Ep. 230: Handling CRITICISM

Ep. 230: Handling CRITICISM

Here's The Scoop

In today’s episode of the Fitness Matters podcast, I’ve got some great news about your ability to feel amazing in the face of your critics!

All the Details

Have you ever thought that you were being judged by someone🤔?  You may have felt defensiveness, defeat, and–ugh!–unworthiness.  Tough stuff, right?  Handling CRITICISM is one of the thorniest🌹 things we face in life.  

But in today’s episode of the Fitness Matters podcast, I’ve got some great news about your ability to feel amazing in the face of your critics!  So we’re tackling this topic from all angles, including:

  • Understanding what criticism IS
  • Recognizing our FEELINGS when hearing someone’s opinion
  • Adopting STRATEGIES for handling those feelings
  • Learning cool NEW WORDS like “metacognition”😎

And of course there are a couple of personal stories thrown in, too, because we’ve all had to face some CRITICISM in our lives.  Are you ready to feel better about how you’re handling it?  Let’s go!

Be sure to SHARE this podcast with family and friends!  💛


You’re listening to the Fitness Matters podcast with Paula B, and this is episode number 230, “Handling Criticism.” Welcome to the Fitness Matters podcast where every week we talk about the fitness matters that matter to you. I’m Paula B, YouTuber, certified life and weight loss coach, soon to be author, and your best middle-aged fitness friend. Are you ready to talk about the fitness mindset that matters to you? Me too. Let’s go.

Hello. Hello. Hello. So good to be with you, my friends [singing]. I’m singing already. I know. You knew this was going to happen. You knew that when you started the podcast, “Oh, Paula’s going to sing today.” Yes, here it is. You guys, I am so actually legitimately excited to talk to you about this particular topic. I know that it might not seem like the kind of topic that anybody would be excited about. Really, who wants to talk about criticism? Who wants to think about criticism? Who wants to – raises my own hand here – who wants to learn how to handle criticism? Yes, that is what we are talking about.

We are going to learn how to handle criticism.

First and foremost, let me tell you the way we handle criticism is by – you know me – understanding what it is. Rather than me just jumping in and giving you tips and being like, “Here’s how to breathe,” let’s talk about what criticism actually is so that you can understand for yourself how your brain is working and perceiving and the thoughts that you are having about criticism.

We work to understand what we are thinking so that we can intentionally move forward in the world. That sounds really nice. Like so many of us, I’m going to venture to say like all of us, well, in fact, all of us are at some point or another operating on automatic pilot. That’s just how we work. Our brains think thoughts. Those thoughts create feelings. Those feelings drive our actions, and then we just are in the world.

We behave certain ways in the world, and there is nothing wrong with that. That is the way we are designed; however, we are also designed to have (my favorite word!) “metacognition,” which means that we can think about our thoughts. This is the thing that separates us from animals.

There’s some debate as to whether or not animals have self-awareness. We don’t have the language to understand their language, and that is a really critical part of metacognition – the language to understand your thoughts and have more thoughts about it. This is the thing that is unique to humans, which means that we can behave intentionally, which means, of course, that we can get goals.

Really, that’s what we do here. This is why we talk about your fitness and why it matters. And the matter of thinking about what you’re doing and thinking about what you’re thinking is because I want you to live a life that you intend to live, meaning that you are setting goals for yourself, and then you are getting them.

You’re not just getting your goals because you’re doing things; you’re getting things because you’re thinking in particular ways – intentionally – which creates for you intentionally a feeling that you want to feel, that drives actions that you intend to do, to get goals that you intend for yourself.

Okay. That was a left turn on to the big picture of why we do mindset work at all, but you know what? That was really cool. It’s really good to think about it like that because when you are thinking about handling criticism, I don’t just want you to feel good about it. Yes, I do want you to eventually feel good about it, but I also want you to understand what it is, why we have a hard time with it, and from there, feel better by behaving intentionally. Okay.

So what is criticism, my friends? Criticism is somebody else’s opinion.

That’s really what it is at its core. It is simply an opinion that has been expressed to you in some way. Even more importantly than that, by using the word “criticism,” we have already had a thought about that other person’s opinion.

