You’re a genius, fantastic, such an amazing person. That felt good to hear didn’t it?
Well, I was lying – you suck, you’re terrible, just awful. That didn’t feel so good, right?
Those feelings would probably be even more intense if someone was saying these things to you in person. A guaranteed shift in your mood.
It’s a simple example of how reliant we can be on praise and how affected we can be by criticism. Even if there is no basis to either, they have the power to make or ruin a day, a week, a life.
Our method of processing praise by feeling good is an instinctive one, we don’t tend to question it. And because it feels good we seek more of it. We repeatedly seek to fulfill the expectations of those who would praise us. We seek to prove ourselves.
While that can sometimes be a good motivator for achievement, it means we’ll instinctively feel bad if we don’t fulfill certain people’s expectations. If those people don’t praise us, or worse, if they criticize us.
So how do we remove this dependence? How do we stop granting other people permission to decide our worth, our mood, at any given time?
Instead of seeking to prove ourselves, we should seek to approve ourselves.
We should decide our own worth and feel good because praise and criticism are just the opinions of others and not our concern. The alternative is making every decision based on what someone else will approve of.
But again, how? Here are some ideas:
- Make self-approval your default state
- Think of self-approval as the box that keeps the seesaw balanced. No matter how much criticism is added to the other side, self-approval is heavy enough to counteract it.
- Keep a list to refer to
- Let self-approval develop by listing your strengths, positive experiences and times in the past when you have been praised. You can refer back to this list when self-approval feels difficult.
- Consider where praise/criticism is coming from
- “It never ceases to amaze me: we all love ourselves more than other people, but care more about their opinion than our own.” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 12.4
- “Who are those people by whom you wish to be admired? Are they not these whom you are in the habit of saying that they are mad? What then? Do you wish to be admired by the mad?” – Epictetus, Discourses 1.21
- “I’m getting real sick of taking advice From people that never could stare at reflections” – Jack Harlow, What’s Poppin‘
- Treat praise as a bonus, not as an overall goal
- Enjoy praise, let it boost you, but don’t rely on it. Add it to your list and move on without attachment.
- “Which of these things derives its beauty from praise, or withers under criticism? Does an emerald lose its quality if it is not praised? And what of gold, ivory, purple, a lyre, a dagger, a flower, a bush?” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 4.20
These aren’t hacks. They won’t instantly change things. It takes time to rewire instinctive behavior.
They’re just ideas. They can be used as a first step or to inspire your own ideas. If you can change old habits you’ll start to value being yourself more than being praised by someone else.
This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t be challenged, that we should be constantly telling ourselves we’re right and can’t be told otherwise. Examine criticism. If it’s justified then use it as feedback to improve. If it’s not justified, laugh at it and return to your new default of self-approval.