Norman Javier approached me at the end of a day-long workshop a few months ago and told me that he’s been doing the “100 Days of Happiness” challenge for 1143 days.
“What the challenge was trying to prove is that there is, or at least there should be, at least one thing each and every day that makes us happy in our lives.” Norman explained when we connected for an interview the following month.
I blame the fact I’m 40 and at one point broke up with Facebook, but I had never heard of the challenge, which boasts over 20,000 followers on its Facebook page. One thing I did know: 1143 was a lot more than 100. I asked Norman why he had committed to the challenge for ten times as long as the average person.
“Well, I started off with day one, then day two, then day three, and had a few people commenting and liking this, liking that,” said Norman. “It wasn’t until really day 100 where everyone congratulated me: ‘You made it! You hit the challenge! I want you to know that I’ve been following this every single day. It’s impacted my days. It’s made me look forward to seeing what happiness is in my days and it’s sad that it has to end today.’”
“After reading those comments, I said, ‘Well, why does it have to end on day 100?’” Norman continued. “So I kept going: 101, 102, 103… Then I made it to 200 and I had some people posting, ‘I was inspired by Norm’s days of 100. I’m going to try this out’, and I knew that my actions were helping a lot of people indirectly so I just kept going with it.”
“But Day 101 was really important to me, because I didn’t stop,” said Norman. “If anything, that really was day one for me because the first 100 days were a part of someone else’s challenge. I think day 101 was something that I gave myself; something I told myself to continue. I haven’t stopped since.”
By the time we connected for an interview, Norman had hit 1192 straight days of writing down something that had made him happy each day. He had pulled a lot from the challenge, and over the course of over an hour of chatting with him, there were three key insights he shared that truly resonated with me.
Build a Ladder in Your Life
Norman is a student life specialist at George Brown College, where he’s tasked with providing students with opportunities to engage with their campus outside of the classroom. In his words,
“My job is to act as a catalyst for success — for students and everyone around me.”
“How do you define success?” I asked him.
“When you’re able to achieve a goal that you’ve worked for,” Norman responded. “And not just a financial goal. It can be emotional, personal, a physical thing, a job thing, something academic. I want to be a catalyst for that, whether it’s in a small or large way.”
“If your job is to help people achieve goals, what tips do you have about how best to set and achieve them?” I asked.
You could sense Norman perk up — we were in his wheelhouse now.
“The way I set goals is by drawing a ladder,” he began excitedly. “At the end of the ladder is your goal, at the bottom of the ladder is where you started. Now, if you only set one goal, you’ve basically created a ladder with just one step, and that step’s not until the very, very end. That creates this big, intimidating gap. The key is to break your climb to that last step into little goals. Every single little goal you set for yourself adds another step to the ladder.”
“So you’re shortening the gap between each of the steps,” Norman pointed out. “And maybe more importantly, if you don’t reach that final step by the date you hoped, you were still able to achieve every single one of those steps up along the way, and each of those steps are little wins. It tells you that you’re en route. You’re still on the path.”
For Norman, effectively chasing goals means focusing on more than the desired result. But there’s an important key.
“You have to write it down. Take out a pen and a paper and actually draw the ladder,”
“Adding that ladder allows you to set little goals. Adding that ladder shows how much you’ve done and how far you are from the goal, but also makes that goal a little easier because the steps are a lot shorter. It breaks your big goal down and helps you appreciate those little wins along the way.”
Refresh Don’t Reset
When someone turns a 100-day commitment into 1000 days, you know you’re dealing with a person who clearly relishes going above and beyond in their commitments. But I knew from experience how emotionally draining acting as a support system for students could be, and wondered how Norman found the energy to handle that year after year.
“I try to take a different approach to that than some staff and departments I’ve seen,” he explained. “Every year we’ve got a new group of students coming in. And to those students, everything is brand new. However, if you’ve been at the school for a while, it can start to seem like they just have the same needs and challenges as the students who arrived the year before.”
“I see some people just hit the reset button,” Norman continued. “They use whatever they did last year for this new group of students. They repeat everything that they’ve done.”
Norman however, adopted a different perspective on how to best serve each group of new students.
“Instead of pressing a reset every year, I try to press refresh.”
“I try to change things up. To sit down with students and try to learn what they actually want so I can then come back to them and provide these opportunities, without just assuming it’s going to be the same as what students wanted and needed in the past. If I’m asking these students to grow, if I’m asking them to be uncomfortable and take risks, I need to do that as well. If I hit reset, I’m just returning to the same place each year. If I hit refresh, I recognize something new is starting, but it isn’t just restarting from the same place. I continue to develop for myself and develop for the students.”
Refreshing is about renewing your energy and passion, but not simply returning to the same starting line to run the same race. Do that enough times and even things you love can seem monotonous and boring.
Since embracing my own version of “refresh don’t reset”, I’ve found that I’ve treated the short breaks between my 10 and 12 day speaking tour sprints a little differently.
Appreciate More Than Apologize
As our more than hour-long interview wound to a close, I asked Norman the question that revealed his “Sh*t that isn’t true”.
“If your life were a book, what would the current chapter be titled?” I asked.
“Thank You. I think it’s simply Thank You,” Norman responded instantly.
“I do my best to appreciate more than I apologize.
“I think it’s very, very, very important to show gratitude for basically anything and everything that’s sent your way, even the major mistakes. I recognize the mistakes. I recognize my failures. That’s part of growth, and instead of apologizing for mistakes, I try to appreciate them. When one of my mistakes is noticed and brought up I actually want to thank the person who’s identified the mistake. I want to thank them for their feedback. I want to thank them for being true to my development because now I can work towards fixing things and changing things. I truly believe that it’s most important for me and others to appreciate more than apologize.”
I have a couple of dear friends for whom “I’m sorry” is basically an instinctual response. I’ve come to realize we use it to move past a mistake (real or imagined) so we don’t have to process the behaviours that led to our mistake. We just say “I’m sorry” and effectively try to reset to where we were before the mistake was made. As Norman pointed out however, resetting isn’t where growth occurs.
Take your goals and break them down into a series of steps. When you hit a new step, take the time to refresh your energy for the next one, but don’t allow yourself to feel the next step is just the same as the last. And when you inevitably slip, appreciate that trying to get better and failing isn’t something for which you should apologize.
It makes being happy with your progress a little easier. On Day One, and on the one thousandth, one hundred and ninety-second version of Day One.
Norman Javier is a Student Life Specialist at George Brown College