Tell Me Something Good

(…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.

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Well, Bless Your Heart!

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First of all a HUGE thank you to all of my new subscribers and supporters! You guys are the best!

Now, we’re all friends here, right? Because…well…I have a confession to make.

Sometimes I get angry.

I mean really angry. Really quickly.

It usually happens when someone’s not behaving the way I want them to. I’m in a hurry and they’re walking too slowly in front of me. I need to get through the aisle at a store and they’ve jackknifed their cart sideways while they’re trying to figure out which brand of canned peas to buy. I’m trying to read quietly in a waiting room and they’re yammering on their cell phone at top volume three inches from my ear. We all have these moments, don’t we?

Well, a few months ago, I was smack in the middle of one of these moments (hissy fits, tantrums, whatever you wanna call them), I can’t remember all the specifics but if I remember correctly a woman and her brood of kids had darted out of a store directly in front of me while I was driving through a parking lot. But all of a sudden, out of nowhere, I heard my grandma’s voice: “Bless their heart.”

Now let me explain something. My grandma was my hero – an absolute saint in my book. She was the kind of person who rarely said anything bad about someone, and if she did, it was almost immediately followed by something like, “…but she means well” or my favorite, “Bless her heart.” It was like a gentle reminder to herself and to the rest of us that there’s something good in everyone, if you’re willing to look for it. She wasn’t necessarily a highly metaphysical woman, but she was kind, gentle and a lot of fun to be around. Essentially everything I want to be in life.

So there I am, ready to blow a gasket because someone has done something too slowly/quickly/loudly/etc when I hear that voice: “Bless their heart.” And it stopped me in my tracks. Suddenly, I saw myself in that mom’s shoes and I’m seeing what it’s like to try to take a shopping trip with the kids running amok, begging for you to buy them something, needing a drink, a trip to the potty, a nap, a timeout. You’re just trying to get something for dinner, and trying to make it through the store as quickly as possible, hopefully with your sanity intact, and you can’t possibly fit them all in the shopping cart and there’s no one to babysit and…

“Bless her heart.”

I stopped the car and instead of grumbling to myself about the situation or shooting an exasperated look her way, I just smiled and waved the mom and her kids on. She’s having a WAY rougher day than I am. And I remembered a snippet I’d read in “Reader’s Digest” years ago (while in a doctor’s waiting room, no doubt) about a grandmother who was driving in her car with her granddaughter when she noticed herself on the verge of full-on road rage because another driver carelessly blew by her like she was standing still. Remembering that her granddaughter was in the car, not wanting to expose her to any new four-letter words, she simply said, “I wonder why that guy is in such a hurry?”. Her granddaughter laughed and said, “I’ll bet he’s on his way to his wedding and he’s running late!”. And the grandmother realized it was one of those a-ha moments and decided that, instead of losing her cool when someone ticked her off on the road, she’d just assume they had some kind of emergency (like being late for their own wedding) and let it go. And she found she got irritated far less often and enjoyed driving much more.

I’m not saying it’s easy. I’m not saying that I am able to get into “Bless their heart” mode and stay there all the time. I don’t know anyone who’s that chill, except maybe the Dalai Lama and he’s just on a whole other level, really. I’m not saying there aren’t occasionally times that I wish the fleas of a thousand camels infest someone’s armpits when they cut me off in traffic, because sometimes I do. But I find the more often I say it, the more often I try to get myself into that frame of mind, the easier it is to stay there and the easier it is to not sweat the little irritations. And I’m pretty sure it’s probably good for my blood pressure and all that stuff, so it probably means I can eat more bacon, which is a definite bonus in my book.

Bless your heart.

(And here’s a really cute baby sloth because they seem like they know what being chill is all about.)

Have a great fourth of July!

baby sloth