Extreme Esteem: The power of praise

  • Jun. 6, 2017 12:30 a.m.

When virtues are pointed out first, flaws seem less insurmountable.”

Judith Martin, American journalist and author

I grew up on a farm in Northern Alberta, and at age 12, I was encouraged by my father to join the local 4-H Beef Club.

He was chosen club leader the following year and remained in the role for nearly a decade.

He took the job seriously and encouraged my brother, sister, and me, to act as role models for the other club members.

Over the years of my involvement, I volunteered at every opportunity, and I assumed each position on the board.

Looking back, it was an incredible, empowering experience and the source of many powerful life lessons.

“Learn to do by doing,” became my mantra.

One such lesson had to do with rewards and recognition and centred on a yearly trek our family made into Edmonton to purchase trophies for our 4-H Achievement Night.

The trophy store was crammed with every imaginable component for all conceivable events and accomplishments.

With glasses perched on the end of his nose and a list of required awards held at arm’s length, Father meandered through the store, examining each part, sizing up every figure and visualizing the pieces together in his mind.

The process of selecting parts for a dozen trophies usually took most of the afternoon. Father had the harried store owner assemble various combinations, as he wanted every trophy to be perfect and a prize to be cherished by the worthy recipient.

Everyone likes to be praised and feel appreciated. Whether it is a simple thank you for an act of kindness or a prestigious award for service to the community, the acknowledgment for a job well done motivates us to continue doing our best.

I’m not speaking of false praise – encouragement for the sake of encouraging, reward in the interests of reward.

Such hollow praise may simply come across as insincere or lead people to form an inflated view of their talents and abilities.

However, when praise is warranted, it is well worth the investment of thought and energy.

Unless the desire for approval becomes obsessive, it can be used as a proper reward for good work.

There are two aspects of doing good work: doing good things and doing things well.

The good things we do are often performed unselfishly and contribute to making our communities and the world a better place.

The things we do well tend to be related to our occupation and move us forward professionally, but might include such elements as a child learning to tie his shoes, or a youth performing well in 4-H public speaking. Certainly, both doing good things and doing things well deserve acknowledgment.

When appropriate, praise can help to enhance our self-esteem and compel us to strive toward even greater achievements.

The better our self-esteem, the more able we become to accept praise without deflecting or downplaying the acknowledgment.

It’s interesting to note that many people with self-esteem issues received little or no praise for either during their formative years. Good works were an expectation and the prevailing attitude was, “Why should I praise you for doing what’s expected?”

Perhaps not surprisingly, many of those same people received a tremendous amount of feedback on work that failed to meet the standard or expected level of performance.

“Praise is like sunlight to the human spirit,” wrote American psychologist, best-selling author and self-help guru Jess Lair. “We cannot flower and grow without it.”

A few evenings ago, I went out to the garage and searched through some old boxes.

Inside one, I found half a dozen trophies from my 4-H years. I sat down on the floor, took each trophy out of the box, and set it carefully on the floor before me. I remembered receiving each award, and I could still feel a tangible sense of accomplishment.

I suspect individuals with a truly well-grounded sense of self need little praise or reward for motivation to continue performing. Nonetheless, praise is a powerful motivator for both people and organizations and should not be discounted or undervalued.

Murray Furher is a self-esteem expert.

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