Time for an Experiment

Published December 7, 2011 by Fat Heffalump

It’s that time of year again Heffalumpies.  You know, the silly season.  For those of you in the northern hemisphere, you’ve already started with your Halloween and Thanksgiving and stuff.  The “holiday season” is really hitting it’s straps now that it’s December, there is Christmas schlock in all the shops, the carols are already worming their way into my brain and I’m seeing everyone’s stress levels steadily climb, what with family stuff, trying to find the perfect gifts for everyone and going to all the holiday events that happen at this time of year.  Not to mention how expensive this time of year can be.

Unfortunately, all of that stress and running around tends to mean that we let our self care slip by, because we’re too busy to really focus on making sure we are ok ourselves.  Often we drink a bit too much, eat a whole different way to the rest of the year (all that rich holiday food) and don’t get enough sleep.  Not to mention the self esteem crushing that can often happen when one is visiting family.  The exact reason I DON’T visit my biological family, this time of year or any other!

It’s a tough time of year for a lot of reasons and our self esteem is usually the first thing to get battered and bashed in the process.

So how about a little experiment?  Are you all up for trying something fairly unobtrusive but that I believe is pretty powerful, to keep that self esteem ticking along strongly for the rest of December and into the new year?

It’s pretty simple, but I wouldn’t say it’s easy.  I’ve had to learn it myself, and it did take some time to pick up.  What is it, you ask?  Well, just this:

Every day, for the rest of December, whenever you talk to someone in your day, find something about their outfit or their personality or actions that you like, and compliment them on it.   Everyone.  From the people at your bus stop, to the folks at your work, to waiters or servers in cafes and restaurants, even if it’s someone making you a sandwich or selling you a drink.  Your colleagues, your family, your friends, anyone that you encounter during your day.  If you find yourself sitting next to someone on public transport, or in an elevator with someone, have a go at finding something for them too.

I know, I know, it sounds kind of cheesy and Pollyanna-ish when you write it down, but I have noticed something.  It started with a woman I work with, who every time she speaks to me, compliments something about me.  It might be as simple as my earrings, or my shoes, or my dress.  Other times it might be a task I did at work, or how I handled a situation.  Or sometimes it’s just something about me – my laugh, my knowledge of trivia, my phone manner.  Every single day, without fail, Wendy finds something to compliment me on.  I started taking more notice, and discovered that she does it to everyone around her.  Every single person in the office.  Anyone who comes in for a meeting.  People she encounters during her day, no matter how brief.  If she speaks to them, she compliments them on something.

At the same time I was noticing that she always complimented people, I noticed that she is one of the calmest, most joyful people I know.  She is joyful of countenance and seems to cope better with stress than almost anyone I know.  This is not simply because she looks for positives, but also because by just being who she is, she makes people feel good, and they like working with her.  They return the joy she puts out into the world.

So I started trying to do the same.  It was really hard at first, because I either felt so hard on myself I cast that onto other people, or I was too scared I’d make a fool of myself.  I started with friends and people I felt comfortable with.  Every time I see them, I pay them a compliment.  Then I progressed to just finding things that I could compliment other people with, even though I was too scared to voice it yet.  I’d think to myself “Her earrings are so cute!” or “He always makes me laugh.”  Eventually it became habit, second nature to find things about people that I liked.

Then something interesting happened.  As I paid more attention to the positives in other people, I started to pay more attention to the positives about MYSELF.  I started to feel more confident, and yep, my self esteem went up and my stress levels went down.  I started voicing those compliments to more and more people.  The more I did it, the more I noticed people’s demeanor changed around me.  I noticed more smiles.  The general stress levels dropped in everyone, not just myself.

I’ve even started doing it to strangers.  If someone at the bus stop or in the elevator has a nice dress or shoes, I’ll say “I like your shoes.” or “That is such a cute dress.”  It’s amazing how someone lights up when you pay them a compliment, and it’s amazing how good it feels to light someone up like that.

