Next Mental Health Challenge: Compliments!

You are awesome, because you are reading my blog! 

I'm going to spend the next week giving out as many compliments as possible. The short goal is at least one compliment a day, but I'm going to try to give as many sincere compliments as I can. 

When I started thinking about this next challenge, I honestly had no idea what I wanted to do. So, I googled "self improvement challenges" and found a TON of stuff. Much of it falls under other categories, but I saw lots of completely relevant challenges. Here are a few of the pages I looked at:

Lots of awesome stuff in those links, but what appealed to me the most were the ones along the lines of "say nothing critical," "talk to a stranger every day," and "compliment the f*ck out of the people you see." 

Giving Compliments

In of one of my college classes, maybe Social Psychology (maybe not - might have been a senior seminar class) (thanks to beer, my college memories are unreliable) our professor had us do a very interesting experiment. One student was blindfolded and given the task of finding an object in the room. The first time, we could only say "no" when the subject was moving in the wrong direction. It took a while, but eventually the subject found the object. The second time, all we could say was "yes." Guess how long it took the subject to find the object? Practically no time. 

"Yes" isn't exactly a compliment, but hopefully you can see how they might be connected. Actually, maybe "yes" is a compliment, in that compliments are positive, and positives lead to results. I'm sure of it. What I took away from that experience was that telling someone what they're doing right is WAY more effective than telling them what they're doing wrong. I try to apply that at work on a daily basis. I'm not so good at it at home, but I can work on that. 

So if building on strengths is more effective than correcting shortcomings, where do challenges come in? Certainly if you're in a management position and can influence others, you can find ways to challenge people that build on their strengths, and giving someone a challenge along those lines is a compliment in itself. And sometimes you know someone well enough to find a challenge way outside of his or comfort zone, but still doable, and that's an even bigger compliment. 

Certainly you should compliment yourself with challenges. It's fun. Real fun, not "running a marathon is fun" fun. But with strangers, acquaintances, etc., I think it's better to focus on the positives. Sometimes giving someone a compliment is an instant challenge for them, especially if they're not used to receiving compliments from strangers. 

Nice Mullet, Dude

Many compliments, especially those I give to strangers (and I do this, occasionally, even outside of this challenge), are superficial. Nice purse, great shirt, good music choice, fun car, cute dog... you know those. But for me, when a stranger compliments anything I've chosen for myself, it makes me happy. Even when they compliment my dog, and I'm just lucky to have her; she's not exactly a style choice. All the same, I'm glad you think she's a pretty dog. I do, too. :)

So what makes for a good compliment? Obviously, it has to be sincere. If you don't like my shoes, don't say anything. While an unsolicited compliment is great, unsolicited criticism is not welcome at all, ever. From there, it's apparent that in order to compliment, you should be focused on the positives. If I don't like your shoes and it's all I can think about, would I even notice that I do in fact like your hair style? It's been my experience that when I focus on the positive, I find it easier to be content. Focusing on what I don't like leaves me unhappy. 

Receiving Compliments

The flip side of giving is receiving. Of course it feels good to be complimented, as long as it seems sincere, but some compliments carry more of a punch than others. Paying attention to how you receive compliments can teach us how to deliver them. Specificity is good, as is personalizing the compliment. If someone gives you a compliment that only you could have earned, it feels better than a general compliment. 

This week, I will try to pay attention to the compliments I receive, as well, and note how it felt and what made it good. 

This is an aside, but a doctor recently said to me, "You have a very expressive face." Is that a compliment? I wasn't sure. Maybe just an observation. 

Some of the best compliments I've ever received stick with me still. Once, someone told me I was funny, at a point in my life when I was pretty sure I was about as funny as a right-side-up box turtle. And someone else called my smile "beguiling," which was also something I didn't know. Pretty eyes, nice teeth... I get those fairly often, although less often as I age, which makes sense. 

Left to my own devices, without any sort of positive feedback, I revert to the basic belief that I am terrible at everything. I don't know why that is, but I find it very easy to convince myself that I am awful at whatever I do. The tiniest compliment turns it around, though. 

So I know I shouldn't be dependent on compliments for self-esteem, and I'm not, not exactly. I'm okay with continuing to do what I do, even with the belief that I am probably the worst ever. If you're the worst, it can't hurt to keep trying. Starting from Worst Ever, I can afford to take chances, try new things, all without having to worry about being good, because there's only one way I can go.

Which is sort of the point of trying so many things, you fail at some of them. Basically, you are okay with the knowledge that you are terrible at many things, or even just one thing, but you're going to go ahead and do it anyhow. 

But please don't tell me I suck. Any compliment is better than a criticism, which is where spontaneity comes in. Just say what you like, but only what you like. Compliment what you see, when you see it. Pay attention to how it's received. Pay attention to how you receive your compliments. 

Backhanded Compliments

I lost 30 pounds last year, so I got my share of these. "Have you lost weight? You look great!" most definitely implies that I did not look great before I lost the weight. "Are you running more? You look really healthy," has an entirely different ring to it. 

Most people (I think - perhaps I'm overly optimistic here) don't necessarily mean to give backhanded compliments. I believe what goes on is something like this: Anne looks good. I think she looks thinner. Has she lost weight? I bet she has. I'm gonna tell her she looks great. "Have you lost weight? You look great!" 

And then I'm thinking, wow, I really looked like crap before I lost that weight. Sheesh. Why did I even bother to go out in public? But, at least I look good now!

Essentially, a compliment with a qualifier is not really a compliment. Nice throw for a girl? Not a bad car for someone earning minimum wage? Great lawn for someone who only spends an hour a week on it? Not a bad beer for a homebrew? House isn't too bad for someone who has a lot of pets? 

Maybe just keep it to yourself. On the flip side: Nice throw! Great car! Your lawn's looking good. Good beer. Nice house. Generic, but not backhanded. 

I'm going to try really hard to not give backhanded compliments. 

My goals this week:

  1. Give as many genuine compliments as possible and pay attention to how they are received. 
  2. Take note of the compliments I receive and analyze what happened. 
  3. Document my experiences every day on the blog. 

Thanks for reading! 

Update: Compliments in Action