If Learning to spot naysayers can be a huge help when trying to achieve anything in life. Naysaying is nearly universal, and people can be really taken in by it. Negativity and criticism can give the impression that the critic is smarter than average, which is the payoff for engaging in it. It takes a lot of confidence to withstand a barrage of criticism, and we tend to be short on confidence when we're uncertainly feeling our way toward a new state of being. Expect that the more awesome the goal, the more naysaying it will draw out. Criticism can be seen as an Awesomeness Detector.
Note that every celebrity and public figure has detractors. The more famous the person, the meaner the haters. If nobody is criticizing you, then you aren't doing anything, even leaving your house, because there are always random bystanders willing to pick on you just for walking by.
Now, to state the obvious, not every idea is a great idea. Not every great idea is great for a particular person, in a particular situation, at a particular place and time. It is foolish to disregard all input and advice. Sometimes they have a point. What we want to do is to distinguish between naysaying and constructive criticism, which do not overlap.
People tend to fall into a temperamental setting. Some people are snarky. Some are cheerful. There is a broad spectrum in between. Most people are going to fall within a predictable range of responses regardless of the situation. Think of the proverbial "Russian judge" who gives out lower scores at Olympic events. When receiving commentary, consider the source.
Credibility. Does this person have credentials or experience in what you are trying to do?
Motivation. Was this feedback solicited or unsolicited?
Track record. How accurate was this person's advice in previous situations?
Context. Is this a one-on-one, private, in-person conversation? Is it part of an anonymous discussion on social media? Big difference.
Relationship. What is this person's relationship to you? Parent? Friend? Boss? Mentor?
How does this assessment work in practice?
Let's say I'm training for a marathon. I have two sources of advice to consider. One is a relative whose overall fitness level is low and who has no running background. This person warns me that I'll hurt my knees. The other source of advice is a random guy my age whom I met at a crosswalk, who runs ultramarathons. He says he only trains two or three days a week, back-to-back on weekends and maybe one weekday, shares his weekly mileage, and then wishes me good luck. How do I weight this advice? Can you spot the naysayer?
When I want to do something that is far outside my comfort zone, and I don't know anyone who has done it, I want to be wide open to new information. I want to attract knowledgeable and helpful mentors. I want to demonstrate that I am serious, I am committed, and I am making progress on my own. At that point, my actions will inevitably draw nods from my target mentors. I may not recognize them, but they'll recognize me, just as the ultramarathon guy saw me in my running gear and asked if I was "training or just running." I am expecting that the advice I will hear from mentors will be contrary to at least one thing I'm doing. I expect that I will hear brief mentions of books I should be reading, documentaries I should have seen, websites and podcasts I should be following, and experts I should know about. I take notes and follow up. I can't let anything I hear disappoint me or hurt my feelings, because my goal is TO LEARN. I need to adapt to the material and to the rules of the game, and be grateful for the help, even if the advice was unsolicited and the expert annoys me in some way.
The trouble is that naysayers also share their opinions for free.
Naysayers are motivated by dissatisfaction. Happy, fulfilled people don't waste their time worrying about what other people are doing; they keep their eyes on their own homework. A good barometer is how many hours a day the individual is spending on social media. Naysaying is also motivated by social comparison, pessimism, a desire for attention, unfulfilled ego needs for respect and status, aggression, and hostility. Who knows what else. Naysayers are similar to trolls in these respects.
Naysayer tactics include bringing up your past failures, sharing stories of similar failures by others, and declarations that what you are doing will never work. Naysayers will start with the assumption that you have no idea what you are doing and that you haven't done any research. Naysayers will attribute your motivations, methods, and results to character flaws. Your goal is selfish. Your goal is stupid. Your goal is elitist. You think you're too good for everyone. You're conceited and all you do is talk about yourself. Your goal is too expensive. If it involves ridicule or shame, it's naysaying. If it involves discouraging you from even getting started, it's probably naysaying. If this person has had a similar response to other things you have done, it's certainly naysaying.
Constructive criticism is motivated by a desire to help you reach the goal. A critic will interview you, trying to ascertain where you are in the process and how much advance preparation you have already done. Constructive criticism can be just as uncomfortable as naysaying, but at the end, you should feel either validated or better informed. For instance, if someone else wanted to run a marathon, I would offer that it costs around $200, that many races sell out months in advance, and that some races require a qualifying time from another race. All of this information could sound discouraging, but the purpose of sharing it is so that the new marathoner can avoid disappointment and plan ahead.
A naysayer will attack WHY you are doing something, while a critic will examine HOW you are doing it.
Naysayers think they're helping. If you have a problem with it, you have a thin skin and you need to toughen up, plus you need to quit being so dumb and unreasonable about this goal. There is a point to be taken in any advice to develop a thicker skin. Naysayers are like NPCs (non-player characters) with whom you cannot avoid interacting whenever you are on a quest. If you're going to encounter them every single time you set out to do something cool, might as well get used to it. Try to laugh about it. Of course, another underrated technique is to keep your plans absolutely secret until you're already done. For instance, once I got my race medal, I stopped hearing any naysaying. Naysayers don't like talking about your successes and accomplishments, because the conversation might shift to how they aren't exactly fulfilled and thriving in their own lives.
Naysaying tends to be more concentrated the closer you get to your inner circle. This is for two reasons. One is that perfect strangers will assume you accomplish goals like this all the time, and that this is an interesting feature about you. Another is that we only tolerate a certain level of negativity from people we can't escape, like family or roommates. Family members will badmouth, cheat, steal, and backstab each other in ways that nobody would ever tolerate from a stranger, neighbor, or colleague. Not MY family, of course! It's true, though, that I've seen family members sever relationships with each other by bickering over inheritances, stealing boyfriends, etc. Expect a minimum standard of decency and civility from people in your inner circle, and if they don't meet that standard, quit telling them personal details about your life.
A goal is like a warm little egg with a chick inside. It's your egg. Your goal is to incubate it until it hatches. You protect it and hover over it and turn it so it heats evenly on all sides, making soft little clucking sounds. You don't let anyone near your egg. Hopefully predators don't even realize you have an egg, because otherwise they're going to try to take it from you and eat it, and it will never see the light of day. You tend your warm little egg faithfully for the days or weeks it takes to hatch. Finally, little cracks begin to form. A naysayer would tell you that these cracks are flaws, and that you should never have laid this egg in the first place. Believing in the advice of a naysayer is like dejectedly trudging away from the nest just before your chick is about to hop out. Finally, your goal hatches! The next time you set about a new goal, you'll recognize the signs, and you can tell your naysayers to flap off.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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