Of course, there are some caveats to this exercise.  Let’s see…

  • Keep away from comments about anyone’s bodies, since I have found it’s rarely (if ever) acceptable to comment on someone’s body, and besides generally speaking, ones body is deeply private anyway.  Remember our motto here at Fat Heffalump: If it’s not your body, it’s not your business.
  • Be genuine.  If you genuinely can’t find anything about someone, then skip it.
  • There will be times you forget, or you’re in a crappy mood or you just have other things on your mind.  That’s ok.
  • If someone is a douchecanoe – don’t waste your time on them.  Move on to someone else.
  • Don’t load your compliments with baggage.  Instead of saying “That dress highlights your shape.”, say “What a beautiful dress.”  Don’t load the compliment so that it casts judgement on someone’s appearance and it can imply that they aren’t as “worthy” other times.  Just keep it simple –  I love your earrings.  You handled that difficult customer so well.  Cute shoes!  Your laugh is so infectious.  Fab handbag, where did you get it?
  • If you aren’t bold enough to say it, think it.  Start with the people who are close to you that you feel comfortable with.  Challenge yourself to add another person each day.

So, do you think you’d like to give this a try for the rest of December?  Are you up for an experiment?


29 comments on “Time for an Experiment

  • I like it! And I’m gonna do it. Someone at the post office complimented my hair about a month ago and it made me feel SO good that a random stranger would say something. So I’ve been paying it forward here and there since then. Oddly, I complimented my mail carrier on her hair last week 🙂

  • Very good idea. Something i try to do already as i love it when i receive (although i had to practice receiving them with gratitude and grace).
    Another bonus is thinking about others means less time focusing on yourself.

  • This is something I’ve been doing for years, actually, and I think it really helps me stay positive.

    The other thing about this is you never know when you’re going to tell someone something they really, really need to hear. Some years ago, I had been having a pretty craptastic week. Then one night I had a real treat: tickets to see The Magic Flute at the San Francisco opera. That’s one of my favorite operas, and I was desperate to have a couple hours of good music and magical storytelling.

    Well I turned myself over to Mozart’s music and the wonderful singers and the David Hockney sets and costumes. I started to feel good for the first time in days. The intermission came and the lady sitting behind me tapped me on the shoulder and said: “I just wanted to tell you, you have the most delightful laugh.”

    It’s been nearly twenty years, and that kind lady has no idea how many times I’ve thought of that moment in darker hours.

    Sometimes a random kind word really makes a difference in someone’s life.

  • Oh heck yes – I did this a LOT in my early days of diet dumping. I found it really difficult to say nice things to myself, so I looked for the beauty in others, then it spread to myself. it helped a great deal.

    I found back when I was on Planet Dietandexercise I was hugely critical of others, often scanning bodies to see who was bigger, who was smaller .. who was better dressed, who was better looking. Now I know I have so many great things about myself. I’m not the best looking or smarted person on the planet, and I really don’t think that person exists. I’m me, and that’s good enough.

    • “I found back when I was on Planet Dietandexercise I was hugely critical of others, often scanning bodies to see who was bigger, who was smaller .. who was better dressed, who was better looking.”

      I felt this exactly! I spent an awful lot of time deciding who I would like to look like and who I could feel superior to, and ticking off elements of people’s bodies like “ok, her legs, but not her butt, her stomach but her boobs” and it was just toxic and awful and made me feel even more disconnected from my own body than I already was. I now try and see the positives in a less self-flagellating shopping list kind of way and it helps find things to feel good about in myself. And probably generally makes me a less miserable person.

  • I’m up for trying this. I’ll start with you.
    I enjoy your blog. I am just starting to realize what a commitment it must be, especially replying to all the comments. Thanks for being so consistant. I learn a
    lot from you.

  • I love this idea. I’m going to start right away.

    I tend to compliment people, anyway, but I could stand to add a lot more in. My go-tos are usually “I love your earrings/makeup/shoes”, because that’s what I notice most often in other people’s appearances, but this makes me realize that I should be adding in “You have a great smile/You have such a pleasant demeanor/You have a wicked sense of humor” as well, because I notice that stuff, too, but don’t comment on it so much.

