It doesn’t matter how you choose to live your life — whether you build a business or work a corporate job; have children or choose not to have children; travel the world or live in the same town all of your life; go to the gym five times a week or sit on the couch every night — whatever you do, someone will judge you for it.
This post originally appeared on James Clear’s blog.
For one reason or another, someone will find a reason to project their insecurities, their negativity, and their fears onto you and your life, and you’ll have to deal with it. With that in mind, let’s talk about being judged and criticised. And just for fun, I’ll share some of the most hateful comments I’ve received on my articles. And more importantly, the strategies I use to deal with them. Here’s what I’ve learned about dealing with the people who judge you, your work, and your goals.
The Biggest Critic in Your Life
It’s easier to complain about the outside critics, but the biggest critic in your life usually lives between your own two ears. Working up the courage to move past your own vulnerability and uncertainty is often the greatest challenge you’ll face on the way to achieving your goals.
When I started my first business, it wasn’t the criticism from outsiders that held me back. It was my own mind worrying that people would think I was a loser because I skipped getting a “real job” to “start some website.” I didn’t tell most of my friends about what I was doing for almost a year because I was so worried about what they would think about it. When I started writing, it wasn’t the hurtful comments from readers that prevented me from getting started. It was my own fears about what they would think if I wrote about the things I cared about. I wrote my ideas in a private document for a year before I worked up the courage to start sharing them publicly.
Those are just two examples of the types of internal fears and criticism that so often prevent us from getting started on our goals. It can take a lifetime to learn that just because people criticise you doesn’t mean they really care about your choice to do something different. Usually, the haters simply criticise and move on. And that means that you can safely ignore them and continue doing your thing.
But that is easier said than done because we all like to be validated. Some people like it more than others, but everyone wants to be respected and appreciated to some degree. I certainly do. I know that whenever I choose to take a risk and share my work with the world, I wonder about what my friends will think, what my family will think, and how the people around me will see me because of that choice. Will this help my reputation? Will this hurt my reputation? Should I even be worrying about my reputation?
Especially with writing, these questions created an internal struggle for me. On one hand, I believed in myself and I knew that I wanted to contribute something to the world around me. But on the other hand, I was scared that people wouldn’t approve of my work and would criticise me when I started sharing the things I cared about or believed.
I’ve written previously about the challenge of putting yourself out there by saying, “You can either be judged because you created something or ignored because you left your greatness inside of you.” Eventually, I decided that it was more important to contribute something to the world than it was to protect myself from criticism.
The Truth About Criticism
The truth about criticism is that it’s almost always in your head. Here’s an example from my personal experience…
In the last 9 months, my articles have been read by more than 1.2 million people (250,000+ on my site and over 1 million on other sites that publish my work). Of those people, about 98 per cent of people have read a particular article and moved on with their life. About 2 per cent of people have read an article and decided to become part of our little community by joining my free newsletter. (Thank you! It’s great to have you here!) And about 0.000008 per cent of people have decided to be a jerk and send me a negative comment or email.
Even though the vast majority of readers were positive or neutral about my work, the critics were still heard loud and clear. Apparently, the tendency to hold onto negative criticism is natural for most people. According to Roy Baumeister and researchers at Florida State University, we remember negative emotions much more strongly and in more vivid detail.
In a research paper titled, “Bad Is Stronger Than Good“, Baumeister summarizes academic studies that prove that we are more likely to remember negative criticism than praise. Baumeister found that even happy people tend to remember more negative events than positive ones. In fact, Baumeister and his team say that it when it comes to your brain, it takes about five positive events to make up for one negative event.
I’ll talk about a strategy for getting over this in a moment. But first, I want to share some of the criticism I’ve received recently.
Pour Me a Glass of Haterade (My Most Hateful Comments)
Each month, there is usually someone who whines about how my articles are totally worthless. For example, one reader recently left a comment saying, “I should have known better than to waste time reading this.”
Another reader so eloquently wrote, “What’s interesting here is the author firmly believes that there are millions of dumb people in this world who believe in this crap.” At least those people commented on the actual article. Hate mail gets even better when people start ignoring your work entirely and make judgements about you as a person instead. Earlier this month, someone said that I was clearly “someone with a job with limited travel and without a busy lifestyle. Oh, to have no responsibilities…” Another kind gentleman just got straight to the point and said, “This author is a waste of skin.”