Because somebody else’s opinion, if they agree with you or they think you’re awesome, sure doesn’t feel like an opinion, does it? As soon as something feels like criticism, that means that you have had a thought about that person’s thoughts, about that person’s opinions. Really quickly, I’m going to refer you to Episode 009 Facts Vs. Opinions (Ep. 009 Facts vs. Opinions 🎧 The Fitness Matters Podcast with Pahla B – Pahla B Fitness). 

Anyway, facts versus opinions. An opinion is something that can be proven either true or false because it is not simply true like a fact, or like a fake fact, like something that is untrue, which is not a fact. But an opinion can be proven either true or false, which means that some people would agree, some people would disagree; therefore it is an opinion. Because you have also had an opinion, had a thought about somebody’s expression of their opinion. Take that for what it is also.

You labeling the other person’s opinion as criticism is already a thought that you have, and using that word “criticism” is already going to bias how you feel and the other thoughts that you have about that person’s words. So bringing it to the actual bare bones, the true fact of the situation, a person either spoke words or wrote words. For me, I keep coming back to written words because this is how I receive so much criticism. 

The criticism that I receive tends to be in a written comment, and I do really want to acknowledge that because a lot of the work that I’ve been able to do on criticism in my own life is because I’m not receiving it face-to-face. For those of you who are receiving criticism from a loved one or from a boss or a co-worker – if you are somebody who is hearing criticism – this work is going to take a lot more practice on your part that I had the luxury of doing behind the scenes.

When somebody writes me a comment, first of all, I often don’t read it for hours because people write comments in the middle of the night when I am asleep. So depending on your time schedule and things like that, when somebody has given me a criticism, I have already had the gift of not receiving it in the heat of the moment. Upon reading it, sometimes . . . I will tell you, there was one comment that I did read during a live show that I had to process in the moment, and boy did it take me a minute.

Those of you who were live on that Q&A, gosh, this was some time ago and I’m never going to come up with an episode number for you on this one. But I read something that I perceived as criticism and actually on air did some verbal journaling and did some thinking about it and came to where I wanted to be with it, which is what I’m going to get to here later. I don’t want to give you too many spoilers on this, but I am going to tell you how to handle criticism. That was honestly one of the pretty rare times in my life where I really was on the spot with it. 

Here’s why we have episodes like this so that you can think about the last time that you received criticism and really dissect it and really go over it and really pull it apart, and think about what it is and what you thought and do some journaling on it because, of course, that’s going to be one of our steps. I will spoiler alert that one for you.

There’s always journaling, you guys. There’s always an examination of your thoughts. So doing this work on, let’s say, the last time that you received criticism, will help you handle it in the future. So anyway, criticism is somebody else’s opinion that they have expressed, and you already have an opinion about their opinion by using the label criticism.

When you understand that it’s simply somebody’s opinion that really, at its most basic fact that it is somebody’s words, either written or spoken, that’s all that’s going on here. Here’s why a criticism hurts – because you have a thought about it. In fact, you already have several thoughts about it. We’ve already identified that labeling it as criticism is already a thought about the other person’s written or spoken words, which was their opinion.

The only reason we ever feel anything is because we have a thought, always. Things happen in the world and the things that happen are completely neutral; they just exist. A person speaks words; there are pixels on a screen. There’s nothing inherent in the other person’s words or opinion that is critical. You have a perception and it could be – let me clarify here – it could be that the other person is, in fact, feeling critical and is trying to criticize you. However, there is nothing inherent in their words that you know for sure, except for your own perception of those words; your perception of them based on maybe the tone, maybe the type of words, maybe the whole message of the words, whatever it is. You are arming a perception of the words or pixels that creates a thought for you.

Your thought about the other person’s opinion is what creates your feelings.

Here’s how you know. First of all, because the person who spoke or wrote those words has their own perception of what they meant. Very frequently, very frequently, the other person doesn’t think they’re criticizing you. If I impart one thing to you today, let it be this: Other people don’t realize they’re being critical because they’re not trying to be critical. That’s how you know that it’s your perception. If you come back at a person in a face- to-face situation, “Hey, I can’t believe you are being so critical of me,” and they’re like, “Oh, my gosh. I wasn’t trying to be critical.” Again, to be fair, sometimes they’re just trying to avoid conflict. Sometimes they realize, “Oh, no. I made her angry,” and then they try and backpedal. Maybe they were trying to be critical and then they’re rethinking it and regretting it. It doesn’t really matter. Literally, none of that matters. The reason you have a feeling is because of your thought. You have a thought about somebody else’s opinion.

