Unhook Yourself From Praise Or Criticism

November 16, 2018

Once in a great while you come across something that changes your life in a fundamental way. This “something” can take many forms – maybe it’s a person you meet who unexpectedly becomes a great friend, a transformative trip that opens you up to a life experience vastly different from your own, or a game-changing chocolate chip cookie recipe.

For real though make those cookies. Like, now. I digress.

It gets particularly interesting when this “something” takes the form of an idea. An idea that shifts the way you perceive and interact with the world around you. An idea that frees you from…yourself. I came across one such idea this summer while reading Playing Big: Practical Wisdom for Women Who Want to Speak Up, Create, and Lead by Tara Mohr.

The idea is this: if you want to do your best work, it is imperative to “unhook” yourself from both praise and criticism. Too often we base our decisions/actions/work on what we think others will think. That’s a lot of thinking about other people’s thinking. It’s because criticism sucks, and many of us come to tailor our work and our lives to avoid it. Praise is awesome, but we may also tailor our work and lives to receive it, but when we don’t get it we question ourselves and begin to feel like a failure.

Fear – consciously or unconsciously – of if we will receive praise or draw criticism holds us back from speaking up, taking risks, having difficult conversations, implementing change, or stepping into a bigger arena. It prevents us from playing big.

If you stop and think about it, that really sucks. It’s exhausting. It’s an inevitable emotional rollercoaster. It’s counter-productive.

There’s a better way, and it’s in recognizing what praise and criticism actually are.

Here’s the thing: praise and criticism don’t tell you about yourself. Rather, it tells you about the person that’s giving it. Mohr explains the idea like this (bold, underlined emphasis is my own):

“If someone says your work is gorgeous, that just tells you about their taste. If you put out a new product and it doesn’t sell at all, that tells you something about what your audience does and doesn’t want.  When we look at praise and criticism as information about the people giving it, we tend to get really curious about the feedback, rather than dejected or defensive. When I write something and it gets a huge response, I don’t view that writing as ‘better’ than the writing that got no response. I simply look at what the huge response tells me about my reading audience, and sometimes, I then choose to incorporate that information into what I write about in the future. I know it’s not personal and I know it’s not a verdict on my artistic talent. That’s something I didn’t always know.”

Praise and criticism are incredibly useful tools to learn about others’ wants/needs/tastes/expectations that we can choose to incorporate – NOT a verdict on our worth, abilities, or talent.

Can we just take a minute to think about and applaud this fabulous insight?

This is the freedom to savor praise without being driven by it and incorporate useful criticism without being paralyzed by it.

It’s a simple but fundamental shift that has helped me see things from a new, more helpful perspective. If anyone is interested in this idea or the book in general (which I highly recommend to everyone, not only women) I’d love to grab a coffee, especially if you bring some of those life-changing cookies!