The other day, one of my clients mentioned a regular practice of looking in the mirror and giving themselves a thumbs-up. It reminded me of a couple of old TV commercials. In one, a guy combs his hair and then smiles at himself and says “Lookin’ good!”. In another, a woman is brushing her teeth and then smiles at herself and looks at her sparkling teeth.
It seems like we spend a lot of time trying to please and impress others so that we can get positive feedback. Why do we forget the one person who can give us complements anytime that we want?
Back in the “olden days,” when I had an answering machine, I would often call and leave myself messages about things I wanted to remember such as items for the shopping list or tasks I wanted to do in the evening. Sometimes I would add a goofy complement at the end of the message. In my case, my motivation wasn’t actually to complement myself, but rather to annoy my wife who thought I was silly. When I played back the messages at the end of the day (if you’ll recall, answering machines always played back messages on a speaker), I didn’t always get the desired reaction from my spouse, but I did get some joy from hearing my goofy complements. Those messages usually put me in a good mood at the end of what was often a long day at work. Since my motivation was to get a reaction, my complements had to be a little over the top. They were things like:
You’re the best ever!
You kicked butt today!
Awesome doesn’t even start to describe you.
You are the smartest person I know.
It seems like many of us have critical voices in our heads frequently criticizing us and telling us that we’re not good enough, or that we failed, or that people don’t like us. Despite the fact that we know these things aren’t true, it can be frustrating, annoying, and tiring to hear the same litany of criticism. Thinking about my client’s thumbs-up practice and my answering machine messages, I wonder what it would be like to make a daily practice of self-complements as an alternative to the self-criticism.
There are many ways you can complement yourself that may be more powerful than saying things in your head. You can, for example, say things out loud to yourself while looking in the mirror – you don’t have to be Stuart Smalley from SNL – but there is nothing wrong with saying a couple of words like “Good job!” or “Looking good” and giving yourself a smile or thumbs-up. (Contrary to popular belief, messages like that aren’t always egotistical. They can be self-caring.) You can leave a note in a book, or on a mirror or your nightstand, or somewhere where you will notice it sometime later. You can leave yourself a voicemail, or send a text or email, or even send a letter or post card. I can tell you from first-hand experience, that there is almost nothing like find a positive message from yourself mixed in with a pile of reminder Post-Its, especially when you’ve forgotten that you left it there.