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!

 

Stop Hustling: Pacing Yourself is Part of the Plan

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Photo by Adi Goldstein on Unsplash

“You’re trying to do it all,” my coach said — gently accusing me of taking on more than I could handle without burning out.

I had just gotten back from a business trip to test a workshop concept and told my coach I’d have it turned into an online course by the end of the month.

And when I told her the rest of the things on my list to accomplish, including book proposals, keeping up on my social media schedule, taking individual coaching clients, and starting an email list, she said, “You’re trying to do it all.”

“No,” I assured her. “I’m not trying to do it all. It all works together. Everything I do supports my brand as an author, and it’s all related. It’s all one thing!”

Okay, she caught me. I was trying to do it all.

I had spent a solid two months developing the workshop into its current state by working on it — and only it — for weeks, while my ideas for other projects got put into a list for later.

My focus got me this far, and I didn’t want to lose momentum.

Since I wanted to start 2020 off organized and with a solid calendar of social media and blog content, it stood to reason that I could not turn my workshop into a six week course at the same time I was writing a book proposal, learning how to make an email list, and regularly posting on my social accounts.

I needed to give the course a little room to breathe while I created the channels I will use to give it life when it’s ready.

Curiously, I wondered what had been making me think I needed to launch myself into the next huge step instead of making a plan that made sense.

Why was I still hustling?

The answer came to me as I was in the middle of a conversation with someone about something my mother did to me as a kid.

After my sixteenth birthday, I decided I wanted to learn to play guitar. A friend’s mom had an old acoustic one sitting around in a garage and she gave it to me.

I named my guitar Lorelai, and she stayed in my room looking very cool. Sometimes I’d take her out of her black case with its shiny silver buckles and I would strum and try to play a chord or two.

But I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t have a plan.

One day, I received a phone call from my sister.

“Mom’s having a yard sale and she’s selling your guitar.”

I exploded over the phone in livid, shrieking tones at my mother that she had no right to sell my guitar!

She replied coolly and calmly, “Well, you haven’t learned to play it. If you tell me when you’re going to learn to play it you can keep it.”

I felt trapped. I didn’t have a plan.

I could not give her an answer I knew would be true and wouldn’t get my guitar scrapped upon the deadline if I hadn’t kept up my end of the bargain.

She offered an alternative: I could keep it, but she wanted to nail it to her living room wall as decor.

I let her sell my guitar.

The false promise of hustle and perfection

That need to figure out a new hobby right away, to be the best at something immediately, to only bring something into my life if I have a plan for it is directly related to the way my mother treated my hobbies.

I had to earn the right to have an idea by hustling to put it into motion.

But now that I know where this belief comes from, I can take away the power it holds over me.

My approach to undoing mental obstacles is similar to trauma therapy. Find the root of the negative thought (in this case, mom sold my guitar because I didn’t learn it right away = I must constantly be working toward a goal as fast as I can), and then process it.

What would the ideal situation have been with my guitar?

  • I would have been allowed to keep it as long as I needed until I either decided to make a plan to learn or I decided to let it go. That decision should never have been forced.
  • If I had decided to stop learning guitar, that decision should have been accepted and not attached to shame for not trying hard enough, or assumed that I never wanted it in the first place. People can change their minds.
  • I would have had opportunities to learn from people who could teach me in a way that made sense. I was limiting myself to self-teaching, when I could have asked for lessons or help. I didn’t have to learn something new in a vacuum.
  • My mom would have supported that I was interested in a new creative hobby and encouraged me to learn at my own pace. I should not have had to justify my desire or my timeline.

Chasing immediate perfection is never the answer, because we all deserve the time it takes to evaluate if a new idea fits into our life and our plan for growth.

I can’t imagine telling anyone, especially a child, “You have to learn this immediately or I’m getting rid of it.”

The pressure of that edict was enormous, unfair, and harmful.

It has kept me in a pattern of thinking I needed to always be jumping to the next thing in my life in order to achieve goals at breakneck speed and learn new skills as quickly as possible. I need to execute things perfectly, and quickly, in order to not lose the thing I’m working on.

I have to succeed before it’s taken away and I lose the chance forever.

Replacing the negative pattern

It’s not enough to simply find and understand the root cause of a negative belief.
You have to pull an Indiana Jones and swap that thought for a positive one that you can believe is just as real.
Here are some thoughts I can try out to see if they feel just as real and believable as the thought that I need to go fast or I’ll lose my chance.
  • I have plenty of time to get this new skill right.
  • It’s okay to take my time on this project.
  • This project is part of my plan and I don’t need to rush it.
  • I am in charge of how long it takes to learn something new, and I can take as long as I need.

Those beliefs feel so much more loving and supportive.

It might take a little time and practice, and I will need to repeat these new beliefs a lot while I swap them out for the old one.

But that’s okay.

I can take as long as I need to learn something new.

PS. I’m teaching people how to stand up for their boundaries after traumatic pasts in my six week course that starts Monday. Email me to reserve a spot at 50% off list price.

Can You Run Out of Motivation?

