Michelangelo said it best: Criticize by creating.
I’m always fascinated by the amount of complaining that goes on in our world. No, really, I find it so intriguing! People can and will find anything to complain about.
I listened to a couple at a bar (they were either on one of their first dates or were work colleagues, I couldn’t tell), they complained about a highway accident traffic jam that they both happened to get stuck in (separately, but at the same time). Their litany of atrocities and how inconvenienced they were went on for 20 minutes. Never once did they express concern for the actual persons involved in the accident or empathize with the first responders.
I’ve observed that there seems to be a direct correlation between the amount one complains to the level of train wreck or ennui in their own lives.
We use complaints as a way to connect with others and criticize others, which in our minds, puts us above them in some kind of way.
Here’s what it also does: it stops us from creating the work, career, and life we want. By criticizing ourselves and others, we keep ourselves in a safe little box that pretends that the world is too scary.
Author Mark Batterson says, “The energy we spend on criticism is being stolen from creativity. It’s sideways energy. We need fewer commentators and more innovators.”
Criticism keeps us mentally focused on what’s wrong. Innovation, creativity, and problem solving keep us focused on what’s possible, what’s going right, and what specifically needs to change.
Commentators look to others to offer criticisms, point out flaws, and offer unsolicited advice. Creators look inward to better understand themselves and improve.
Innovative possibilities are all around us and everyone can be creative. Instead of focusing on what’s wrong or broken, try focusing on what’s great with these three simple steps:
- Pay attention to your thoughts and words for one full day. Keep a tally sheet to see if they are critical or creative.
- Reflect that evening on your two columns. What does this say about how you see the world and those around you? What would you like to be different?
- Create a mantra to break the criticism habit. Wherever you find yourself most critical, find a statement you can replace it with. Repeat for a full week and notice what happens.
I’ve worked really hard on not being overly critical of others’ mistakes. (I’m still a work in progress, of course, and a recovering perfectionist!). So when I find my brain making judgey remarks (said in a super condescending way), “Why on earth would that person do that?” I immediately re-frame it in a calmer way: “There must be something I don’t know about that led that person to do that. I wonder what it is.”
I take the emotional energy out of the criticism and get curious about someone else, instead of judging them so harshly.
Removing the criticism from any situation takes out the negative emotion and response and replaces it with positive curiosity. This curiosity is the fuel for innovation. Try it at home, at your job, with your loved ones, on Facebook, and let me know how it goes!