Criticism: What We Are REALLY Saying

20140109-053055.jpgWhen we criticize someone, what we are actually saying is this:

“I want you to feel uncomfortable, self-conscious, and to focus on hiding your fault instead of interacting every time you are around me from this moment forward. I want to make it just a little harder for you to be vulnerable, not only with me but with everyone else.”

When we find fault, we do not set someone on the right path towards changing the very thing that we do not like about them. We actually make it harder. Change and growth come so much easier when we make it safe for others to fail without fear of rejection or criticism.

This doesn’t mean that we have to just put up with problems caused by others or that we shouldn’t intervene when we see someone we care about behaving in self-destructive ways. But how we approach the problem can leave someone feeling empowered or insecure.

A recent study actually backs up this premise. Described in great detail in the Harvard Review, the study conducted by Richard Boyatzis, revealed that focusing on dreams and goals made it easier to change. Imagine the power of something so simple – helping someone focusing on the possibilities, on hope instead of their faults and failings – can actually evoke the change we want to see in them. It really is possible to be the good guy and still address problems.

I recently had a conversation with a friend who was brainstorming how to address a problem behavior with an employee. Her initial thought was to point it out directly, but after talking a bit more, we arrived at what might be causing the employee’s annoying habit. She found a way to resolve that problem for the employee, and not only did the annoying behavior go away, but her employee ended up feeling more empowered in their role in her company.

The next time we think we are helping someone improve by pointing out what we see as the problem, we should take a step back and try to find a way to be supportive. Change is scary, and if we can create an environment of trust and care, we will make it easier for others to feel safer to risk trying to change, to feel safe risking failure.

A very interesting study recently published indicates that at least for women, the very fact of being overweight causes a dislike of exercise on a very core level. Why? Fear of failing at the exercise, of feeling awkward or not being able to do what the rest of people exercising are capable of accomplishing. The next time you think you’re helping motivate someone who needs to lose a few pounds by pointing out that fact, think about that. They know they’re overweight. They see it every time they look in the mirror or put their clothes on. Or do much of anything. No one is surprised when someone else points out they’re fat. Try making them feel safe enough to risk new activities, new habits. It may work wonders.

I’ve recently started a fit class with a small group of women that is led by one of the most positive people I’ve ever met. She is constantly pointing out and praising small successes. She expresses her belief in us as a group and individually. She asks us questions about how we are doing in the middle of trying something new and encourages us to take risks to challenge ourselves. I have yet to hear her find fault or criticize someone for how they look or what they can’t do. Because of this, I feel safe for the first time to look awkward, to fail when trying someone new – and, for the first time, I am looking forward to exercising. And it is working – eleven pounds lost in a little over a month. She has succeeded in helping me change where criticism never would have worked.

The next time we’re tempted to point out a fault, to criticize, it would pay to remember that it likely won’t accomplish what we want – it will, in fact, make it harder. Help someone else focus on their dreams, of what might be possible, and see what happens. Oh, and by the way … this works for ourselves, too.

5 AM Epiphany

I realized something this morning.

While I was getting dressed.

In the dark.

And grumbling every moment of the way.

I don’t have to like getting up at 5 AM on a crazy busy day to make sure I get a workout in. I don’t have to like it at all. It’s ok at that I’m grumbling – as long as it isn’t loud enough to wake up everyone else.

I just have to do it.

I was the queen of “I don’t care if you don’t want to – just do it” when my kids were little. It solved a boatload of drama and hours of fruitless negotiations with children who were all smarter than me. I was implacable, and they knew arguing with me was hopeless once that line was thrown down in an argument.

“I don’t care if you don’t like brushing your teeth. Do you like sitting in a dentist’s chair with a drill in your mouth hoping against hope that he knows what he’s doing? Go brush your teeth.” (Ok, so maybe I was a little morbid as well, hearing how it sounds now.)

“I don’t care if you don’t like taking a shower. No one like sitting next to someone who hasn’t showered and just finished PE. Go take a shower.”

So how did I end up a grown adult with the idea that if I didn’t like getting up early to work out, well, then, dear sweetheart, I shouldn’t have to?

The lady in my head has turned on me, I think. Or joined the ranks. This morning she didn’t whine or complain when I rolled out of bed at 4:45 AM. She just seemed sad and whispered, “Coffee.”

I’m probably going to be very sorry for this epiphany in a few minutes when my trainer smiles and says, “Want to do stairs today?”

