Many of us deflect, dismiss, or downplay the compliments we receive, instead of simply accepting the praise. Ofosu and Leah discuss the psychology behind this and share strategies to build our self-esteem. So the next time someone sends kind words our way, we can say thank you, period—and mean it.
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OFOSU: Hi, I'm Ofosu Jones-Quartey.
LEAH: And I'm Leah Santa Cruz. We're the meditation coaches on Balance App.
OFOSU: And this is our weekly show -- Well Balanced.
LEAH: Yeah. And you're back, Ofosu. It's nice to have you back with us post meditation retreat. Love to hear about it.
OFOSU: Yeah. I spent two weeks at Plum Village Monastery, which was founded by the late great, uh, Thich Nhat Hanh.
Um, I was invited there because some of the monastics at the monastery had actually heard some songs from my album and yeah, this retreat was actually the 40th anniversary of the founding of Plum Village. So it was really very very special. Unlike any retreat I've ever been to, it was almost like a meditation festival.
LEAH: Oh yeah!
Well that sounds like, you know, they're not ordinary monks. They're monks that listen to rap.
OFOSU: Yeah. I mean, I performed at the closing ceremony. And, about a thousand people were there. [LEAH:What an honor]. Yeah. I cried very often and I pinched myself every day, it was really an absolute dream come true.
LEAH: So what was the biggest thing you took away from it?
OFOSU: Biggest takeaway, um, was that happiness is something that's available to us literally right now - that we don't have to wait or be worthy of it. Or suffer a lot and then finally get to it. But like the kind of deep happiness that all of us are seeking, we can take it in, in, in small increments, through being in touch with the simple joys that are around us, our own breathing, the smile of a loved one, um, connecting with friends and family, nature.
It's all of those little happinesses. They matter and we can connect with them as often as possible. It's really available to us right now. So that's my biggest takeaway.
LEAH: You are so wise.
OFOSU: Thank you so much. I appreciate that. I mean, I think you're pretty wise too.
LEAH: Thank you. I appreciate that. Thank you. That makes my day, but that actually brings up a subject that I wanted to speak about. Cuz today we're talking about compliments and how to accept one because it's kind of hard to, to just accept a compliment.
So I have some research on this, which I think you might wanna hear. [OFOSU: I am super interested]. There was a recent study that showed your response to the positive feedback you get. Like when people give you compliments is chemically different depending on how much self-esteem you have. [OFOSU: Wow]. So in general, people with lower self-esteem in response to getting positive compliments have just less brain activity than people with high self-esteem; they'll see more activity in the brain.
And on the other hand, the negative response to negative feedback is a lot more extreme in people with lower self-esteem. So their brain is like this - I kind of think of this like big metal armor. And the only thing that comes in is the negative feedback when our self-esteem is low and this sort of opposite when we have higher self-esteem.
OFOSU: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I, for one, I love giving compliments. Like it's one of my favorite things to do. I was in Miami one time and I did a social experiment on myself and on other people - I'm just gonna compliment every person I see today. I don't know what made me go on this mission. Uh, but yeah, I mean, I basically spent 12 hours complimenting every human I saw. I said, I love your jacket or great job on this or that. I mean, if I saw them do something cool. 99% of the time, it was about like their shoes or something.
LEAH: Well, I'm sure you saw a lot of different responses to you giving compliments to people, especially when it came from a stranger unexpectedly.
[OFOSU: Yeah, definitely]. And I think for some people it's going to impact them more. But what they've also found through research studies is saying that the complement will affect your whole body. [OFOSU: Wow]. So compliments can actually improve our performance on physical fitness tests. When someone says like, you're doing a good job.
I mean, I think about when I was in sports, I ran track. And when there were people cheering me on, I would run faster. And they're like, you're doing great you got it. You got it. You know, then I'd like, I do, I've got it. Okay. Here we go. But you know, that's the science now. It tells us what we've sort of known intuitively.
