Towards the end of my first session with a new client, I have one question that I always ask: “What are some of your strengths? What are you good at doing?”
I'm sitting on the edge of my seat, eager to hear about the wonderful things we can use to help them reach their goals. (It's so much easier to use what you do well instead of trying to reach a goal based on your not-so-great traits.)
I get out the white board and find a brightly colored dry erase marker, ready to start writing down their list. This is what I hear:
- “Um….well…I don't really know.”
- “Can I tell you what I'm horrible at doing instead?”
- “My mind just went blank.”
- “Let me think about this.”
- “Well, I used to be good at basketball.”
- “I'm good at making lists. But I never cross anything off of them.”
- “I make resolutions every year. Lots of them. But…”
I nod my head and ask, “Do you think you can ask some of your friends, or your husband, or your co-workers this week? I'm sure they know things that you do well. Like, is there a recipe that you make that everyone asks for? Can you keep calm during a crisis? Do people want you to be the one of their team?”
Then, I ask them, “So, what things would you say you're not so good at?”
And then, the list just pours out. They say things like:
- “I'm so critical.”
- “I lose my temper way too often. I should be more patient.”
- “I have yell at my kids. I never listen to them.”
- “I'm behind at work. My boss is always on me about it.”
- “I will never get this credit card debt paid off.”
- “I procrastinate. EVERYTHING. I even put off calling you as long as I could.” (OK, I get that. 🙂 It's easier to go to the dentist or the gyno than to come see me. But I don't have horns, promise!)
- “I can dish it out, but I can't take it.”
On and on this list goes. I write everything down.
And then I ask them to look at the two lists and to tell me what they notice. It doesn't take long for them to say, “It's easier to come up with what I do wrong instead of what I do right. I'm hard on myself. But I just don't get everything done the way I would like.”
After years of doing this, I've tried to come up with some reasons why it's so difficult for women (and yes, men, too) to come up with a list of good things about themselves.
- No one wants to be arrogant. Only narcissists can rattle off a list of strengths, right? (BTW, that's not true. Confident people know their good qualities.)
- Everyone is so busy trying to reach goals, that the focus is on what you still have to do, not how far you've come. Thanks to performance reviews, ranking systems, and report cards on anyone and anything, there's always room for improvement, instead of improving on the things you already do well.
- For some reason, one bad day can undo all of the good things about you. Did you get upset and yell? Well, if you are a perfectionist, you can now cross “kindness” off of your list, permanently.
- It's hard to let go of things. It can be easier to forgive a stranger than yourself. What's that about?
- You shouldn't “act ugly.” Only in the south do we use this phrase, typically on children who are having a temper tantrum. But the guilt over “acting ugly” lasts long into adulthood.
Somehow, there's a message that good-natured, kind people don't brag. And knowing what you do well is considered a form of boasting.
In light of September being National Courtesy Month, I'd like to invite you to engage in extending some polite kindness to yourself. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- The next time someone pays you a compliment, smile and say, “Thank you.” Don't try to brush it off. Don't look away. Don't down play it.
- Do the fun things on your list. Don't put of reading that book because the day got too busy. You worked hard and you should take even just a few minutes to enjoy reading (or whatever is on your list).
- Stop punishing yourself. If you make a mistake, fix it and move on. There's no need to serve a life-long sentence because you told a white lie.
- Don't call yourself names. If you wouldn't call someone else that name, why would you label yourself as stupid or terrible or lazy?
- Acknowledge what you did! Even if you didn't quite nail something you tried from Pinterest, you attempted it, right? How many other people didn't even get that far?
- Avoid planning too much in your day. Setting yourself up to feel behind doesn't do you any favors.
- Practice self-care. (You knew I was going to say this, right? It's one of my core beliefs.) When you put yourself last and don't take the time to treat yourself, you are teaching others that they shouldn't cut you any slack or consider your needs.
Put some of these ideas into practice over the next few weeks, and I'll check back in with you towards the end of the month to see how you did.