I have a friend who is an artist. He is a wonderful guy and very talented but as he freely admits he’s a little highly strung and sensitive to criticism. He used to worry a lot about what others thought of him and his work. Then he changed – now he doesn’t care as much. He has also lost most of his fear of failure.

Inevitably he concluded that he will always have critics as well as admirers. Neither is very important to him anymore for one simple reason – he loves his art because it is his and that is the most important thing to him. But more than that he treats criticism and praise in exactly the same way – clinically and open-mindedly. Essentially if it is valuable to his end-goals then he uses it; if it isn’t then he rejects it.

This sets him apart from the majority of people who don’t cope well with criticism. They become defensive and try to avoid it. They’re ok with praise but can’t cope with criticism even when it is delivered genuinely and with compassion. In the end, as author Norman Vincent Peale put it, they would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.

Criticism is valuable because it offers us the opportunity to face the fears that we might not choose to face on our own. If we are brave enough and choose to openly consider criticism we have the chance to evaluate and deepen our understanding and by doing so develop a stronger more confident perspective of the matters at hand. This can also help us to overcome any complacency that we might have from listening to opinions that only match our own.

Ultimately criticism can be an effective tool in breaking down our comfort zones (which might seem satisfying but not necessarily effective) and lead us to more thoughtful considered actions that will expedite our progress towards our goals.

The best thing to do is to treat both praise and criticism the same way – clinically and quickly. Don’t dwell on either. Take the good parts of both and discard the rest. Whatever else understand that both are a gift to you to use as you see fit…