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There are moments in life when we find ourselves running away from something or someone as a solution to an undesirable situation. We take new jobs to replace horrible bosses, orchestrate dates with the next available distraction, occupy ourselves by being in a constant state of “busy.” That way, we don’t have to stand up and face the ugliness that is disappointment, heartbreak, frustration, rejection…

On the one hand, to run away from the disagreeable or uncomfortable is to surrender control over your life choices, to open the door to regret and disenchantment. It solves nothing, merely delays the inevitable but necessary pain of dealing with the unpleasant.

On the other, running towards an idea, a job, a person, a calling, a dream… is an entirely different matter. It’s a leap forward that is driven by hope, excitement, and passion. It’s the sensation of your heart skipping a beat, the tingling feeling of butterflies in your stomach, the energy you feel when all you see before you is a world full of saturated colours and delicious scents.

Don’t wait for things to get bad before you decide to leave. Don’t run away from your own life when parts of it feel broken or scattered. Stand tall and look towards the future, your future. One minute from now, five months, a year. Think about where you want to be. And then go forward, towards.


A while ago in a dark and windowless office, I printed off a few emails and collected post-it notes containing words of gratitude that clients had sent my way when I worked on their projects. I stuck the collection to the back of my door and called it a “win wall.”

Little by little, these post-its multiplied, the print-outs stacked on top of one another, and passersby began to ask questions about this colourful wall of paper. With time, my colleagues started adding their own win-filled notes until our win wall could no longer be contained to my door. It moved into the hallway and continued to take off from there from there.

More than a wall: it’s a state of mind

I’ve started several win walls since then, and have observed similar behaviours happening each time. Win walls became central gathering points for a team, sparking positive conversations and lifting overall morale. They acted as a barometer for an office’s emotional well being, helping both managers and employees see tangible indicators of how people were feeling week to week.

These win walls were the unofficial cheerleader of the office: they helped us emphasize the positive things in life and build a sense of momentum, an effect that was especially valuable when project deadlines seemed impossible, tempers flew high or motivation was low. Seeing the wins on the wall helped decrease the sense of powerlessness and frustration one might have felt on a particularly challenging day.

The post-it notes with words of gratitude and positivity served as a physical way to remind us to try to keep perspective and put effort into recognizing and sharing these daily positive moments. Overall, the presence of the win walls helped us remember that even on the toughest day the office is not necessarily as dire a place as it can sometimes seem.

Screen Shot 2014-07-07 at 12.57.53 AMScreen Shot 2014-07-07 at 12.57.28 AM

The ripple effect of wins and positive thoughts 

So, could something as simple as a win wall help people feel better about their workplace, experience less stress, think more positively, and perhaps even live longer?

It’s not a farfetched hypothesis. Positivity has a physiological effect on our minds and bodies. Screen Shot 2014-07-07 at 12.52.37 AMThese “wins” capture a memorable moment for someone; something so memorable that they took the time to intentionally put it out into the world. The contributors did not stop at the simple act of thinking about a positive moment: they decided to take visible action by physically committing the memory to a piece of paper and posting it on the wall. Given that there are studies that show taking a positive action (as opposed to thinking alone) can improve one’s outlook and subsequently behaviour, it’s no wonder that I’ve found win walls to have such a positive impact in a workplace.

Here is the best part: it’s very easy and inexpensive to try out your very own win wall for next few months and examine the effects yourself. Would you like to see how a few post-its can build a happy work environment?

Ready to make your own win wall? Here’s how

1. Find some big paper and put it up

Find tracing or drafting paper, or use jumbo sketch pad sheets to create the base for Screen Shot 2014-07-07 at 12.57.09 AMyour wall. I usually buy 18 x 24” sketch pads (newspaper grade that usually come in 50 or 100 sheets) at the local art store that cost about $4.

Tack it onto a cubicle wall or tape it to the wall (read on for tips on selecting the perfect wall).

2. Optional but recommended: Write a short description and decorate

Your colleagues may need some help understanding the purpose behind the wall and some encouragement for them to participate. Here is the text I write (usually at the very top of the paper or right in the center) to explain the wall:


This is our win wall. A win wall is a place where we celebrate and share our wins of the day with each other: big or little, personal or professional.

Why? Because we spend many hours together in this space, and it is very likely that we’ve individually had several moments throughout the day when things went really well. Why not share these highlights – or win moments – with us?

How to participate:

1. Grab a post-it note and a marker.

2. Write your win (as clearly or vaguely as you’d like, about anything).

3. Stick it onto this paper.

Here are some examples of “wins”: “I finished my document on time,” “My proposal got approved” or “I got a free cookie today!”… it can even be, “I get to go home now and not be here.”


Add colours, arrows, drawings, or anything else that you think will draw attention to the wall.

3. Place supplies within reachScreen Shot 2014-07-07 at 12.58.33 AM

Make it as easy as possible for anyone to contribute by having markers and post-it notes available as close to the win wall as possible. Most of the notes I’ve seen posted were spur-of-the-moment additions contributed on-the-go as people walked by and saw the wall, since they didn’t need to walk back to their desks for something to write on or forget their win before having a chance to add it to the wall.

4. Promote the wall

Spread the word about your win wall to encourage participation for those around you. Talk about the win wall at your next team meeting, explaining its use and benefits to your colleagues. There may be a few odd looks around the table, but with time the effects of the win wall will become clear to those who may have doubted it. Even if you don’t feel comfortable promoting it with your whole team, try telling one or two close colleagues about it.

