Do you give yourself credit? Sometimes people are not in the habit of giving themselves credit. Giving oneself credit is not bragging pridefully. Giving ourselves credit need only be noticing, intentionally and consciously, that we have actually taken a step towards pleasure or mastery in our life. Giving yourself credit is an important part of a happy life.
The general framework of all psychotherapy is that we have a conscious part and a sub-conscious part of our mind. When we bring something out of our sub-consciousness up into to our consciousness we begin to heal. In the specific framework of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) there is a realm of our sub-conscious mind where negative automatic thoughts (NATs) occur.
When we use CBT, we identify the negative automatic thoughts that may be preventing us from taking steps towards our goals. The scope of a person’s goals does not matter, all goals are made up of steps. One person’s goal could be to walk down their driveway and get the mail. Another person’s goal could be to travel the world. What matters is taking steps. Each step may be challenging due to the negative automatic thoughts that a person may sub-consciously believe. We put these thoughts on paper; and then we use CBT to question their validity. Are they accurate? “I can’t leave my house.” “I can’t walk my driveway.” “I can’t travel the world.” These thoughts, fortunately, are not accurate.
When we question our negative automatic thoughts, we begin to realize that we are not our thoughts. We have the ability to determine whether they are accurate or not. We then have the choice whether we want to believe our negative automatic thoughts or not.
In CBT, each step taken towards a goal is an important opportunity to give oneself credit. People can struggle to do this in general, but people who are depressed can struggle especially. They believe so many of their negative automatic thoughts that sometimes they don’t even realize they have taken a step towards their goal.
Dr. Judith Beth (daughter of Aaron T. Beck, MD, the founder of CBT) writes about this in her book Cognitive Behavior Therapy. Every time a patient makes a change towards their own goals “they need to give themselves credit” (pg. 94). When patients do not remember small fluctuations in how they feel, it can be helpful to “teach them to rate their sense of achievement and mastery on 10-point scales and to rate their mood immediately following their activities” (pg.94). This helps a patient who has depression that may be interfering with them recognizing or remembering pleasurable activities. Once they have recognized them, they can then give themselves credit for engaging in activities that give them pleasure and therefore improve their mood.
You can get started by using a modified version of this great CBT skill by simply keeping a list of things you give yourself credit for doing. You can list positive things you have done, or ask yourself, “what have I done today that was tough but I did it anyway?” Studies have shown that when we praise ourselves for the things we have done, our brains release dopamine and serotonin, the two neuotransmitters responsible for feeling increased happiness and for a more positive mood.
The way you view a situation affects how you feel. That is the basic premise of CBT. So if you view the situation with the intention of noticing how you did well, and where you might give yourself credit, you will feel encouraged. The scale of each step towards your goal is personal and need only be meaningful to you; maybe you learned something, maybe you discovered a new way to do something, maybe you faced a challenge you never have before.
Whatever the step is that you took, there is a positive in that. Once you find it, you can begin to give yourself credit, to praise yourself. Tell yourself what you did well. Congratulate yourself or pretend you are speaking to a kid who you want to encourage. Write it down or say it out loud, whatever is most powerful for you. Friends, family, and the culture may have some influence over you but in the end you are your biggest influencer.
You are capable of discouraging or encouraging yourself. Without praising yourself you can begin to believe that you aren’t capable or even worthy of great things such as a happy life. With praising yourself, you will start to believe you deserve a happy life and can make that happen. It can take some work to get to this place, but it is possible when you have the habit of giving yourself credit.
When we pay attention to the things we are doing well, we feel better. We feel the praise. We feel proud of ourselves.
Beck, J. S. (2021). Cognitive Behavior Therapy; Basics and Beyond, Third Edition. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.