How to Make Any Criticism Constructive

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Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

Criticism is hard to hear, because no one wants to hear that they’re doing something wrong. But criticism can be a gift, if you know what to look for. 

We often hear about “constructive criticism,” which is meant to help us improve (that’s why it’s constructive). But even well-meaning criticism can feel bad, because it makes us believe negative things about ourselves.

How to Break the Criticism Cycle

Criticism makes us feel bad because we believe that if we were doing things right, there wouldn’t be anything to criticize. Therefore, criticism means we did poorly, and we believe it’s a sign of our failure.

Criticism does not mean failure.

Every final version of something you see has gone through the process of critique and editing. Sometimes we self-edit and critique, and sometimes we ask others to do it for us, like a proofreader, a workshop group, or sending it to a friend and asking for their thoughts. Sometimes we receive criticism we didn’t ask for, and when criticism comes as a surprise we often feel defensive and hurt.

Each time we receive criticism, whether it’s asked for or not, we have an opportunity to learn from it and turn it into something constructive and helpful.

Taking Constructive Criticism

When faced with a criticism, get curious instead of defensive. Ask yourself some questions about it, like: 

  1. Is this criticism true?
  2. Is this criticism something I need to change to improve myself or my work?
  3. Can I use this experience to learn something?

Is it true?

Sometimes people will criticize you and it’s something you should change to be a better version of yourself. But other times, criticism may not actually be relevant. 

When criticism hits us hardest, it’s usually because we already believe a negative thought about ourselves about a similar thing. If I feel like someone is criticizing my writing, it hurts more if I already believe I’m not a good enough writer and they’re echoing that negative belief.

But ask yourself, really deeply ask, if the criticism is true.

And also ask if your interpretation of the criticism is true.

They said I’m a bad parent. Did they say that? Or did they point out to you that your car seat wasn’t installed properly? Is your car seat installed properly?

They said I’m not qualified as an expert on the subject I talk about. Did they say that? Or did they make a broad statement about your field that you took personally? Are you qualified?

They said I’m not good at my job. Did they say that? Or did you get feedback in a review on areas that need improvement? Do you need to improve those areas of your performance?

But if it’s criticism that can help you improve, here’s how to sift out the constructive bits.

Is this something I need to change?

Once you determine if something is true or not, the next step is deciding if it’s something you need to change.

They said my carseat wasn’t installed properly. If this is true, do you need to change it? Absolutely, yes. It’s a safety concern. Go fix your carseat.

They said I’m not qualified. Is this true? Make a list of the reasons you’re qualified to do your work and if you actually are qualified, move along and get back to work. If you determine that you really aren’t qualified for something, then make a plan to get what you need in order to feel confident in your qualifications.

I got a negative review at work. Is the criticism of your work performance true? If so, make a plan with your supervisor to check in on your improvements over the next several months so your next review is outstanding.

Can I learn something?

Whether or not a criticism is true, can you learn from the experience?

They said my carseat wasn’t installed properly. In this example, you learned about proper carseat installation. This is great information to have for the safety of your kids.

They said I’m not qualified. In this situation, you learned about all the things that do qualify you and add evidence to your list of reasons to feel confident when you’re facing imposter syndrome. In your research of additional qualifications, you might have also learned some easy ways to up your credentials to feel even more confident.

I got a negative review at work. In this example, it’s a great time to commit to learning new things at work to take your performance to the next level in your career. The things you improve and learn will be great for your resume too.

Being Vulnerable to Criticism

Criticism feels so uncomfortable because it makes us feel vulnerable. Putting yourself out there into the world as a writer or artist can feel extra vulnerable and intimidating simply because it means people will critique our work.

Someone left a comment on a review of my book that I’m capitalizing on millennials’ insecurities. 

This commenter is criticizing me – but is a book that targets millennials’ insecurities something I need to change? Actually, no. Because my book helps people overcome those insecurities. 

