The Power of DTW

Doing this one, simple thing changed my life. Maybe it can change yours…

On a Mission

For at least the last 10-15 years, I’ve been on a mission.

The nature of the mission?

A journey of self-discovery and self-improvement, consisting primarily of the study of the various things one can do to lead a happier, more positive and more rewarding life.

I began the mission because, being candid, I wasn’t nearly as happy or as fulfilled as I felt I should have been, based on the overall level of success, trappings and accomplishments that I’d achieved to that point.

I had many of the makings, trophies and totems that typically identify “success” and “happiness” within our culture, but – for the most part – I was still the same ole’ me: angry, depressed, sullen, caustic and negative far too much of the time.

I’m not saying I evidenced these things all the time, of course.

I had moments, hours and days of “being happy,” for sure, but those moments, hours and days seem to fade all too quickly.

First Steps

So, I started Googling, researching and studying, looking for things that might help me to change in a more positive direction.

And while I did find some decent ideas, none of them really helped me that much.

None of the methods, tricks or hacks I found lasted very long.

I’d try something, and it would work for a day, a week or a month…but it wouldn’t stick.

Nothing felt like anything close to permanent.

And then, almost by accident, I discovered something that has literally changed my life.

Genesis of DTW

I call it “The Power of DTW,” or “The Power of Documenting the Wins.”

The backstory…

I’m a fastidious note-taker by nature.

I just love the process, the exercise and the discipline of taking notes.

I always have, and I’m certain I always will.

I write down pretty much anything and everything of potential significance that happens throughout the course of a normal day.

I own a real estate company, and I also sell real estate, so – in addition to the other, personal stuff that I write down – I have plenty of opportunities during a typical day to document the various things that happen naturally within that context:

 – I connect with a new client, and I document the details of that discussion.

 – I jot down the details of a conversation with another broker about a deal we have in process.

 – I document the details of a workout.

 – I get a call from a lender with an update about one of my clients, and I wrote that down.

 – I take some quick notes about some item I’m thinking about buying.

Etc., etc.

First Version of DTW

With my natural tendency to take notes as context, the first iteration of “DTW” was simply highlighting the items in my normal notes that were positive, or that felt like “wins” as I perceived them.

Things like:

 – Getting an offer accepted for a buying client.

 – My first bike ride following Achilles surgery.

 – Having one of my selling clients receive a quality offer.

 – My 100th Achilles rehab workout.

 – Receiving multiple offers on a listing the first day it was on the market.

You get the idea.

I don’t even recall why I started doing that.

I just did it one day, and I kept doing it, because I liked that I was focusing on the positive things happening in my life.

And while the mere act of “highlighting positives” was a step in the right direction, it was a small step.

Because the reality is that I don’t, as a rule, go back and review the notes I take on a typical day.

I do do that if I’m looking for something specific that I need to locate for a particular reason, but I don’t go back and read my notes without some reason for doing so.

So, for the most part, “highlighting positives” was a “one and done” activity: I highlighted the item, I took momentary note of the fact that something positive had happened in my life, and that was it.

That was the totality of the experience.

Second Version of DTW

Over time, I kept doing that: I kept highlighting the positives.

I began to feel the power of “documenting the wins,” but – intuitively – I felt like I was only scratching the surface in terms of the psychological benefit I was getting from DTW.

Lacking any better idea at the time, in addition to highlighting, I started adding a little “DTW” annotation in red font next to those items within my notes that felt like wins.

Those two acts – highlighting and annotating the positives – burned each of those events a little more deeply into my mind, but I knew I still didn’t have the ultimate, final vision.

Hunting Wins

And as I started to make this “documenting the positives” thing a more robust, consistent part of my daily life, I began to notice two things:

The first was that, at some point, I began to “hunt wins.”

I started LOOKING FOR things that felt like wins.

You have to understand: doing that is not natural for me.

I am a cynic by nature, and if you’re like that, too, you know that cynics typically don’t go around looking for the positives … in pretty much any situation.

So, when I realized I was doing exactly that – looking for the positives in pretty much every situation – that got my attention.

Expanding Definition of a Win

The second thing I began to notice was that, as I began to hunt wins, my definition of a “win” began to change, and to expand.

At the start, something had to be “big” and “significant” to qualify as a win.

