You just had a big win: You studied hard and aced a big test; you finally mastered a difficult piano piece; you improved your personal best time. Do you take a victory lap? Do you seek out praise? Do you quietly move on?
In “How to Accept a Compliment — Even if It’s From Yourself,” Micaela Marini Higgs writes about how research shows that recognizing your own achievements boosts motivation and performance:
Pumping yourself up after a big win can feel a little awkward. You want to acknowledge good work, but you don’t want to feel arrogant. It’s that tricky balance of quietly reveling in a job well done without coming off as … well, a jerk.
Despite that awkwardness, getting credit for your work gives your brain good feelings and helps you accomplish more. Companies use praise to try to boost productivity and even revenue, and experts say that the psychological impact of keeping a positive view of your accomplishments can decrease stress and encourage better habits.
Unfortunately, not all praise is rewarded equally. Studies show that in the workplace, women, and especially women of color, are often given less credit and assigned important but undervalued projects, meaning less recognition come promotion time.
But even if you’re bad at taking a compliment, or you’re not getting external recognition, you can still enjoy major psychological benefits from celebrating your achievements on your own, according to Dr. Teresa Amabile, a professor at Harvard Business School and co-author of “The Progress Principle.”
“They don’t have to be big breakthroughs or huge successes,” she said. “Even small wins can lead people to feel terrific.”
The article continues:
Research shows that meaningful praise can measurably boost motivation and performance and can improve your brain’s ability to remember and repeat new skills.
And yet: As we all know — and the research shows — humans tend to dwell on failures more than compliments.
That’s because the ancestors of ours “who were negative worrywarts were more likely to survive, so our brains are designed to look for problems,” said Dr. Kristin Neff, an associate professor in the Department of Educational Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin.
Compounding our difficulty accepting compliments is the “internalized message that it’s not good to seem like we’re bragging,” which leads to the common tendency of explaining away achievements, according to Melody Wilding, a licensed clinical social worker, professor of human behavior at Hunter College and performance coach for clients in high-powered jobs.
“Many times our strengths come so naturally to us that we don’t realize their value,” she said, which is why compliments can be rich sources of information.
By looking for patterns in feedback, people can even discover talents they otherwise take for granted, Ms. Wilding said.
This intentional reframing helps us correct our own negativity bias, and it can be a helpful foundation to draw from during salary negotiations or career transitions, Dr. Neff said.
So compliments can be useful, but how do you actually deal with the awkwardness of accepting them?
Keep it short and sweet, with responses like: “Thank you, I’m glad you said that,” or “I appreciate your noticing, thank you for letting me know.” No word vomit or undermining allowed.
Students, read the entire article, then tell us:
— Do you give yourself enough credit for your own successes? Are you more likely to dwell on your failures or your accomplishments? Why?
— Do you accept compliments from others? Are you ever embarrassed when someone else praises you? Have you ever received an “empty” compliment? Do you ever feel you received too much praise? Do you regularly compliment others?
— The article recommends keeping track of your successes — big and small:
Keeping a daily list of your accomplishments can be one of the most powerful ways to improve your intrinsic motivation, productivity, creativity and mood. …
Because small setbacks can have a negative impact three to four times stronger than the triumph of a small win, keeping a list of achievements isn’t just helpful in giving you a motivational boost that day. It can also be an affirming reminder of your strengths the next time you go through a rough patch.
Do you ever keep track of your accomplishments? Do you think keeping a daily list might improve your motivation and performance?
— Tell us about a recent achievement. Did you get any compliments? If yes, how did you receive the praise? In what ways did you acknowledge your own achievement? Do you think you should have celebrated your accomplishment more?