This criticism gave me some clarity. I do hope to attract millennials with insecurities to my book. Because my book is here to help them. 

However, I also received criticism that I didn’t push far enough on certain topics in my book, and this is relevant criticism that I would change next time. I was too timid and didn’t want to make waves with divisive opinions. I value this criticism and will address it in my next book, or a later version of Gaslighting. 

Is There Non-Constructive Criticism?

Absolutely. Sometimes, people’s criticism truly is just bullshit that’s about them.

People who criticize you for not being part of their religion, not living up to their standards or expectations, or not trusting you to make your own choices are people who are criticizing you to control you.

This is not constructive criticism, this is a boundary violation and manipulation tactic. You’re free to simply ignore them and take distance from people who criticize to hurt you.

PS. You can buy my book here!

 

How to Work From Home for the First Time

A lot of us are working from home for the foreseeable future, some for the first time. It’s a big change to routine and it makes everything feel a little bit off. 

I’m used to working from home a couple days a week, but this feels different for me too.

Because it’s not really “working from home.” It’s being at home while big global events are happening and it’s not safe to do things you normally do…and trying to do your normal work.

It’s hard to focus, because you just want to go check the news all the time. But when it’s time for the show to go on, here are some tips for making work from home during this time feel a little more normal: 

  1. Shower and get dressed. It’s tempting to work all day in your PJs, but freshening up in the morning and getting some clean undies on will help you start the day in a good mood. This does not mean uncomfortable work clothes, just something clean and fresh. Stay comfy!
  2. Make a ritual. Normally we have a commute to mark the transition into and out of “work mode.” Create a morning and evening ritual to mark the start and end to your work day. This could mean making a cup of coffee and listening to your usual morning podcast or audiobook on the couch, taking an evening walk, or anything that helps you separate your day for work life balance when you work from home.
  3. Turn off your email. Just because you work from home and you’re home 24/7 doesn’t mean work is now 24/7. Separate work time and personal time by turning off your work computer or email program when it’s quitting time.
  4. Take breaks. Take your full lunch break and go outside if the weather is nice. Walk around the block for some fresh air. Take regular water and bathroom breaks, and give your eyes a break from screens at least once an hour for a few minutes.
  5. Make a shiny object list. When you’re working from home, you might be tempted to put in a load of laundry, quickly do the dishes, or take out the trash. These are fine to work into your breaks, but if you try to keep them in your brain you’ll get distracted. Keep a notepad nearby so you can write down the things you want to handle during break times. It’s also perfectly fine to save the household stuff for after the workday is complete; you don’t have to be the world’s most efficient person.
  6. Downtime is sacred. When you work from home, all the days can run together and Saturday might not feel any different. Make sure to plan relaxing, restorative, and creative time for your downtime so that you aren’t stressing over being productive all the time.

Any other advice for our work from home friends? Drop it in the comments. 

PS. I’m teaching folks how to improve their boundaries after trauma in a six week class. We start April 13, so there’s still time to reserve your spot. Shoot me an email and we’ll get you on the list.

How to Be the Best at What You Do

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Photo by Ian Schneider on Unsplash

What if you could wake up and live life as if you’re one of the best at what you do?

One of the best teachers, writers, parents? One of the best vet techs? One of the best coaches? One of the best gardeners?

It’s hard at first, because it’s so common to downplay our accomplishments and dreams. We want to be humble. 

Stop being humble. Be one of the best.

The Top Ten Percent

If you were in the top 10% of what you do, whether it’s your day job, your life’s work, a hobby, or just showing up in your life, what would you do differently?

How would you show up? How would you manage your time? What would you let go of and what would you focus on? 

If I was in the top 10% of content marketers, I’d be regularly learning new things about marketing – because that field is always changing. So I’ve started taking online courses to support the work I do in my day job, and it’s paying off. I’ve been able to hire someone new for my content team because I’m driving a great strategy.

