It is true that what we give power to then has power over us. A way to see what this looks like in everyday life is to understand how the voice inside your own mind governs what you think of yourself in any given moment. All of us are equally at risk of mentally calling ourselves “stupid” (or saying to ourselves “that was a stupid thing to do”). How likely are you to give yourself a mental congratulation when you do something well? Or is it more a sense of relief when you complete a task or activity (with no self-acknowledgement) then moving on to the next thing on the list?
Many of us may have an imbalance of mental chatter – it may be critical, not much of it may be positive, celebratory or even very “nice” (I certainly would not “speak” to anyone else the way I often seem to be speaking to myself). Yet in reality we apply ourselves with good intent and experience positive outcomes, we are often kind; smile a lot and/or apply a healthy sense of humor to others and ourselves. Why then is there an imbalance between what happens outside ourselves (what we show others) versus what is happening on the inside (how we treat ourselves)? What we give power to then has power over us. Listen to the running narrative in your mind, the one that may provide fertile ground for the critical mind chatter; is there is always “something else that needs doing?” Do you unconsciously give that narrative an almost dictatorship level of power? That example is a future oriented narrative, but narratives may focus on the present or the past fueling mental chatter (“You should focus more to do this right”; “This is not your best work, you did this same type of work better two years ago”).
Is this sounding familiar? If so, check in; build some objectivity around this for yourself by collecting data. Create a simple tally sheet for yourself and over the course of an ordinary day, put a “tick” in a column that recognizes negative thoughts you attribute to yourself, another column for “ticks” to acknowledge positive self-thoughts. Resist the temptation to “guesstimate” the outcome, commit to spending one day to pay attention to this and see for yourself – it is important to use data (as opposed to making an assumption). Hopefully you experience a wealth of positive thoughts, but do not panic if you don’t, you are not deeply flawed (or alone). Instead, know that awareness is the first step towards being able to think about how this is supporting (or sabotaging) your efforts in work and in life.
No one feels good about himself or herself when consistently living in an environment where expectation cannot be met, or if when met, goes unrecognized. We would never treat our family and friends, or our employees, this way. To compound this, when we do not recognize our own accomplishments, it is less likely that anyone else will either. So why do we accept this unkind approach to ourselves (in a brief moment or over the course of our days)? The answer may be found in taking a look at your values and beliefs; these are the underpinnings of much of what we do, how we choose to approach things, what we invest our time in, etc. They guide many important aspects of our lives, and most of us will not compromise our beliefs – but we use them in unconscious ways that may not support us as well as we think. When you make negative statements to yourself, what is the underlying belief that holds them up? What are you valuing (or not valuing) when you do this?
When we choose not to engage in “self-celebration” we seldom give ourselves the opportunity to sit back and mentally say, “That was good, I did it!” This may be attached to a belief in humility; using this as an example, most of us would agree that humility is a good quality to have, but between a narrative that has power, like “there is always more to do, keep moving forward” and a strong humility belief, positive self-reinforcement will hold little value, be minimized or absent. Except that step helps us to see what we accomplish as good and of value, creating more balance with the negative thoughts we encounter in our day, providing positive energy and a sense of well-being. If you are missing this step what belief are you applying? Humility is valued by society too, and that helps to reinforce beliefs like the one in this example, but so is sharing and celebrating, because these things are also important to all of us. Have you ever stopped to consider the impact of choosing not to celebrate your successes (large or small), on yourself or those around you? What is the impact of forgoing something that supports consistent well-being, fights off fatigue, and keeps us resilient when faced with a really bad day (or a challenging life circumstance)? What happens to us when we shrug off compliments from others without fully appreciating or acknowledging them? What is the impact of inadvertently discourage others from supporting us? Looking at it through the lens of humility you can see becoming overly humble is not humility, in fact that is almost the complete opposite of humility. This is never the intent of something we believe in or value, which is why paying attention to how you treat yourself is so important.
Give power to celebration – whatever your celebration is. From a quick celebratory “dance move” when no one is watching to smiling at yourself in the mirror. Talk to you loved ones when you are most satisfied with what you’ve accomplished in your day – think of it not as “boasting” but as helping others to know when you are happy with yourself. Sharing is an important part of acknowledgement, and it sets a great example for others. Monitor your mental chatter - challenge it. When you are riffing off the long list of things undone, or the mistakes you can’t quite seem to move past, balance it out with a list of the things you’ve done well, things that make you feel good. Each of us can find an example in our day when we were patient, kind, empathetic, humorous or supportive of ourselves or someone else. That is cause for celebration, because the “to do” list will never be done, it is not supposed to be (or we’d freak out because no one needs us anymore). So celebrate! Eat the “good” ice cream, sharing it with others; tell them why you are celebrating. Smile, put your hand on your heart and say out loud (when you think no one can hear you, or even if others can) what you appreciate most about yourself in this moment. Give yourself the power to celebrate things large and small and it will support you, and the ones closest to you, in many amazing and wonderful ways. Unlock the power of celebration.