When I was younger, I used to get anxiety over giving people compliments. Which is crazy, since it’s one of my favorite pastimes.
I always loved saying nice things to people, and had a strong urge to give my love somewhere to go. But as a kid, it seemed like something I should temper. Will she think I am weird? Will she make fun of me? Will I seem like a suck-up, embarrassing, or weak?
When I first started dating my now-boyfriend Jeremy, my best girl friend would always ask how it was going, what I was feeling, etc. And I’d answer with stuff like, “He’s great. He’s really great.” She’d want me to elaborate and I wouldn’t. She’d want me to let her in and I couldn’t. Interesting, since I had nothing to hide and nothing I was uncertain about. If I talk about it like I want to… Will she think I am weird? Will she make fun of me? Will I seem like a loser, silly, or weak?
Just this morning, I signed onto Instagram to see my friend Sarah had tagged me in a quote picture that read:
“Talk to yourself like you would talk to someone you love.”
And along with Sarah, I wondered – why is this so hard to do?
Why it it so hard to talk lovingly to ourselves like we’d talk lovingly to someone we care a great deal about?
And then I realized: it’s hard because we’re not talking to people this way.
Compliments and positive talk are mutually beneficial – you make someone else smile, you end up smiling, and that feels good. But what happens beyond that?
The language we use to talk to ourselves is usually the same language we use to talk out in the world. And the way we talk is like exercising a muscle: we get to choose if we build it up to be positively or negatively strong.
Take a look at the way we talk to people on a day-to-day basis: Sure, we’re cordial to the people we love, we’re appropriate, but most of the time we’re just “nothing to” them. Our relationships with them are already established, so we assume they don’t need the cheering up, encouragement, compliments, or even care to hear good things from us. It’s implied that all those kind thoughts and good feelings already exist, simply because we’re already their friend. We don’t have to say a word.
And then, when we do connect, we’ll often bond over what we don’t like or what annoys us, because they’re the people we love, and we “can” vent to them. We can talk about the things we don’t like because they’re emotionally charged, and it’s easy to bond over things that both parties involved are emotionally charged about.
In the same vein – go with me here – we’re unconsciously “nothing” to ourselves because we’ve already got an established relationship with our Self: our body, our potential, our mind, our capabilities. So we don’t give ourselves the credit or the kudos we deserve, or notice all the good stuff.
Moreover, we’ll bond with the voice in our head over the negative things that comes up, what we don’t like and what annoys us.
The easier and more natural it becomes to bond over the negative, the more difficult and “weird” it becomes to bond over the positive.
Why don’t we do this? Why don’t we consistently tell our friends how bangin’ they look or how much they mean to us? How proud we are of them or how much they just blow our minds simply by being themselves? Why don’t we use our relationships with to gush about the things that make us happy? There’s no good reason why we shouldn’t do any/all of these things, except for fear of being different or uncomfortable.
Here’s what to do to start exercising those positive talk muscles in your brain. The awesome thing? You can start doing these as soon as today:
1) Start complimenting people. Specifically, the people you know and love. It might seem superfluous at first. It might seem cheesy. It might even seem like you’re being “weird.” Do it anyway. Mix in compliments to strangers. There’s no way we can build those positive-talk muscles in our brain when it comes to ourselves if we don’t work on building them up when it comes to others. They are not and cannot be mutually exclusive.
2) Each day, bond with a friend or family member over one thing that’s positive. Maybe it’s a success you had at work. Maybe it’s something you learned or a revelation you had during the day. Maybe it’s the way you felt that day or a funny thing you saw on the internet. It can be anything. But make sure that neither one of your let your critical voice comes into the conversation. Of course, you can do more than one – but make sure you’re making it work for you.
The hardest part of this exercise for some people is that their friends are not always on board. We’re starved for positive, authentic connection, so people will either go right along with you or repel what’s different. And that’s when you see people’s true colors. If a friend or family member starts to steer the conversation in a negative direction, simply say “I get it, but I’d really love to keep this conversation positive right now.”
If they continue to repel you time and again, maybe it’s time to get some distance. It’s difficult sometimes, especially if those people are members of your family or people you live with. But we’ve got to accept that our external lives are actually a reflection of what’s going on internally. The beauty is, if we’re committed to making a shift and moving forward into being the person we know we’re meant to be, then as we start to tweak the outside, the inside will follow. It’s a symbiotic relationship. Just like with a tempting food that actually makes you feel horrible later, limiting your interactions with the ones who feed that negative virus in your body will eventually make you more and more immune to disease.
It wasn’t that my friend who asked about my relationship wanted me to reveal private, intimate details, and I’d known that. Sure, I needed some time to arrange my thoughts and figure out for myself how exactly I felt, and time to keep it just to myself – but after that period of time passed, I still wouldn’t open up to her. Things had never been as good as they were at that point in my life, and I didn’t know if it was “socially appropriate” to explain that. Those voices from childhood came back: will she judge me? Will she tune me out? I wasn’t being private, I was feeling like it would be self-absorbed of me to talk about how incredible and nuanced this relationship was and how I felt about it. The second I realized I was in a safe place, in a friendship that was based in celebrating each other on the regular, I realized that there was no reason not to let her in.
I did. And I told her what an incredible friend she was. Not surprisingly, she didn’t think I was a loser, silly, embarrassing, a suck-up, or weak. She celebrated right along with me.
This week, shelf the advice to “Talk to yourself like you would talk to someone you love.” It’s time to start treating ourselves the way we actually want to treat others, simultaneously training ourselves to speak in a way that’s supportive and kind.
Those positive talk muscles are just waiting to be strengthened. Stretch ’em out.
WANT ACTION PLAN:
After you’ve completed the exercises above, tell me: What did you say? Who did you compliment? What one (or however many!) positive thing did you find to bond over today? How did that make you feel?