But my theory based on this is the more self-esteem you approach a compliment with the more benefit you'll get from it. So if we have more self-esteem internally, we'll be able to perform and respond better. When people do compliments, it's like a positive feedback that keeps going and building.
OFOSU: Yeah, that's really powerful. I think the question that many of us might have is then how do we build our self-esteem or how do we adjust our state of mind to be able to receive compliments and get all those benefits? So when a crazy person like me is telling them how awesome they are, randomly it lands well and does not send them into a tailspin.
LEAH: You know, this is a good question. And it's sort of like what comes first, the chicken or the egg. Receiving compliments, being able to accept a compliment actually helps build our self esteem, but if we're deflecting it or, you know, we're not accepting the compliment, then that just continues to keep us where we're at. Being able to learn how to accept a compliment is a part of building the self-esteem process. So maybe we have to fake it till we make it at first a little bit, but identifying when you're not accepting a compliment is an important thing, too.
So for example, I said to you, you are so wise and actually I really meant it.. It wasn't just for the purpose of this conversation example um, but you know, you responded back to me with reciprocation. You know, immediately giving me a compliment in response to yours and according to some psychologists, Susie and James Pawelski, they said there's three ways that we do not accept a compliment. And one of them is the reciprocation, which is kind of funny, cause you did say, well, thank you. And it seemed like you received it, but it all is also a little bit of a way to take the attention away from ourselves and put it back on somebody else.
OFOSU: I mean, I think there's probably a gray area because like, you know, I really do have something to offer back as a compliment. So I also think that you are very wise and I can see how sending a compliment right back is a way to get out of the awkward zone of receiving.
LEAH: I do this all the time. According to, you know, these psychologists, it can be a way that we even unconsciously deflect the attention on ourselves. The second is deflection. Just like moving on, just change the subject and try to ignore it like, oh, is that funny?
Or just discounting it all together. Downplaying it by criticizing yourself. You know, someone says, you're looking, you know, you're looking really healthy and fit. You're like, oh no -
OFOSU: I just ate all these croissants.
LEAH: Um, yeah, I had a situation like that today where somebody, um, complimented me, she was like, you're looking really good.
And I said to her, oh yeah, as I'm eating this baguette.
OFOSU: You and I have clearly been eating bread.
LEAH: But what's interesting is I don't think about it from the person who's giving the compliment from their end. It's like, you're trying to, you're giving someone a gift. That's actually a love language, you know, words of affirmation and compliments. And when someone doesn't receive it, it's sort of like giving a person a physical gift and them saying, no, I couldn't take this. You want them to, because it's part of what's fulfilling for you is to see them receive it.
And to, to just let it sink in. And that's what your intentions are as the giver of a compliment. And when someone had brought this up to me years ago and made me really see it from that perspective, and she said, you're robbing them of the gift and joy of you just receiving that compliment. They want to be seen through your eyes.
So what if instead of making it less about yourself, just receive it and say, thank you that made my day.
OFOSU: Yeah. I mean, when I'm at a show and I finish a show and someone comes and gives me a really sweet compliment, one of the ways that I don't know if it's deflection or whatever, but I always shift to oh, thanks, but we did it all together. I mean, I mean that, I do mean that because I'm not just up there performing in a vacuum, you know, I, uh, but it is kind of a way for me to squirm out of the complement space and, um, yeah.
LEAH: Just take ownership of your brilliance and your light.
OFOSU: I don't know what it's all about and it might be just my own self-esteem stuff, but I am learning sometimes I'll say, you know what?
I receive that. Thank you. And cause I don't have an out for whatever reason - I can't like turn the compliment around. I can't do one of those three things or I'm consciously telling myself to say like, okay, you know, you just have to accept this.
LEAH: Yeah. What I think for me personally, and what's happening for a lot of people and not being able to accept compliments is our own self critic.
That immediate voice that comes up and says, eh, but, or, oh, I didn't really think it was that good. You know, look, we are our worst critics. We can hold ourselves up to standards that are unrealistic and not give ourselves the credit. So when it comes from outside of us, we just don’t let ourselves believe it.
