It is infinitely easier to criticize than it is to appreciate people or things just as they are. As humans, we tend to find faults and disappointments in even the happiest of occasions. For example, imagine having dinner at a nice restaurant with a loved one. Even if the food is perfect, you could still think that it took too long to cook or that your server wasn’t attentive enough. At work or in your relationships, it is easy to remember your shortcomings rather than dwelling on your positive qualities.
Have you ever wondered why this is?
Discounting the positive is a habitual way of disregarding our successes and strengths while focusing instead on what we consider to be our weaknesses and our failures. In our minds, if something isn’t perfect it is, by default, flawed. Since perfection rarely, if ever, exists in our world, pretty much everything is considered a failure or flawed in some way. Therefore, since perfection as unobtainable, we choose to view ourselves more as a mixture of failures than a collage of successes.
So, what happens when we discount the positive things in our own lives? There’s a laundry list of terrible side effects such as feelings of inferiority, lack of confidence, bouts of depression, loss of energy, and loads of procrastination. Not a pretty picture! If the lens through which we see the world is programmed to see the negative, we shouldn’t be surprised if we only see the negative. If people in our lives try to congratulate us on something, we tend to discount it. If they want to help us celebrate our success we are embarrassed and discount or downplay it. We walk around in the world with a “yes, but…” response to everything. When we “yes, but…” everything we deny ourselves the joy of enjoying our success while also denying the people in our lives the pleasure of gifting us with their praise and good wishes.
Assuming this is true, why do we do it? I have a theory.
We are actually getting something out of it.
But how could we possibly benefit from denying our strengths and downplaying our accomplishments? We lower our expectations of ourselves so that we don’t have to perform. After all, if you were successful at this endeavor then what could be next? Will you be expected to repeat this success (or even worse exceed it)? We become scared of the possibility so we discount it. We refuse credit for it. This is what we call a fear of success. Do we do this consciously? Of course not. We aren’t crazy! When we think about it logically it doesn’t make sense. And yet we do it. Some of us do it all of the time and then we wonder why we have no confidence, why we procrastinate, and why we are down in the dumps.
So, what is the way out of this trap that we set for ourselves?
Remember, I said this is a habitual way of seeing the world. Habits can be changed. They can be discarded and new ones can be developed! That’s the good news! I won’t lie to you though, there is work involved. One thing to remember about the work involved is that you can have positive thoughts about it and, therefore, look forward to it or negative thoughts about it and, therefore, dread it. If you dread it, the work will be hard. If you look forward to it, the work will be a source of pleasure and you will motivate yourself to keep going. The choice is yours.
- Identify the problem. For instance, you may recognize that you can’t accept a compliment. That’s the problem.
- Recognize how you do it. Going with the above example, you may discount the compliment by saying, “Thanks, but…” and making an excuse.
- Ask yourself, “What’s behind this?” Maybe you don’t feel deserving of the compliment or you are embarrassed at the attention you are getting. Perhaps you have a fear of future expectations if you accept the compliment. This awareness is important. If you don’t know why you sabotage yourself, it’s hard to change your response.
- Identify your triggers. (Someone compliments or congratulates me.)
- Identify where you would like to be regarding the problem. (I would like to be able to accept compliments with grace.)
- Visualize the solution. Imagine yourself accepting a compliment with grace. (I will smile and simply say, “Thank you.”)
- Create your strategy. (The next time I feel the urge to discount someone’s compliment, I will say, “STOP!” in my head and instead say, “Thank you.”) This step is important. Don’t allow yourself room to argue with yourself. See yourself as a person who accepts compliments with grace and a simple “thank you” will be sufficient. Resist allowing yourself to elaborate. Just say, “Thank you.” That’s all! You can add more later, but keep it simple right now. The simpler it is, the more likely you are to remember it on the spot and be able to implement your intention.
- Celebrate your success! Allow yourself a moment to feel the pleasure of having accepted a compliment without discounting it. Allow yourself to really receive the compliment and realize that this is something important. It is important for you to feel affirmed and it is important for others to feel good that they acknowledged you. This is likely to be uncomfortable at first, but do it anyway. Soon you will be able to feel the warmth that someone’s appreciation brings!
We only talked about receiving a compliment in this example, but there are lots of other ways we discount the positive in our lives. An example from my own life that happened just yesterday is that I was in a bind for time. I had some errands to run and only about 45 minutes to get them all done. People were out Christmas shopping which made it difficult to get around. Delays were inevitable. I became grouchy. Bah! Humbug!
I was rushing into a store to make an exchange when I heard the most beautiful singing. I looked around to find the source. It was a Salvation Army bell ringer. “Don’t make eye contact,” I told myself. “I have no time for this.” I quickly realized my mistake and, in my head, said “STOP.” This woman was singing her heart out for me. But, I had no time (and if I make eye contact, what else will be expected from me?). I’m glad to report that in this case I followed my own advice. I stopped, received her gift, told her what a beautiful voice she had, dropped a few dollars in the bucket, and continued on my way. How did this change my day? It got me out of my Scrooge-like mood and made me realize that all I could control was the way I was thinking. When I did that, my day suddenly got better and I proceeded with a lot more patience and a much better attitude.
What compliments have you been denying yourself? Take a moment to reflect on your strengths and accomplishments. Stop being afraid of the great things you have done! You don’t have to flaunt them to the world, but you should allow yourself to take pride in your best abilities. And, if your good work raises the expectations of others, move forward with the confidence that you can handle anything that life throws your way. When you seek positive things, don’t be surprised when you start to find them!
Change your thoughts and you’ll change your life!