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Day 27. Calming Your Praise Hunger By Nourishing Your Self-Esteem

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A lot of our teachings in early life gear us up for living life with a meritocracy attitude where we look for acknowledgement and yes praise from the people around to get a sense of whether we are OK. We’re taught that if we follow the rules, do as we’re told, live in a certain way, get good grades or stay under the radar or be of service if we’re not, be ‘nice’, ‘pleasing’, ‘helpful’, and put others before us, that we’re going to come up smelling of roses. Funny then why so many of us who lived meticulously by these rules are highly self-critical, struggle with perfectionism and feel on some level, confusion and even a sense of injustice about people who do the opposite of everything that we do and are happier or certainly ‘getting’ what they want.

It’s not that we don't need boundaries when we are children and adults, or that we shouldn’t make an effort, or be compassionate, decent human beings, or follow certain rules (real ones) as well as have a sense of our morals, but what isn't helping us is making a direct and intertwined association between doing this stuff and praise, worth and getting what we want.

These messages that we’re taught early in life, reinforce this idea we do this stuff to appease someone; we do this stuff because it’s the way to be the type of person that other people like; we are ‘supposed’ to do this stuff because we need praise, stripes, stickers, brownie points and reward charts.

Acknowledgment and recognition to a degree is important and yes, a balance of praise versus criticism is also important but what we are not supposed to do is live our lives looking for nods, strokes and praise because this robs us of self-esteem and personal security.

We have been trained into believing that the world works in an, I do this and then they will do that fashion and it doesn’t.

Sure, at school or at home when you were a kid, there were things that you could do to remain on people’s good side but I’m here to tell you - those things that you do to remain on people’s “good side”, are not serving you because aside from the fact that you may be doing things for the wrong reasons, some of the habits that you’ve developed around this and getting praise, are coping mechanisms that yes, helped you get through childhood but because the world is not a giant-sized replica of your childhood home or school, they don’t work beyond that. This is why you can feel increasingly aggrieved and short-changed - Where is the praise? Where is the recognition? Why the frick do I have to contend with criticism? Why is it that no matter what I do to perfect myself, I am never meeting the conditions for happiness and/or success?

A mix of looking for praise, wanting to avoid criticism and also still following old rules that have you thinking that everything’s going to work out purely on merit, means that you can encounter problems in any area where you need to step up or speak up for yourself. This can be as simple as sharing ideas at work, innovating, or how you put yourself forward in friendship and romantic situations. Next thing, you’re wondering why the person who doesn’t always say the ‘right’ thing, is liked by your peers or has got the promotion. You wonder why the person who shares their ideas regardless of whether they’re decent or not, is advancing. You don’t realise that you’re ticking boxes but not sticking your head above the parapet. In a romantic relationship, because you follow what you feel are all the rules about being The Good Girl or The Good Guy, you think it’s an outrage that you didn’t get the girl/guy… even if they were unhealthy. You wonder why they want somebody who speaks their mind.

As a result of these early teachings along with the relationship with your inner and outer critics, your openness to criticism and being moulded by it means that conversely, you’re hungry for praise. This is something you need to cut down on in order to learn to value you more because when you spend your life trying to convince people, you have already hurt you because you’ve unconvinced yourself. You becomes excessively emotionally reliant on others because their praise and strokes become the source of your self-esteem when it’s actually external esteem.

Next thing, you get some flattery from somebody and you think that they’re the best thing since sliced bread or you get some criticism and think that the sun shines out of their bottoms and that you must now make it your vocation to earn their praise. Oh heeeeeeeelllllllll no!

The thoughts that you feed you, matter. The way that you treat you matters as well. When you learn to spend more time acknowledging and internalising who you truly are which includes recognising your characteristics, accomplishments, achievements and talents, you close up that hunger because you are no longer looking for people to do something that you yourself are not doing.

Whatever you look for from others tells you about where you are deficient of that from you.

The reason why you’re hungry for so much praise is because you don’t give you any props hence because you’re waiting on others to notice you, you spend too much time being geared up for other people’s reactions and looking for cues, but because you’re doing all of this, you’re biased towards looking for evidence of flaws plus when they don’t react in the way that you want, it sets of your inner critic, which sets of your own responses and lather, rinse, repeat.

It’s important to recognise this because if you’re going to change your relationship with criticism, you also have to change your relationship with praise.

Be yourself, your whole self and nothing but yourself.

