If you’re like most people, you spend a lot of time and a lot of energy criticizing yourself. You have an endless tape loop in your head that replays the mistakes you made: the time you said exactly the wrong thing to your best friend, the mistake you made at work that everyone saw, the time you overreacted to your child’s mistake.
And you are wasting precious brain cells by focusing on what you don’t do well.
While knowing you’re not alone helps, it doesn’t make the problem any better.
The best way to use your energy is to focus on your strengths to become the best version of yourself.
Focus on your best moments
What if you could turn on the TV each morning and see a greatest hits video of last week? Or if a different neighbor called you each morning to let you know the wonderful things you’ve done over the years that they remember?
How would that make you feel?
Sadly, the average person doesn’t have this clip rolling in their brains all the time. The way our brains are wired, we tend to focus on our bloopers, not our greatest hits. And sadly, the way our social networks are wired, we tend to do the same thing.
We get so involved in our own weaknesses that we fail to see our own strengths.
Or, sometimes, we only offer faint praise for the people around us, and fail to meaningfully acknowledge the ways they make your life better every day.
You can change this pattern in your own life by gathering your own highlight reel, but it starts by helping others see their strengths first.
Help others see their strengths
The solution is to help others first, and then ask them to help you create your own highlight reel.
- Make a list of people close to you who have had positive experiences with you. Include friends, family, and co-workers. Include neighbors, even people whose last names you don’t know (if you know their first name and their address, you can get them a letter!)
- List their great strengths, with very concrete details, focusing on either
- A time they did something that really meant a lot to you, and/or
- Their everyday qualities that mean a lot to you
- Then, starting with as few as one a day, send each of them a note or an email where you explain that quality to them in detail, and why it was important to you
- Then at the end, add the line, “I hope that this brightens your day, and that somewhere along the way I brightened your day too.”
An immediate result is that you will feel better. We know that praising others releases dopamine in their brains, but it also does the same for the praiser.
A secondary result is that many of those people will write back.
In their letters you will find sincere praise and the things that you did that made THEM feel better.
That is, they will send you your own highlight reel. Don’t open these letters right away.
Create positive trauma
In his book Exceptional, Build Your Personal Highlight Reel and Unlock Your Potential, Daniel Cable explains this idea of creating a highlight reel and then takes it one step further.
He suggests saving the letters to open up and read all in one sitting. The goal is to create “positive trauma” which he describes as a phenomenon where pleasant life surprises can wildly improve your life.
He advises that on the first read-through, you should just read the letters. Don’t worry if they cause you to weep, or laugh, or challenge your vision of yourself. That is the point.
On the second and third reads, focus on the ideas that come up repeatedly and point to your strengths. What ideas come up again and again? Summarize these in your own writing. Start with “I am ….”
It is likely they will see things in you that you did not see in yourself. They may even help you reframe qualities that you view as your weaknesses as potential strengths.
Now, use the revealed strengths as a guide to the sorts of activities you should be doing. Do you have the ability to stand up for others? Figure out who else might benefit from having you stand up for them.
Make a habit of using the strengths. Change your life to maximize them.
Struggling with your self image? Constantly criticizing yourself and finding that it hurts your productivity? You likely will benefit from talking to a licensed therapist like Sakina Issa.
Luckily, these conversations can happen discreetly and by appointment using the same tools you have grown comfortable using at work, like Zoom or GoToMeeting. Just click the button in the upper right hand corner to schedule a no-obligation conversation with Sakina.
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