7 Reasons Criticism Isn't the End of Your Life

You just got off the phone with your boss, and they’ve given you more work to do on a project you’ve turned in. You were hoping that it was good enough so that you wouldn’t have to spend more time on it. You’re annoyed, frustrated. At your desk you push the drawer in so it makes a sound and move your coffee mug around. Anything you can make noise with you do, because how else are you supposed to express your pent up aggression around other people?

A lot of us dread feedback because we see it as a negative. We take even constructive criticism as a reason to feel bad about ourselves or evidence that we should just stop trying. Or sometimes we get angry and ignore what’s being said to us, because what do they know? But feedback is one of the best tools we have for pushing ourselves to achieve what we want in life. So how can we see it in a more positive light? The next time you feel yourself rejecting or resenting feedback, try these thought patterns on for size:

It’s not personal

In the English lit class I took my freshman year of college, no matter how hard I studied or put in time on my papers, my assignments always came back with red marks scribbled in the margins and x’s through entire sentences. I mustered the courage one day to ask the professor what I needed to work on. He started his response with, “You’re a nice girl, but not a good writer.” As you might have imagined, I didn’t take this too well. I walked out crying.

And as years passed, I encountered many more situations where I took feedback as a personal attack, seeing it as a statement about who I was. But then I began to notice something. I reacted differently depending on whether the feedback was given to me in person or on a page. When I read someone else's assessment of my work, it became information. It was kind of an aha moment for me. What if I saw all types of feedback in this way, only as information? If so, then my professor wasn’t trying to disempower me, just trying to give me the information I needed to make an informed decision.

In his book The Success Principles, Jack Canfield dedicates an entire chapter to using feedback to your advantage. He says, “Remember, feedback is simply information. You don’t have to take it personally. Just welcome it and use it.“

It's a learning Opportunity

I used to get angry when I felt like I’d made a mistake. I had a very difficult time accepting any kind of criticism. My response would be to get quiet and sulk, thinking how terrible and stupid I was. Why didn’t I know all of what they were pointing out to me? I’d beat myself up about it for days. But all of the negative self-talk weakened me and made me uptight and stressed. It made me stumble over my work and made it harder to produce anything meaningful. In his book, Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships, Daniel Goleman writes, “The more intense the pressure, the more our performance and thinking will suffer.”

To redirect my anger, I had to learn to readdress my reaction to it. I had to take off my judgmental, critical hat and replace it with an encouraging friend or mentor cap. This way, I could see myself with soft eyes. By inciting positive emotion, we can enhance our mental abilities. In a another of his books, Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence, Goleman says the areas we can enhance through positive emotion are “creative thinking, cognitive flexibility, and the processing of information.”

Once I could see myself without judgment, I could start asking questions that would move me in a more positive direction: How is my reaction helping me? Am I moving forward by reacting this way? When I asked myself these questions, I could easily spot how my fear and self-doubt wasn’t helping me or moving me forward. Then I asked myself another question: What would help me move forward? What is my goal or desire? How can I use what I’ve learned to achieve that goal or desire?

When you start beating yourself up, shift course and make a deliberate effort to be kind to yourself, empathize with yourself, and see yourself like you would a friend. Then ask, What can I learn from this?

It's part of your roadmap to Success

Years ago, when people would suggest easier ways of doing something or point out some way in which I could improve, I immediately felt they were telling me I was wrong. What I heard was, You don’t know what you’re doing. It took me years to see feedback differently, and what I learned was that, along with seeing it as information and as an opportunity to grow, I could also see it as a guideline for success.

When someone tells you what isn’t working or what may need to be improved upon, what they’re really saying is, Here’s a way for you to be the best you can be. They’re telling you, If you want to be the best writer or banker or teacher or get that CEO position, these are the areas you’re going to have to excel in. These are the areas you want to focus on, to become really good at, so that you can reach your dreams and be as successful as you want to be. Right here is your list. The person giving you feedback is likely giving you a roadmap to success. All you have to do is be open to it.

“Make a list of the action items that were delivered by the boss,” advises executive career coach, Tina Nicolai in an article on “Jot down in a column the solution for each negative piece of feedback. This is your planning guide.”

It helps you achieve Goals Faster

Feedback made me doubt my capabilities, which meant with each ding in my self-esteem, I felt farther away from achieving my goals. Although I compared myself to other people, I compared myself more to a version of myself that I thought I should embody, the version I felt others were telling me I needed to resemble in order to be successful.

Once I worked on my self-esteem, I was able to see that what others were saying could actually be not an obstacle in my way but the driving force I needed to reach my dreams faster. I started welcoming feedback and writing down what people would say so that I could use the comments to become more productive or effective.

It forces you to ask, Is This Right for Me?

Feedback can make us feel uncertain about our careers, relationships, and overall worth. But the beautiful piece is that it can also lead to big-picture clarity about what we want our lives to look like and what it will take to get there.

In other words, feedback brings self-awareness. You get a clear picture of how skilled you are in a particular area or how suited you are to a specific situation. Often external feedback helps us acknowledge what we've known all along: that maybe this isn't the right fit. Do we want to put in the work to succeed in this particular field, with this particular company, or in this relationship with this particular person?

Sometimes the answer is yes, and we persevere. Other times we cut our losses. Either way, the feedback has helped us tap into what we really want and need and make a decision. There's even research to support the connection between criticism and personal growth, according to Allen R. McConnell, Ph.D., a psychology professor at Miami University."The negativity elicited from our awareness of a discrepancy between our current state and our goal is critical to spur self-improvement,” he wrote on PsychologyToday.

It motivates you

After I walked out of my lit class crying, all I wanted to do was prove my professor wrong. I wanted to write the best papers, blow all the other kids out of their seats, and show my professor that I could be better.

“If you want to remain calm and peaceful as you go through life, you have to have high intention and low attachment,” Canfield writes. My intention to prove everyone wrong was more powerful than the attachment I had to what was said. “Sometimes,” Canfield writes, “you don’t get the intended result by the date that you want. That is life. You just keep moving in the direction of your goal until you get there.”

It points you to your next move

What I used to hear when I received feedback was that there was a lot I didn’t know. I’d get frustrated and dwell on how uninformed I was about the thing at which I so desperately wanted to succeed. Slowly, though, I began to appreciate having what I didn't know pointed out to me. Once I knew what I didn't know, I could start amassing those skills, which would not only improve in the situation I was in but also better prepare me for other scenarios in the future.

One of the best quotes I’ve heard is, “Life is 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent how you react to it.” So the next time you’re called into the office or your significant other says those four fateful words ("We need to talk"), know that what you’re getting is an opportunity to grow. Image: ileezhun/Fotolia