Put-Downs and Put-Ups

Last week, I went backpacking in central Oregon—the above picture is from the first night of our trip, during some magical pink evening light. When I first saw this photo, I liked it... but then I started to notice flaws: the black hood-tightening string from my sweater is sticking out of my jacket and blowing awkwardly across my blue jacket; my skin is sort of orange in the light; my hair is doing strange things around my ear.... You get the idea.

I posted this image to Facebook anyway (with, to be totally honest, some cropping and color editing first), as a way to experiment with my self-image. And I received a fantastic commment from a friend: “You have the kindest eyes. I've always thought so. Beautiful.”

Okay. Clearly I don’t see what she does here. And not only does she see more than me, she sees it in detail. I started to wonder what I could do to receive these affirming messages without needing Facebook’s latest algorithm to work in my favor.

I also realized that lately, it feels like everyone I talk to is discovering the huge impact of one negative thought, and the relatively tiny impact of one positive thought. Like, when I tell myself that I’m not ___ enough, I believe it easily. But when I tell myself I *am* whatever (funny / interesting / likeable / etc), I don't really believe it. Does this happen to you? It seems to happen to everyone I know.

About fifteen years ago, I knew a third-grade teacher who dealt with insults and put-downs in her class like this: for each put-down a student offered to anyone, that student had to then offer three “put-ups”.

So for each “you’re stupid” there was a required “You’re funny. You’re good at math. You’re nice.” (Or whatever worked in that situation.)

For me, I realized, my friend’s comment was those three put-ups. 1) I have kind eyes 2) She has a long-lasting positive memory of me 3) She thinks I’m beautiful.


In this case, at least, that third-grade technique really works to combat my negative thoughts! I don’t know if the three-to-one ratio is an exact calculation. Maybe some people only need one. Maybe others need twenty. But when starting a new experiment, sometimes it helps to have a starting place. Three-to-one is worth a shot, at least, right? Try it for a week in your own life, and let me know what you learn!

Trying to think creatively? Take a walk!

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