In Playing Big, I write about “unhooking” from praise and criticism, and how being “hooked” by praise and criticism so often holds us back from playing big.

If you didn’t get to check it out yet – you can read my New York Times Op-Ed about this subject HERE. 

Today, I want to go deeper with the topic.

Being hooked by praise and criticism takes a few different forms, each paralyzing in its own way:

1. Dependence on, or addiction to praise –  causing us to do only those things that are likely to get us gold stars and others’ approval

2. Avoidance of praise – not wanting to stand out from the crowd – even for positive reasons, which causes us to self-sabotage, to not do our best work

3. Fear of criticism – which causes us to not innovate, share controversial ideas, pursue interests where we’ll be fumbling beginners or fail along the way, or do anything that makes us visible enough to be criticized!

Which of these three is currently the primary way you get hooked–praise-addiction, avoidance of praise, or fear of criticism?

The goal, in my view, is not to become impervious to praise and criticism. That would be impossible. It would also be inhuman, and would force us to deny an important part of ourselves. The part of us that wants to have mattered to others, to have been of service, is a part of ourselves I believe we should respect. The part of us that wants others to receive us with appreciation, with enthusiasm – the part that wants to be loved by those around us? I think that’s a very tender, real, part of us, a part to honor too.

The point is not to become disconnected from feedback, to have such a thick skin that we can’t feel it or hear it, but rather, to become “unhooked” by it, to not be run by it. The point is to be run by our own wisdom, and to be able to use feedback effectively, in the service of our callings and our aspirations, along the way. The goal is to not have others’ ideas about us distract us, silence us, or take us on an emotional roller coaster.

Here’s are some of the big differences between being hooked and unhooked:

 Being hooked by praise and criticism  Being unhooked by praise and  criticism
I look to feedback to tell me about my  talent, my merit, or the worthiness of  my ideas.  I look to feedback to give me  emotionally-neutral, strategic  information about how to most  effectively achieve my aims.
 I assume that feedback tells me  something about me.  I know that feedback can only tell me  about the people giving the feedback.
 I see criticism as a problem, a sign I did  something wrong, or as a failure to  anticipate others’ reactions.  I see criticism as something that simply  comes with playing big and with doing  important work.
 I know that some kinds of criticism hurt  me terribly, and I do my best to avoid  those.  I know that the criticism that hurts me  most hurts because it echoes what I  believe about myself, and I use painful  experiences of receiving that kind of  criticism as opportunities to look at and  change my own beliefs.
 Praise is the sundae.  My own fulfillment, service to others,  and self-expression is the sundae, and  praise is a lovely cherry on top.

Where are you on that spectrum of being hooked or unhooked? You may be in difference places on that spectrum in your work, your personal life, your creative life. Take stock: where are you now? What would be possible if you were more unhooked?