Overcoming the Want of Praise

Do you crave praise from others?
Do you crave praise from others?

This post is part of the Guest Post Giveaway at the blog Unready and Willing. If you think articles about writing or personal development (or personal development for writers) sounds like a good fit for your blog, please take a look at the Guest Post Giveaway page and see if any of the articles spark your interest.

Why should you endeavor to overcome the want of praise? Isn’t it a good thing to be loved and celebrated for the things you do?

There’s nothing wrong with praise itself, but the want of praise is an entirely different matter. If you fall into the trap of constantly seeking approval, validation, and recognition from other people as the primary way to determine your self-value, you lose the ability to generate your own self-value, and you will continue to rely on other people to buoy your self-esteem. The reliance on external praise can grow to the point that whenever someone praises you, even in the smallest way, you feel a rush of elation, the feeling that “someone out there values my existence.”

Unfortunately, if this external praise is all you have, the high will always wear off. The people who applaud you can only clap their hands for so long and the awards and trophies you’ve received are destined to gather dust. No matter how great your achievements may be there will always be a time when the flood of praise will run to a trickle, and then be gone.

So, what happens when the praise is gone? If approval and recognition from others is the only way for you to determine your self-worth, you’ll most likely suffer a severe drop in self-esteem. Your past achievements, which are no longer celebrated, will seem distant and more a result of luck than of actual ability. Once you stop getting appreciation from other people, you’ll tend to seek it out in a superficial form. Ironically, once your focus deviates from creating value for other people to simply getting praise for its own sake, the very actions that you take to get praise from others will make it harder and harder for the praise to come by. When you rely on the approval of others to boost your self-esteem is when you ultimately damage your capacity to feel comfortable with who you are.

The want of praise is self-destructive

Have you ever been in the middle of a conversation when someone tries to interrupt you with an anecdote or jumps on the chance to add their input before you’re done talking? Maybe you were the person that was doing the interrupting. I’ve certainly been that person from time to time. The motivation behind making the interruption is simple. Our craving for recognition and praise is so strong that we step on other people’s words so that someone could recognize us as funny, witty, or fascinating. More often than not, all we do is annoy the people around us.

After you interrupt someone in a conversation to show off how witty or fascinating you are, you might indeed be paid a compliment. These complements usually take the form of lip-service and flattery, and they’re not so sincere as they’re a mechanism of polite conversation. They’ll generally be along the lines of a noncommittal “Huh, that’s interesting,” or,”Huh, that’s funny,” and there the conversation will end.

Lip-service and flattery are but cheap substitutes for praise when no praise is deserved. People who are addicted to praise, however, will take what they can get. They’ll eat up the lip service and flattery as though it was a wholesome meal when all they’re getting is empty calories. They doubt that the praise they receive is sincere, but as their self-image has come to depend upon it, they’ll strive to get it no matter the consequence. They gobble it up, and within seconds they’re hungry for more. This process repeats itself, depleting self-esteem, and alienating friends. It can go so far as to where even the well of flattery dries up and all they’re left with is a sense of growing silence from those around them.

How to overcome the want of praise

The want of praise is a powerfully addictive drug. But like any drug it’s a habit we can kick. In my own experiences I’ve found that the more I’ve been able to let go of the want of praise and approval, the more of it I get. Instead of asking yourself: “How can I get so-and-so to like me?” re-frame the question and ask yourself: “How can I use my talents and abilities to help them, or make them happy?” You can be surprised how other people’s attitudes toward you will shift for the better.

Here are some guidelines for kicking the habit:

