The box hit my outreached hands with a heavy thud. The 350-page document took me 2 years of 3 am wake up calls to write. And now, the first Beta-Reader was done with the manuscript and, thus, begins the journey of criticism and edits to evolve the manuscript into a publishable book. Authors are used to criticism. We get it every time we hand over a document to be edited. The difference between the criticism we receive and what you may have on a daily basis is that we pay to have people edit our work! Yikes! Does that make authors masochists?
Whether or not that is true, this past week saw me pulling the manuscripts for my soon-to-be-book out of their boxes and looking over the various comments from the Beta-Readers. There is a process I use to work through these comments and I thought it may help you today with any criticism you may be dealing with in your life:
- Take a Moment and Breathe. No matter if the criticism is predicted in your life or if it came out of nowhere unexpectedly, you need to take a moment and breathe. My elementary school teacher used to tell we kids to count-to-ten before we reacted to sharp comments, but for me that never worked. Counting-to-ten only delayed my reaction, allowed me to stew, and made the situation worse for me. Breathing, however, was a technique that did work. Before I look at any freshly edited work, answer any nasty email or respond to any harsh comment in a meeting, I stop. I close my eyes and take a deep, long breath in through my nose and double breathe out through my mouth twice with a “huh-huh” sound. Breathing puts me in a receptive frame of mind and calms any negative, emotional response from me.
- Most People want You to Become Better. Much of the criticism we receive in life is because the people really do care what happens to us and they want us to become better. Now, their version of “better” and your version of “better” may not be the same, but that doesn’t lessen their desire for your well being. If you find yourself in a situation where the criticism being launched at you doesn’t have your best-interest-at-heart, you need to leave the situation as quickly as possible so that you can deal with the emotions being stirred up within you.
- Walk Out of the Room. If you find yourself becoming angry, defensive, irritated, or fearful, walk out of the room. Yes, I mean it, LEAVE! Take some time to calm yourself down and don’t worry, you won’t look stupid. You’re being a responsible adult. If you find that a conversation, project, or meeting is turning into a heated argument or battle. Leave. Don’t allow your silence to be a form of acceptance of bad behavior. I have done this on multiple occasions. Not once have I had a business situation where my leaving the deteriorating conversation didn’t work out for the best. I have found that people who hold it against you for leaving when they or you are emotionally upset (I mean angry, yelling or venting at you), don’t understand the rules for healthy communication.
- No One is in Charge of Your Emotions but You. In my home right now, I have four teenage children. To say that we are awash in the sea of emotions is an understatement. Puberty abounds. It takes a lot to rock my boat of calm, but if several of the teenagers get into high drama all at once, I start demanding that harmony be restored. I do this gently at first, by reminding all parties involved that no one is in charge of your emotional state but you. Anytime a teenager finds themselves in anger, frustration, irritation or blame and starts verbalizing it a bit too much, I point my finger to the basement and say, “Go, punch the bag. Give it 5 minutes.”
- Change Your Emotional State through Physical Activity. I have a 60-pound punching bag in our basement with three different sets of gloves for the single purpose of calming highly charged emotional states through physical activity. My dad used to make my sister and I go out and dig ditches on our ranch when we got to bickering. I don’t have that sort of resource around me, hence the large punching bag in the corner. Anytime I find myself in a less-than-desirable emotional state, I go to the basement, don the gloves and beat my frustrations out on this lovely inanimate object. Not only is it therapeutic, I feel loads better afterwards and can get back to dealing with life level-headed again.
The biggest gift I can offer you about dealing with Criticism is to encourage you to discover what gives you a sense of relief from it. What helps you feel better afterwards? I use a variety of techniques to get through the various forms of commentary I receive on my writing, my exercise, my motherhood, and my life. Try some of the techniques above and then find out what works best for you. When you do find out your “thing” for staying calm, email me. I’m always looking for new ways to handle the red-ink comments on my manuscripts!