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Ever received “constructive” criticism? It doesn’t usually feel very good, and you probably remember the last occasion when you received constructive criticism. On the flip side, have you received a compliment on your work lately? Now, hold in your mind the way you felt when you received constructive criticism…name one emotion you feel as you bring it to mind. Do the same with the compliment; what emotions arise for you as you consider the compliment you received (name one)?
For most of us, the weight of the constructive criticism will far out-strip any lift we gain from a compliment…assuming we remember a compliment we received recently (and that we actually owned it or took it seriously). Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we let the negative feelings drag us down, but not necessarily let the positive feelings hold us up? I don’t know about you but for a positive event to make me feel better just after I’ve received constructive criticism, it would have to be on an order of magnitude with winning the lottery.
Science teaches us that our emotions are electrochemical signals released in our brains, and that these chemicals produce feelings that last for about six seconds (if you would like to read more on this please find it here). These feelings are designed to move us to action, so in a case where we are feeling shame, vulnerability, embarrassment or failure we continually produce electrochemical signals that make us feel bad, and on and on it goes, until another life experience knocks us off the cycle (or we manage the cycle ourselves). What this means is we have a tendency to perpetuate negative feelings, re-live them or refresh them. We beautiful human beings don’t tend to do this as often with our positive feelings and memories.
In a world where we in fact get as many items of constructive criticism as we do compliments (probability theory) then it stands to reason we should have the opportunity for balance and equilibrium in our days. When it doesn’t seem like that is the case we are falling prey to “conjunction fallacy” (a part of probability theory), which is the bias that given two statements most people will assume the first statement is always true (as in the choice between “my work is bad” and “my work is good”); on the days when you are continually flogging yourself with shame, guess which of those statements is always up first (I can find fault with myself during my morning shower without trying really hard…)?
“Our minds influence the key activity of the brain, which then influences everything; perception, cognition, thoughts and feelings, personal relationships; they're all a projection of you. ~ Deepak Chopra
What this highlights is it is up to each of us to see ourselves objectively. It’s up to us to balance the equation by taking in both the positive and negative and give them equal weight (owning that compliment, not just brushing it off). If we don’t do this for ourselves, no one else will either.