Have you got success amnesia?

BY Julie Smith

28th Feb 2024 Life

4 min read

Have you got success amnesia?
Do you dismiss your achievements? Maybe you have success amnesia. Here's why we need to remember our true capabilities
Have you heard yourself say “it was nothing really” when someone congratulates you on a job well done? Or when you are asked to make a list of what you have achieved you draw a blank?
Perhaps others tell you that you should have more confidence or you should be proud of what you have achieved? But you often find yourself forgetting quickly because you are "on to the next thing"?

What is success amnesia?

Failing to acknowledge your hard work is often a sign of "success amnesia". It signals that there might be a gap between how others view your achievements and how you see them.
"People with success amnesia are often successful yet they find it difficult to acknowledge  achievements"
People who have success amnesia often have a strong track record at work or are that family member everyone can rely on to get it sorted; they are people who others would describe as successful and yet they find it difficult to acknowledge and own their results, they don’t hold their achievements in their memory bank.
This particular type of memory impairment robs them of the satisfying glow that can follow ticking off a goal. And, perhaps more importantly, it robs them of confidence.

Success and confidence are intertwined

Woman celebrating a work achievement
Confidence does not guarantee success, but it does stack the odds in our favour. Think of the classic children’s story, The Little Engine That Could. The Little Blue Engine comes to the rescue of a broken down train, working hard to pull the stranded cargo of toys up and over a mountain. As she puffs and chugs upwards, she says “I think I can—I think I can”, a refrain that becomes “I thought I could—I thought I could” as she makes it to the mountain top and begins the descent. Just like the Little Blue Engine, our confidence is self-fulfilling: believing that we can do something increases our chances of success.
Imagine you’re beginning the process of pulling together an event—a 50th birthday celebration for your partner or an away day at work. If you approach the task with "I think I can" at the forefront of your mind, then you’re likely to tackle it with energy and initiative. You might not have done anything similar before, but you trust yourself to work it out. You set up meetings to gain input from others, gather ideas and start to sketch out some thoughts. Approaching the task with your head full of "I can’t do this" or "this is going to be a disaster", on the other hand, would likely result in more tentative steps. It’s difficult to get started, to invest the energy and hard work needed, when you hold the belief that the task is beyond you.
The relationship between confidence and success is not only one-way. Confidence fuels success and success fuels confidence. Our achievements provide us with evidence of what we’re capable of, growing our self-belief and fueling our confidence to do more. If we don’t acknowledge our successes - if we don’t commit them to our memory bank - then we rob ourselves of this positive momentum. Success amnesia diminishes confidence.

A distorted view of achievements

You might have laughed at your reflection in a funfair hall of mirrors, where each mirror has a different distortion: one making you look very short and very wide, one elongating your body, another giving you a wibbly-wobbly appearance.
"Success amnesiacs view their capability as unchanged and have no fuel for their confidence"
The funfair mirror in which you appear small and far away illustrates the way that the success amnesiac sees their achievements. They can see them, but not at full size. What they see is a shrunk down version in which their success is minimised. They tell themselves that anyone could have done it, that it was just a matter of luck, that it was largely down to someone else. These internal responses prevent them from seeing their achievement as evidence of what they can do. Their view of their capability remains unchanged. There’s no fuel for their confidence.

Three ways to tackle success amnesia

Women in a conference room celebrating an achievement
1. Ask for feedback about the impact you’ve had… and then listen. Really listen, watching out for anything that you begin to tell yourself along the lines of “it wasn’t that big a deal.” Try to absorb what you hear.
2. Write an inventory of your achievements. Look back over the past 6 or 12 months and capture every success you can think of, whether large or small. When you’ve written a good long list, take some time to read it through and really absorb what’s there. Reading it aloud to yourself might help. Consciously acknowledging and owning your achievements can help to bring them into more realistic focus.
3. Be mindful that you have a tendency to forget or minimise your achievements. Perhaps create for yourself the equivalent of the warning that appears on car wing mirrors: the objects in the mirror are closer than they appear. A post-it on your laptop screen might help: my strengths and achievements are bigger than they appear to me.
"Recognising our capabilities and accomplishments fosters a greater sense of self-worth"
When we are juggling home life and work it is so easy to move from one project or event to another without giving it much thought. We tend not to give ourselves the credit we deserve and take tasks we complete with ease for granted. Recognising our capabilities and accomplishments fosters a greater sense of self-worth and is a reminder that the everyday tasks as well as the big ones are significant achievements worthy of acknowledgment.
coach yourself confident
Julie Smith is a sought-after leadership coach, author of Coach Yourself Confident: Ditch the self-doubt tax, unlock humble confidence (Practical Inspiration Publishing) and founder of Talent Sprout, a highly respected leadership consultancy.
Banner photo: Pixabay
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