Emotional Health

Cultivating Strength: Feed the Good Wolf (Part Two)

Many of us never stop to consider our strengths except during the occasional job interview—and then we are uncomfortable when asked to list them. As women, we battle strong cultural  imperatives to be modest and unassertive, especially in social situations. We learn that it is unattractive to toot your our horn or grab for more than your share of attention, and this lesson is learned so well that we can’t even do it in the privacy of our own minds.

Yet, if you can overcome your discomfort, you will find that an honest inventory will reveal many things your like, value, or respect about yourself.

This does require you to be grandiose or dishonest. But it will be necessary to abandon the “perfection yardstick” many of us use. You must accept strengths that you exhibit often and consistently, but not always. You cannot say, “I am kind—except for that time I did X or Y.” You must resist the urge to say, “I am smart but sometimes I do really stupid things.” Of course you do—no one is immune to failure and if you judge yourself by a standard of perfection, it is impossible to ever feel worthy.

Chances are you spend much more time dwelling on your mistakes or ‘faults’ than you do listing assets. You might even rationalize that you do this with an eye toward self-improvement. But it is unlikely to work that way if you don’t balance it out with an appreciation of your strengths, especially those you can build on.

Just as psychologists have identified the positive impact of keeping a gratitude “journal,” a similar effect can be gained from also focusing on your strengths and successes. For example, at the end of the day, go over moments, actions, events, etc. that went well. Pay special attention to what you did that made these things happen. You can start big go small, or vice versa.

For example, perhaps you have finished a project or report that you have been working on. Identify the strength, action or talent that aided you. “I really stuck with it, and focused.” Or, “It was quite well-written.” A smaller, but still significant thing might be, “I remembered to call my friend whose mother is sick.” Allow yourself to feel proud or at least glad about your actions.

How many days do you dwell on what you didn’t get done, or what you forgot to do? While it is fine to be aware of these things, beating yourself up about them isn’t likely to lead to much improvement. The other approach, however does help. Remembering how you felt good about calling your friend will motivate you to make such calls more often, leading to more good feelings (for both of you!)

Let’s say you didn’t get your project done, but you did make some progress. Let that be the good thing, and you may be able to start off the next day with a more positive motivation than if you spend the evening feeling deficient and fretting about being behind.

Think about yourself as the parent who criticizes a child’s grades. A grade of “C” is an average grade. If your “inner parent” looks at your paper, praised the things you got right, and asked you to think about what you did to get those answers right and build on that for the next test, it sets up a much more positive cycle than the reverse, which is all too common.

We have all heard of (or known) parents who look at a 95% and focus on the 5%, or ask who got 100%. They may think they are encouraging excellence, but they are misguided.

A smart parent teaches her children to feed the good wolf. The good wolf is more capable at encouraging excellence, achievement, and self-worth. The good wolf is compassionate—she always grades on a curve—toward herself and others, and doesn’t demand perfection. She is generous and kind, but she must be groomed and cared for, and always be fed.

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  • Lynn Bernstein December 16, 2018 at 3:17 am