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Photo by Prateek Katyal on Unsplash

Do you ever panic that you need to achieve all your dreams right now, or you’ll run out of motivation — or time? 

I spend a lot of time reminding myself that going slow and being deliberate is part of the process. I have to remind myself that my ideas are good and worth pursuing, even if I don’t pursue all of them now. 

For me, trying to do a little of everything is a recipe for zero things getting finished. 

It’s why I try to focus on one thing (or two) at a time, and I make note of the other ideas as they come to me. I’ll get to them later — but I need to focus now so that I can prove to myself that diligence and focus pays off, and that my motivation keeps showing up time and time again.

Maybe I’ll write more books. Maybe I won’t. But what matters right now, even with all those possibilities out there, is that I focus my energy on being the best author of my current book. Which means I can’t just chuck it in the trash to chase my next shiny book idea. 

I have to trust that those other book ideas will still be waiting for me even if I commit to put in more time being the best author of my first one.

How can this relate to your life?

Maybe you’re focused on learning best practices in your job and you’re so worried about optimizing every process at once that you’re losing sight of doing one thing, measuring success, and then moving on once you’ve mastered it.

Maybe you’re learning a new art medium and you’re tempted to quit after you don’t get the hang of it immediately.

What would be possible if you stayed here a little while longer and gave it more of your focus?

I learned a lot from my first book. I learned how to make myself focus when I wasn’t in the mood. I learned how to make little superscript reference numbers and put together a reference list. I’m learning how to market my book. And I’m learning how to let negative reviews roll off me. 

Most importantly, I learned that I’m not everyone’s cup of tea and some people aren’t going to like my book or me. 

But that does not, for one single moment, mean I am ever going to stop sharing my message and writing. Because the people who do enjoy my message are the people I am here to help. 

What can you focus on right now? What is your one thing? You have to be willing to put the focus in on one thing to prove to yourself that your idea is worth finishing before you pick up the next shiny object.

Your possibilities are endless.

PS. Besides my book, launching my online class teaching folks how to revamp their boundaries after trauma is my main priority! (I did say that sometimes I pick two things). Email me to reserve a spot in the course at 50% off list price.

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. 

Social Isolation Doesn’t Have to Be Monotonous

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Photo by Noah Silliman on Unsplash

It’s a scary time in the world right now. The experts advise us to stay inside, self-isolate, in order to protect others from the spread of COVID-19. But we are social creatures, and even as someone who loves to stay home, I am feeling like I’m in the early scenes of a movie where shit is about to get very real. 

There’s a line between panic and caution, and I want you to be cautious. Wash your hands frequently, avoid touching your face, and disinfect frequently touched surfaces like doorknobs, phones, and your steering wheel and gearshift in your car. Stay inside as much as you can, and if you do go out, stay away from crowded places. 

There’s also a line between social distancing and solitary confinement.

Now is the time to recover and rest from the constant to-do list of your life. If you can work from home, do it. Use the time you used to commute to get extra sleep. Make sure you turn off your work email after quitting time. Honor that boundary between your personal time and work time.

Water and wipe down all of your houseplants. Pour care into yourself too. Remember to hydrate. 

Break out your stash of “for a rainy day” spa items and do a face mask or have a bubble bath. Paint your nails. Experiment with bold, fun makeup looks. 

Grab your yarn and needles and finally learn to master a knitting stitch. Teach your kids how to crochet. Paint something. Write poetry. Journal. You may be stuck at home, but it doesn’t mean you’re stuck doing nothing. 

Get online and video chat your friends while you watch a movie together. 

Remember that you are not alone. 

Looking for something to read while you’re home? “The Gaslighting of the Millennial Generation” is available on Kindle, Audible, and Google Books!

Look for the Proof of Your Progress

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Photo by Artem Beliaikin on Unsplash

I was thrilled in November to see that my dormant orchid was growing a new stem. I hadn’t really expected it to rebloom, since I hadn’t taken any special care of it. I watered it when I thought about it and kept it in a sunny spot. 

The temperature outside dropped and boom – new stem.

In the wild, orchids spike when the winter is coming so that they can reproduce. The spike kept growing and growing, and soon I had buds. I was thrilled. 

But unfortunately, my first buds dropped off before they bloomed. The buds kept dying before they opened. 

By early March, the entire stem of seven buds was lost, nothing bloomed. 

And yet, I was still encouraged. I had proof it could grow. 

How many times have I thought I was blooming only for the conditions to not be quite right for me to truly step into the space I deserved to take up? 

I resolved to care for it better for the next time. I will give my orchid sun, I will water it on the right schedule, and I will fertilize it so it has everything it needs. I will repot it so it has fresh nutrients. 

And I will trim back my overcommitted schedule, I will get time outside in nature, I will get the water and nutrition I need, and I will create the environment I need in order to fully bloom. 

I can look for the proof that my growth is possible.

At the end of March, when I was watering my orchids, I noticed that this stem has started to bud again. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

I write up life lessons and pep talks every week(ish) for my mailing list. Subscribe today for pep talks and news about my writing and speaking engagements. http://eepurl.com/gQthpX