I recently had somebody very close to me give me some pretty honest feedback. I can’t lie; it stung.
Receiving criticism, or “feedback,” doesn’t typically feel good to any of us. I was certainly jammed up after this person gave me some of their raw thoughts about me.
When we receive criticism, our brains perceive it as a threat to our self-worth, status, and esteem.
When we feel this threat, a surplus of a hormone called cortisol rushes through our bodies (science can be cool, stay with me).
Cortisol is a stress hormone that gets released under both psychological stress (Internet trolls hating on your homemade strudel) and physical stress (like lifting heavy ass weights).
With normal daily stress – like traffic, your coffee spilling all over you car, or getting chased by a bee – our cortisol rises, but returns back to normal levels after about 40 minutes.
But when someone takes shots at our self-esteem, our cortisol stays high for over an hour.
“Above all other stresses, the feeling of being personal criticized takes the biggest tolls on our bodies and on our ability to think clearly.” Says Tony Schwartz, author of Be Excellent at Anything.
So naturally, I was emotionally charged up. But after my cortisol came down, and my large ego came down with it, I was better able to see the criticism, appreciate the honesty of the other person, and actually use it to get better.
Here’s how you can do the same:
1) Take some time to take the emotion out of it
My father always says that “feedback is a gift” meaning you can accept it or not. Just because somebody’s shares what they think, doesn’t necessarily make it true, and it doesn’t mean we have to do anything with it.
When we see it as such, we can take the emotion out of it.
When this person gave me feedback, I took a day before coming back to respond. This allowed me to logically say, “Hey, this person loves me and wants the best for me. I trust them, and we have built up a strong enough relationship to even have a conversation like this.”
So take a moment. Let the emotions simmer down. Think about whom the feedback is coming from: your family or @iheartvideogames4226 on Twitter?
Once you no longer feel charged with emotion and cortisol, move onto step 2.
2) Look for evidence of truth
Alright, fine. I’ll tell you what I got so jammed up about. The criticism I received was that I wasn’t as driven, proactive, or growth-oriented as I used to be.
They were simply concerned that I was growing complacent in life.
Byron Katie, author and spiritual wizard, has her followers “do the work.” The work is an assessment tool to work through your emotional and mental garbage. Check it out, but beware, this is not for the emotionally immature. The first time I did it I got more angry than mental freedom.
Within The Work, there is a point called “the turnaround” where you find instances where a statement (or criticism) could potentially be true.
When I looked at my situation, it is certainly true that I haven’t progressed in my career the way I would have liked to this point.
And I certainly have lazy afternoons where I binge watch Game of Thrones episodes I’ve already seen while crushing a way-too-big bag of popcorn.
Another insight of truth was how upset I got.
If I was told that I had ugly yellow hair or that I sucked at basketball it wouldn’t have phased me. I know I don’t have ugly yellow hair, I have luxurious brown locks. And I know I’m no scrub on the court.
When you’re emotionally charged up, there’s a good chance somebody is tapping into some truth or insecurities of yours. Check yourself.
3) Look for evidence of not-truth(?)
Now, look for evidence of not-truth(I don’t think that’s a thing, but you get it).
I can find plenty of examples where I was self-motivated, got super focused, spent 4 hours straight at a Starbucks grinding out an ebook or a wellness plan for a client.
I spent years being up before 5am while all my friends were just winding down their college parties. I read a book a week, took risks most of my friends would never, and wrote 10,000 plus words this month. I’m proud of that.
So there is truth in both my laziness and in my drive. Now, the ball is in my court, and I’m back in my power.
4) Do I want to change my behavior?
Now, we’re no longer emotional. We could see how the other person is objectively right, and we’ve seen that a criticism may contain a truth, but is not our whole truth.
Now, we have to decide if we even want to use that feedback.
For me, because it came from somebody I love and trust, and I realized how sensitive I was to the criticism (highlighting my insecurities of being seen as lazy or incompetent), I decided that I wanted to take the criticism into consideration.
I want to implement some new things in my life, so I wrote down a few changes in my notebook, and now I’m making moves to make things happen.
But you don’t have to. Does the person know what their talking about? I know a guy who gives relationship advice, but doesn’t have a relationship. He gives unsolicited life advice, but I wouldn’t want his life.
Do you have an established relationship with them? Did they only see a small sample size or do they know you well?
Take all of these things into consideration.
Criticism will never feel good. Our cortisol will shoot up, and we’ll have an emotional reaction, but then we need the maturity and awareness to go through the process.
We need to disengage from our emotional brain. We need to see truth and not-so-much-truth, and then we need to decide if we even give a fuck. If you like the way you are, then good for you. Don’t change. But have the capacity to at least think for yourself.
Because in the end, “Feedback is a gift, my son.” No more, no less.