Scott H Young

Criticism and Praise are the Same


If you do anything unique, people will attack you for it. Self-motivation depends on having a thick skin, persisting in spite of criticism. But equally important is the ability to not let praise consume you, either. Because, praise and criticism are just reflections of each other.

In order to properly handle criticism, you also need to properly handle praise. If someone excessively flatters you for a minor success, you need to internalize it the same way you would internalize a scathing insult. The person that is easily flattered is also easily criticized.

Ultimately, only you can steer your life. If you allow yourself to be misled by attacks or flattery, you won’t reach your destination.

The Problem with Praise

If someone congratulates you, by all means, thank them. Enjoy the fruits of your success. But if you fully embrace every piece of praise you receive, you open yourself to becoming overconfident. Additionally, since praise and criticism are equal partners, when you accept all praise without a thought, you expose yourself to criticism.

A friend of mine was also involved with the same new venture competitions I was this year. His team had a tremendous success at their first competition and he fully absorbed the praise that went with it. He was extremely confident and happy in his team’s success.

However, at a later competition, when his team did not perform as well, he was crushed. I feel his unguarded acceptance of all praise in the first victory is what opened him to deeper criticism later.

Internalizing praise can lower your motivation to work hard just as much as criticism. While some minor critiques encourage improvement, excessive flattery promotes laziness. Instead of working hard to constantly improve, it is just easier to rest and enjoy the congratulations of people around you.

Stop Caring What Other People Think of You

The solution, both to prevent the excesses of praise and the humiliation of criticism, is to stop caring what other people think of you. Take what is actionable from their feedback and ignore the rest. Since you are the sole captain of your life, don’t allow others to steer the ship.

If I write an article, I generally receive a mix of positive comments and negative comments. For criticism, I seek out any actionable suggestions from their comments. If someone notes that I made a grammatical mistake in an article, I’ll happily correct it. Or, if someone feels the logic of my argument was weak, I can make efforts to correct it in a future discussion of the topic.

For praise, I take a similar approach. I thank the person for their comment, and see if there is anything actionable from their suggestion. If several people enjoyed a topic, I’ll know it is something readers are interested in and worth discussing again.

What I strive not to do, with both praise and criticism, is to let it get under my skin. If someone writes an attack on my writing, I’ll remind myself that this comment is just a small pebble on my course, and not to allow it to derail me. Similarly, if I get a piece of praise, I’ll remind myself that this is just one view, and not to let it distract me from the bigger goal.

Start Caring What You Think of Yourself

Far more important than praise or criticism is what you think of yourself. I don’t care if I’m receiving thousands of words of praise or attacks, if I know that what I’m doing doesn’t reflect my true goals or values, I won’t be happy. Start caring what you think of yourself, because you are the one that has to look in the mirror each day.

In running this business, I need to constantly ask myself whether what I’m doing is aligned with my goals. Do my daily actions reflect my short and long-term goals for the website? Am I writing content that delivers deeper value, or is it just self-help infocrack that gains popularity but provides no substance?

Praise and criticism can’t answer those questions, only you can. Which is why you need to listen to yourself above everyone else.

Listening to yourself first isn’t arrogant. You are the only person that intimately understands your goals and values. You are the one who set the goals in the first place. So, how can you expect other people, with different motives, to give you the ideal feedback to move forward?

Other people can offer great advice. But the emotional impact of praise and criticism should come from yourself. Other people can offer actionable suggestions, but they can’t be the judge of your self-worth.

Humble Confidence

The ideal state of mind is humble confidence. You are humble, because you accept all feedback, searching for actionable suggestions, open to any opportunity. You are confident because you won’t allow emotional praise or criticism to distract you from your goals.

In practice, it is impossible to maintain this state perfectly. I’m human like everyone else, so when I am insulted, I’ll feel bad about that. When I’m praised, I’ll feel happy. Those instincts won’t go away.

However, if you accept those first impressions, but don’t let them gnaw at your conscious self-image, you’ve succeeded. You can feel hurt from an insult, but you can evaluate the attack afterward and prevent it from wounding you. This is similar to the Stoic idea that nothing is good or bad, except in the mind. You may be forced to have a first impression from criticism or flattery, but you can then re-evaluate that so it doesn’t distract you from your goals.

