When I observe media messages and styles of communication, it seems that we are a culture of critiquing, correcting and criticizing. I once watched a TV show in which top chefs compete for a grand prize. Only one can win. What saddened me was the way the “losers” were treated. Here were some of the top chefs in the country and they were criticized and humiliated. The judges focused on what fell short of perfection. Not one word was mentioned about their creativity or how hard they tried. Reality shows abound with this kind of focus.
Many of us carry a strong inner critic voice, pointing out our flaws and short-comings, even to the point that it is difficult to receive compliments. When criticized too often or too severely we can lose confidence and self-esteem. “Don’t talk with your mouth full. Don’t be too loud. Don’t color outside of the lines”. The outer critic takes residence within our own minds. Consider how it feels in the body when you work hard at a project, but then the inner critic finds every imperfection, robbing you of the satisfaction you may have momentarily felt.
Of course, the tools of critiquing and correcting are a necessary part of life. They enable us to make good choices, to provide safety and to teach children respect. But as a society we seem to be out of balance. We need another tool, affirmation. A lack of affirmation takes a toll on our minds, bodies and spirits.
Affirmation means paying attention to what is good and right. When we put energy into supporting those aspects of life, we experience joy and contentment. Pointing out strengths rather than weaknesses, focusing on what is right rather than wrong, and looking for what can be celebrated rather than what needs fixing, are practices that lead to greater joy, satisfaction and a sense of well-being. We become nurturers of the positive parts of life. In an atmosphere of affirmation we create safety for others to try new things because they don’t fear criticism. We are not denying that there are things wrong in the world. We are shifting the focus to see what is right and good as well. Affirmation, looking for the good in others and in our own experience, helps increase the sense of pleasure that we feel in our bodies
Looking for the good in others and in our experiences may also help us notice the good in ourselves and to celebrate even the small accomplishments in the day. Try congratulating yourself after each small task you accomplish in your day, rather than feeling disappointed at the end of the day that everything on the “to do” list did not get crossed off. When you practice focusing on positive aspects of your situation or your surroundings, you allow your body to experience sensations of joy, satisfaction, contentment and grace. We all can use more of that in our lives!