My wife, Klassy Evans, used to suffer terrible bouts of depression. Eleven years ago, I came across Martin Seligman's book, Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life, and read it to her. In the book is a questionnaire to discover if you are pessimistic (the primary cause of depression), and if so, in what way. Klassy filled out the questionnaire and so did I (even though I already knew I was an optimist and not prone to depression).
Klassy discovered a very specific mistake she was making in her thinking, and she learned to correct it. And correcting it did, in fact, stop the bouts of depression. The questionnaire also 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.
But 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, as I used to do.
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.
Here 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.
If you are unsuccessful at first — if you can't think of anything you're doing right — keep asking the question. Don't give up. Persist in asking yourself 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 well.
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 for? 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 Principles For Personal Growth, Slotralogy, Antivirus For Your Mind, and co-author with Klassy Evans of How to Change the Way You Look at Things (in Plain English). Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.