(…tell me, tell me, tell me…)
Yes, I do love 70s funk, but that’s not what’s on my mind right now. Chaka really is the best, though.
Have you ever noticed how easy it is to accept a negative belief about yourself and how hard it is to embrace the positive? How many times have you heard someone shrug off a compliment that you’ve given them? Tell someone “I love your dress” and they respond with “Oh, this old thing?” or “It was the only thing I had clean.” or something like that. But some brat in 4th grade tells you that you’ve got bird legs and 40 years later you’ll still remember it and cringe. What IS that?
Well, the experts call it “negativity bias” – yeah, there’s an actual name for it. There’s a whole psychological theory behind it, but long story short, positive things have less of an effect on a person than negative ones do. And when you think about it, that’s just sad. It means that no matter how many compliments, commendations, awards, and general kudos we get, we’re more likely to remember the insults, the screw-ups, the faults. I once read somewhere that it takes ten positive events to overcome one negative. Math’s not my strong suit, but that seems like a lot of work to overcome one negative thing!
Which means as a parent, our kids don’t hear the positive things we say to them in quite the same way they hear the criticisms. And it means we have to be really careful about how we talk to them because our words are going to ultimately become that tape that plays in their heads over and over when they try to accomplish anything in life. When we tell them “You did great, but…”, they’re not going to remember the “you did great” part; just the part after the “but”. A lot of us probably think we’re going to raise little monsters if we don’t keep their egos in check, but there’s a difference between rewarding them simply for breathing and offering them genuine praise when they do something well. My kids have sometimes accused me of complimenting them just because of my natural bias as their mom. Y’know, “Oh, you have to say that because you’re my mom.” But I don’t offer false compliments. If they couldn’t sing well, for instance, I just wouldn’t say anything at all because we’ve all seen the first few rounds of tryouts on “American Idol”, and nobody wants to be one of those poor unfortunate souls! So maybe instead, I’d just encourage them to do something else. There’s plenty of time for the world to try to break them down, so as parents, we need to build them up!
But it also means that, as adults, we can learn to stop listening to that negative self-talk and realize that the only reason we still remember that kid in 4th grade calling us names is because of some weird trick of our psyche, not because we actually have bird legs. We can learn to give and receive compliments gracefully. It takes practice but it’s definitely worth it. Try it out! The next time someone pays you a compliment, before you open your mouth to discount it, just pause for a second and say, “Thank you!”. Try to be gentler with yourself. Before you criticize yourself for messing something up, remember that nobody’s perfect and nobody is good at everything. When you hear that negative self-talk tape going in your head, hit “stop”. Remind yourself that you’re doing the best you can. It’s okay to be kind to yourself.