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Discounting the Positive and THE SECOND ENDING by Michelle Hoffman

Prudence was a child prodigy pianist who performed on the world’s most prestigious stages. The public thought Prudence’s life was charmed. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Prudence’s grandmother/guardian was abusive in her practice demands and frequently stated that Prudence was a fraud and that she, the grandmother, was the real talent. Finally, Prudence realized she was being exploited, turned her back on her grandmother, and stopped performing.

Thirty years passed, and now desperate times forced Prudence to stage a come-back. Unfortunately, she struggles to practice because she believes her previous successes were her grandmother’s, not her own, and therefore don’t count.

Prudence discounts the positive, a cognitive distortion in which people reject their own positive experiences by claiming they are unearned, not good enough, or only what anyone else would have done.

Discounting the positive leads to feelings of inadequacy as confidence in one’s abilities is shattered.

Like with all cognitive distortions, we are trying to move from:

Situation -> Automatic Thoughts -> Emotion -> Response


Situation -> Automatic Thought -> Emotion -> Analysis of Automatic Thought -> New Emotion -> Adaptive Response

Tips for challenging Discounting the Positive:

  • Make a Glow List: Every day, write down three positive things you completed, how you did it, and what personal characteristic it speaks to.

  • Accept Compliments: When someone compliments you, tell yourself they honestly provide feedback based on their experience. Refrain from convincing yourself that the person complimenting you was somehow wrong.

  • Focus on Moments: If you struggle to see the big-picture as positive and attributable to you, focus on small moments you can own and feel proud of.

Let’s apply the discounting the positive theories to Prudence…

  • Prudence sits down to practice. (SITUATION).

  • She immediately thinks she will never be able to play the song correctly because her grandmother isn’t there to force her into her (unhealthy) old practice methods (AUTOMATIC THOUGHT).

  • Prudence feels overwhelmed, anxious, and despondent (EMOTION).

  • Prudence only hears mistakes and prematurely stops practicing (RESPONSE).

And add in the new skills:

  • Prudence writes down three things she has done well (one is: “Today I played the song at 100 beats per minute because I practiced it fifteen times, starting at 60 BPM and adjusting the metronome faster with each repetition. I am hard-working.”) (GLOW LIST). When her husband hears her playing and says he felt transported back to childhood, she believes him (ACCEPT COMPLIMENTS). Prudence particularly notices that her right-hand feels stronger when playing chords (FOCUS ON MOMENTS) (ANALYSIS OF AUTOMATIC THOUGHTS).

  • Prudence feels capable (NEW EMOTION).

  • Prudence practices her songs consistently and feels satisfaction when she improves; this positivity loop encourages even more practice (ADAPTIVE RESPONSE).


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