  1. If you’re compelled to speak during a conversation, ask yourself if the motivation to speak comes from wanting recognition rather than adding value to the conversation. If so, stop yourself and listen to the other person. Speak only when you have truly understood what the other person has said.
  2. Whenever you decide to undertake a new project, think about how much the endeavor is motivated by the want of praise. If it is, modify your focus so that you’re more in tune with the value that you can create for other people, rather than the praise you’ll receive for yourself. As Viktor Frankl once said: “Success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue.” Focus on providing value first, and recognition and approval will naturally follow.
  3. Write in a journal. Take a note of all the actions you’ve taken during the day that stemmed from the want of praise. Count up the incidences and resolve to reduce them.
  4. In the same journal entry take note of all the positive changes in your life that have come from kicking the habit. You might be surprised how friendly, open, and approving people become.
  5. Be happy about your accomplishments, but don’t dwell on them. Remember that even if you win the Nobel Prize, that’s nice, but all people really care about is what you’re doing right now. Talking about the glory days will only result in your being fed more flattery and lip-service.
  6. Stop caring about how smart, strong, or rich you are. Your abilities and situation in life are largely an accident of your birth. No one really cares if you’re smarter, richer, or better looking than the next person anyway.
  7. Give yourself praise! The truest and longest lasting source of approval comes from within. If you yourself don’t approve of what you’re doing, chances are that others won’t either.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. However, I believe it’s a good start for people who are starving for recognition that they think they deserve. When you let go of the false belief that your self-worth has to come from other people, you will find that many of your insecurities will vanish into thin air. This is when you start to get real recognition and not just lip service.

Kenji Crosland is a creative writing major who, scared of becoming a starving artist, became a corporate headhunter in Tokyo. Since then he’s regained his sanity, quit his job, and currently blogs about creating an ideal career at unreadyandwilling.com. He’s currently developing a web application that just might change the internet. Follow him on twitter @KenjiCrosland.

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19 thoughts on “Overcoming the Want of Praise”

  1. Praise is only worthwhile if it’s both specific and honest.

    It can also be used to build up a rapport to make the relationship safe for rational criticism. It’s better to compliment (or criticize) actions, words, or work than the person themselves.

    Thanks for the thoughtful post.

    How do you distinguish between praise intended as manipulation and the honest variety?
    .-= JC Hewitt´s last blog ..Easing the Burden of Freelancing =-.

  2. Well said Kenji. Looks like your guest giveaway is off to a great start considering I read your post on my blog and here this morning. I think this want for praise all comes down to one thing, ego. In my past I’ve been very ego driven when it came to projects I’ve worked on and the more I separate from it, the more I become effective as a leader and a person. So, I will definitely keep your points in mind.

  3. It took me long to pin my wanting for praise and recognition. I guess it is our nature to be so. Actually, recognition starts from within. If we are unable to accept ourselves as who we are, we cannot force the outside world to do this for us. 🙂

  4. @JC Hewitt
    I don’t think it’s worth our time to wonder whether the praise we receive is genuine or not. Oftentimes it’s very hard to tell anyway. I think is the trick is to focus on making a genuine contribution. If we do that, most of the praise we’ll receive will be genuine. On the off chance that it isn’t, you won’t care because you’ll be doing something that is so intrinsically rewarding that the praise of other people doesn’t enter into the equation.

    Yes. Yes, and Yes! Praise is an insidious drug, and I certainly haven’t completely kicked my addiction to it yet. I’ve been learning to rely more on my own sense of self-worth than what I think other people think of me. I don’t succeed all the time, but just being conscious of it is a big help.

    I’m just happy to see the posts finding new homes. I thought it was a shame to let them die on my old site.

    As far as the Ego goes I’m certainly not an expert. I think the Ego is a good thing to have. It’s just important to control your Ego than let your Ego control you.

    I’ve relied on my past accomplishments to buoy my sense of self-worth in the past. Although I felt these accomplishments were worth being proud of, they did little to assuage the neediness that comes from craving praise. Self-esteem comes from within. No amount of worldly success can be a substitute.

  5. Thanks for this thought provoking post! When I encounter people who always seem to have something to say about everything, I wonder if they’re aware of their actions.

    1. Thanks Kenji – I suspected as much, but it has been some time since I’ve read it so I thought I would mention it just in case as I found that book to be profound and life changing. I look forward to reading more of your articles.

  6. Nice post Kenji. It’s weird, I don’t really like it when people praise me. It feels artificial on some level. Similarly, I find it hard to deal with people who want to be praised all the time. I think it’s more of their ego talking for them. I like one of the points you made was that praise – however good it seems – will always wear down in the future. If we can feel proud of ourselves for what we do, whether or not it’s the best, I think that feeling is a lot more effective for us in the long run than the praise we get from other people.
    .-= Hulbert´s last blog ..Do Your Blogging Struggles Still Bother You? =-.

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