The most uncomfortable part of the game was when everyone cheered.
I recently spent a day with the young women at Holy Angels Academy talking about endurance sports, healthy living and goal setting. We played some games, one of which involved classmates cheering each time one of the girls completed a relatively simple task. The lesson: Set small goals and celebrate them.
But the girls who accomplished the small tasks and were praised in return felt, well, a bit uncomfortable. The tasks were pretty easy and simple. And the cheering? Well, that was a bit awkward. While the topic of small goals, of focusing on the brilliance we exhibit on a daily basis, is an important topic for discussion (especially since we tend to ignore our every day brilliance) I find it compelling to talk about celebration.
I remember the feeling of being in school, playing a game, and having someone cheer for me. And it felt … embarrassing. For real. I wasn’t certain how to handle being praised. Sure, I had been told “good job” by my parents and teachers, but I also taught it wasn’t polite to brag about your success. And so I practiced the art of extreme humility which, in the long run, is not the most positive use of my energy.
Changing my habits so I could not only accept compliments but also praise myself took time and some effort. I would finish a workout and literally tell myself how awesome I was. It felt strange. It felt awkward. It felt false. But I kept at it. And I not only did it after a workout, I started to do it all the time. Did I just clean up all the dishes in the kitchen. Score! I rock! Did I just have a great interview for a story I need to write? Yep. I’m amazing. Bit by bit, praising myself didn’t feel as forced or uncomfortable. I started to see benefits even, like discovering my own well of confidence that I had so rarely tapped in the past.
Why is celebrating myself so important? It reinforces the positive. Instead of thinking of what I could have done, should have done or wanted to do better, I focus on all the things I did right. All the things I did accomplish. I celebrate my awesomeness first, then later, when I’m feeling pretty good about myself and am calm, cool and confident, I can evaluate where I can improve. But one of the life lessons I’ve learned is that I don’t get better by beating myself up. If I focus on what’s good, I draw more good into my life. It takes practice but it really can be that simple.
My friend Leslie carries around a toy microphone because, she told me, you never know when you might want to break into song in the car. Plus, if you hit a switch, the microphone plays back applause. Not a bad sound effect to carry with you for days when you get out of a meeting or emerge from the gym feeling completely groovy about yourself you wish the world would cheer along.
The world is indeed cheering for me. But the most important applause comes from myself.