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It's Complicated- Compliments and Criticism

Updated: Apr 12, 2018

The weirdest compliment I've received was "you have an interesting forehead". I wouldn't have taken that statement as a compliment, but the woman followed it up with "I mean that as a compliment"... so, I guess that's that.

Compliments. We all want them. Yet, we seem to be unable to accept them.

I will be the first to say I want someone (aka. my husband) to compliment me sometimes. I don't need to hear it all the time, just sometimes. So you'd think when he says "you look beautiful" I would be happy and appreciative to hear that.

But I'm usually not.

Usually I roll my eyes or full on disagree with him (which by the way, disagreeing with a partner when they compliment you doesn't make them want to do it more often.. in case you were wondering). I've noticed a similar response when I compliment other woman too. "Your hair looks pretty" is met with "ew, I haven't washed it in days". Or "I like your outfit" is met with "I had nothing else to wear". Sometimes when a woman receives a compliment she responds with a disgusted and surprised look on her face.

Why is it so hard to receive compliments? Why can't we just receive them without brushing them off or even believe them to be true?

I'm not just talking about physical appearance compliments either. When someone tells you you're smart, funny, creative, good at (fill in the blank), why is it so difficult to take that in?

More importantly, why is it that when we get one piece of criticism, it seems to override every single compliment we've ever received and the criticism becomes the truth in our mind?

Last week something happened that made me realize how our minds can really be the culprit for blocking our joy. I received some criticism about a blog I posted. Basically, someone disagreed with some of my opinions (which, is life). They weren't even mean about it. But when I heard it, I felt about an inch tall. I decided I should never write anything ever again and felt stupid (I can be a little dramatic, I admit). I couldn't shake it for DAYS.

Yesterday, I received an email from an organization saying they wanted to publish one of my blog posts, something I wasn't even considering would or couple happen. I truly was surprised, and excited.

For about three minutes.

Then it was gone.

Notice how much shorter the good experience lasted verses the criticism?

There is this phenomenon humans experience called negativity bias. Basically, it means that we have the tendency to focus more on the negatives than the positives. We do this in how we view ourselves, others, and the world around us.

You've probably experienced this before. You do a presentation at school or work and all you can focus on is the one mistake you made instead of the entire presentation as a whole. Or when you get a hair cut and get some compliments but one person makes a joke about it and suddenly you hate your new haircut.

We tend to cling to the negative and ignore the positive feedback we receive.

It's really a bummer, because this mindset can stop us from chasing after dreams or from putting ourselves out there. If we are viewing ourselves through the lens of our negative feedback, negative comments or just negative thoughts, of course we won't want to task a risk and chase a dream.

The good news is that we have the ability to challenge and change our mindset. We have the power to choose what we are going to focus on.

I'm not saying we should ignore criticism, I think it's important to take what you can from it to learn and better yourself. But you should be focusing JUST as much on the positive feedback, including compliments, as much as you do on the criticism. This may not feel natural in your brain, but you have the power to choose.

So here are some things I want to encourage you, and myself, to do:

-The next time someone gives you any sort of criticism, take what you can from it, but also take all the other positive feed back you have received into account just as much. If you are at work and you get a negative review, before you let that review become the end-all-be-all of your performance, weigh it up against any positive feedback you have received. It is just as important, and should be taken just as much into account.

-The next time you are consumed with negative thoughts about yourself, actively reach into your memory and think about why these negative thoughts might not be true. Today I am having thoughts that I am a bad wife... but the memories in my mind remind me that my husband doesn't actually think that about me, and he has even said I'm a great wife, so what if I choose to believe that?

-The next time you get a compliment, don't brush it under the rug. Genuinely thank the person and let the compliment sink as deep as you would a statement of criticism. A compliment can be just as true as criticism.

Let's start focusing at least as much on the positive as we do the negative.Life is way too short to allow criticism or negative beliefs to rule how we live or to take away our joy.

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Lauren Cochlin
Lauren Cochlin
Mar 16, 2018

Loved this piece. Negativity bias is strong for me, but I'm actively trying to improve my frame of mind.

I can nail 99% of things in a work assignment or a presentation, and instead I'll focus on the one time I think I could've articulated my points better. Goodness gracious.

My favorite line from this post, and what I believe to be the takeaway is:

"Let's start focusing at least as much on the positive as we do the negative."

I'm committed to making this my intention for next week -- in my personal and professional life. From external influences and people, and from myself.

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