Success Logs

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.

5 thoughts on “Success Logs

    1. Amy Wenzel

      Alan — thank you for your interest in success logs. My apologies for the long delay in responding. My new web designer recently realized that comments were not being posted (and that I was not being notified that comments were being made). Hopefully, that will now change.

      I just make success logs for my clients in Microsoft Word tables, tailored for their individual needs. Some of my clients simply keep a running list of successes on a sheet of paper that they carry with them, or in the notes function in their smartphones.

      If you let me know some more specifics about the manner in which this would need to be modified, I’d be happy to brainstorm creative options with you.

      1. Alan Schoenwetter

        I’ll check out your suggestion. When I had a stroke my wife found a logbook at CVS (they no longer stock or special order them. It was a really good tool for me as I could log things….and if I ever got discouraged all I had to do was turn back a few pages and see the improvement. I am part of a stroke group in Milwaukee where most of what I do is in the rehab floor and a success log would work well. Thx

  1. Gail Verdi

    I am going to try keeping a success log along with my students. We do this for that first 10 minutes of class. Teachers often find it difficult to recognize all the great work they do. Thanks Dr. Wenzel for this great strategy.


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