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.

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. 

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

Taking Back My Life

Coach Caitlin Reed has lost over 80 pounds in the last three years by making lifestyle changes with the help of Beachbody coaches and products.

Left, March 2012. Right, June 26, 2015.

Growing up, I was fat shamed. I routinely heard such sayings as “Okay, it’s YOUR body” (when I asked for a sugary snack), “How will you get a boyfriend when you eat like a pig?” “I’m going to put a voice recorder in your pocket on your first date to see if you burp; that’s disgusting,” and other such exciting phrases. We were made to eat our vegetables. Once, we were denied a promised trip to the movies because we ate popsicles before we finished bringing the groceries in. Food was a punishment and a reward when I was a child. It was used to control and to keep me in my place. My relationship with food was very much equated with my potential for relationships with men and how men would see me.

I was not bullied in school for my weight but I had very low self-esteem. I had learned that fat people don’t deserve love.

Fast forward to age 18 when I met my first real boyfriend. First kiss, first love, first everything. Including first husband. Despite my mother trying to tell me that there were some red flags I should pay attention to, I was hell bent on marrying the guy because I thought it was all a big mistake, a fluke, because I was fat and there was no way that someone would actually want to be with me. So we got married on June 26, 2009.

Three months later, I realized I had made a mistake. He’s not a bad person, we were just a bad match and I was nowhere near ready to be married. I didn’t know how to communicate because I had never seen a model of a healthy relationship to follow (no offense meant to my parents, but I never saw them fight… just suddenly they divorced). After 2.5 years of marriage I moved out in January 2012, armed with some newly grown self-confidence and the knowledge that I didn’t have to settle for a life that made me so unhappy.

In December 2011, I weighed 300 pounds, my highest weight in recorded history. What a reality check – I had lost all control. I needed to take it back.

Once I moved out and we got divorced, I began the work of “Finding Myself.” This included a new job, a new apartment, discovering Dave Ramsey and paying off my car, and paying all my own bills like a grown ass adult. Minimalism ensued because one of the easiest ways to make a radical change in your life is to get rid of everything you own.

Then a woman messaged me on Facebook and we began a friendship. She saw me post a question about vegan diets in a health group. And she was a Beachbody coach.

That patient, patient woman talked with me on and off for eight months before I decided to sign up and try this workout and Shakeology stuff she was telling me about. I signed up as a coach because I can’t resist a good discount. And it was great! I loved it.

For some reason, on Thanksgiving day 2013, I quit working out. Shortly thereafter I canceled my account to save money.

Patiently again, my coach kept supporting me, finally letting me know about a new program called PiYo. I wondered, “What if I actually stuck with it this time?” and I signed up as a coach again.

Guess what day the box arrived in the mail? It was June 26, 2014. An ordinary day of the year to anyone else, but to me it was a reminder of a life shed and left behind. It would have been my fifth wedding anniversary.

I tore that box open, popped in the DVD, and TOOK IT BACK.

That date is now mine. It is my anniversary to myself. It is a reminder that I am enough, I am beautiful, I am confident, and I am capable of doing anything I can dream. It is a reminder that “what if” is an amazing thing. June 26 represents everything good in the world to me, because it’s the day I took my life back for good.

The key, for me, has been practicing self-love and working on myself emotionally as well as physically. How can I expect to treat my body right if deep down I believe it’s not good enough for me, that it’s ugly or useless or horrible? You cannot make lasting changes due to hating your body; you make lasting changes when you love your body. Learning to love myself (body, mind, and spirit) has been huge for me.

It has been a year since I took it all back and I am happy to report that I did not give up in the middle of my workout. I completed PiYo. I completed 21 Day Fix and 21 Day Fix Extreme. I completed Combat and Pump. I am halfway through a 20 week TurboFire schedule.

I can honestly tell you that I love exercise and crave it like a drug. I can honestly tell you that my coach and my supporters in our accountability groups have changed my life. I can honestly tell you that Shakeology is worth every penny to me because of the way it makes me feel and the way it fuels my body.

Beachbody is how I took control of my life. Now I’m actively coaching and helping others take control of theirs.

Happy anniversary, Caitlin. I love you unconditionally. Finally.

THE STATS:
All time top weight: 300 lbs, December 2011
No measurements available from this time. I wish!!

6/26/14
Weight 256
Bust 48”
Chest 40.5”
Waist 44”
Hips 53”
Thighs 31” each
Calves 17” each
Right bicep 16”
Left bicep 15”
Neck 14.5”

6/26/15
Weight 213.4 (lost 42.6 lbs in a year, 86.6 since December 2011)
Bust 43” (lost 5”)
Chest 35” (lost 5.5”)
Waist 37” (lost 7”)
Hips 47” (lost 6”)
Thighs 26.5” each (lost 4.5” each)
Calves 15” right, 15.5” left (lost 3.5” total)
Right bicep 13.5” (lost 2.5”)
Left bicep 13” (lost 2”)
Neck 13.5” (lost 1”)

My advice to people who want to make a huge change in their life?
1. Never give up.
2. Love yourself.
3. Never give up on loving yourself.