Being what you think will get you the equivalent of good grades whether it’s at work or in your relationship is not the same thing as being who you are. If who you put across in an attempt to stay inside the lines is very different to who you are, that is a problem and you are going to find that when things don’t work out, it will hurt deeply because it will feel as if you did [what avoids criticism and appeals to that person]. Be yourself. Your inner critic will be calmer the more true you are.

Acknowledge your efforts first before you seek acknowledgment or praise elsewhere.

How can you be balanced in listening to feedback or yes, a criticism, if you have not acknowledged your own feelings, thoughts, position etc first? It is time for you to get in the habit of noticing and evaluating your own efforts in a fair and reasonable way. This way, you don’t become the 7-year old who is holding out his/her work to the teacher and near terrified about how they will react.

When your inner critic pipes up partway through a piece of work or something else that you’re doing, say out loud or in your head, “I’m not reviewing it now. Let’s wait until it’s finished”, so that you can refocus your thoughts and give you the time and space you need to get finished. Part of why many people procrastinate, isn’t because they’re “lazy” but because just at the point where they are approaching the finish or even doing some of their best work, the inner critic pipes up, possibly through a habit of scrutinising, analysing and questioning what is done. Next thing, you’ve done a gazillion edits or left it in an unfinished pile.

Stop seeking acknowledgment.

This is not an overnight thing; it’s a habit to cultivate. Catch the habit when it strikes - you know because you’re almost waiting with baited breath or your inner critic is piping up. Seeking acknowledgment is like saying, I am open to you moulding me. I need your recognition in order to feel worthy.

When you seek it inwardly and are more open to seeing and hearing people because you’ve realised that criticism isn’t a court order and that it doesn’t even tell you all about you, you recognise praise when you see it without keeling over as if that person just watered you for the first time in a year.

Use a sudden hunger for acknowledgment as an opportunity to go inward. It’s telling you that you have doubts. What are you not considering? What have you already done that you’re not acknowledging yet?

Be truthful and acknowledge where you have not recognised praise and accepted compliments.

Every single person who is self-critical is biased towards looking for evidence of criticism so they don’t acknowledge actual compliments and praise, especially from people who are not on their authority list. In fact, you might even be guilty of getting a compliment and shooting it down. A piece of advice: just say thank you. Don’t say, “Oh don’t be silly. I didn’t do anything really” or launch into some sort of justification that near disqualifies what the person said and wears them out. Be honest with you as well - where have you not been acknowledging the kind and truthful nuggets of praise and insights that people give you?

Get clear on your motivations.

So many people I talk to avoid doing what they need to or invite chaos into their lives because they are looking for praise and trying to be liked. What you must recognise is where seeking these puts you in a bind. Somebody who wants to be liked or praised at all costs will find it near impossible to be boundaried or even be themselves. When you remove this hidden agenda, you not only come from a place of love, care, trust and respect but you stop hungering for the sugary donut that wears off after an hour.

Track yourself so you can check yourself

If you have little concept of your characteristics, accomplishments, achievements, talents etc, I want you to start keeping a What I Did Today List. Even keeping it for 7-14 days will dramatically open your eyes to how much stuff you do and don’t acknowledge.

Keep todo lists short and don’t keep adding. Instead, writing a What I Did Today List encourages gratitude, self-praise and perspective. I talk to so many women in particular, who have no concept of who they are and what they do. I used to give me a hard time about what I don’t get done until I tracked what I do and realised that my expectations of me for a week are what I would expect someone else to have in a 3-4 week period. This helps you get off the perfectionism treadmill as well.

If you like it short and sweet, try writing Three Good Things About Today or Three Things I Learned Today or Three Key Things I Did Today (they don’t need to be massive - small goes a long way). I also know quite a few people who keep one sentence journals.

I highly recommend that you write down all of your achievements and accomplishments no matter how small. Make it a fun exercise that even if you never look at it again, you bring to the surface who you are as a person and everything you’ve been and done.

JOURNALING: What were your early lessons about praise and merit and how have these revealed themselves in your current thinking and attitude? Can you see where old patterns are playing out? Can you see where you withhold praise and even punish you? What kind things can you say to you today? Acknowledge three things about you that you look for others to recognise - the fact that you look for them to do it is because on some level you know that you are but doubt it and look to a critic. 

TASK: Play around with the Track Yourself ideas and find the ones that resonate and use these to help you internalise your accomplishments and achievements, which will also knock Imposter Syndrome on the head (where you feel like a fraud).

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