30 Days to Create a Journal - Day 30

How to relive your best day without using a time machine

Today is the last day in the 30 Days to Create a Journal project and as such I want to make your last challenge a little more forward looking. We’ll continue our discussion from yesterday about bright spots.

To me, Chip and Dan Heath’s suggestion to find rare moments of resilience in our own life,  and replicate them seems simultaneously puzzling and totally intuitive. Kind of a, "duh!, why haven’t I been doing this more often" moment. As they explain earlier in their book, we have immense capacity when we’re unclear or confused to spin in analytical circles. I’ll be the first to admit when I’ve been taken on a daunting task, I’ll overwhelm myself with research (more surveys!, more books!, more peer-reviewed articles!). 

Chip and Dan don’t discourage a fact finding or perspective broadening, they merely suggest that you accelerate it. Instead of dwelling on problem behaviors and root causes with investigation that can appear like an archeological dig, focus on the bright spots.

Here’s the continuation of yesterday’s story about Jerry Sternin's approach to solve malnutrition in rural Vietnam:

Sternin's strategy was to search the community for bright spots. If some kids were healthy despite their disadvantages, then that meant something important: Malnourishment was not inevitable. The mere existence of healthy kids provided hope for a practical, short-term solution. Sternin knew he couldn't fix the thorny root causes. But if a handful of kids were staying healthy against the odds, why couldn't every kid be healthy?

To understand what the bright spots were doing differently, the mothers first had to understand the typical eating behaviors in the community. So they talked to dozens of people -- other mothers, fathers, older brothers and sisters, grandparents -- and discovered that the norms were pretty clear: Kids ate twice a day along with the rest of their families, and they ate food that was deemed appropriate for children -- soft, pure foods like the highest-quality rice.

Armed with that understanding, the mothers then observed the homes of the bright-spot kids, and, alert for any deviations, they noticed some unexpected habits. For one thing, bright-spot moms were feeding their kids four meals a day (using the same amount of food as other moms but spreading it across four servings rather than two). The larger twice-a-day meals eaten by most families turned out to be a mistake for children, because their malnourished stomachs couldn't process that much food at one time.

The style of eating was also different. Most parents believed that their kids understood their own needs and would feed themselves appropriately from a communal bowl. But the healthy kids were fed more actively -- by hand if necessary. The children were even encouraged to eat when they were sick, which was not the norm.

Perhaps most interesting, the healthy kids were eating different kinds of food. The bright-spot mothers were collecting tiny shrimp and crabs from the rice paddies and mixing them in with their kids' rice. (Shrimp and crabs were eaten by adults but they weren't considered appropriate food for kids.) The mothers also tossed in sweet-potato greens, which were considered a low-class food. These dietary improvisations, however strange or "low class," were doing something precious: adding sorely needed protein and vitamins to the children's diet.

Straightforward, intuitive, sustainable, and yet, why haven’t we used this strategy more often?! Instead of focusing on why we might do something wrong, follow the Heath brothers and ask “What’s working right now, and how can we do more of it?”

Today’s (final) journaling challenge: Think back to yesterday’s Overnight Journaling Miracle. When was the last time you saw a little bit of the miracle, even for a short time? Focus on the small details of the moment, like an athlete reviewing game footage. Those are your bright spots, and that’s how you’ll carry this journaling challenge on for the remainder of the year.

Tomorrow: Assuming you’ve had a chance to respond to the survey, I will share some of the information back with you. I’ll also let you know how you can replay this 30-day challenge again in the future (like DVR!).