If people praise you, thank them and focus on your goal. If people criticize you, thank them and focus on your goal. Because, in the end, your the one who has to judge yourself and live with it.


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25 Responses to “Criticism and Praise are the Same”

  1. SO important to care more about what you think of yourself than to worry about what others think about you. GREAT advice here! Thanks!

  2. AHA says:

    “The person that is easily flattered is also easily criticized.”

    Watch RSD – The Blueprint Decoded, Tyler goes into this kind of thinking in depth.

  3. Matt Willard says:

    Admittedly I’m still a bit prone to personal attacks myself. And I DO love praise :V But I make sure to remind myself that I can always improve in my work. I want to improve-that’s my primary drive. It’s also good to not care what other people think-I’m taking some controversial actions right now, and I know I’m gonna get backlash from it. Thanks for reminding me to stay on track despite whatever others might say.

  4. Great points! The only one I’d add would be to praise and criticize yourself when compared to yourself only. Measuring yourself against others is the same result as caring what other people think!

  5. Aatash says:

    This attitude fits in really well with the “arete” philosophy you wrote about.

  6. Aldohas says:

    Stop caring,
    and keep the positive thinking
    nice article, thanks

  7. Blake says:

    My high school basketball team could have used this advice a couple of years ago. We were the most successful team in school history, breaking school records left and right, but by the end of the season it was getting to our heads. In small town Iowa basketball, the whole town supports you when you’re doing well, and we were flooded with praise almost every day.

    In the district final, I think it finally caught up to us. We went down hard to a team that wasn’t necessarily more talented then us, but more grounded. Thinking back on it now, we definitely should have worked harder to tune out the praise and concentrate on what we needed to improve.

  8. […] Scotts post here. Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Criticism and Thick SkinA PraiseLet’s […]

  9. chris says:

    awesome article scott. really getting value from your site.

    thanks for your work

  10. Sebastien says:

    I love your article Scott. Another thing to add is internal versus external perspective. The internal, which you focus on in this article, is very important as it is a reflection on how you feel you portray yourself in the world, and ensuring your goals and values are maintained. The external, which can also be referred to as your “brand”, is the way others see you. Most people would be surprised to find out that their internal and external perspectives are very different. In other words, someone may think they are percieved by people in certain ways, however to the external world they are giving off a completely different impression. The balance of the way you want to be perceived and ensuring that others perceive you that way is another thing to keep in mind as you embark into using criticism, praise and your values to guide you.

  11. De says:

    Thank you for this post. As a student myself I need to hear this. I am studying to be a musician and novelist after high school.

  12. Dream says:

    This article have helped me so much. I flooded by so much praise that I dont even know what to do, but this helped a lot. Thanks.

  13. Steve says:

    “Because, in the end, your the one who has to judge yourself and live with it.”

    Grammatical error.

    Love the post, by the way. :)

  14. Jesue says:

    We hear what our own perceived truth is and perpetuate what our inner voice confirms. If it doesn’t sound like me I don’t really hear it. If I am self praising to beat the voice of the inner critic external praise can become my drug…if the critic rules within I will indulge and validate external criticism. My value compass is just that MINE! I’m proud of you Scott and I’m glad AppSumo introduced me to you…

  15. […] everyone was against my idea because they couldn’t see what I wanted to do with it. Based on this article, I made it a point to […]

  16. Maya says:

    Scott, thank you for this article. Very well put. This reminds me of a very similar idea I heard from a professional actor. He said that after a performance, he never goes to see the audience precisely because he doesn’t want to hear any praise. When he receives praise from someone, it makes him wonder why everyone else didn’t give him praise! Even imagined criticism of those who don’t even say anything can be damaging to some.

    Also, there are some books on childrearing that tell parents to avoid both criticism and praise!

    Anyways, thanks a lot for the great article! I really enjoyed it!

  17. slatedalteration says:

    Another interesting entry, Scott. Thanks!

    By the way, have you read the poem “If” by Richard (Rudyard) Kipling?
    Your entry reminds me of a couple of lines:

    If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim,
    If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same.