If I was in the top 10% of authors, I’d never stop talking about my book. I’d be talking to local bookstores about putting on events (when we can gather again) and I’d be on podcasts and doing interviews for other blogs and magazines. I started putting myself out there even though it’s scary, but I’ve sold my book at a convention, been featured as a source in a magazine, been booked to speak at my local library, and I’ve started booking podcast interviews.

But I still hesitate sometimes. 

What’s holding me back?

Fighting Imposter Syndrome

I’m scared people will think badly of me for speaking highly of myself and my work. Imposter syndrome is so noisy sometimes. I see other writers and think they’re the real deal and I must just be pretending. 

But if I want to be a top 10% author, I need to act like one. 

To beat imposter syndrome, try these tips:

  • Find the evidence that you’re already the best
    • What are the super cool “unbelievable” successes you dance about in the moment and then conveniently forget when you’re trying to think about them? Make a real list on real paper.
  • Keep a record of positive feedback
    • Copy and paste your positive reviews, client testimonials, and anything else that makes you feel amazing about the work you do
  • Use negative feedback to find constructive criticism
    • If someone’s just being a jerk, ignore/block them, but if a negative opinion of your work has the potential to improve your work, use it as an opportunity to become better, closer to that top 10%

I’m the real deal, even when I don’t feel like it. And so are you!

PS. If you’re tired of the ways society tells you you’re part of the problem, please buy my book (it’s less than the cost of a pizza) and leave a five star review so others can find it. It’s definitely one of my top ten accomplishments and I’d love for you to read it. 

Fear of Criticism Was Keeping Me from Working on My Goals

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Photo by Skyla Design on Unsplash

The phrase, “What people think of you is none of your business” was confusing when I first heard it as a kid. But I’ve since realized it means that people are going to have whatever opinions of you that they have, and you can’t stop them.

No matter what I do, I cannot control how people perceive me.

I spend a lot of energy making sure I don’t step on toes, upset people, or hurt people’s feelings. I want people to feel welcome and loved around me. In the past, this has been to my own detriment. I’d light myself on fire to keep someone else warm.

I make compassion a regular habit but I am also getting comfortable taking up some more space. My level of compassion has not changed, except that it now includes myself.

Perception is reality

Everything has to filter through your own issues before you can process it.

I had a boss who used to say, “Perception is reality.” I prefer to think that perception is a filter.

Everything that every person does or says is perceived uniquely by everyone around them. Because everything that every person does or says has to filter through your own issues before you can process it.

An example: Age gaps in relationships. They make me extremely uncomfortable. My abuser was 40 when he met and groomed me to be his victim at 23. Age gaps of ten or more years make me feel sick to my stomach, but it doesn’t mean I think every couple with an age gap is experiencing an abuse dynamic. That’s my experience, my discomfort, my issue. And it’s my boundary to enforce if I don’t want to be around couples with a big age gap because it’s a trauma trigger.

It doesn’t mean I hate you. It doesn’t mean I have to get over it any faster for your benefit, either.

Another example: Weight loss. I can’t deal with people’s before and after photos because they send me back to the mental place I was in when I was deep in my eating disorder. Do I think everyone who has lost weight has an eating disorder? No. Do I think they’re fatphobic? Yes, actually, but that’s a post for another time.

I have unfollowed social media accounts that focus on weight loss or diet culture. It doesn’t mean I hate you.

Fear of criticism

She draws things out of me that I’m too afraid to say without careful distillation into something palatable.

It’s been almost two years since I left an abusive marriage, and I have met myself all over again. I’m discovering things I didn’t know I liked to do, because I never tried. I have a pretty active social life. I’m investing in professional services to make myself a better writer. I’m putting myself out there and promoting my work.

And it’s terrifying.

I have a professional coach whose favorite refrain is “What else?” I tell her how I’m feeling about something, she replies, “Okay, what else? What’s behind that? What’s the thought?”

