It is a popular idea to make a list of your good qualities to read and reread when you are feeling angry or depressed. It should make sense; it seems like it would act as a pick-me-up to remind you of why you should be happy, and what there is to like about yourself. I’ve read and heard about all different ways to do this, including having a friend write the list for you, and including things like a favorite quote or book and little treat in the box where you keep your list.
All of the variations on this idea are lovely ones, and probably work for a lot of people, but I can tell you that a list of my good qualities wouldn’t always work for me. When I’m in a really bad mood, or a really sad mood, a list like this just isn’t going to cut it. Maybe I’m just the world’s biggest crab, but I can predict what my responses would be to items like “I’m kind” when I’m feeling low, and they would not be kind ones. I’ve been puzzling over how to make this idea work for me, since I think it could be really useful to teach to my children someday, and I realized that something I’ve been trying with my kids is just the thing I need to do with myself.
And is it so Great to Know it?
Apparently parents are no longer supposed to say things to their toddlers like “You’re the best kid ever!” and “You are so beautiful/smart/the funniest kid in town!” (Whoops). Person-based praise, like the aforementioned quotes, should take a back seat to process-based praise, which emphasizes things like effort.
This makes pretty decent sense, so I’ve been trying to steer my praise in the direction of “You got dressed all by yourself, wow!” and “I knew you could do it if you tried hard enough!” (I still tell her she’s the best kid in town, but as her mom, I’m allowed to think that, right?) I realized, though, this kind of authentic praise is just the kind I need for myself on my positive list.
Qualities like “I have a good sense of humor” can be knocked down by me snarling “Not today, I don’t!” but a list that recalls specific instances where I have used that humor, made the extra effort, achieved goals or stayed strong in the face of difficulties provide evidence that’s too solid to easily refute. Not only that, but I can remember these instances and gain strength, or at least a smile or laugh, from them. Reading “I’m compassionate” might ring hollow when I’m feeling bad, but reading and remembering an instance when I actually displayed that compassion – volunteering, for example, or helping someone when they needed it most – brings it back to life for me, reminding me that I really can be all these things if I try.
Working Towards Greatness
Give it a try. It doesn’t have to be written all at once. You can start a list and add on to it every time you accomplish something great, or make an effort that you’re really proud of. I could write a good-qualities list in my head right now – I think most of us have an idea of our good and not so good traits – but providing examples of my actions that support those qualities takes more work. Keeping an ongoing list of them will provide you with a pick-me-up that actually spells out why and how you can be the very best person you are. What will the first item on your list be?