Detaching From Praise and Criticism
by Ashley Mowrey
As a kid, I was the ultimate Gold Star go-getter. I craved the attention and approval of the adults in my life, striving to please, receive praise, and avoid criticism at all costs. Living for applause, I clung onto any compliment like it was the oxygen keeping me alive. I worked hard, took extra classes, and stood in the front...things that made me a “good student”. However, my behaviors weren’t motivated by the desire to grow, but rather to get confirmation that I was enough. Any bit of negative feedback was devastating because I had built my self-worth around the opinions of others. By the time I was a teenager, I was exhausted. I had little intrinsic motivation. My identity and self-worth were so tangled with outside validation that if I didn’t get it, I broke. At the time, I didn’t see this connection. I thought I was just burnt out and cracking from years of pressure and stress.
Now as a Mindset Coach and Educator I see this everyday in the dancers I work with. Being dancers, feedback is a central part of our training. Whether it’s as a competition dancer, commercial dancer, in a company, ballerina, or hip-hop crew member, praise and criticism are daily occurrences. We need feedback to grow and improve our craft. But we also need tools to navigate and apply it while being mindful of its influences on our behaviors, without it determining our self-worth.
Years ago, while training to become a facilitator in Tara Mohr’s Playing Big Method, I began exploring my relationship with praise and criticism. When I read this quote from her about being hooked, it all clicked.
“When we are hooked, we are constrained – not free – because of that praise seeking, praise avoidance, or criticism avoidance. It robs us of our freedom to speak up, play bigger, be authentic, set boundaries, or pursue our dreams. We lose access to all the colors and can only paint with certain ones – those that will bring the praise we seek or help us avoid the criticism we fear.”-Tara Mohr
Ah, yes. When I was dependent on praise and modifying my behaviors to escape criticism, I was hooked. I wasn’t living (or dancing) authentically. I had lost any sense of my internal compass and voice. I was painting with so few colors.
Think about all the times as a dancer you’ve been hooked. How did it affect your behaviors? Your dancing and performance? What colors were missing from your life and craft?
What would be possible if you could unhook?
Let’s jump into some tools from Tara Mohr’s Playing Big Method. We can start by exploring our relationship with praise and criticism. Grab a notebook and something to write with as you, compassionately and without judgement, journal using these five prompts:
- When, where, and from whom do you seek praise? Do you ever avoid praise?
- What is the praise you most want to hear? What criticism stings the most? Gently reflect and write about these and if they’re clues to any limiting beliefs you hold about yourself.
- What behaviors do you do primarily to get praise or attention? Explore and write about your behaviors in several environments such as class, rehearsals, competitions, performances, auditions, and on social media.
- What behaviors do you do to avoid criticism? Explore each environment.
- How would your training and performance be different if you weren’t dependent on or motivated by praise? How about if you were less affected by criticism? What would be possible?
From there, we can begin to bring awareness to our thoughts and behaviors. Next time you’re in an environment where you seek praise or avoid criticism, gently recognize what’s happening. If you’re feeling really hooked, try one of the following:
- Look at the feedback you’re receiving as information about the person giving it. What does it tell you about their personality, priorities, preferences, mood, likes/dislikes, etc. How can you use this information to support your craft? What, if any, actions do you want to take to more effectively reach that person? The key here is to re-frame the feedback as information about the giver and that it’s not a reflection of you personally.
- The criticism mirror. What criticism do you most fear hearing? What limiting self-belief is it mirroring? What do you need to hear from yourself right now regarding that belief?
- Align with your intention or core values. What is more important than praise or criticism? What behaviors would reflect your intention or values right now? If you need help setting your core values, check out my March Apolla article where I’ll walk you through it.
- Connecting to your self-worth and practicing self-compassion. Your worth and value as a human are not determined by praise, criticism, feedback, awards, social media likes, etc. Remind yourself of this often and reflect on what makes you you without all that other stuff. Practice self-compassion by talking to yourself like you would talk to someone you love.
For more ways to unhook from praise and criticism, check out this list from Tara Mohr.
As with all Mindset Skills, this takes practice. I like to remind myself that no one does a perfect pirouette in their first class. It’s the same for these skills...practice, experience, and more practice. We’re each on our own path of learning and discovering more about ourselves, and I’m so proud of you for being here with me today, doing the inner work.
If you’re interested in Mindset Coaching, head to my website to learn more and see how we can work together to calm the mind and body, cultivate self-confidence, and create inner strength so you can perform at your best. You can also find me on Instagram for more free tools, resources, and inspiration.
Ashley Mowrey is a Mindset Coach and Educator for dancers. She holds a B.A. in Psychology from The University of Arkansas, is a Certified Professional Coach and Whole Person Certified Coach through Coach Training World, a trained facilitator in Tara Mohr’s Playing Big Leadership Program, a specialist for Doctors for Dancers, and a blog contributor for Apolla Performance. Ashley has recently joined the faculty for the upcoming Embody Dance Conference, coming Summer 2021 in Connecticut where she will lead workshops for all ages, including parents and teachers, on mindset tools. She is also a Team Member of Dancer, 360 and will be a contributor to their upcoming book. Ashley trained as a competitive dancer out of Dallas, TX before teaching and eventually directing a company and dance studio in Fayetteville, AR. It was during those years that she felt drawn towards the dancer’s mindset and the need for training and tools in the dance community to foster mental health and wellbeing. She sees clients in person and via Skype/Zoom all over the country as well as travels (mostly digitally these days) to studios for customized group workshops. Ashley has also been featured on Dance Studio Amplified Podcast, (Ep. 14), Dance Boss University Mastermind guest presenter, and episode 58 of Dance Boss Podcast. Head to her website for more information, or her Instagram for free tools and resources to help you build a healthy mindset to navigate the dance world at your best.