In the midst of depression, anxiety, and life stress, it’s easy to focus on what’s going wrong and ignore what’s going right.
A central premise of the theory that underlies cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is that negative or unhelpful thinking contributes to negative mood states. Thus, a common tool used by cognitive behavioral therapists is to help clients acquire the skill to evaluate the evidence that supports a negative or unhelpful thought and the evidence that does not support a negative or unhelpful thought.
Sound easy? In my experience, many clients encounter great difficulty in identifying or recalling evidence that does not support their negative or unhelpful thought.
To overcome this obstacle, my clients often keep a “Success Log.” A Success Log allows clients to keep track, in real time, of evidence that does not support a negative or unhelpful thought. It is called a Success Log because, in many instances, what clients record are instances in which things do go right for them, or instances in which they were successful in achieving a desired outcome. Over time, they accumulate more and more instances that support a more helpful way of viewing their life circumstances.
A Success Log can be adapted for whatever issue with which a client is currently struggling. Does he experience anger because he believes nothing goes his way on his commute to work? Have him record all of the instances in which he hits a green light, rather than a red light. Does she experience anxiety because she believes she will have a panic attack during a flight? Have her record all of the instances in which she flies and does not have a panic attack. Does he generally believe that he is incapable of dealing with daily life? Have him record all of the instances in which he solved a problem that he encountered in daily living.
When they are maintained diligently, Success Logs document convincing evidence that the world is not so black or white — and that life is not as bleak or dangerous as once one thought. And once the evidence is recorded on the Success Log, it cannot be erased or ignored. How gratifying it is to see items rapidly accumulate on clients’ Success Logs. I have seen many instances where the active use of the Success Log seems to have facilitated a turning point in the course of treatment.
I tell my clients, now that they have identified successes, they aren’t allowed to forget them! The Success Log is one way to ensure that this happens.