on a wide range of media platforms including Red Table Talk, the Today Show, Oxygen, Investigation Discovery, and Bravo, and she is a featured expert on the digital media mental health platform MedCircle. Dr. Durvasula’s research on personality disorders has been funded by the National Institutes of Health and she is a Consulting Editor of the scientific journal Behavioral Medicine.

Dr. Stephen Porges is a Distinguished University Scientist at Indiana University, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina, and Professor Emeritus at both the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Maryland. He is a former president of the Society for Psychophysiological Research and has been president of the Federation of Behavioral, Psychological, and Cognitive Sciences, which represents approximately twenty-thousand biobehavioral scientists. He’s led a number of other organizations and received a wide variety of professional awards.

In 1994 he proposed the Polyvagal Theory, a theory that links the evolution of the mammalian autonomic nervous system to social behavior and emphasizes the importance of physiological states in the expression of behavioral problems and psychiatric disorders. The theory is leading to innovative treatments based on insights into the mechanisms mediating symptoms observed in several behavioral, psychiatric, and physical disorders, and has had a major impact on the field of psychology.

Dr. Porges has published more than 300 peer-reviewed papers across a wide array of disciplines. He’s also the author of several books including The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, and Self-regulation.

Dr. Bruce Perry is the Principal of the Neurosequential Network, Senior Fellow of The ChildTrauma Academy, and a Professor (Adjunct) in the Departments of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago and the School of Allied Health at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia. From 1993 to 2001 he was the Thomas S. Trammell Research Professor of Psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine and chief of psychiatry at Texas Children's Hospital.

He’s one of the world’s leading experts on the impact of trauma in childhood, and his work on the impact of abuse, neglect, and trauma on the developing brain has impacted clinical practice, programs, and policy across the world. His work has been instrumental in describing how traumatic events in childhood change the biology of the brain.

Dr. Perry's most recent book, What Happened to You? Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing, co-authored with Oprah Winfrey, was released earlier this year. Dr. Perry is also the author, with Maia Szalavitz, of The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog, a bestselling book based on his work with maltreated children, and Born For Love: Why Empathy is Essential and Endangered. Additionally, he’s authored more than 300 journal articles and book chapters and has been the recipient of a variety of professional awards.

Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith is a child clinical psychologist who specializes in trauma and issues of race. She earned her undergraduate degree from Harvard and then received her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of California, Berkeley. She performed postdoctoral work at the University of California San Francisco/San Francisco General Hospital. She has combined her love of teaching and advocacy by serving as a professor and by directing mental health programs for children experiencing trauma, homelessness, or foster care.

Dr. Briscoe-Smith is also a senior fellow of Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and is both a professor and the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the Wright Institute. She provides consultation and training to nonprofits and schools on how to support trauma-informed practices and cultural accountability.

Sharon Salzberg is a world-renowned teacher and New York Times bestselling author. She is widely considered one of the most influential individuals in bringing mindfulness practices to the West, and co-founded the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts alongside Jack Kornfield and Joseph Goldstein. Sharon has been a student of Dipa Ma, Anagarika Munindra, and Sayadaw U Pandita alongside other masters.

Sharon has authored 10 books, and is the host of the fantastic Metta Hour podcast. She was a contributing editor of Oprah’s O Magazine, had her work featured in Time and on NPR, and contributed to panels alongside the Dalai Lama.

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