I will tell you, here’s also why you know it’s your thought:  it’s because you actually feel differently in different situations. The same words spoken by one person or another person might create a different reaction in you because you have a different thought. “Oh, when so-and-so says something like that, they’re just blowing off steam.” Or when, you know, my mom or my husband or my kid says that, I may think, “Oh, my gosh. Why would you say that to hurt me?”

When we hear the same words in different situations, we have different reactions because of us, not because of where it came from, but because of us and our thought about the importance of this person saying those words or that person writing those words. Your thought is what creates the hurt, the pain, the feeling bad about the criticism, and this is great news. Oh, my gosh.

All of this so far might not have seemed like great news, but let me tell you why it is: Because first of all, it means in general that you can handle it. Because if it’s all an inside job, if this is all your creation – your thought – you can find those thoughts. You can decide if they’re helpful, because that’s what we do. We use the two-step tool. This is where I’m going to refer you to Episode 089 Mind Management (Ep. 089: Mind MANAGEMENT 🎧 The Fitness Matters Podcast with Pahla B – Pahla B Fitness).

Your mind being managed is the same thing as managing your mindset. Your mindset is a collection of thoughts. Your mind is a lot of individual thoughts that form a collection, so they’re both truly the same thing. In any event, it’s a really good episode, and it’ll help you get a really thorough understanding of the two-step tool, which in its most basic form is just this: you find your thoughts and decide if they’re helpful.

When you can find your thoughts about another person’s criticism of you, then you can decide whether or not you want to think that. Here’s the great news: you don’t have to think that somebody is criticizing you, and if they are, that’s fine. If you’d like to think of it as criticism, you can also identify what you are thinking that is creating your feelings and decide whether or not you’d like to think that.

So here’s how I came up with a couple of different ways that we tend to perceive criticism. You might very well recognize yourself in all of these, in some of these, or think to yourself, “Oh no, there’s this other way that I totally react when I get criticism that I didn’t consider.” This is very personal. These are the ways that I react when I feel like somebody has criticized me. Number one, I make an assumption about what they are thinking or feeling. 99.9% of the time when I hear something that sounds like criticism, I’m like, “Oh my gosh, they’re mad at me.”

“They’re mad at me,” is my go-to because, and I will tell you, here’s my personal story. “They’re mad at me,” is, first of all, just lots and lots of childhood memories, lots of reinforcement of when somebody is saying something critical that they’re saying it in a tone of anger. That is my perception of criticism almost every time, “They’re angry at me,” is absolutely my go-to, which creates for me a combination of worry about what will happen if they are angry.

A person being angry, historically, means that they will yell, that they will maybe throw things or maybe say more, what I perceive to be, mean things about me. Somebody being angry has another collection, a mindset of thoughts about what will happen next or what could happen next that creates for me a feeling of worry.

The other more immediate, like if I do perceive that somebody is mad at me, the feeling that creates for me is like a shutting down. I don’t know. I feel like there might be a better word for that, but I know what it feels like. I call it shutting down and that’s what I’m going to call it with you. You might have a different vocabulary for that, but the feeling that creates for me, this thought, “They’re mad at me,” or honestly, even “They’re feeling X, Y, or Z,” almost anything, is a feeling of powerlessness. That’s what that shutting down is. That’s a better word: powerlessness.

I don’t have any power over somebody else’s feelings.

To be fair, this is completely true. We don’t have power over somebody else’s feelings, but that thought, “They’re feeling X, Y, or Z,” that creates a feeling of powerlessness in me, not a helpful thought; powerlessness, not a good feeling, therefore, that thought isn’t helpful for me.

