By Scott Young
If you do anything unique, people will attack you for it. Self-motivation depends on having a thick skin, persisting in spite of criticism. But equally important is the ability to not let praise consume you, either. Because, praise and criticism are just reflections of each other.
In order to properly handle criticism, you also need to properly handle praise. If someone excessively flatters you for a minor success, you need to internalize it the same way you would internalize a scathing insult. The person that is easily flattered is also easily criticized.
Ultimately, only you can steer your life. If you allow yourself to be misled by attacks or flattery, you won’t reach your destination.
The Problem with Praise
If someone congratulates you, by all means, thank them. Enjoy the fruits of your success. But if you fully embrace every piece of praise you receive, you open yourself to becoming overconfident. Additionally, since praise and criticism are equal partners, when you accept all praise without a thought, you expose yourself to criticism.
A friend of mine was also involved with the same new venture competitions I was this year. His team had a tremendous success at their first competition and he fully absorbed the praise that went with it. He was extremely confident and happy in his team’s success.
However, at a later competition, when his team did not perform as well, he was crushed. I feel his unguarded acceptance of all praise in the first victory is what opened him to deeper criticism later.
Internalizing praise can lower your motivation to work hard just as much as criticism. While some minor critiques encourage improvement, excessive flattery promotes laziness. Instead of working hard to constantly improve, it is just easier to rest and enjoy the congratulations of people around you.
Stop Caring What Other People Think of You
The solution, both to prevent the excesses of praise and the humiliation of criticism, is to stop caring what other people think of you. Take what is actionable from their feedback and ignore the rest. Since you are the sole captain of your life, don’t allow others to steer the ship.
If I write an article, I generally receive a mix of positive comments and negative comments. For criticism, I seek out any actionable suggestions from their comments. If someone notes that I made a grammatical mistake in an article, I’ll happily correct it. Or, if someone feels the logic of my argument was weak, I can make efforts to correct it in a future discussion of the topic.
For praise, I take a similar approach. I thank the person for their comment, and see if there is anything actionable from their suggestion. If several people enjoyed a topic, I’ll know it is something readers are interested in and worth discussing again.
What I strive not to do, with both praise and criticism, is to let it get under my skin. If someone writes an attack on my writing, I’ll remind myself that this comment is just a small pebble on my course, and not to allow it to derail me. Similarly, if I get a piece of praise, I’ll remind myself that this is just one view, and not to let it distract me from the bigger goal.
Start Caring What You Think of Yourself
Far more important than praise or criticism is what you think of yourself. I don’t care if I’m receiving thousands of words of praise or attacks, if I know that what I’m doing doesn’t reflect my true goals or values, I won’t be happy. Start caring what you think of yourself, because you are the one that has to look in the mirror each day.
In running this business, I need to constantly ask myself whether what I’m doing is aligned with my goals. Do my daily actions reflect my short and long-term goals for the website? Am I writing content that delivers deeper value, or is it just self-help infocrack that gains popularity but provides no substance?
Praise and criticism can’t answer those questions, only you can. Which is why you need to listen to yourself above everyone else.
Listening to yourself first isn’t arrogant. You are the only person that intimately understands your goals and values. You are the one who set the goals in the first place. So, how can you expect other people, with different motives, to give you the ideal feedback to move forward?
Other people can offer great advice. But the emotional impact of praise and criticism should come from yourself. Other people can offer actionable suggestions, but they can’t be the judge of your self-worth.
The ideal state of mind is humble confidence. You are humble, because you accept all feedback, searching for actionable suggestions, open to any opportunity. You are confident because you won’t allow emotional praise or criticism to distract you from your goals.
In practice, it is impossible to maintain this state perfectly. I’m human like everyone else, so when I am insulted, I’ll feel bad about that. When I’m praised, I’ll feel happy. Those instincts won’t go away.
However, if you accept those first impressions, but don’t let them gnaw at your conscious self-image, you’ve succeeded. You can feel hurt from an insult, but you can evaluate the attack afterward and prevent it from wounding you. This is similar to the Stoic idea that nothing is good or bad, except in the mind. You may be forced to have a first impression from criticism or flattery, but you can then re-evaluate that so it doesn’t distract you from your goals.
If people praise you, thank them and focus on your goal. If people criticize you, thank them and focus on your goal. Because, in the end, you’re the one who has to judge yourself and live with it.
Disclaimer: Take the good, leave the wrong.