Accomplishment amnesia is a common ailment that strikes many of us, particularly those of us that are highly conscientious, responsible, talented, and highly sensitive. It seems to run in parallel with these traits.
What is accomplishment amnesia?
Accomplishment amnesia occurs when we get so busy meeting our obligations and moving on to the “next thing” that we quickly forget what we’ve done in the past (however distant or recent) that has value.
I find this malady particularly comes up when we get into a place of self-doubt — we can’t remember a single thing we’ve done or accomplished. We feel useless, talentless, valueless.
We might even feel creatively blocked or numb because we are devaluing the work we’ve done but are not appreciating.
A darn good job
I’ve been going through a rough patch lately, and I noticed recently that as I’ve been starting to feel better, I’ve been berating myself for not having done more lately. “Why am I so behind? How have I let things get like this?”
I stopped myself and noticed what was really going on: I had accomplishment amnesia.
I quickly reminded myself of all the personal challenges I’ve faced over the last couple of months, including having surgery on my wrist, and shifted the conversation to noticing what I have done: filed my taxes, settled a car accident claim, dealt with an intensely difficult emotional time, never missed writing a blog post, coached my clients, continued running my Writer’s Circle, and carried on writing my screenplay no matter what. Wow! I’ve accomplished a lot under very difficult circumstances.
Sure, there’s more, there always is. But look at what I’ve done!
Does this happen for you too?
Most of my clients have this kind of accomplishment amnesia. They’re so focused on what they haven’t done, that they forget to celebrate what they have.
Here’s how you can start to shift out of this delusion that you haven’t done anything worthwhile:
1. Catch accomplishment amnesia early.
When you notice yourself falling into the pattern (like I did), stop and take stock. Is it really true that you haven’t been doing enough? Take a few minutes to review what you actually have done. You’ll be surprised.
2. Don’t buy into the standard definitions of success and accomplishment.
Don’t limit yourself to society’s success definitions. Instead, think about what you’re proud of. Create your own definition of what it means to be successful.
Just yesterday, my writers and I were discussing what it means to claim the title of “writer.” Many of us are discovering it has much less to do with being a published or sold writer (though many of us are striving for those), and everything to do with showing up and doing the writing regularly — having a writing practice.
3. Set small milestones.
Increase your sense of accomplishment by setting and celebrating small milestones as you attain them. Instead of only celebrating when you complete the book, whoop it up for every chapter. Then when you do hit the finish line, make sure you celebrate that point too.
I’m rewriting my screenplay using Chris Soth’s “Mini Movie Method,” which lends itself nicely to this sort of milestone assessment. Every 15 pages I complete another mini-movie, so it’s easy to create a sense of accomplishment as I go.
Look for similar small milestones in your own work.
4. Celebrate your accomplishments in the moment.
I watched a fun video of Tamara Ireland Stone, author of the young adult book, Time Between Us,* which I just finished reading and very much enjoyed. She had just received her box of copies of her book and made a point to celebrate with her husband and friend and glass of wine. I hope she’ll do the same for every future book as well.
When you do have an accomplishment, STOP what you’re doing and celebrate. Build the muscles of appreciation for yourself and your work.
5. Create a “brag book.”
I’ve forgotten where I first heard this term, but the idea is to create a scrap book of your accomplishments so that you can go back and remind yourself, “Yes, I’ve done some amazing, wonderful things.” And you have. Include anything and everything you can think of that you’ve accomplished. On my list: birthing my son, finishing my first screenplay, completing graduate school and earning two master’s degrees, nurturing an incredible friendship with my best friend, becoming a certified life coach, etc.
It’s all too easy to think of ourselves as never reaching the finish line when there’s always so much more to do. Rather than thinking you’ll never get there, remember to enjoy what you’re doing along the way. It’s the journey, after all, that counts.
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