I re­ally am quite bril­liant – at giv­ing my­self com­pli­ments

The Guardian - G2 - - Passnotes | Shorcuts - Rhik Sa­mad­der

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.)

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