I really am quite brilliant – at giving myself compliments
Look at you! Reading a newspaper rather than staring, bovine, at pap snaps of Rihanna on a beach or endless updates on the possible contents of a royal womb. You’re smart and discerning. Did you make your own lunch today? That is thrifty and healthy behaviour. Got to work on time? You are a rock star of time management. But you don’t need me to tell you that.
Experts are increasingly coming to believe that paying ourselves compliments can be as rewarding as hearing them from someone else. Giving ourselves a pat on the back in the privacy of our own heads lowers our stress level, leads to positive habit formation and increases our self-esteem. Now, I know what you’re thinking (I’m good at anticipating negative responses): “What California nonsense is this?” It sounds like the barefooted spaff of a self-satisfied yoga teacher, or the behaviour of a puffed-up blowtard who crushes it in finance, has bleeding palms from high-fiving mirrors all day, and whom no one likes. Violent aversion to self-praise is wired into British cultural DNA. It’s hard enough receiving compliments from someone else. A friend will pay offhand praise to something we are wearing, and d we immedi immediately start digging around for the receipt to prove it was on sale and we haven’t turned into Louis XIV, and would still be wearing our old jacket but the council said it had to be knocked down. We are deeply suspicious of feeling good about ourselves, and this is holding us back.
Articles and books about self-praise usually focus on its productivity benefits. Praise affects performance, boosting our memory and learning capacities. Learning your value makes you more efficient at salary negotiation, and increases company revenue. It is an important aspect, especially considering women and people of colour are routinely undervalued at work and need to supplement the praise they are owed elsewhere to get ahead. But for me, it is the relationship to ourselves that is more valuable, and also a broadening of what we count as achievement. (My interests and values are as valid as anyone else’s.)
There are types of compliment people are unlikely to pay you, or else they miss the point. They may praise a promotion, but not the person who cooks the meals at home that makes the promotion possible. They may praise appearance, but not healthy habits. They may remark on your beautiful children, but not the stamina and vigilance it takes to raise your brood. We can’t rely on the praise of others to identify crucial aspects that underpin our lives, or give us a sense of self-worth. We have to do it ourselves.
There is a CBT technique I have found particularly useful: distinguishing enjoyment and achievement in day-to-day activities, and aiming for a balance of both. Putting out washing; remembering to de-flea the cat; fixing the printer; paying the gas bill; taking the bins out; fixing the printer again … Seriously, keeping the boat afloat is an almighty achievement some weeks. No one will praise you for doing it, but it doesn’t follow that it’s not praiseworthy.
What do I want, a medal for taking the bins out? I suppose I do, psychologically. A bin-medal. Made from rubbish. The fact that I awarded it to myself doesn’t make it less valuable. (Brilliant idea. Well done me.)