Do You Know How to Pat Yourself on the Back?

Discounting the positives

Discounting the Positives

Do you tend to only see the”bad” things you do? Are you unable to see the positive contributions you make to society? You may be engaging in “Discounting the….



Someone compliments you on a job well done.  Is your first response “Yes, but…,” and then you proceed minimize what you did?  Do you tend to ignore your positive accomplishments and instead focus on the “bad” things you believe you’ve done?

Maybe you’re subtler about it.  Maybe, instead of outright denying that what you did was good, you say things like “I was just doing my job,” or “It’s just what’s expected of me: it wasn’t anything special.”  You refuse to see that you’ve made a significant positive impact, a contribution that makes a real difference.

Last week we talked about “Mental Filter,” the tendency to “filter out” positive emotions/thoughts/feelings and to focus on negative ones instead.  This week we’re looking at the Cognitive Distortion of “Discounting the Positives,” which is similar.

Instead of filtering out positive thoughts and focusing only on negative ones, this is a tendency to focus only on our negative achievements, instead of accomplishments we can be proud of.  It comes from the same pessimistic mind-set as does “Mental Filter.”  The difference is that it’s based on beliefs rather than thoughts/feelings/emotions.  It is the deep-seated idea that we can do nothing right, and those things we have done right, really “don’t count.”

If you struggle with taking a compliment, you may well be “Discounting the Positives” more than you’re aware.


“I don’t usually get much from your sermons…”

While acting as Senior Pastor of Milton Baptist Church here in Ontario, Canada, I was met one Sunday at the door by a member of the church who had never, up to that point, spoken directly to me.  She was about to leave after the service but stopped to chat with me briefly.

What she said was both hilarious and instructional at the same time.  Hilarious because it was a backhanded compliment, and instructional simply because I found it hilarious and was not offended by it.  She said this to me: “You know, I don’t usually get much from of your sermons, but I really enjoyed what you had to say today.  Thank-you.”

Now…the old me would have focused on the “I don’t usually get much from your sermons” part.  I would have ruminated on it, and probably it would have ruined my day, maybe even my week.  I’d have taken it to mean that I “never preach a decent sermon,” and that “what I have to say is useless.”  That I “can’t seem to do anything right.”

Yet none of that happened this time, because I knew about “Discounting the Positives,” and that my mind tends to want to beat me up.  So, this was an instructional encounter because it made me realize that I was no longer beating myself up so much.


Who Am I?

My name is Mike MacKinnon, and I’m a personal trainer in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada.  I serve the Greater Toronto area and beyond, offering 1-on-1 personal training, as well as online training programs.  I am also a life coach and weight loss coach, offering both face-to-face coaching, as well as distance coaching via phone or Skype.


How About You?

Are you the type who believes they can do nothing right?  Do you believe that your positive accomplishments all add up to a big zero?  That they really aren’t anything special or positive at all?

You know, it’d be hard for me to believe that a person could do nothing right all the time.  It’d be hard for them to not contribute at least one small positive thing to society occasionally.  That includes you.

I’d guess that you contribute a lot more than you think you do.  There’s no better way than to ask others what they think, and to reflect honestly on the things you’ve done in your life.


The Survey Method and Examining the Evidence

We’ve already talked about these two techniques for dealing with distorted thinking, but we’ll review them here because they work fantastically for those who “Discount the Positives.”  The Survey Method requires asking those who know us what they think about what we’ve contributed in life.  As with the distortion of “Mental Filter,” however, it requires actively choosing to keep an open mind to what they have to say.

Remember, “Mental Filter” and “Discounting the Positives” stem from a pessimistic mindset.  Our tendency will be to discount/filter out the positive feedback they give us.  Don’t do it!  Keep an open mind!  Believe that maybe, possibly, it’s your thinking that’s in error, and accept what they have to say.  After all, what motivation would your friends have to lie to you?

In any instance where you find yourself “Discounting the Positives,” examining the evidence may better be done with a friend.  This is a sort of hybridizing of “The Survey Method” and “Examining the Evidence.”  I suggest looking back at your past positive achievements with a friend because your mind may be in such a state of pessimism that it can find no examples on its own!  A friend will easily be able to prompt you and help you discover some.

Inevitably, an honest survey of those who know us, and/or examination of the evidence, should reveal the truth.  That we do contribute positively, and a lot more so than we may realize.


“I Find What You’re Suggesting Hard to Do!”

You’re not alone.  Perhaps you need a coach to help you out: this is where I come in.  There’s much we can do beyond the concepts I present here, if you find they don’t work for you.  I’ll cover some of the other techniques I use in future blogs, however a blog is too little space to give any more than a basic introduction to the the variety and depth of options out there.

Feel free to contact me via text/phone at 647-677-6025, or e-mail me at  I’d love to help!