When I first read Martin Seligman's book, Learned Optimism, I took his questionnaire, which is designed to discover if you are pessimistic, and if so, in what way. The questionnaire uncovered a mistake I was making — a tendency to not take credit for good things I did. Up until then, I considered that characteristic a virtue: I wasn't a braggart (read more about this).
the trait had an entirely different slant after reading Seligman's
book. I saw that trait in a new light. At work, for example, I paid
attention to the mistakes I made, even if I was doing a good job. I
disregarded and overlooked the things I did right and focused my
attention on what I was doing wrong.
The trait is apparently driven by anxiety, and it also maintains anxiety.
Aaron Beck, one of the founders of cognitive therapy, said this
tendency is very strong in people suffering from anxiety. And, in fact, I
used to suffer from a lot of anxiety.
I found a simple
solution to this problem. The solution counters the tendency to
overlook your good works and sends your mind in a healthy direction.
it is: Occasionally ask yourself, "What am I doing right?" And really
think about it. Try to think of several things you're doing right.
you are unsuccessful at first — if you can't think of anything you're
doing right — just keep asking the question. Don't give up. Persist in
asking until you come up with answers.
This exercise is
surprisingly relaxing. It will relieve some of your tension. It will
help you feel better. It's a relief to realize you've done some things
In the car, on the way home from work, ponder the
question, "What did I do right today?" Lying in bed before nodding off,
ask yourself, "What did I do right today?" What can you take credit
Go ahead and feel good. It doesn't do any good to feel like a loser. It accomplishes nothing. In fact, it hinders.
Bragging may be a social blunder, but giving yourself credit in the privacy of your own mind is healthy and anxiety-reducing.
Adam Khan is the author of Self-Help Stuff That Works and Cultivating Fire: How to Keep Your Motivation White Hot. Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.