So, we know it’s not enough to just tell our brains to “Stop fretting about what other people say!” because we’ve all tried that. And it doesn’t work. We have exponentially more connections – think one-way streets – going FROM our amygdala, limbic system, and PAG (where researchers now believe our primary emotions begin) to our prefrontal cortex (think, CEO) than the other way around. Signals from the PFC telling our amygdala to settle down are literally drowned out by the flood of information coming from our amygdala to our PFC telling us to be keyed up. So, it’s super hard to think our way out of the sting of criticism.
However, and this is where I love brain science so freaking much – And for all of you people of faith out there, why I’m so thankful God has given us these brains: There IS something we can do about this! Over here, we’ve got all these comments about how great we are, how much people appreciate our work and our commitment. And then on the other side, we’ve got these one or two complaints that are often some variation of “you didn’t read my mind.” As we’ve already established, the one or two complaints hurt; the great comments slip away faster than water in our cupped hands. What to do?
This: Get all those great comments, and pile them up in front of you. Collect them, when they come verbally write them down, make a note of them. Especially get the specifics – that’s important. Don’t think, “O, I’ll remember them. That’s silly to write them down, or have them literally in front of me.” Well, we’ve already established that we don’t remember them the way we do the ones that sting. That’s part of the problem.
So, have them in front of you? Great. Pick up the first one. Read it very very slowly. If you know the person who gave it, picture them as clearly as you can in your mind. Feel as best you can just how good it is to know that you are appreciated; that someone has noticed; that you have made a positive impact in the world. Now, this is important: Stay in that place, with that one comment, say, 45 seconds to a minute. DO NOT RUSH. Only then, move on to the next one.
Think of this as meditating on how you are a true and unique gift to this universe, because you are. Be as specific as you can be, based on what others have said about you. You cannot trust you own brain on this – So for the time being, put aside all the nay-saying comments about how big your head is going to get if you do this – Tell those thoughts, “Thanks for sharing, and I will get back to you, but right now, you are getting my way.” The bad sticks, and needs no reinforcement. The good slides away, so we must sit with it, contemplate it, soak it in.
I’m assuming you are a bit like me, and it makes you uncomfortable to ponder these good comments. That’s okay, but push through that discomfort, just for now. What you are doing is bush-wacking a new path through your brain. The bad doesn’t need any more time or attention – it’s got it’s own superhighway clear of traffic and tolls. The good needs you to clear a pathway for it. This has nothing to do with being arrogant or proud! Again, just set that worry aside right now. Go back to the good comments. Spend some very intentional time. Be grateful that you can help the world this way. When the bad re-surfaces, say, “Yes, BUT, that really isn’t nearly as important as how I have done xyz for the world. And I am not giving you, bad thoughts, any more attention.” Yes, it’s uncomfortable. Yes, it takes practice. But it is so so worth it, if it means the bad no longer hijacks your brain and tortures you!