All of this hate for someone who writes about building better habits, being healthy, and living an adventurous life. Could you imagine if I wrote about something that was actually controversial like politics or religion? And that brings us to the main point: it doesn’t matter what you do, there will always be someone who finds fault in it. So how do you get over it and move forward anyway? Here’s one approach that might help…
Focus on the Road, Not the Wall
Many racing experts consider Mario Andretti to be the most successful and versatile racing driver of all-time. During his career, Andretti won the Indianapolis 500, Daytona 500, Formula One World Championship and the Pike’s Peak International Hill Climb. He is one of only two drivers in history to win races in Formula One, IndyCar, World Sportscar Championship, and NASCAR. During an interview with SUCCESS magazine, Andretti was asked for his number one tip for success in race car driving. He said, “Don’t look at the wall. Your car goes where your eyes go.”
When young drivers are starting to race, this is one of the most critical lessons that they learn. When you’re driving at 200mph you need to focus on the road in front of you. If you look at the wall, then you’ll end up hitting it. The same could be said for your life, your work, and dealing with critics. Criticism and negativity from other people is like a wall. And if you focus on it, then you’ll run right into it. You’ll get blocked by negative emotions, anger, and self-doubt. Your mind will go where your attention is focused. Criticism and negativity don’t prevent you from reaching the finish line, but they can certainly distract you from it.
However, if you focus on the road in front of you and on moving forward, then you can safely speed past the walls and barriers that are nearby. This is my preferred approach to criticism. When someone dishes out a negative comment, use that as a signal to recommit to your work and to refocus on the road ahead of you. Some people are determined to take things personally and tear down the work of others. Your life is too short to worry about pleasing those people.
Focus on the road, not the wall.
How to Respond to Haters
In rare circumstances, you may want to respond to the people who dish criticism your way. If that’s the case, then I think Gary Vaynerchuk provides a good example of how to do it. When Vaynerchuk published his best-selling book Crush It, he received dozens of 1-star and 2-star reviews on Amazon. Negative reviewers claimed that the book was “absolutely awful” and called it a “piece of crap with no value whatsoever.” And this was for a book that was a best-seller!
Rather than fight back and justify his work, Gary decided to respond to many of the negative reviews with a sincere apology. For example, a reader named Frank left a 1-star review for the book in which he complained, “How did this book ever get published?” Vaynerchuk responded to him by saying…
Frank I am so so sorry I under delivered for you, I hope to meet u and spend 15 minutes apologizing and answering any questions u may have, I guess I needed more details in there for u, I am so sorry.
Despite using grammar from a high school text message, Vaynerchuk ended up getting Frank’s number and called him to talk things over. After their conversation, Frank wrote a followup comment on his book review saying, “If Amazon had a people ranking system, I’d have to give Gary 5 stars. One can not help being impressed by someone who gets back to you so quickly and handles criticism so graciously.”
If you’re going to respond to your critics, then getting a response like that should be your goal. Rather than beating the haters back with insults, win them back with sincerity. Most people don’t want to be convinced that your work is wonderful, they just want to know that you care.
Where to Go From Here
I’ve said this many times before, but it bears repeating: I don’t really have anything figured out. I’m not an expert and I don’t have all the answers. I’m still learning to deal with criticism like everyone else.
But in my limited experiences, here’s what I can summarise about dealing with haters.
- First and foremost, don’t be the hater. Don’t be the person who tears down someone else’s hard work. The world needs more people who contribute their gifts and share their work and ideas. Working up the courage to do that can be tough. Support the people who display that courage.
- If you’re dealing with criticism, then don’t let the wall keep you from seeing the road. Focus on the path ahead. Another way I heard it put recently, “Ignore the boos. They usually come from the cheap seats.”
- If you choose to respond to the haters, then surprise them with kindness. You might just win a new fan while you’re at it.
- Finally, and most importantly, make the choices that are right for you. People will criticise you either way.
Handling Criticism: How to Deal with People Judging You and Your Work [James Clear via Buffer]
James Clear writes at JamesClear.com, where he uses behaviour science to help you master your habits and improve your health. For useful ideas on improving your mental and physical performance, join his free newsletter. Or, download his free guide: Transform Your Habits.