3 Ingredients to Mastering Appreciations

By Heath and Nicole Reed
[Savvy Self-Care]

One of the most revolutionary acts of self-care and loving kindness is generating appreciations. Learning to give and receive appreciations is an investment in who you are and in the people you surround yourself with. Appreciations require your sensitive awareness and emphasize the unique qualities you and others bring to the moment. Appreciating is a way to focus on what’s going well and to add value to everyone involved. 

Appreciation is defined as “adding value.” Just like when we invest time, money, or our attention in our home, business, or relationships, our investments appreciate in value. Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (Free Press, 2004), feels strongly about appreciation. He writes, “Next to physical survival, the greatest need of a human being is psychological survival, to be understood, to be affirmed, to be validated, to be appreciated.” When relationships are not nurtured by a sense of appreciation, relationships suffer and even fail. 

Thriving vs. Toxic Relationships

Research conducted by husband and wife team Drs. John and Julie Gottman reveal that the distinguishing features that delineate thriving relationships from toxic relationships are the proportion of appreciations to criticisms. Specifically, thriving relationships have a ratio of at least five appreciations to every one criticism. That is, five spoken positive expressions for every one critical message. Looked at another way, criticisms are “relationship killers.” Regular infusions of appreciations benefit all our relationships, not only between significant others, but also among family members, colleagues, clients, and ourselves. 

Practicing giving and receiving appreciations is truly a gift of service. It’s a way to offer your most powerful resource: your attention. And when it is given with mindfulness, it can have a powerful impact on both the receiver and the giver. The rush of connection and creativity that emerges when you are adding value to the moment with your sensitive attention is boundless and reinforces positivity. Once you start, it’s hard to stop.

Three Essential Ingredients to Mastering Appreciations

Keep It Brief

Give your appreciation in one single out-breath. Going on and on about how great someone is, is an easy way to lose impact and efficacy. Make whatever you are saying receivable by keeping it short and succinct. 

Speak Unarguably

Avoid overexaggerating. Speak only for yourself. “You are the world’s best massage therapist,” or, “That was the best holiday dinner ever” are totally arguable! Avoid hyperbolic words like “best,” “most,” and “greatest,” and instead focus on how you were specifically impacted by the other person. Hint: This usually means speaking about how you feel.

Be Specific

Similar to overexaggerating, overgeneralizing leads to ambiguity and misses the mark. What does saying, “You really saved the day” or “That was amazing” really mean or have to do with someone’s presence? Adding your sensitive attention to these generalities may sound more like, “I feel relieved and happy you are helping me with this.” Focus on the inner nature, or essence, of a person, like their integrity, patience, kindness, honesty, and how you were positively impacted.

Uninspiring Compliments vs. Effective Appreciations

Let’s practice: 

“That was the best massage ever” versus “I have so much more range of motion and relief after you worked on my shoulder.” 

“You look pretty” versus “When you walked into the room tonight, I felt my heart open and a smile wash across my face.”

“Way to go, keep up the good work!” versus “I felt supported by you when you took out the trash.”

Keep in mind, you can share appreciations verbally, one on one, in front of a whole group, or with a simple handwritten note. What are your favorite ways to receive appreciations?

Self-Care Revolution

We have revolutionized our 20-plus year relationship with each other, and the quality of our relationships with others, by leading with appreciations. Not only has our marriage benefited by appreciations, but we have also experienced delightful shifts in favor of connection, closeness, and play in all our relationships—including with our clients, friends, family, and strangers. In fact, practicing giving and receiving effective appreciations has been the rocket fuel that has recently catapulted our relationship from the realm of ordinary to that of the extraordinary!

We feel strongly that practicing the same 5:1 proportion of appreciations to criticisms must be practiced with ourselves. We are often our worst and greatest critic. Sometimes by default, we focus on what we are doing wrong. Kathlyn Hendricks, cofounder of the Foundation for Conscious Living, says, “Criticisms are attacks on our being.” Ouch! Would you be willing to start looking for what’s going right? And are you willing to share appreciations with yourself that add value to who you are?

Now let’s shine the light of sensitive attention on ourselves! We have included a seven-day appreciation project inspired by our friend Audrey Hazekamp and www.tallpoppyinc.com to assist you in revolutionizing the way you practice self-care. If you are open and willing to feel more valued, energized, and loved, this challenge is for you.

For one week, choose to lead your day with appreciations about yourself. Feel free to express your appreciations to yourself internally and out loud (maybe as you look at yourself in the mirror). Keep this page as an open tab on your phone or keep it out and place it somewhere you are sure to see as you start the day. 

Favoring Appreciations Over Criticism

As you notice your inevitable inner judge show up, you can instead use appreciations as a way to shift from focusing on what’s wrong with you to focusing on what’s right with you. Remember to give yourself five appreciations for every one negative observation.

As the holidays are quickly approaching, this is a particularly auspicious time to grow your gratitude muscles by giving appreciations to the people you care for and, most importantly, to yourself. Shining the light of your sensitive attention provides an essential nutrient that fortifies all your relationships. Appreciations generate genuine connections, bolster feelings of well-being and worth, and elevate all your relationships from ordinary to extra-ordinary!

7-Day Appreciation Challenge

Day 1

Make easy contact with yourself and say inside and aloud, “I appreciate me” (touch your face, your shoulders, your knees, etc. as you say this).

Day 2

I appreciate my skill in  (masterful soup making, drawing lifelike flowers, keeping money organized … feel free to appreciate more than one skill).

Day 3

Qualities I see and appreciate about me are  (my willingness to laugh, my commitment to self-care, how I share my sensitive attention with others, how I facilitate clear boundaries).

Day 4

I appreciate how much I enjoy  (dancing to good music, writing love stories, a hot yoga class).

Day 5

I see and appreciate my body, especially my  (strong legs, soft belly, easy smile).

Day 6

I appreciate how I love to discover  (new techniques by taking regular CE classes, unusual things about the place I live, new recipes I can try).

Day 7

I appreciate how I easily communicate about  (my dreams, my feelings, directions, my body’s functions).


Appreciation Challenge: www.foundationforconsciousliving.com/appreciation.

Covey, Stephen. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. New York: Free Press, 2004.

Gottman, John and July Schwartz. Ten Lessons to Transform Your Marriage. New York: Harmony, 2006.

Hendricks, Gay and Kathlyn. Conscious Loving. London: Bantam, 1992.

Holtmann, Oxana and Audrey Hazekamp. Shake It Up: Refresh and Rediscover Yourself Through Wonder and Body-Mind Adventures. Carlsbad, CA: Balboa Press, 2016.