Smiling man celebrating a success

Research shows that we tend to pay attention to information that confirms what we already believe and filter out information that is inconsistent.

We do this mostly on an unconscious level, and it helps make our world seem more predictable. But by doing this we often remember only things that are consistent with what we already believe to be true. This includes our critical beliefs about ourselves.

It’s hard to feel good if you only notice the bad things

What does this mean for those who think, “I can’t do anything right?” Believing that you “always mess up” has likely created blind spots that prevent you from noticing and remembering the times when you HAVE succeeded. You may also interpret successes as being flukes or “no big deal.” Instead, you are constantly looking out for mistakes or signs of failure. You may even harshly berate yourself if you don’t meet your own expectations. It’s no wonder you have a hard time feeling good about yourself if you keep looking for evidence of how you have messed up and discounting what you have done well.

Learn to pay attention to successes

One strategy that can help is to gradually retrain your brain to pay attention to all the things you do well. For the next week, try to write down all your successes as they occur. Pay attention to any achievements, no matter how small or insignificant they might seem to you at the time. Notice achievements across a broad range of areas of your life, particularly the sort of things you might normally dismiss.

Here are some examples:

“It was an accomplishment for me to go for a 15-minute walk today even though I wanted to keep working.”

“I spent the day in and enjoyed time alone with my partner instead of filling our schedule with social activities because I think we are suppose to be ‘social’ all the time.”

“I made a simple, healthy dinner tonight.”

“I resisted the urge to redo the dishes after my partner washed them, even though it made me uncomfortable because I prefer dishes to be done a certain way.”

“I stopped myself from asking my doctor to reassure me again that my pregenancy was going well, even though I really wanted to.”