If you were asked to name five successes you had today, could you do it? What about five in the past month?

Don’t worry, you aren’t alone. Most have difficulty.

However, ask for fifteen failures and there is never a problem coming up with a list.

But, we can’t possibly be that incompetent.

So, what is really going on here?

The answer is two-fold. The first half of the equation comes from neuroscience. Science has demonstrated that emotion affects memory – physically creating stronger neural pathways in the brain for any memory accompanied by strong emotions.

This is why you remember where you were when you heard that terrorists had crashed planes into the Twin Towers, or the Space Shuttle explosion, or JKF’s assassination (depending on how old you are).

When it comes to remembering our failures, there is embarrassment, anger, and anxiety related to those memories. These extreme emotions reinforce the memories and make them stronger. However, we shrug off successes as just “what was supposed to happen” with little emotion attached. Simply put, we remember our failures better than we remember our successes.

This link between memory and emotion is also why our children don’t have a strong sense of their accomplishments.

As parents, we are largely responsible for our children focussing on their “failures”.

We primarily ignore our children when they are playing quietly (which is the majority of time) and then berate them angrily when they misbehave. We give them a pat on the back and a “way-to-go” when they get an A but give them a half-hour lecture when they bring home a C.

And, we do the same thing with ourselves. We don’t congratulate ourselves for the hundreds and thousands of times we successfully park our car. BUT, we sure think about the one time we backed up too far and tapped that post. The scene runs over and over on our internal screens overshadowing all the successes with a single failure.

Our successes are virtually ignored but our failures come with a flashing red light.

The other half of the equation is simple – our expectations of success are much too high.

What do you consider a success?

How realistic are your expectations?

As well, when was the last time you really celebrated a success?

After six months of being a sloth, you exercised two days this week. Big deal, you exercised a whole two days, you tell yourself.


BIG DEAL, you succeeded in overcoming six months of habit and you exercised for TWO DAYS this week! This is a huge success that deserves celebration and pride. We need to recognize and celebrate all our success. We must enjoy them, feel the joy, and let the emotion of the accomplishment lock in those memories.

Sound silly? Possibly. However, what is the cost of not doing this?

This focus on failure has a devastating effect on self-esteem and confidence. Each time we focus on failure and minimize success, we chip away at our confidence. Soon, we have crowded out our ability and desire to try new things. Success becomes harder as we convince ourselves that failure is the more likely outcome simply because we remember the failures more. Our defeated attitude becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

There is another option and a solution that is brilliant in its simplicity.

Consider the following:

  • Research has shown that the more you acknowledge past accomplishments, the more confidently you take on new risks.
  • Knowing that you have been successful in the past gives you confidence that you can succeed in the future
  • The more you try, the more chances you take, the more you risk, the more often you win in life

Each link in the chain reinforces our chances of success.

At Riverbend Academy, we strive to build self-confidence and self-esteem in our students. Our team purposefully recognizes the accomplishments and behaviours that are leading to a student’s success. Rather than punish bad behaviour (thus reinforcing that behaviour) we reinforce the positive side of the student. We make the positive become the focus of the emotional impact. Simply put, it is more effective to praise one positive behaviour than to berate ten negative behaviours.

We also have a secret weapon – the student’s Success Log.

Throughout the day, students write down successes they have experienced. It could be as big as getting their first A on a math test or as simple as remembering their textbook for computer class.

Writing down these successes help lock them into long-term memory. No matter how small, our students know they have had success after success. Failures, by comparison, seem fewer and farther between. Failures quickly lose their importance as a mountain of evidence piles up that says “I am a success!”

Self-esteem and confidence soar.

Any failures come with the thought, “that is no big deal because most of the time, I succeed. I’ll be able to do it next time.”

When our students face new experiences, new challenges, and come up against fear and anxiety, they simply pull out their Success Log. As they flip through page after page of success, their emotional state raises, their confidence grows. They know, without a doubt, they are successes. They will succeed because that is what they do most of the time. If they fall short this time – no big deal, their self-esteem can handle one little setback.

Now you know how we achieve so many successes at Riverbend Academy.

So, your children want to know – what is in your Success Log?