Tips for a winning win wall

Having started a few walls in various office environments, I’ve found the following points to be key factors in how successful and active a win wall can be.

  • Location is key: Place your win wall in a high-traffic area where lots of Screen Shot 2014-07-07 at 12.54.23 AMcolleagues will pass by at least once per day. Entrances to main areas and those around the kitchen or near the printer tend to get more traffic from what I’ve observed.
  • Make it difficult to miss: Use colours, photos, or any other visual element that will help attract attention to the win wall. You want people to notice it, stop for a moment to take in what others have contributed, and ideally add their own wins, helping the wall grow beyond a one-person initiative.
  • Anonymity is perfect: Don’t discourage anonymous notes. Each person has a certain level of comfort when it comes to sharing emotions in the workplace. The point of the wall is to elevate morale, and if some feel the need to be anonymous to be honest, so be it.
  • Physical win walls win: I have tried to replicate win walls online with my virtual colleagues without much luck. I suspect that it has to do with the physical sense of community that builds around physical walls. If you’ve had more success on this front, I would love to hear about it!
  • Life wins and work wins: Successful win walls tend to be a mix of professional and personal wins. I suggest pointing this out to those adding wins to the wall so people don’t necessarily fixate on work-related wins. This is particularly important for longer-term projects that may not have daily milestones.

The glass is half full, with post-its

Ranting and putting out negativity into the world after a hard day at the office is easy. However, by investing a few dollars and minutes into setting up a win wall, you can make sharing positive moments and building a healthier work environment even easier than defaulting to rants when looking for collegial support.

For some, the sunrise can be the first win of the day; for others, it may be the sunset marking the end of a long troublesome one. Both of these things, as well as a million others both big and small each day, are wins worth celebrating. Why not post them and let the rest of us in on your wins so we can all benefit from a little positive thinking?

If you start a win wall, I’d love to hear about your experience!

Have a few minutes? Watch the videos below on the effect that expressing gratitude has on us and those around us.

The Science of Happiness – An Experiment in Gratitude

The Science of Happiness – Look on the Bright Side

I’ve been thinking “in Rothko” lately.

“When I was a younger man, art was a lonely thing; no galleries, no collectors, no critics, no money. Yet it was a golden time, for then we had nothing to lose and a vision to gain. Today it is not quite the same. It is a time of tons of verbiage, activity, and consumption. Which condition is better for the world at large I will not venture to discuss. But I do know that many who are driven to this life are desperately searching for those pockets of silence where they can root and grow. We must all hope that they find them.”

This was part of a speech Mark Rothko gave in 1969. He was talking about art; specifically, art in a world that was moving from the shocking and often morose modern expressionist phase (following World War II) into the colourful embrace of pop art, mass advertising, and sensationalist consumerism.

I find myself stuck on Rothko’s “pockets of silence” idea, though less in the context of art and more in terms of the information-abundant and creatively productive world many of us choose to live in – a world that somehow manages to be inspiring, challenging, patience-testing, ego-knocking, beautiful, excessive, self-congratulating, self-deprecating, exaggerated, humble, vulnerable, disingenuous, and gut-wrenchingly sincere, all at once. It’s a world that is often moving too quickly to find the value in those “pockets of silence”; in steady, rooted growth over rapid expansion and production for the sake of production.

Despite the attraction many of us feel toward that world, one largely built on “verbiage, activity, and consumption,” I often wonder if we are creating and championing genuine visions that are of true value and utility to those around us, like a hanging canvas, or something more transient and superficial, more akin to a throwaway magazine.

Rothko no. 10

Rothko no. 10

I’m inclined to believe that we all worry sometimes about our contributions to this world – I know I do. I fear the day my work becomes associated with irrelevant verbiage, or for taking up space for the sake of making my mark, or for adding only style with no substance. I think about the moments where my behaviour resembles Rothko’s intentional fogs and blurry shapes, when the lines that define me as an individual blur and shift to accommodate the observer. These happen when I get caught up in the frenzy of creating for the sake of creating; when I step out of the shadows, whether of my own volition or propelled by outside forces, to take my place in the limelight.

I wonder if perhaps part of the solution to these worries lies in attempting to consciously exist in the space Rothko described: living as though there is nothing to lose, only visions to gain; channeling our energies toward allowing ourselves to “root and grow” rather than add one more chirp to the chorus.

Maybe we ought to think seriously about finding our own pockets of silence, and using them as opportunities to pause and reflect on the quality of what we’re doing, and how we’re doing it. I suspect that these breaks in production and consumption can encourage and fuel the visions Rothko’s so fondly talked about throughout his life. Me? I seek out my own sacred silences – places that enchant my spirit; actions that restore my balance; people who bring about vision by virtue of their coexistence with others.

Regardless of where you fall on the spectrum of considering “which condition is better for the world at large,” whether you’re more inclined to seek those pockets of silence or identify more with the hyperkinetic world of verbiage and consumption, I think it’s a worthwhile exercise for each of us step back, reflect and consider the nature of our contributions to this world.

Are you drawing the bold strokes and defining lines that separate colour blocks, adding depth and clarity, and clearing the fog of abstraction? Or is your input best viewed from afar, as part of the whole – well intentioned, but not improved upon closer inspection?

My huge thanks to MH for input & edits to this post!

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