Like the scene in Dead Poets Society where Robin Williams forces Ethan Hawke into reciting a sudden poem, she draws things out of me that I’m too afraid to say without careful distillation into something palatable.

Last night I said to her, “I’m afraid if I get too big people will criticize me.”

So, it’s fear. I procrastinate, I hedge my bets, I don’t push far enough — because I am afraid to tip the scales in any one direction. I’m afraid to invite criticism.

In the same call, I laughed about a one star review someone left about my book. He hadn’t even read it and the review is nonsensical. I told her I wanted to frame it.

It’s so clear that the one star review is from someone who the book isn’t for. He’s not someone I am trying to reach.

A friend recently pointed out that there were some parts of my book where they thought I didn’t go far enough. I completely agree. I was over-concerned with being agreeable to every reader. A 2.0 version would have a lot of updates and would be bigger, longer, and a lot more divisive. It would invite criticism, but it would also invite more fervent support.

And that’s what I was missing.

I can’t stay quiet anymore

I need to be me so loudly that it turns the wrong people away and draws the right people closer.

I keep bumping into the fact that I try to smooth my edges to appeal to the masses. I censor myself because I’m too afraid of someone disagreeing with me. In conflict with a loved one, I soften my own pain so it doesn’t upset them.

I don’t have to be palatable. I don’t have to be perfectly portioned. I don’t have to be mass produceable.

I need to be me so loudly that it turns the wrong people away and draws the right people closer. And it’s going to suck, at first.

I’ve already lost friends for reasons I don’t understand. I regularly invite feedback and am willing to sit in the discomfort of talking through an issue, so the fact that people who were once close friends have simply written me off is hurtful, but it’s honestly none of my business. If they wanted me to make something right, they’d invite me to do so.

Just like I don’t hate the people I’ve had to take distance from, they probably don’t hate me either. Their perception of me is getting filtered through what they’ve been through and what they’re going through. And that’s okay, even though it stings.

Like my one-star reviewer, some people aren’t going to be the people I’m here to reach. But by turning myself up to 11 and not trying to be everyone’s cup of tea, I’ll attract the people I’m actually here to connect with.

I’m not for everyone, and not everyone is excited for me to change and grow into this new version of myself.

And it’s honestly none of my business.

Ready to make a change in your own life?

I’m taking one on one coach clients this year and I have a few spots open in February. Send in a coach inquiry and we’ll decide the best way for us to work together on a ninety day goal!

 

How I Check My Email to Be a Better Writer

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I aspire to be a person who goes to sleep with zero unread emails every day.

It doesn’t always happen that way, because I’ll end up saving something as a to-do and then before you know it, that little red bubble on my phone says I’m slowly piling up emails again.

But I need these.

These are my Medium digests, with important information I need to be a better writer.

These are emails from workshops, coaches, and courses I’m in, with important information I need to be a better writer.

These are fourteen thousand emails from Shaunta Grimes.

These are business expense receipts, submission deadlines, and form submissions from my website.

These are, okay, that one is just a reminder that I need to skip this month’s MeUndies order.

Getting started

I set myself a timer and decided I wouldn’t check my phone or Facebook until the timer went off. Until then, it was just me and my inbox.

I powered through about 80 emails in 40 minutes and that little red notification bubble has (temporarily) gone back to hell where it came from.

To get started, I opened the following tabs in my browser:

I ended up opening a budget spreadsheet and WordPress as well, which I explain below.

I just started at the top of the email list and went through one at a time. And I took an action with each email.

