How many times a day do you say “no” to something just because you care too much about what others would think, should you make the decision to say “yes”?
We all do it. Some of us stop and find freedom; others simply continue hesitating or do not take the best action for them throughout most of their lives and are therefore held prisoner by the external critics and their internal emotional tug of war.
We say no to relationships we should have tried, we say no to friendships we could have made, and we say no career paths and life experiences. We basically do not open many doors presented to us, all because those few within society around us do not see or agree with our decisions or chosen path in life.
I believe our perception of criticism needs to be re-examined from an alternate point of view, not from one of negative stance but from a positive perspective. Daniel Dipazza, author of Mistakes Lead to Connections, once asked an audience, “How many inventions have been made without mistake, error or criticism”? My answer to that question would be “none” and whilst I am sure you would agree, so does Daniel.
What if we could harness the beauty of criticism, not as a negative rhetorical comment but as one for improvement and as a stepping stone for a mindset of positivity?
Listening to, and conforming to, external criticism stops our growth, our happiness and it grinds to a halt any chance of us living an authentically fulfilling life. Nine times out of ten, it’s not the positive things that we focus our attention on but the negative views, perceptions and ideologies that we may not even agree with at the time. However, over time and through experiences and different relationships with varying people, these negative views seem to influence our subconscious and impose a strangle hold on our lives.
When we listen to what others will think and we focus our attention on it, how we perceive life around us begins to change, usually not for the worse.
A 2013 study, found in the US National Library of Medicine, of 48 participants who completed a NEO Personality Inventory Assessment in Neuroticism discovered that there was an altered functional connectivity between the clustered seed regions and the brain areas involved in the appraisal, expression and regulation of negative emotions. Individuals who score high on neuroticism are more likely, than average scorers, to be moody and to experience such feelings as anxiety, worry, fear, anger, frustration, envy, jealousy, guilt, depressed mood, and loneliness.
These results may suggest that the criticised person is attempting to understand the beliefs, perceptions and feelings of the critic, to facilitate flexible and adaptive social behaviour. In short, the brain is trying to adapt and facilitate the information so that our external behaviours can mirror our environment and the peer network around us, so we can create successful relationships and experience social acceptance.
The study also highlights the fact that the participants who were emotionally invested in criticism began to express heightened emotional reactivity, especially to negative events. The more emotionally invested the participants became in the criticism, the greater the chance they had of developing psychiatric disorders, such as depression and anxiety. However, what was crucial in the study was that these same individuals who became emotionally invested in criticism also became more self-critical and overly sensitive to criticism, both internally and externally.
The findings of this research are clear, our primed behaviours lead us away from our authentic self and I am certain, that with practice and patience, how we perceive to see criticism can change. Transformation and change towards a more fulfilling and positive life is something we all deserve to experience, a life where there is a balance in the equilibrium of our mind between positive and negative thoughts.
In 2001 a team of authors, led by Barbara L. Fredrickson, tested the assumption that a change in perception and filtering on mindful thoughts (Mindful thought is a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations), from a negative to a positive, would result in an improved social and personal life. The hypothesis in a field experiment of 139 adults, half of who were randomly assigned, began to practice a change in perception and filtering of all mindful information to loving-kindness and meditation. Results showed that this filtering and meditation practice created experiences of positive emotions, which, in turn, produced increases in a wide range of personal resources (e.g. increased mindfulness, purpose in life, social support, decreased illness symptoms). In turn, these increments in personal resources predicted increased life satisfaction and reduced depressive symptoms over time.
Fredrickson’s theory on boarding, building and filtering positive emotions outlined:
Because positive emotions to arise in response to diffuse opportunities, rather than narrowly-focused threats, positive emotions momentarily broaden people’s attention and thinking, enabling them to draw on higher-level connections and a wider-than-usual range of percept’s or ideas. In turn, these broadened outlooks often help people to discover and build consequential personal resources. These resources can be cognitive, like the ability to mindfully attend to the present moment; psychological, like the ability to maintain a sense of mastery over environmental challenges; social, like the ability to give and receive emotional support; or physical, like the ability to ward off the common cold. People with these resources are more likely to effectively meet life’s challenges and take advantage of its opportunities, becoming successful, healthy, and happy in the months and years to come”. -(Barbara L. Fredrickson, 2001)
Could we use the same process to filter, broaden and build on criticism? Both positive and negative thoughts are processed in cognitive manner in the mind, so we have a choice on how we can perceive the information we hear, see or read. As they say “do we see the problem as glass half-full or glass half-empty”? Harnessing the power to look criticism and in the eye and use it to build an amazing life, business or journey is an opportunity we should all take.
Here are five key points to get you 1% closer to your big goal:
- Take your time to break down information, self-thoughts, judgement and especially criticism. Ask yourself, “How can I change my perception on the information I have received”? We rush ahead in accepting judgement too quickly when addressing information and this can be detrimental to achieving successful and positive outcomes to situations.
- Meditate. Take time to create and revaluate positive thoughts and intentionally evolving a mindful journey before you start your day. Spend at least 10 minutes each morning meditating and predict the day ahead with positive thoughts. Buddha once said, “What you think, is what you become”.
- Learn to say, “I don’t give a f*&k what you think”! When you come across criticism or even self-doubt you need to block out any negative noise or criticism around you. Often we listen to so many external opinions and advice that our mid becomes cluttered, which impedes positivity and moving forward. Positive self-talk requires practice, so whether you do or don’t care about the noise around you, focus your energy and thoughts back within yourself.
- Take risks, even in the face of criticism and adversity. Patrick Tam,author of The Constant Analyst, says: “Risk makes us feel alive. Life without risk is life stuck in a rut. If you feel like your job or your life is getting boring and monotonous, then you’re not taking enough risk. The fact is we’re built to take risk. We need change and growth in our lives. If you are not growing, then you are dying. Realize that nothing in this world truly stays the same”.
- Most importantly, do not feed failure! Remember that focussing on or accepting criticism, self-doubt and negative self-talk only feeds our fear of failure, which is what stops us making the ideal decisions. However, there is a subtle paradox that lies within failure. Only after failure and its acceptance of all the learning that we take away, does the universe give us another chance to give it all another go and to try again and succeed.