From infancy, we’re wired to thrive off of feedback, both positive and negative. When we smile as babies, our parents react as if we’ve been nominated for an Oscar. As toddlers, each new skill mastered is met with unbridled enthusiasm and a paparazzi of visual documentation. Once we hit school age, we are constantly bombarded with grades or trophies or discipline designed to reinforce to our brains that we are on the right (or wrong, as the case may be) track.
However, before we know it, we’re launched into adulthood and into what I call the “Praise Vacuum”.
Where we once had a constant feedback loop to help motivate us, there is now a faulty circuit that may only get connected every once in a rare while.
Some people make this transition relatively seamlessly as the praise loop may not have held that power for their internal processes previously.
But, I know many Penelope sisters whose Love Language is “Words of Affirmation”.
And for those of us that feel love when we hear loving encouragement, we need to figure out how to fill in the Praise Vacuum on our own.
(Side note: if you aren’t familiar with the 5 love languages, I highly encourage you to check out this site, like, NOW! It can revolutionize your relationships, and that is not an exaggeration.)
Here are 4 tips for giving yourself praise when no one is looking:
- Make a praise jar or journal: Often, we need a visual expression of the things we are accomplishing on the daily. Our brains are wired to move on to the next challenge that faces us without reflection on the things that we’ve done well over the course of a day or a week. Take 5 minutes before bed and write down the things that you feel really good about doing/accomplishing/achieving that day. It could be something very tangible (“I got up 30 minutes early and fit in a work out before the demands of the day stopped me”) or something more vague (“I had a great conversation with my teenager about the pitfalls of finding their identity in others”). If you are a very visual person, I suggest a jar with small pieces of paper with a new praise on each one. Watching the jar fill up or glancing at the jar as you pass by your nightstand will be a visual cue to your brain that you are doing great things. If you are someone who really likes to go back and read and reinforce, a journal will work better as you can easily glance at past praises to remind yourself of all the goodness you’ve been about.
- Set weekly/monthly goals with built-in rewards: Make a list of small rewards that you really enjoy. Maybe an extra long bath or grabbing coffee with a girlfriend or a getting a mani/pedi. Put a mix of things on your list that span time and cost, so you have plenty to choose from depending on your resources that week/month. Then give yourself some benchmarks to accomplish before rewarding yourself with something on your list. This can work really well for those times when the task at hand seems daunting and thankless by nature. For instance, are you in the throes of potty training your toddler? No one is going to be jumping up and down and high-fiving you for spending 3 days straight cleaning up from a variety of “accidents”. But, if you know that, on day 4, you are getting a break to go to your favorite spin class, it’ll help you stay the course.
- Create a personal code word or phrase: Sometimes in those moments when we are on the go and in the heat of our day, we need a really quick and easy way to affirm that we are on the right track. Our brains are often simply craving a verbal cue that the effort we are putting in is not in vain. In those moments, a pre-determined word or short phrase said aloud or repeated 3 times to yourself can be the quick affirmation that your brain is craving. Your code phrase should be something that will invoke a really positive feeling without a lot of mental effort. The key here is to create a quick trigger. Next time you’ve done something that has taken a lot of energy, effort or restraint, give yourself that internal high five. It may feel really forced at first, but before you dismiss it out of hand, keep at it for a few days. The simplest triggers can be the most effective.
- Find a praise partner: When all the internal affirmation isn’t quite enough to “scratch that itch”, we need to reach out to a voice we trust. A praise partner can be that external voice in our heads that allows us to believe that we really are doing a great job on multiple fronts. A praise partner can be especially effective if our partner or spouse or boss isn’t particularly effusive with affirmation. We can’t always expect our loved ones to know exactly how to love us well and if your love language is indeed Words of Affirmation, you need to make sure you are including people in your life that can build you up in this way. It’s OK to ask for help.