  • Medium Digests: I opened each article that I wanted to read later and saved it to my reading list within Medium, then deleted the digest email
  • Mailing Lists: I unsubscribed if no longer relevant or simply marked as read if I wanted to stay on the list
  • Bills: I paid them, opened my Google Sheet where I track bills, and recorded the payment
  • Submission Calls: I put a card in my Shiny Object List describing the submission along with the deadline and link to submit — if I have time for shiny objects, I’ll submit during my next Shiny Week
  • Guest Posts: I get inquiries to submit guest posts to my website, so I responded to these with a no thanks or a tell me more
  • Account Confirmations: If I needed to click a button to confirm my email or reset a password, I took care of it in a few seconds and moved onto the next email
  • Valuable Emails: Emails that I want to keep handy but don’t have the focus to deal with right now got a label applied in Gmail so I can find them easily later

I also realized that I received a guest post inquiry through my coaching client inquiry form, so I hopped over to WordPress to adjust the verbiage and hopefully make it clearer what each form is for.

Building the new email habit

My goal is to handle my unread emails in this manner once or twice a day, but I’m not hung up on the zero as a marker of my success. What I want to get from this habit, however “successful” I am at keeping my inbox at zero, is a more intentional approach to my email inboxes and professional development.

It does me no good to be on mailing lists for writers and saving articles about writing if I’m not taking the time to read them, learn, and implement what they teach me.

Handling my email inbox is the first tiny step toward building the habit of improving my writing.

PS. You can get my book in paperback, audio, or ebook so you can read it however works for you!

How to be a blogger

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Well, this is embarrassing,  you guys.

I haven’t written a post in four months.

That’s about the time I decided “I’m going to get serious about writing and really be a blogger.” I decided to live my dream. The process has been looking a little bit like this:

  • Should I make my own website or continue using WordPress as my website?
  • Can I write about non-minimalist stuff on my “Born Again Minimalist” blog?
  • Is “Born Again” too religiousy, causing me to miss out on target audience?
  • What’s my brand?
  • Do I need a logo?
  • Is the lotus thing overdone?
  • Should I offer additional services or products to people?
  • I should write a book, or a free PDF report, or something, to offer people.
  • I need a podcast or newsletter to stay in touch with people.
  • How many blogs per week should I be writing?
  • What is my MISSION for blogging?
  • How can I turn my blog into a business?
  • What’s my goal for blogging?

I was overwhelmed. That is a lot to think about.

In the process of asking all these questions, I became paralyzed with the fear of not doing things right. Of not doing things perfectly. Four months and a lot of personal development books later, I realized a couple things:

  1. Some is better than none.
  2. Done is better than perfect.

In realizing this, I have come up with the million dollar idea! A simple two-step process to being a blogger. I am going to rock your world with this, are you ready?

The two simple steps to being a blogger are just below…

  1. Write a blog post.
  2. Publish it on the internet.

I know, right? How am I not a millionaire with this kind of imaginative, creative, think-outside-the-box type advice? I’m on fire today.

That said, there really are more things to think about when it comes to being a successful blogger. First of all, what defines success for you? How will you measure it?

Success can be measured in all sorts of ways, depending on your goals for your blog or website.

  • Number of newsletter subscribers (I will be successful when I have 1,000 subscribers)
  • Number of blog subscribers (I will be successful when I have 100 blog followers)
  • Number of people who purchase a product or service (I will be successful when I help 50 people with my service)
  • Number of Facebook Likes, Shares, and Comments (I will be successful when 50% or more of my audience engages with my posts)
  • Number of posts per week (I will be successful when I consistently publish two blog posts per week)

Those are some examples. My current success metric will be consistently posting to this blog at least once per week. At the same time, I will be actively working on answering all those other questions posed above, in my overwhelm. But in the meantime, I can’t say I’m a blogger if I’m not actually blogging.

In conclusion: I apologize for my absence! I have really missed engaging with my regular readers and I feel like I have been neglecting you all.

If you’re on Facebook, you can check out my new “Like” page – Happy Fit Soul – Caitlin Reed, Coach!

My end game will be to provide services and tools for various aspects of life “fitness,” including health and nutrition, personal finance, personal relationships and communication, and careers, among other topics as I see fit.

(Ha! Get it? See fit? Because… fitness?)

I totally still got it.

See you guys again real soon!