The High Five Habit

Affirmations have become a big part of my life in the last year or two. Even though I still find them cheesy and cringe worthy a lot of the time, I know that they work. I’ve seen the roll they’ve played in my own life. Honestly, we all use affirmations every day whether we do so intentionally or not. I guess the word “affirmation” implies intention, but unconsciously we are all repeating beliefs and self commentary every moment of the day. Sometimes it’s only after recognizing the intense emotional reaction we have towards positive affirmations that we realize just how toxic and self harming our own have been all this time.

One of the trickiest parts about affirmations for me is finding one that I can fully believe. Imagine you start off by saying to yourself “I’m perfect just the way I am.” If you don’t believe it, then not only is that affirmation not helping you, it could be hurting you instead by subconsciously reinforcing your disbelief in that statement. A simple reframing can make that affirmation a bit easier to embrace, especially in the beginning. “It’s okay to be imperfect.” “I can love and accept myself even though I am imperfect.” Still, this requires a lot of thought, time, and inner work. A lot of us just are not in a place where we feel able to do that just yet.

This is where the high five habit comes in. I heard about this amazing idea on a podcast the other day. The High Five Habit is also a book written by Mel Robbins. She was the guest on this podcast, and she explained how she came up with the method and how it works in our brains. Her personal story moved me to tears, because I have been the lead in that story many times. She found herself in the bathroom critically observing her reflection above the sink, picking out and attacking all of her perceived flaws. She was exhausted and depressed and for some reason that not even she is able to fully explain, she gave herself a high five in the mirror. Robbin says the woman staring back at her looked like she needed it. She laughed at the absurdity of it, but the next day she found herself excited to meet herself again in that mirrored image. But why?

Robbins discussed this phenomenon with Marian Diamond, the woman who discovered neuroplasticity. (I had no idea this earth shattering discovery was made by a woman, but we’ll circle back around to that another day.) From what we know about neuroscience at this point, the high five habit seems to make sense. The high five is something that we have so ingrained in us as a positive action. We associate it automatically with reward, team building, approval, success, etc. It doesn’t matter who is offering this gesture or in what context, the action alone triggers that reward pathway in our brains.

We’ve all heard the expression “actions speak louder than words.” The high five habit is a particularly powerful example of that. Unlike verbal positive affirmations, it doesn’t really matter what our background thoughts are. We could still be displeased with the person staring back at us, we could be thinking “I don’t deserve a high five. This is stupid. This will never work. I feel like an idiot.” Regardless of our inner critic, this physical movement overrides all of that the moment we make contact with our reflection’s raised hand. Now the “habit” part of it is committing to give yourself this high five at least once a day for five days. Apparently that’s all the time it takes to begin to notice a difference.

This is only my third day of this practice, but I can say that it makes me laugh or at least smile each time I do it. And if that’s all that comes of it, I’d still say it was worth the try. It might feel silly, but that’s another thing I like about it. It reminds me not to take myself and my life so seriously. It also helps me in that moment to realize that I am not just these thoughts and the tyrannical inner critic. I am a human being who is doing the very best that she can. I am the frightened woman staring back at me, asking for reassurance and support. We are all deserving of the compassion and forgiveness we have learned to withhold from ourselves. The high five habit reminds us of that.

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