The other thing that I frequently think (this is another one of my go-tos) is, “They’re wrong about me. They’re wrong about what they are saying about me.” Oh, my goodness. Wow. I could go on about this one for a while, but I feel like you probably know what this feels like in your mind. This thought, “They’re wrong,” that indignation, that anger, that defensiveness. Oh, yes. None of those feel amazing; therefore, that thought, “They’re wrong about me,” not helping you to handle criticism.

Here’s what happens, by the way. So when I have the thought “They are mad at me,” or “They’re feeling X, Y, or Z,” and I have that feeling of powerlessness, that feeling of powerlessness in me drives almost a complete shutdown, which is why I described it that way. The action that I do from that feeling of powerlessness is basically nothing. I will sit still. I will ruminate. I will worry.

I will try and predict the future about what could happen, what might happen, what I think will happen if they’re mad or if they’re upset or whatever. So it’ll create a lot of thought and very little action.

When I have that powerlessness feeling, I don’t speak up.

I don’t search for a solution. I simply sit in it and cower. It feels like a very cowering action. When I’m thinking, “They’re wrong about me,” and I have that righteous indignation and that defensiveness – that one, generally speaking, will get me in trouble.

That feeling of indignation or defensiveness drives the action of me speaking my mind and telling you a little something about how wrong you are about me. I’m laughing because I’m so uncomfortable with this. I’m uncomfortable. I’m actually judging myself right now for being the kind of person who would do this, except for the fact that because I have gone through this process, because I have done that, I have learned that’s not the kind of person that I want to be.

This is how I even came to a lot of my thoughts about handling criticism because I’ve handled it very poorly. I have reacted in ways that I don’t find helpful. The righteous indignation, the defensiveness – I don’t find that helpful. To me, this thought, “They’re wrong about me,” is not a helpful thought.

The other way that I have handled and reacted to criticism is immediately thinking, “Oh, my gosh, they’re right about me.” This one, just as problematic, honestly. When I am taking on somebody else’s opinion and thinking, “Oh, my gosh, they’re right about me,” the feeling that creates for me is just utter defeat and probably some version of maybe shame or embarrassment or wrongness. It creates fundamental wrongness or unlikeability, unworthiness (depending on what specific opinion is that somebody has expressed to me and how willing I am to believe that about myself, whether or not their opinion corroborates something that I have already thought about myself), that sadness, that dejectedness, that defeat, that unworthiness – not helpful.

My friends, not coming to any resolution, not helping me move forward in my life with comfort and ease and confidence, thinking that somebody else is right about me isn’t helpful. The other way that I react, this one, again, very common: “They shouldn’t say things like that.” This one, I get a couple of different feelings on this one. It depends on the situation and how I’m thinking. “They shouldn’t say things like that,” most of the time though, this brings kind of a feeling of indignation.

I will tell you that this thought is a specific kind of unhelpful thought. This one is arguing with reality. Just because I think they shouldn’t say that, well, they did. They did say that. They wrote it. They said it. They expressed it in whatever way that they expressed it, and me thinking that a person shouldn’t express their opinion like that is unhelpful because they already did. It has already happened.

This thought can go absolutely nowhere. In fact, we talked quite a bit about thoughts like this. I call them, ” ‘But’ thoughts,” or “Sit and spin feelings” because of this argument. The episode on this one was really specific. It was Episode 098, Food Regret and Shame (Ep. 098: Food REGRET and SHAME 🎧 The Fitness Matters Podcast with Pahla B – Pahla B Fitness) where I talk about the different feelings that are a good idea to feel all the way through, or a good idea to recognize as a specifically unhelpful thought and therefore, offer yourself a gentle redirection.

Arguing with reality is a waste of your time.

It’s a useless thought and is deserving of some gentle redirection. This is me talking to myself. “I understand that I wish people wouldn’t say those things, but they do. And this person did and thinking that they shouldn’t isn’t helpful to me right now.” That’s the kind of gentle redirection that I offer myself when I have a specifically unhelpful thought like this, a “should” thought or “shouldn’t” thought.

Here’s what I want you to really recognize with all of the very, very common ways that we normally handle criticism is that first of all, we are having thoughts about somebody else’s opinion, and then we very frequently react or behave from the unhelpful thoughts that we have about that person’s opinion. Here’s what I think is a helpful way to handle criticism, and it’s the way that I like to handle a lot of things:

Simply allow criticism to exist.

