Count Your Successes

by Luna Corbden

You set the goal: Complete a story by the end of the week. You vow, “This time I will do it!”

Then the end of the week comes, and you’ve added 250 words, but the story still has no ending. Or middle.

Out comes the flogger. “I never get anything done!” you say. You think back, “What did I do all week? Nothing. Absolutely nothing!”

“I’m so lazy,” flog, flog. “I will never meet my writing goals,” you insist, and this is followed by an inventory of all the other life goals you’re also failing to meet, a rap sheet of the many ways you’ve let yourself, and everyone else, down.

Nevertheless, for all this “doing nothing,” you sure are tired!

I used to punish myself like this, but disabilities these past few years have kept me from doing most of what I’ve wanted to do. Disability has forced me to change how I view my goals and my worth as a person. It’s altered my views on productivity. On priorities. Suffering has taught me some valuable lessons.

I have turned my inner narrative around with one simple new rule:

“Count your successes.”

It’s ridiculous to think you did nothing all week. Are you really a Zen Buddhist who has mastered the art of stillness? Of course not, because that’s another goal you’ve failed at, right?

So you must have been doing something, and I’m sure it was important. That’s the core of this secret. Fully realizing and internalizing your actual accomplishments can provide a ton of benefits. But first, what do I mean?

I mean, count everything you’ve done in a week (or a day, or an hour) as a success.

Did you help another writer with a critique? Did you read? Were you active on social media? Did you learn something new? Were you helping your children with schoolwork? Did you progress on personal development through therapy, journaling, or processing life events? Were you on time to work every day? Did you attend a conference? Were you helping a friend through a crisis? Did you clean a corner of your desk? Did you experience an emotional setback that you needed to dig out from? Are the dishes done?

Count everything.

I’ve been forced into this outlook after being in bed for weeks, getting up only for a few hours at a time, before going back to bed. Measuring my worth and success the traditional way, based on my more productive days, simply wasn’t working anymore.

I’ve come to appreciate every tiny success, accomplishments as small as:

  1. Got out of bed for one hour.
  2. Brushed my teeth.
  3. Called a friend.
  4. Answered an email.
  5. Read a blog post.

These moments have been triumphs for me over my worst three years, worthy of celebration. But even after all that, now that my successes are a little bit bigger, I often forget how far I’ve come, and forget to count much greater tasks.

Our society teaches us to only count completed work, and only if it is consumed by a huge number of others, and only if money is exchanged. Nothing else is valid. Which sets us up for failure no matter what we do.

We become a void that can never be filled. Write something? It isn’t published. Publish something? It wasn’t a novel. Publish a novel? Yes, but not the dreaded second book. Second book is out? Where are your short story collections? Where is your bestseller? Where is your next? Why aren’t your books coming out faster?

This is not a path to satisfaction, and even if you do accomplish your dreams, they will feel hollow. You need to start practicing now to count your successes, large and small.

“But!” you argue, “If I celebrate all the useless little ways I spend my time, I’ll be content and I won’t accomplish any of my difficult goals!”

Here’s where the secret gets awesome:

Counting your successes makes you conscious of how you use your time. That gives you the awareness you need to make different choices. Or at least, come to peace with the activities you do engage in.

Maybe your time is filled with social media and taking care of the kids. By seeing each of these as accomplishments, now you can say, “Do I really want to accomplish more social media?” Maybe you do a lot of unrecognized work for others, for instance, helping your spouse, or other writers, or whatever it is you do. Maybe there are boundaries you can set so that others can learn to help themselves. Your writing goals are difficult, but so is making choices about how you spend your time. If you count your successes, you come to own your actions, and your priorities become choices rather than obligations.

Some obligations are necessary, or, we choose to prioritize them over our writing dreams. And that’s ok, too. Maybe you can’t finish a story in one week because of important responsibilities. Counting those as successes will help you set more realistic writing goals… it might take six weeks to finish the story instead of one.

Meanwhile, you’ll begin to feel more satisfied, content that you really are putting in an effort. You will reward yourself for your jobs well done.

Counting my successes has helped restore my sense of balance. And maybe yours, too. Today, you’ve finished reading a blog post to improve your craft. Great work!

•••

Luna Corbden (who also writes as Luna Lindsey) lives in Washington State. Their first story, about a hippopotamus, crawled out of their head at age 4. After running out of things to say about hippopotami, they switched to sci-fi, fantasy, and horror. Their stories have appeared in the Journal of Unlikely Entomology, Penumbra eMag, and Crossed Genres. They tweet like a bird @corbden and blog at www.corbden.com. Their novel, Emerald City Dreamer, is about faeries in Seattle and the women who hunt them.

One Response

  1. Daniel Bensen

    I do this too and it works!
    I’ve heard it called “tracking” or “microwins” and it really is good for my mental health. I do it on google calendar, which allows me to turn successes into repeating events so that if I successfully answered emails or read to my kids at 3pm on Wednesday, I can try doing the same thing next week at the same time. Reviewing successes at the end of the week also helps me overcome the tendency to only remember my failures.
    Luna, do you have any books/podcasts etc. to recommend about this sort of technique?

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