I had to close on a real estate transaction.

I had to set a personal record of some variety, like a new “fastest time” on a bike circuit that I ride consistently, or a new PR in the bench press, for example.

But as time passed, and I started to subconsciously look for wins, I seemed to find more and more and more of them.

I began to identify smaller things as wins.

As an example, instead of focusing on the end result of a real estate transaction – a successful closing with a fully satisfied client – and calling THAT a “win,” I started calling all the little steps within a successful real estate transaction wins. Things like:

 – A buyer getting their loan approved.

 – A successful appraisal.

 – Resolving an inspection issue.

 – Receiving a “clear to close” communication from a lender.

 – Receiving closing documents ahead of schedule.

And so on.

A Small/Massive Shift

And when I started doing that – when I started seeing the totality of all the good that things that were happening in my lifemy world truly began to change.

I began to realize how many positive things were happening in my life, routinely and as a matter of course.

Things that, in retrospect, I was not seeing, or, if I was seeing, I was apparently taking for granted.

Without me even really realizing it, my entire view of life had shifted ever so slightly from being “predominantly negative” to becoming “predominantly positive.”

And that, my friend, is a pretty big deal.

To shift from being “1% inclined to the negative” to being “1% inclined to the positive” seems small and insignificant, because we’re only talking about an absolute value change – on paper – of two degrees.

But, in reality, that seemingly small shift created a massive change, because I had morphed from being “primarily negative” to becoming “primarily positive.

Current Version of DTW

Somewhere along the line – maybe six months ago – I morphed “Documenting the Wins” into what feels like what may be its final iteration: a dedicated file within GoodNotes on my iPad Pro – called “DTW” – that includes a page for each month, on which I “artistically represent” each of the wins I enjoyed that particular month.

Here is an example of what I’m talking about, as it appears on my iPad:

(Sidebar and before I continue, I should freely acknowledge my lack of artistic ability. Luckily, DTW has nothing to do with artistry. I have opted to use a more visual approach to document my wins simply because I’m a visual learner, and also because I’m able to recall things faster and easier this way. But yes, I agree, I suck at art.) 

Another thing that has happened organically from using this approach is that (where applicable) I can “connect” wins to one another, to see how one win was related to, or perhaps even the cause of, another win.

This has also changed my perspective and my appreciation of certain events, things and people, as I am now making intellectual and psychological connections between things that I either wasn’t making before, or I wasn’t making as deeply and or as specifically as I am now.

My current, “single page for a month” approach has embedded each of my wins even deeper into my psyche, as I’m now spending even more time focused on each every one of those events (more on that below).

Practical Observations

DTW (“documenting the wins”) has truly changed my life.

From a practical perspective, here are the reasons why I think that happened:

What You Focus On Expands – I’m sure you’re heard that expression before. I can tell you, it’s true. I now spend time, every single day, focusing on my monthly “DTW Summary.” I’m constantly adding to it, editing it, moving things around and resizing them to make everything fit and flow together properly, etc. In other words, I’m “digitally handling” each win multiple times in the month in which the win originates. As a result, I am – in a way – enjoying the win multiple times, because I’m reminded of it so many times in a typical month.

Hunting Has Become Habit – As already noted, I now hunt wins subconsciously and automatically. It has become my default mode. As such, my brain is constantly looking at the world through a new lens, with a new operating system of sorts, which has been programmed to “find the good” in all things. Given how unnatural that used to be for me, that change in behavior feels absolutely amazing.

Gamification of Positivity  As a natural extension of the prior point, I have effectively “gamified” the identification of the positive occurrences in my life, 24/7/365. I have rewired my psychology, and I’m confident I’m getting a hit of dopamine every time I find another win that I can add to my list. In a sense, I am becoming “addicted to positivity,” because I find myself drawn to look at my current monthly DTW summary multiple times per day, every day. Before DTW, I was forgetting the good things that happened in my life almost instantaneously. Now? I am reliving those positive moments – in my heart, my mind, my spirt and my soul – over and over and over again. And yes, this is basic psychological self-programming. And even though I know that’s what this is, it still works. That’s how fundamental this “power of positivity” is to the human psyche.