My friends, people have opinions and they will express them to you sometimes, and this is where I’m going to refer you very, very specifically to Episode 034, What You Control (Ep. 034 What You CONTROL 🎧 The Fitness Matters Podcast with Pahla B – Pahla B Fitness) because we never, ever, ever control what somebody else says or does, how they behave, what they say, how they say it, in what manner they offer you their thoughts and opinions.

Other people are going to criticize you, and you don’t have to perceive it as criticism. You can recognize it as somebody else’s opinion and allow them to have it.

The thought that I think is helpful in this situation is, “This is somebody’s opinion.” “This is somebody’s opinion” covers a lot of ground. It really does for me, personally. “This is somebody’s opinion” helps me recognize exactly what’s going on here. It’s almost like shorthand for all of the work that we have just talked about. People have thoughts, thoughts create feelings, feelings drive actions, other people express their thoughts. Other people are in control of what they do. Other people don’t control me or what I do. I’m in control of my own thoughts.

Thinking that this is criticism is, in fact, already an opinion that I have about this person’s thought. It’s wrapping up every single step that we’ve just gone through when I say something like, “This is a person expressing an opinion.” That helps me allow them. Other people are absolutely 100% allowed to have opinions. Every minute of every day, every single person on the planet is having a thought, which is an opinion of something, and some of those thoughts and opinions are about me.

I don’t control any of them, except the ones in my own head. This, my friend, is where we’re going to talk about you criticizing yourself and how you can handle it because when you are criticizing yourself, it’s literally the same thing. You have an opinion. You have a thought. It’s not real. It’s not right. It’s not wrong. It’s something that should happen because it does, and maybe you feel a certain way about the opinion that you have of yourself that you worry about.

All the things that you think about somebody else’s opinion of you, you also think about yourself.

My friend, when you understand that you have critical thoughts about yourself, it doesn’t mean anything about you. It doesn’t mean anything about who you are as a human being, that you have thoughts that create feelings, that drive actions. Those actions are going to be automatic unless you take the time to use the two-step tool: find your thoughts, decide if they’re helpful, and think things intentionally. Your critical thoughts of yourself – first of all, you already had a thought about your thoughts by calling them critical.

They’re just thoughts. They’re thoughts that exist. They are electrical impulses that are in your brain that form sentences, because we have language that you then hear, and the thing that you hear creates a feeling in your body, a chemical reaction that, as far as I know, stimulates your adrenal glands and probably other things too. I always think about adrenal glands, just because 99.9% of the time, the feelings that I have make me sweaty. So I always assume there’s an elevated heart rate, an elevated breathing rate, and some sweat going on with my feelings. That’s why I always think that it comes from your adrenal glands.

In any event, when you allow that you have thoughts, it’s okay that you have thoughts; you’re supposed to. Frankly, if you don’t, if you don’t have thoughts, there’s a whole other world of problems and you wouldn’t be aware of it. So there you go.

You are a human being with a human brain, and so is everybody else on the planet.

As human beings with human brains, we express those opinions about ourselves, about other people, about football teams, about food, about the weather. We express our opinions all day long, and we have opinions about our opinions, and other people have opinions about our opinions. We can live intentionally by understanding that this is just the way the world is.

People have thoughts and opinions. They express them and it’s all completely okay. When they express their thoughts and opinions, I have thoughts and opinions that create feelings, and it’s completely okay.

Now, how do you do that when I’m in the moment? For me personally, like I said, I have done the work on this. I have done so much practice on this behind the scenes. I have gotten to the point because of my practicing that I can hear an opinion as an opinion almost in the moment. Sometimes it still takes me a second. My automatic thoughts, boy oh boy, are they automatic! That’s what they’re supposed to do.

They think it really quickly: “This is criticism. This is me. I’m wrong. I’m right. They’re wrong. They’re right.” Whatever my initial – we call them a knee-jerk reaction – it’s simply an automatic reaction. I can feel and sense all of that in a flash and remember that I would intentionally like to allow this.