  18. Tara says:

    This is a great article! I tend to get roughed up like a poorly made sailboat in the sea of criticism and praise. It would be marvelous if you could write an article about how to develop a thick skin (unless you already have). Your insights would be an interesting read.

  19. Annemieke says:

    I loved the phrase ‘humble confidence’. Says it all!

    Indeed humble for accepting all feedback. And confident for not letting it distract you.

  20. Divya says:

    “If people praise you, thank them and focus on your goal. If people criticize you, thank them and focus on your goal. Because, in the end, your the one who has to judge yourself and live with it.”

    Great work!!Felt like a learnt experience…Even if it wasn’t still doesn’t make a hamper the essence!!

  21. Melissa says:

    Criticism and praise are the same because they come from people who care to point out your weaknesses and strengths. This is what I tell myself especially when dealing with critics. :)

  22. not going to put my name says:

    I love the challenge of a criticism or insult, and I love the challenge I give my self with a complement, what could I do better? I love your writing its very interesting to see to what extent I agree and the connections it seems to make with my own life

  23. sherill says:

    Hi, very well said, I really like your post. Of course, we cannot please everybody, that is life … we should try as much as we can to treat criticism as part of our personal growth, learn from it, move forward and focus on your goals . Great post! thanks.

  24. NANDEESH H N says:

    Hi Scott,

    I suppose, I have lived all my life the way you have preached. And I have failed to impress upon my wife to follow my way of living.

    As a result. my wife keeps nagging me for not caring for her, not loving her, and not sympathizing with her pains and disappointments.

    It is a difficult world sometimes.

    Thanks.

  25. kiki Perry says:

    There are some interesting points here: that both these exchanges inform us, that they are loaded with ‘stuff’ from where they originate, that we have an inner voice that needs to be valued and not least the humble confidence. This last was cultivated by Socrates as he investigated the assumptions people of his day were holding and making regarding virtues and other issues of morality.

    I think you recuperate what is positive in your discussion by talking about identifying what is ‘actionable’ and that those actionable elementa exist in both praise and critique. Honey gives us energy and burdock cleanses our blood; we come out the better for both.

    Where you hurt, what I imagine to be, your intended argument is when the facile phrasing “don’t care about” praise, critique or other things, except for what your inner voice says.
    A term, and seemingly a concept, missing from your description is ‘resilience’. As I want a tire/tyre that is resilient on the road, and not a tough calloused -skinned tube of whatever, I need a sense of self that is resilient and able to bounce back from rough roads of extreme emotion, push and shove.
    We cannot help liking praise more than critique; this characteristic is stronger than anything we have about being human. Praise means we still belong to a group and criticism brings fear of rejection. (Kipling Williams studies)http://www.amazon.co.uk/Social-Outcast-Ostracism-Exclusion-Psychology/dp/184169424X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1417815065&sr=1-1&keywords=kipling+rejection
    We like honey more than burdock juice, one is mother’s milk and the bitter other is akin to poison.
    So, to “not care” is to violate one of the principle social motivators in the life of humans. Not caring is dissociation, stepping away from an emotion, changing perspective, and where that is most useful and becomes a protective skill is during traumatic situations. If criticism is to be treated in the same way as a traumatic situation, what strategy do we have for the true traumas that occur? The neurochemicals of dissociation and forcing ourselves not to care are corrosive and toxic to the brain. Split personalities derive from an overuse of dissociation.
    What we need to know is how to care during praise and critique. We need to filter the quantity of emotion that is moving these exchanges in our direction. We need to understand what to accept as valid, and put all the extra trappings in their right corner. Too much praise, yes, is then untrustworthy flattery, the flatterer is scared and might tend towards destructive envy. Too heavy critique says much about who is offering it.
    In summary, we need to CARE MORE and learn how to manage that caring. Find the resilient bounciness that life offers us so that we do not alienate those who love and critique us. They took the time and energy to do either one, that is love in the end.

Debate is fine, flaming is not. Pretend that this comment form is a discussion taking place in my house. That means I enjoy constructive criticism and polite suggestions. Personal attacks, insults and all-purpose nastiness will be removed especially if it is directed at other readers.

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