Tracking good things and accomplishments
October 2022 | The Learning and Wellbeing Team

You’ve had a tough day. One thing after another has gone sideways. Bad news is piling up, and it feels like it just won’t stop.  Thinking about one bad thing reminds you of other bad things. Now, looking back on the day, all that you see is “black dots”  — mistakes, blunders, and embarrassments.  It can be easy to get stuck on what went wrong. And once you have zeroed in on one bad thing, other bad things just seem to come to mind. Over time, you can get good at finding “black dots” — so good that all you seem to see is black dots everywhere. 

For most of us, finding one good thing at the end of a day, every day is a challenge.  You write a test, and it goes well, but you tell yourself you could have done better. You get a compliment from someone at school or work, and you tell yourself that it is no big deal, anyone could have done it.  You hand in an assignment that was well done overall but had a couple of errors, and you tear yourself up about the mistakes and forget about what went well. 

Accomplishments are more than top grades. If you only ever count the top grades, prizes, promotions and wins, you can end up focussing on things that can become increasingly rare rather than on the important accomplishments that got you the win, which is, after all, the work. With time you can get really, really good at finding fault, minimizing good things, and tearing apart your work so that all you see are black dots.  

How this works:
Research has consistently shown that tracking good things and accomplishments improves moods and self-worth. People typically report feeling better about themselves and having more positive moods after tracking good things and accomplishments for just 14 days. In order to get the most out of tracking good things and accomplishments, you will need to do the following:

1. Look past the black dots  
In order to find three good things or accomplishments every day, you will need to look past the black dots. That means not telling yourself that it was no big deal or that you could have done better. Anything that takes real effort counts (even if it is something that others do). Anything that is good for you counts (even if you think it is no big deal).   

The challenge of looking past the black dots is represented in the figure below. If you spend too much time just looking at the black dots in your day, namely everything that goes wrong, over time, your world will shrink, and all that you will ever notice is the black dots. When that happens, you will start to overlook and miss the good things. The goal of this exercise is to re-discover and reclaim these good things that you are overlooking and perhaps become very good at overlooking.  

2. Change what counts as an accomplishment or a good thing
Getting an A on a paper is a good thing and a real accomplishment, but that won’t happen every day. In order to find three good things or accomplishments each day–every day, you will also have to focus on small things that are more based on
effort. The good things and accomplishments that can be counted in a single day need to be small — and that’s the whole point. If you focus more on these effort-based accomplishments, like getting your work done, then the grades will usually take care of themselves. 

3. What was your role in the good thing or accomplishment?
In the 14-day worksheet that you can download to help you acquire this skill, you will be asked what your role in the activity was. Spending time with some very good friends is a good thing, no matter what you do. But your role in that activity may be more or less involved. For example, if your friend calls you up and invites you to go on a hike, then your role would not be as great as your friend’s role. But if you talk to your friend and let your friend know that you enjoyed it (e.g., laughed, remarked on what your friend said, or thanked your friend), then your role is important even though you didn’t organize the activity. Participating in an activity and tracking what you did is a critical part of this skill. Answering this question forces you to focus on what is good and important about what you did. 

4. Record these good things and accomplishments on paper
The final part is to record these good things and accomplishments on a piece of paper. Recording these things on a piece of paper forces you to review these good things each time you add something new to the list. When you read through the list, you are reminding yourself of the things that you did. Remember, minimizing, dismissing or tearing apart what you have done is easy. Recording good things and effort-based accomplishments forces you to not only read through them but also to practice not
minimizing, not dismissing and not tearing apart what you have done.  

Learning how to track good things and accomplishments:

This activity and skill ask you to find three good things or accomplishments each day–every day. The are many good things that you can count on, such as spending time with friends, helping someone out, and trying out something new that you think might be fun.

Here is a list of good things you might consider:

Went beyond what was expected of me
Said hello to someone who I don’t usually say hello to
Told someone they did a good job
Helped someone out
Stood up for somebody
Instead of losing my temper, I said how I felt
Talked to my friends about feeling stressed
Did some reading just for fun
Decided not to do something that would have been bad for me or someone else
Remembered to
stick to the facts or use relaxation breathing
Did something active
Made it to school on time
Told someone about my day

When looking for accomplishments, the goal is to find effort-based accomplishments. These include anything that takes effort for you to do. 

Here’s a list of some effort-based accomplishments:

Kept going at something when you wanted to stop
Worked hard at something
Worked at school work a bit longer than I usually do
Started my project early
Did something nice for someone else
Was honest with my friends
Tried something I was afraid to do
Had a good conversation with my brother
Went to work or school even though I did not want to
Did a chore that I wanted to put off
Tried my best at a soccer practice
Walked to school
Made my lunch instead of buying it
Ate breakfast instead of skipping

Take the 14-day challenge
Download the worksheet and start tracking good things and accomplishments

Keep in mind:
The fundamental assumption of this activity is that there is always at least one good thing or accomplishment. Your goal is to find it. Sometimes, the good thing or accomplishment might be not avoiding something, not bailing out of an exam that wasn’t going well, or not losing your temper even though you felt you wanted to or were justified. Even just talking to a friend or your parent about how awful the day was counts as a very, very good thing. The alternative — saying nothing — would be much, much worse. 

Always start by assuming that there are good things in every day and set yourself the challenge of finding them.  

And as always, make sure you don’t miss our next update. Please follow us on Instagram or Facebook with the links at the bottom of the page, or forward this to someone you know.  

Seligman, M. E. P., Steen, T. A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive Psychology Progress: Empirical Validation of Interventions. American Psychologist, 60(5), 410–421.

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