Addicted to Praise
I used to say I was part Cocker Spaniel. My Love and Confidant of 14 years and I had this in common: we both LOVED receiving kudos. We spoke the language of praise. All it took was a whisper of, “Who’s a good boy?” or a simple pat on the head and Bailey would wiggle until you thought his little, stub-tail was going to pop right off, spiraling up, up, and away. And I suspect, if I had a little, stub-tail, you could witness a similar up, up, and away action with me at the slightest hint of praise.
Who doesn’t like an at-a-boy? For some, there’s no higher form of motivation. Gary Chapman, author of The 5 Love Languages, lists Words of Affirmation as one of the five preferences for what we find satisfying or motivating when it comes to expressing and receiving love.
What if you are like me? Or like Bailey? What if you, too, seek gestures or words of affirmation as your motivation… but the words never come? What then?
In Search of Natural Motivation
I needed to find an example of a natural motivator, more to prove that such a thing existed than anything else. Something that would show me it was possible to untangle myself from this need to receive a pat on the back, or at least, desire it less. And who came to mind? Bailey did.
If Bailey was my Love, tennis balls were his. He was a PRO at snagging a tennis ball. He was the dog you see in movies that could jump in the air, all four legs catching some major air, contort his body into the letter C, effortlessly nab the lime green ball, continue to glide smoothly in mid-air another foot or more, then land with a sharp twist, so as to position his body 180 degrees in the opposite direction — facing you, back legs already in motion to tear back, kicking up dust, then gingerly drop the ball squarely between your feet. He’d back up two steps, eyes never leaving the ball, ready for another go. And another. And another.
And if you didn’t feel like throwing the ball for Bailey, it didn’t bother him. He would stand, and eventually after around an hour sit, and stare at it.
The grace. The determination. The sheer nuttiness. He had it all! He could not be shaken.
There was the rare occasion however, that even the great tennis ball pro would miss his mark, mostly due to a lame throw on my part, but nevertheless, he would miss.
This is what I observed. He didn’t beat himself up. He didn’t look embarrassed. He mostly shook his long, curly, floppy ears and was ready for more, a clear embodiment of the expression, “Shake it off.” He had nothing to prove. He loved the chase, the jump, the thrill of all of it. It was the experience that made his heart sing, it didn’t matter whether he hit the mark or not.
And he wasn’t even receiving any praise. The act alone was motivation enough.
What Is Your Tennis Ball?
What do you love doing so much that you will soar through the air, contort your body to catch, and land with a firm HELL YEAH on the ground, fist pumping, ready for more? The thing you do regardless of the kudos you receive… not caring if you ever receive kudos for it? You do it for the sheer love of the experience, because for reasons no one needs to dissect, this thing belongs to you. That is your tennis ball.
Icing On the Cake: Criticism
This entire post has been focused on praise, motivation, seizing your passion. We’ve established that it’s not uncommon to like an at-a-boy, paying attention to the motivation behind it. We’ve looked at a natural motivator, in an attempt to identify our own passion. So why introduce criticism? And what kind of cake could I possibly serve that you’d welcome an icing made of criticism?
Here’s the icing: Find your tennis ball, DO THAT THING THAT ONLY YOU CAN DO, and no amount of criticism will ever faze you. It won’t even register in your awareness.
Do you honestly think if I told Bailey he was ‘Bad’ after he had missed a ball, that he would’ve walked away with his tail tucked between his legs? No! He would have continued staring at the ball he had just placed between my feet, waiting for another go. Completely unshaken. Any gesture of ‘Bad’ offered from me would have fallen on deaf ears.
BUT, if I told him he was ‘Bad’ after being caught on my bed, where he wasn’t allowed, or after rummaging through the trash, he would definitely have walked away, tail-tucked. He had no passion around those things — he simply did them because. The bed and the trash probably smelled good to him (two TOTALLY different smells I must point out, both quite appealing to a dog!). But the tennis ball was his thing. It was what he lived for. He was a pro at it. And you can’t criticize a pro. It simply doesn’t faze them.
So, what does all of this tell me? The next time I feel my little stub-tail starting to wag, I’ll smile sweetly, acknowledging the praise, and smile deeply, in appreciation of the person offering the kind gesture, but I’ll know that it’s just my ego wanting to dance. I will continue to offer words of hope, of love, and of Trust, because it makes my heart soar. I will continue to explore these topics, sharing as best as I can, for the sheer love of the experience.
And then some days, I’ll mess up. My ego will dance around wildly. Or be bruised severely. And I’ll remind myself of my tennis ball and start anew.
Won’t you leave a comment below and share your tennis ball(s)?