Now here’s the thing. Your automatic thought, your automatic feeling, your automatic reaction is going to create that feeling in your body, the adrenal gland response, or whatever the hormonal chemical response is. You’re going to feel indignant, sad, defeated, righteous, worried, angry, defensive, whatever it is. You’re going to feel that and intentionally create a thought for yourself that helps you allow all of it: the other person’s opinion, your feeling about that opinion, and an intentional process of, “This is all okay.” Now in the moment, are you going to be able to react (like the words coming out of your mouth really specifically, or your fingers flying on the keyboard) with words that you want to say? Not right away. Again, this is going to take practice on your part.

It might take a full moment to really process it through. What I have done in that situation, what I did on my live show mentioned earlier, I said out loud, “Give me a second to think about this.” Then, because I was among an audience of people who have heard me talk about mindset before I did a little bit of verbal journaling, “This is a person’s opinion. This is what I’m thinking. This is the feeling that thought has created for me.” It seems to me like in the moment I felt, I know I felt misunderstood, but I think there was another word for it that I used. I felt criticized, and I think that might have even been where I left it, that I felt criticized.

I was also able, in that moment, to understand that it’s completely okay that people have opinions, and here’s how I’d like to answer this question that they have asked me.

My go-to when I’m answering a question is always that I want to feel generous. Knowing that I want to feel generous, I have some thoughts in mind about, “People want my opinion. People want to hear what I have to say about this. I’m helpful. I know how to help.” Those are all thoughts that create a feeling of generosity and willingness to answer in my mind. So I ran through those really quickly to create that feeling for myself. This is where the practice behind the scenes really comes into play.

If you have somebody in your life that you feel is critical of you – and I’m going straight to thinking about the people in my life that I think are critical of me. I practiced behind the scenes the last time this person said this thing that I took as criticism.

What was I thinking? What was I feeling? What would I like to think? What would I like to feel?

I practiced that and the thought that works for me in that really specific situation – and I’m intentionally leaving off who I’m talking about that I think is critical of me – that what I think is this person has opinions that I don’t agree with. That, to me, feels completely okay, because I don’t agree with opinions and I’m okay with that. So because of my work behind the scenes, I was able to create for myself a sentence that I can use as a go-to when I perceive that this particular person is being critical of me.

This is your work, recognize what’s going on here, that the other person is offering you a thought, their own thought based on their own perceptions, quite frankly of themselves. When you recognize that a person is offering you a thought, you have automatic thoughts about it that you can sift through. This is your homework, sifting through your thoughts, finding them by journaling, and deciding whether or not any of them are helpful for you.

Once you have found and categorized the thoughts that you have automatically, you can purposely generate a thought for yourself that creates the feeling that you want, a feeling of, I’m assuming, some version of allowing or confidence or acceptance. You get to decide exactly what feels like the best way to handle criticism.

Create for yourself a sentence that you can use as a go-to. This really is a very individualized thing. One person saying one thing, one time, you can practice from that, but it’s not necessarily going to be generally applicable. Different criticism in different situations feels different because you have different thoughts.

So you might need to intentionally create for yourself a collection, a mindset of thoughts about handling criticism that you can use as your toolkit. I’m going to pull out this sentence. “How does this feel in this situation?” Ah, it doesn’t quite get me where I want to go.

Okay, here’s this other sentence. “How do I feel in this situation?” This is the one that helps me feel calm and helps me feel compassionate, helps me feel–not necessarily in control–but in control of myself. When you practice this behind the scenes, you will develop for yourself a mindset of acceptance around criticism, and that is what I’m offering you.

I really hope this was helpful for you today. Thank you so much for being here, for listening, for hanging out, for handling criticism. I’ll talk to you again soon.

If you’re getting a lot out of the Fitness Matters podcast and you’re ready to take it to the next level, you are going to love the Get Your Goal Coaching and Accountability Group. We take all the theory and knowledge here on the podcast and actually apply it in real life on your real weight loss and fitness goals. It’s hands-on, it’s fun, and it works. Find out more at paulabfitness.com/get-your-goal and let’s get your goal.


Resources Mentioned:

Ep. 009 Facts vs. Opinions


Ep. 098 Food REGRET and SHAME

Ep. 034 What You CONTROL

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