But What Went Right - Blog by Dr. Margaret Smith

But What Went Right?

Some of you are pretty good at providing yourselves with criticism (constructive and otherwise). Scratch that. Some of you are really good at giving yourselves a beat down. Yes, as some might argue, it is my job to work you through what could have gone better - so that we can arrive at a place where you are able to identify and take action on what it is you want to improve. So yes, it is good and productive to talk about what you feel went wrong.

But here's the thing. If all you can see is what went wrong, it's time for a new challenge: what went right?

And oh, if I had a dollar for every time someone answered me, "Nothing!" I'd have many dollars.

Regardless of whether the performance goes down as your all-time best or worst, there are positive elements that you made happen. And times and marks and finish-places are not stand-ins for those positive - they don't sufficiently describe what you actually did that got you to those outcomes. And knowing what it is you did - including what you did well - is where you start to generate an action plan for improvement.

Don't confuse acknowledging what you did well with bragging. It's not.

And don't confusing it with attributing fixed qualities to yourself either. (Big difference between saying, "I'm good at starts" and "I got off the line well today." The first statement assumes permanence. The second statement shows awareness of ongoing work.)

So what can specific acknowledgements of what you did well in any given competition or practice do for you? Short answer: a lot. Beginning of the longer answer:

  1. It can help you see the whole process of your performance - and own it. Sometimes identifying only what went wrong is an attempt to dissociate yourself from a performance you're not happy with:That wasn't really me out there! I'm better than that!And this cheats you out of a good hard look at what you can learn from what you did.
  2. About that learning. Imagine a teacher who only ever pointed out errors. Sure you might get an idea of where you need to improve, but you might not get a good picture of some of the tools you bring with you into the improvement project. Which leaves you fumbling and flailing - wasting energy. And that will exhaust you long before you ever get where you are wanting to go.

Not convinced yet? Or more likely, not certain how you could ever be so bold as to find the good in what you consider a sub-par performance?

Call me. Seriously.

Or call in someone you can trust to really look and see what you're putting into your efforts -- and to go back with you until you see too how you make good happen.

Margaret Smith, Ph.D. works with individual athletes and teams of all sports and all levels from elite youth to professional in Birmingham, AL. She has coached and competed in NCAA Division I Cross Country and Track at ACC and Big 10 schools. Now that she's in SEC country, you can reach this TarHeel born and bred at drsmith@resoluterunning.com.