    I notice that many people look so genuinely surprised at a compliment, like they aren’t used to hearing them often. Sometimes it also creates a really cool little pocket of bonding, like for that moment, you have something private and special you’ve shared with that person. I like that part, too.

    • It’s also about actually stopping and noticing the positives in the people around you too. Just taking a minute to actively find something positive about people during your day is a really powerful way to change your perspective on the world.

  • I do this a lot too (most especially at work) and have found similar results. Everyone smiles and I generally end up feeling better too. It can be somewhat tricky for a man to pay a woman a compliment on ANYTHING regarding her physical appearance but I get away with compliments on jewelry/clothes/etc. (I think) because I’m fairly obviously gay and all of my colleagues are women MUCH older than me. Anyway, great post as usual and I am going to ramp up the compliments starting right now!

    • I can understand that Jerome. Most of my straight male friends tend to compliment on something I did or said, rather than on anything I’m wearing. That’s ok though. It’s really the act of paying attention to the positives of people that is important.

      One thing I’ve noticed, aside from my gay male friends, it’s the very young and the considerably older that feel the most comfortable complimenting women on their clothing and accessories – where those in the 30 – 60 age range, which I am firmly in the middle of, tend to shy away from those kinds of compliments.

  • One thing I have been craving lately is practical advice for how to feel more positive, less stressed and more comfortable in my own skin. I’ve had a lot of stress, including injury-induced stress about my body and fitness, this year, and it’s starting to wear me down. You’re quite right, self-care has been the first thing to go, and it feels very overwhelming to just tell myself “you need to look after yourself more and be kinder to yourself!” without any practical tools to achieve that. So no, this isn’t cheesy at all, it’s EXACTLY what I needed, and I’ll be adding it to my daily routine 🙂 I tend to give a lot of compliments anyway, because I like them, but I have been too trapped in my own head lately to concentrate on anyone else. I think making a point of it like you suggest will really help.

    Also, compliments feel great on the receiving end – I have an awesome new handbag that looks like a gingerbread house and when people tell me how much they love it it makes me feel all sunshiny 🙂

    • Sarah I believe that stress is one of the most damaging things to our bodies. If people want to get all concern-troll with other people’s health, I think they should be focusing on stress!

      That’s just what I was aiming for, getting us out of the traps of our own heads. Well put.

      And I want that handbag!

  • I love it! I’ve been historically bad at receiving compliments… but have gotten better.

    I’ve been complimenting strangers and I always love the look on their face. Like, “Who me?” I know when someone randomly compliments my outfit, etc. it can make my day, so I’m enjoying the potential to make that happen for others.

    Great experiment! I think you’re spot on and this is the perfect time of year to do it.

    • Nicole I too have had to learn to receive compliments – I really struggled with it until recently.

      I love watching people light up when I compliment something about them. Especially if I don’t know them. It’s such a delight.

  • This sounds like such a good idea. I try to do little things like this but I think putting more focus into it would have bigger results. I’m definitely going to try it out. 🙂

  • This is a brilliant idea! I absolutely love giving compliments, and try to remember how awesome they can make you feel. Although, I always make sure it’s genuine. A fake compliment is extremely transparent.

    It’s funny that I read this today though, earlier a woman in the waiting room of my doctor’s office looked at me and told me that I was “extremely pretty and had a certain glow”, It felt great!

  • I’ve been having a few really shitty weeks, self esteem has taken a bit of a kicking. But I was talking to a friend about something I had done to help out someone and she offhand, gave me a massive, personal compliment. I’ve been carrying it round like a talisman for a week 🙂

  • When I opened this page what struck me was your infectious smile and it made me feel good. So thank you for that. And you know what, this is a simple reminder of how doing the little things can truly make the biggest difference was well timed. So thank you, thank you and I wonder if I include myself in this new behaviour what might happen??

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