How celebrating success can backfire
Remembering to celebrate when things go well can do wonders for you and the people around you. However, there are some things that can cause those good intentions to backfire:
When we use the word 'celebrate' it tends to conjure up an image of high intensity energy, for example: jumping up and down after scoring a goal in sports or a round of applause and cheery faces after loudly singing 'happy birthday'.
The thing is, we don't always feel this way when we achieve something. And pretending we do when in reality we don't, can be more exhausting than beneficial. It can lead to a fake kind of celebration or cheeriness, like a Hollywood smile from someone on TV who always has to be "happy" and "upbeat". This fake quality can make the supposed benefits of celebrations backfire. It can make us feel like we should be happier than we are, which makes us feel worse than if we had done nothing at all..
Consciously generating a positive energy can be a very useful practice if done authentically. It allows us to counter-condition something known as "negativity bias".
Negativity bias is the observation that we have a tendency to focus on the negative things more than the positive things. This is because for our ancestors, seeing or not seeing a dangerous predator in the bushes was the difference between life and death. But seeing or not seeing a nice rainbow didn't have any particularly bad and immediate consequences.
So celebrating allows us to counterbalance this focus on the negative. It offers the opportunity for life to be more uplifting rather than a gloomy place where you focus on problem after problem, always fixing and solving things and never taking a breath of fresh air. Just keep in mind that you're counter-conditioning something that has been present and developed throughout a very long period of human history, so have patience, take little steps.
What do you do instead of celebrating success? What I propose is that instead of "celebrating" (in a false cheery way), you simply and genuinely acknowledge the things that went well, or congratulate yourself or someone else. It's like saying "well done, this went well" rather than "life is amazing! we're the best!”. And you let this acknowledgement gradually, naturally cultivate and grow over time.
Sometimes you may feel like singing with joy at the top of your lungs, but other times you won’t - and that's OK. By not forcing a celebration you're being more congruent with who you are and how you genuinely feel. This congruency, this truthfulness, which has an empowering undertone by acknowledging the good, is something I believe to be far more potent. When we try to work against that truth, we not only expend enormous amounts of energy, we also erode ourselves in a psychological and emotional way.
Being happy for other people's success, to cheer for them and support them is a wonderful thing. But if we're honest, we have to admit that sometimes we're not happy for others' success. Sometimes we simply don't care that much about whether someone else succeeds or fails, and sometimes we may feel jealous or resentful.
Feeling good about ourselves is a natural human desire. But seeing as we often compare ourselves to others, when they’re not doing so well, it makes us feel like we're doing better. And when we see others succeed we may feel like it's unfair, that we should get recognised for all the hard work we're putting in.
Instead of trying to tell yourself that you're happy for that person's success when you're really not, you can try getting to what's below the surface. What’s the real cause of the resentment, the not caring etc? If you can resolve the cause, the effect will change.
A very useful tool that you can actually apply to genuinely change this is called “Tapping”. If you’ve never heard of it before, you can learn the basics below. If you’re already familiar with it, feel free to jump to the next section in this blog where you’ll get some tapping prompts and ideas.
“Tapping” (EFT) is a scientifically proven, mind-body connection method. It allows you to rapidly reduce the emotional intensity of situations in your life. Science shows that when you reduce that intensity, you are healthier, more intelligent, resourceful and resilient amongst many other things. You’re better able to see problems from new perspectives and take more efficient action. It will allow you to be more congruent, and to change negative reactions to other people's success into something that is more helpful and enjoyable for you.
This isn’t just a mental hack, this is something that has profound effects at the level of your nervous system, your biology, and your subconscious mind.
“Tapping” involves lightly tapping on acupressure points on your body while focusing on a specific problem. This physical action of tapping sends a calming signal to your brain and body. The result is that the problem that once caused you distress, now has little or no power over you. In other words, you’re removing what’s in the way rather than using more force.
Remember to take responsibility for your own wellbeing.
Tapping: how to do the basics
1) Identify a specific negative experience (past, present or future) to work on.
2) See if you can feel any emotion or physical sensation when you focus on this. (eg: feeling stressed, angry, tightness in your chest, pit in your stomach etc). Identify the level of intensity for you right now on a 0-10 scale (0 being no intensity, 10 being maximum intensity).
3) Tap the side of hand point continuously while saying the following 3 times:
“Even though_____________(insert problem), I deeply and completely accept myself”.
eg: “Even though everyone clapped for John’s success and it makes me feel unacknowledged, I deeply and completely accept myself”.
(Note: If the last part of this statement feels off, you can try using “I accept I’m feeling this” or “I’m OK right now”).
4) Gently tap the 8 points about 7 times each with your fingertips while repeating a brief phrase at each point, that reminds you of the problem. eg: “feeling unacknowledged”, “everyone clapped”.
5) Test to see if there has been any change on the 0-10 scale of intensity or a change in emotion/physical sensation.
6) Repeat until intensity is 0, adjusting statements to reflect any changes you experience. If any memories, worries or even seemingly random thoughts come up as you go through this process, I encourage you to tap on and explore them. There are often much deeper roots to the problems we face, and memories that come up while tapping are often those deeper roots.
keep in mind that these are just the basics of one method. You may either need more knowledge or the guidance of a trained practitioner to get the results you want.
You will get the best results with Tapping when you focus on your specific situation and use your own words to accurately describe it. However, having some prompts can be helpful to get you started. I encourage you to use the following as starting points rather than strict rules to follow. Use what resonates with you and discard what doesn't:
Even though I feel_____________(insert how you feel), seeing_____________(insert the person you're seeing succeed) succeeding, I deeply and completely accept myself
Even though it should be me, I deeply and completely accept myself
Even though I'm trying so hard and it's unfair that_____________(insert person's name) is getting rewarded/succeeding, I deeply and completely accept myself
Even though I wish it was me, I deeply and completely accept myself.
Even though the truth is, I don't like seeing_____________(insert person's name) succeeding, I deeply and completely accept myself.
When we do succeed, we can often have destructive self talk going on in the background. Maybe it’s been a long time coming and you can’t quite believe you’ve arrived. Or maybe it came too quickly and you feel you haven’t put in the blood, sweat and tears you feel are needed to deserve this outcome.
We can often tell ourselves one of three things:
"I should have got it done sooner"
"I should have done it better"
"There's still so much to do"
These beliefs can sap the energy out of something that could have been a moment of joy, a moment that could give us the energy and drive to make things even better. Fortunately you can easily use Tapping to reduce the intensity of these statements and mental self talk. And who knows, you may be able to completely change them.
Try getting started with these prompts:
Even though I should have got it done sooner, I deeply and completely accept myself.
Even though I should have done it better, I deeply and completely accept myself.
Even though there's still so much to do, I deeply and completely accept myself.
Even though it took me so long, I deeply and completely accept myself.
Even though_____________(insert person's name), would have done it in half the time, I deeply and completely accept myself.
Even though they would have done it better and that feels_____________(voice how that feels), I deeply and completely accept myself.
The three things we tell ourselves when we do succeed comes from: Lynch. Margaret (2017 September) The psychology of coaching: Self-esteem, self-confidence and self-efficacy.