And we go, no, I can't accept that because if I was to accept that, then maybe I wouldn't strive for more excellence. I would just stay complacent with where I'm at and that's not good enough for me. And I've come to find that same voice is always just that part of me, that's afraid of feeling.
That's afraid of not being lovable. That's afraid of being rejected or hurt or isolated or alone. Like there's always some deeper fear underneath what's driving me to have such high expectations of myself that I can't even accept someone else's reality and perception of me when it's positive. I don't do this all the time, but the times that I do it, I recognize like that's what's going on.
OFOSU: Yeah. I think this idea of fear is a big one. It's almost as if for me sometimes if somebody offers me a compliment and I just accept it for what it is. Then I've now elevated myself to a certain, uh, you know, kind of imaginary space that I could fall down from it's like, what if I can't live up to this?
Like, what if I start to believe this? And then another reality shows up that says this isn't true. Like that would be so painful. So I'm just gonna, not even believe this compliment and stick with, you know, hanging out with my own inner critic who really knows the truth about me. Yeah. I mean, I'm not, I'm not doing this often though.
I really have cause I remember how uncomfortable it was for me to receive compliments, but then I also was like, well, you love giving them though. So either you're out here just purposefully making people uncomfortable the way that you are, or it's something for you to learn how to be okay with and kind of just model that a big part of it though, honestly, is changing your self talk and being more kind to yourself. There were times when I've been having to pull myself out of depression or just out of a bad space and I'd give myself compliments for getting out of bed and brushing my teeth like you. That was like my process.
We cheer for our babies when they use the potty. I absolutely cheer myself on to just do the most menial things. So I've done a lot of work with learning how to talk to myself to be a supportive person inside and to compliment myself and say, hey, you did a great job.
Like if I go to the gym or I take a walk, or even if I take a nap and you know, it's like, you know, I'm happy. I'm glad you did that. Um, so I think it really starts from inside.
LEAH: I agree. And I think, um, sometimes we have to give ourselves a little bit of a challenge too, and in doing so and in achieving, so we build our self-esteem. Yeah. Like in seeing ourselves start something and finish something or achieving a goal that we set after we incrementally build our self-esteem. And sometimes that means facing our fears. I think that's what it really comes down to is we're facing our fears. And facing our fears or whatever, fear of rejection or fear of people not liking us or fear of failure or fear of change.
Whatever that might be. It's like really identifying what I am afraid of? What I am really afraid will happen. And then can I face that fear and do it anyway and be willing to accept that life is a journey full of ups and downs that I don't have to be perfect all the time or be great all the time.
Like I can fall down and get back up.
OFOSU: Yeah. I mean, I want to give you a compliment right now, too.
LEAH: Thank you. I appreciate that very much.
And you know, here's another book that I really love that I've read and I think it's incredible advice. It's called the Six Pillars of Self-Esteem. Amazing book. I feel like it's one of those books you could read every year and get something new out of it, but an incredible book.
OFOSU: That's awesome. You know, we also have a meditation on the Balance app that might help it's called Gratitude. So just getting to that place of self gratitude, it is something that takes work, but it's absolutely one of the most meaningful practices you can engage with. So you can also meditate with us on self gratitude, being grateful for yourself and make that a part of your self-esteem toolkit.
Good point. Well, hey Leah - I want to give you a compliment right now.
Thank you so much for having us dive into that. Uh, I think you did a really awesome job breaking it down.
LEAH: Well, thank you.
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LEAH: Thank you for being here with us. And hey, if you wanna stay up to date with our show, subscribe or follow us on your favorite podcast app, and also please don't forget to rate or review us, be loved to see your feedback.
Yeah. And it helps us grow and spread the word.
OFOSU: Yes, yes. We'll be back next Monday with another conversation until then, please remember to be kind to yourself and hey, you are awesome. I hope you can accept that compliment. Have a great week. Peace.
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