Constant Reminder of the Good – Continuing the prior point, because I summarize all my wins in a given month on a single page, it’s really easy to relive those wins in an “at-a-glance” manner. I find that I do this quite often. Prior to developing this method, I had no real way of doing that. Scrolling back through individual digital pages on my iPad and seeing the highlighted wins spread out sporadically over many pages didn’t give me much of a boost, and, as a result, that’s not something I did very often. Now, because all the wins are condensed on one page per month, I can contemplate them en masse, and I can feel the power that comes from the simple acknowledgment and recognition of all those positive occurrences that took place in my life in such a relatively short period of time.

Double Bonus – For every minute I spend focusing on and thinking about the wins in my life, that’s one less minute I have to spend focusing on and thinking about the negatives. Every time I do that, that’s not a gain of “one” minute, but actually of two: the gain of a minute spent focused on the pluses, and the loss of a minute spent focused on the minuses. That nets to a change of two, if you follow that logic. Ergo, that’s a “double bonus” to the good.

Sheer Volume – When I finally developed the habit of documenting all the good things that happened in my life, and I then maintained that discipline for a few months, I was somewhat shocked at the sheer volume of the stuff I was writing down. As already noted, natural pessimists tend to “forget the good” almost as soon as it happens. Assuming that’s true, those people – like me – tend to “stay stuck” in negative mode all the time, because they’re simply not recognizing all the good that is actually happening in their lives. When you being to recognize the sheer volume of good that is happening, and how often it happens, it can change your entire perspective. You don’t go into the day thinking, “What disaster is going to befall me today?”, but rather, “I can’t wait to experience the good things that history has shown me I can expect to happen each and every day.” Again, for a lifetime pessimist like me, that is a fairly radical transformation.

Reduces Worry and Anxiety – If you stick with it long enough, another powerful aspect of DTW is that your degree of worry and anxiety being to decline. Why? Because you realize how rarely worst case scenarios actually play out, and how often situations just seem to work out for the good. Without going into all the details, I had something fairly miraculous happen on a real estate deal this month, in which the transaction went from looking literally dead in the water to “we’re closing next week” in the span of 24 hours. When you live through enough things of that nature, and you’re documenting those wins in situations where you weren’t necessarily confident as to how things were going to play out, you can feel your level of stress, worry and anxiety begin to fade over time.

Spiritual Aspect – One of my favorite verses in the Bible is Philippians 4:8, which reads as follows:

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

DTW is consistent with the point of that verse, which is that we should always be focusing on the good. And it really doesn’t matter (in this narrow context, anyway) if you’re a Christian or not, or if you’re even spiritual or not. Irrespective of spiritual orientation, the benefits of thinking about, and focusing on, the “excellent or praiseworthy” have become glaringly obvious to me.

Final Thoughts/30 Day Challenge

My Struggle

I’ve struggled with being cynical, negative and pessimistic my entire life.

Being keenly aware of that, and knowing that having such a view of things can (and usually does) produce less-than-optimal outcomes in most every scenario, I have tried many methods, suggestions and techniques to become a more positive, optimistic person.

We’re all unique, of course, and just because something works for one person doesn’t mean that thing will work for another.

The Power of DTW

That said, I can attest to the power of DTW: Documenting the Wins.

It has absolutely, positively affected my life, for the better.

The people closest to me have noticed, too, and they’ve commented on the changes they’ve seen in me.

And I cannot tell you how great that feels.

In fact, receiving three such comments this past week is what ultimately compelled me to write this post.

Start Small

If you struggle with these same kinds of negative perspectives in your life, I would implore you to give DTW a try.

You certainly don’t have to take it to the level that I have.

You can start small: get a notebook that you can keep with you or near you most of the time (a Moleskin, or similar, is ideal for this purpose), and start documenting the good things that happen in a given day.

Every few days, flip back through the pages and take a quick look at the good things that happened in your recent past.

Relive those wins for a moment, and remind yourself of all the good in your life.

Make a commitment to do that for just 30 days.

The Many Benefits

I sincerely believe that, if you do that – DTW for the next 30 days, even on the small scale I am suggesting – you will begin to experience the same things that I have:

 – A more positive view of your life.

 – A more positive view of the world.

 – Less, stress, anxiety and worry.

 – Greater happiness.

Give it a try.

What do you have to lose?