How Is Criticism Is Good For You?

Criticism is one of the hardest things to hear. However, criticism doesn’t have to be all negative. If you able to hear it with mindfulness, criticism can be a chance to see yourself and your ‘criticizer’ on a deeper level.

Criticism >= Stomach Punch?
Recently I was talking with a senior member of my spiritual community. While we were talking my business, the Mindful Fitness Movement, came up.

He expressed concern about how I talked about my time at the monastery. He suggested it was inappropriate to list the 2 years I spent at the monastery on my business website.

The next thing I knew I found myself getting defensive and reactive. What I heard him saying was, “I had no business trying to help anyone at all.”

I was able to explain why I listed the monastery on my site and leave the conversation skillfully.  Still, I left feeling very agitated.

3 Windows Of Criticism
Later after I calmed down I was able to look at what I call the 3 windows of criticism.

1. Their Truth – This is your best guess at what the criticizer is expressing. My best guess was, “Training at the monastery is a sacred tradition. I want to honor that tradition.”

2. My Fear – This is the fear that the criticism triggered.
My fear was, “I’m afraid my spiritual community doesn’t support my work. I’m afraid the person I respect thinks I can’t help people. What if he’s right?”

3. The Value – This can be a shared value or two separate values that each of your is trying to support. The value I saw was, “We both want to honor and support a tradition that helped us find peace and meaning.”

It is hard to hear a person’s values through their criticism. But it’s important to try and see what they care about.  Even if you don’t support how they are trying to meet those values.

MindFitMove Practice:
Think of an occurrence in your recent past where you felt criticized. Then follow the steps below.

1. Write down what you remember the person saying. (Try not to interpret or write assumptions)

2.Write down what your reaction was in words and/or thought. 

3. Write down the feelings that came up for you when they said it.

4. Write down Their Truth, Your Fear, and The Values you were both holding.

Once you have gone through these steps it’s up to you to decide which if any action needs to be taken. Often when we receive criticism our willingness to hear and understand the person is enough to make the difference.

Remember that it’s not about blame. It’s about finding a way forward that honors both of you.


Your Thoughts Don’t Matter

Your Thoughts Don’t Matter

Many people, who work in the realm of personal improvement, including personal trainers and coaches, engage in the practice of labeling thoughts ‘positive’ or ‘negative.’ They use techniques like visualization and thought replacement. The goal is to generate ‘positive’ thinking and banish ‘negative’ thoughts.

The problem is they often create anxiety around ‘negative’ thoughts. They insist we must avoid this thinking at all cost. But avoiding negative thoughts is about as easy as avoiding sunshine.

Ironically by trying to avoid ‘negative’ thinking we actually empower it. The true power of our thoughts comes from how we react to them. When we react strongly the thoughts grow in power and duration.

Anxious Alvin
Alvin is at mile ten of a half marathon. He is getting tired and the thought pops into his head, “This is too hard!” This is his first half, so this thought scares the bajebus out of him.

Questions begin to spin through his mind: “What if I don’t make it?” “What will my friends and family think?” “Why can’t I ever finish anything I start?” “What did I get myself into?”

As these thoughts grip Alvin his anxiety grows. His breath becomes shallow and his feet feel heavy. He feels his motivation lag. He starts to feel light-headed; he slows down, and starts to walk. He eventually finishes the race, but is disappointed with his performance.

It would be easy to blame Alvin’s performance on lack of character or strength of will. Perhaps we think he should have willed himself to not think about how hard it was or maybe he should just have trained harder. In either case we are missing the reason why Alvin’s thoughts grew into such a big problem.

Cool Chloe
Let’s take the same situation, but this time with a different perspective. Chloe is at mile ten of a half marathon. She is getting tired and the thought pops into her head, “This is too hard!” but Chloe has run many half marathons.

She knows this is the hardest part of the race. But she’s been here before and has faith that she’ll make it. She may worry briefly, but ultimately the thought merely vanishes. She finishes the race and achieves a personal best.

A Seasoned Beginner
In both of these examples the thought is the same “This is too hard!” The difference is that Alvin indulges the thought and it grows, while Chloe just let the thought go. Some of this comes from experience, but you don’t have to be a veteran to think like one. It is possible to face each new challenge from the cool Chloe perspective.

Whenever you take on a big challenge at some point, “This is too hard!” will pop into your head. The trick to being like Chloe is not to vanquish these thoughts, but to accept them as they arise.

Seeing Is The First Step To Letting Go
This is where mindfulness comes into play. When we practice mindful fitness our goal is to observe the mind without judgment.

When a thought arises we simply notice the thought, doing our best not to judge. We look to see what body sensations arise with the thought. We might notice our breath gets shallow, or we furrow our brow. Most importantly we don’t try to ‘fix’ the thought. We just let it be.

By observing our thoughts instead of trying to fix them we withhold their power over us. Each time we observe, even a little bit, we begin to grow space around our thoughts. As the space grows, it’s easier to let go of the thoughts without getting all worked up.

MindFitMove Practice:
Choose 1 – 3 ‘negative’ thought(s) that often arise when you workout or think about working out. Then one at a time repeat each thought in your mind and write down some observations:

  1. What do I feel in my body as I hold this thought?
  2. What other thoughts come along with this thought?
  3. What does my body do when I think these thoughts?

For one week, try and notice when these thoughts or their related sensations arise. Try to observe each thought without judging. If you get caught up anyway that’s ok, but notice that you got caught up.

At the end of the week revisit this list and write down anything else you notice. The hard part of this exercise is to avoid coming up with a strategy to defeat the thoughts. The purpose of this practice is to learn to observe your thoughts without judgment.

You don’t need to be fixed. You already have the tools you need for your transformation. The trick is to trust your own wisdom and to get out of your own way. Mindfulness is the first, second, and final practice that enables your true power to emerge.


I wrote this on my IPhone

06_archimedes_35438535_620x433I had a conversation with a friend recently about whether or not she should purchase an IPhone. I listened as she justified and unjustified the purpose of the purchase. She listed reason pros and cons about having or not having one. This is a pattern I have noticed often in my self and others.

It’s funny that we do this. We decide we want something and then our mind goes into overdrive trying to figure out how to make sense of the desire. It comes up with reasons to agree with what we already want, in part to hide that really we just want it. Often we want it for simple reasons like peace, joy, and fun, but we feel we have to justify it.

When I reflect on what this mindset, I can see this little story and it goes: “I’m not that special I don’t deserve x,y,or z, unless I can justify why it might make me special or a least mitigate my unspecialness.
By not letting ourselves treat and reward ourselves we perpetuate the mindset of not being worthy.

This past year I wanted to buy a new fancy road bike, but felt I had to justify it. After listening to me go through this process, my good friend Lashelle told me , “It’s ok to just want something nice.” I realized she was right and it felt so liberating.

I did buy the bike and instead of feeling like I was buying it to fix something wrong with me, I felt like I was buying it to celebrate all the hard work I had done. Just a small shift in my perspective allowed me to let go of that negative self talk just a little bit.

Take some time this week to celebrate yourself. You don’t have to go out a buy something big or fancy, but take a few minutes to celebrate all the things you do to help other and yourself. In buddhism this is called reflecting on virtue.

Very often we don’t give ourselves enough credit. So give your self a pat on the back already.

Thanks for reading and be well,