I’ll tell her the truth. No, I don’t. I want to be in bed reading Zite on my iPad. But then I’ll do it anyway. After all, I have an epiphany to keep up.

A Lesson In Choosing Our Words

imageHow we say something is every bit as important as what we say.

I was made aware of that again this week as I started on a new health and fitness program at our local health club. I’d already been through the whole trainer routine, and it had been hugely disappointing for me. Each session had been a nail in the coffin on my purpose to try new things and discover the lost athlete inside. All that happened – thank goodness it was free – was that I confirmed that if there ever was an athlete inside, she’d long ago packed up and found her own way to a beach house in Hawaii. She was most definitely not still hanging with me.

So when I arrived for my first “complimentary” session of a new 16-week fitness class this past Thursday evening, I wasn’t all that hopeful it would be a good fit. I had plenty of reasons to be skeptical. After all, I’d been invited to not return to a Salsa Class, been laughed out of Zumba by some pretty unkind ladies. But I was game to give it another try.

I arrived at the front desk and asked for Leanne. One of the staff members walked me down to a packed class in progress, and as I saw the group throwing high kicks and punching in the air, I was ready to run away when the employee said, “She’s teaching martial arts right now, but she gets out in ten minutes. Just wait for her here, and she’ll walk you up to the other class.”

I waited and watched her through the window. She moved through the rows of fiercely kicking students, touching one student’s arm to help find the right placement and then giving thumbs-up to another. She smiled – a lot. And when the class was over, she spent probably five minutes hugging students on her way out.

“Oh, good, she a hugger,” I thought. You can’t have too much of the mean-girl, judgmental syndrome if you’re a hugger.

I introduced myself to her as she exited the class, and her face lit up immediately. She talked nonstop as we made our way upstairs where the rest of the group were warming up on treadmills. She told me about each of the ladies by name, why they’d come to her class and what she liked about them as individuals. She introduced me around and without making a big deal of things, gave us our next task of the night. She stopped me several times over the next hours to modify an exercise to not strain my shoulder with an old injury or to help me stretch out a tight muscle that was preventing me from completing the task effectively.

But it was the way she chose to speak to me and the rest of the group that had the greatest impact on me. My last trainer, with his bulging muscles twitching under his skin-tight shirt, had started our first session with a set of measurements to, as he put it, “see just how far I had to go to reach goal”. I was pretty sure after seeing the numbers I was never reaching goal.

Leanne was different. “Ooh,” she said, as if she was planning something exciting, “we have got to get you back in here right away to get measured so you can track ever single step of the progress you make. We don’t want to wait where you might miss some of it.”

It hit me that night, the extreme power to influence that we hold just in our choice of words. But hers wasn’t just words, it was an entire attitude of positivity and hopefulness that backed them up. And it worked. I loved the class – even the painfully awkward moves that mixed yoga, pilates and a bit of martial arts. And I pulled myself away from a cozy fire and a warm cup of coffee to do more of the same this morning.

And I left happy. Me. The awkward, clumsy, nonathletic me. I was marching up and down stairs with a medicine ball held high over my head. I was doing squats with weights. And downward dogs – or something like that. And she not only made me think I could do all of it, but she helped me enjoy the process and feel the joy of finishing a new challenge.

My goal is to be more like Leanne. Yes, I’d like to be just as fit as she is – she’s a bit of a mix between girly and I-could-clean-your-clock-if-I-wanted-to. But I also want to make sure that the way I’m saying things is just as carefully thought out as what I’ve chosen to say. I’m in luck – I’ll get to listen to her for the next sixteen weeks, so I’ll have plenty of time to practice.

Week One Ends In Success!

So it’s been a week of dieting, and it’s gone better than ever before. Perhaps my success this week is due to my renewed sense of purpose or  my panic over entering the second half of my forties still overweight, but to be honest, I think it’s a lot simpler than that. I made a promise, and I sure as heck am not going to fail to keep it. I made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t settle for being fat or frumpy anymore.

So I’m lighter by 3.5 pounds after seven days of dieting – and I didn’t even have to destroy myself with any last chance workouts. It just took moderate eating within my allotted points, exercise, plenty of water, and tracking my food in the mobile app. Oh, and hitting the mute button on the fat lady in the mirror.

I’m celebrating … by rewarding myself with another faithful day on the diet. No way do I want to start at Week One ever again!