“That’ll never work.” There is nothing that sets me off quite like this expression, or anything akin to it. I’ve learned not to be bothered much by critics, griefers, trolls, or haters. Naysayers, though, are in a class unto themselves. It’s not that I let naysaying stop me from doing whatever I want to do. It just boggles my mind that people exist whose default mode is to try to stop other people from doing things, usually for no reason. I’ve started to realize that naysaying is a helpful sign that I’m doing something interesting and worth the trouble.
Most people are caught up in default mode, and why wouldn’t they be? It works well enough. Do something you’ve done before, when other people around you are doing it, and you’re safe. This is the tribal mindset that has allowed humanity to survive, even though we’re weaker than every animal in at least one respect. No fangs, no talons, no prehensile tails, poor night vision, relatively unable to leap, swim, run, or climb trees... What we do well is to communicate and work in groups. That means the outlier who deviates from behavioral norms is probably either wasting resources, disrupting trust, or endangering group safety. Right?
Naysayers are trying to protect you.
Let’s do the taxonomy. How do naysayers differ from other types of critics?
Critique is constructive criticism that comes from an established relationship with a defined expectation of that critique. A teacher, boss, manager, mentor, agent, coach, trainer, choreographer, conductor, editor, or peer reviewer is formally required to critique your work, your presentation skills, and possibly your external appearance. Never accept anything less, because professional critique is the only path to excellence.
Criticism, on the other hand, is negative and demotivating. It’s personal. It’s designed to cut someone down, discourage, belittle, or insult. Worse, it almost always comes from people who do not have an established critique relationship. A critic is someone who has no business stating an opinion to this person, in this situation, about this thing. Criticism from critics can still be very useful, both from informational content and from the free practice session in building resilience and grit. That’s no excuse for the critic, though. Why not focus on improving yourself and lead by example?
A troll thinks it’s funny to upset people. Trolls love to start arguments for the sake of arguing. Trolling is making deliberately provocative statements in the hope that someone will take the bait. Trolls feel excitement, delight, and satisfaction.
A griefer seeks to disrupt someone else’s enjoyment of an activity. This is a gaming term, but it works in other areas. For instance, I used to have two young bachelor neighbors who would try to drown out each other’s stereos; the upstairs guy would even put his speaker facedown on the floor. Griefers feel vengeance, a sense of purpose, and sometimes triumph in addition to the usual feelings of trolling.
A hater is annoyed by the idea of other people enjoying themselves or succeeding in general. A hater prefers to dislike things rather than to appreciate them. Dominant emotions of a hater are disgust, irritation, and contempt.
A naysayer seeks to explain why something can’t be done, why it won’t work, why it’s a bad idea, or why a particular person will not succeed. Naysayers think they are intelligent; they’ve mostly stepped outside of emotion while naysaying.
What I love about naysayers is that, unlike the other groups, they usually aren’t doing what they do deliberately. Naysayers don’t know they are naysayers!
The other thing I love about naysayers is that, if you don’t tell them your plans, they can’t naysay you.
Let me go over that again, and make sure that what I am saying is perfectly clear. If you do not tell anyone what you are planning to do, then they can’t criticize you or try to talk you out of it. Therefore, the easiest way to avoid naysayers is just to carry out your plans without advertising them in advance. You don’t need permission (unless you do). Almost always, you can move right ahead and do what you want.
I’m a big believer in following all applicable rules and regulations. This makes my life really simple, straightforward, and easy. I’ve never had a speeding ticket because I don’t drive above the speed limit. I get to go in the short line at airport security because I passed the background check and became a Trusted Traveler. I have great credit, which basically allows me to do whatever I want and pay less while I do it. The interesting thing here, though, is that almost everything a person would want to do is legal. It’s allowed.
I’m allowed to sign up for any class I want. I’m allowed to buy tickets, get a visa, and travel almost anywhere I want. I’m allowed to eat anything I can put in my mouth and do any physical activities that suit the human body, including bend my knees backward, although I doubt I’d like that very much. I’m allowed to apply for or quit any job I want. I’m allowed to date or not date anyone I want. I’m allowed to adopt a kid or a pet, buy whatever I want, live basically wherever I want, and do whatever I want for entertainment. Why would anyone try to talk me out of any of that?
Why would they care?
Seriously. WHY WOULD THEY CARE?
I’ve had people try to talk me out of:
Enjoying particular songs or bands
Reading literary fiction
Going to college
Riding a bicycle
Visiting New Zealand
Keeping a pet parrot
Using Tabasco sauce
Going to Las Vegas
Moving to California
Eating Mexican food
Signing up with the organ donor registry
Using exclamation points
Renting a house
Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera
On the other hand, people have tried to talk me into:
Joining their religion
Eating hot dogs at the fairground
Adopting a kitten
Wearing acrylic nails
Getting a tattoo
Getting up early to make their coffee
Allowing anonymous comments on my blog
Buying expensive nutritional supplements
Reading Fifty Shades of Gray
Switching to an Android phone
Buying things from mall kiosks
Renting to own
It’s almost like people think you should do anything and everything, as long as it was someone else’s idea, but think twice before you do anything that was your own idea.
When dealing with any kind of criticism or negativity, there are two important considerations: 1. Could this be true? 2. Does this person have any credibility or credentials? Just because someone is not a credible source does not necessarily rule out their ability to give helpful advice. Is it actually a valid point? If I hear the same thing from two people who don’t know each other, either they’re both right or it’s an example of mainstream groupthink. Or... both? Either way, it’s helpful to know where to find the baseline and recognize common reactions. Sort of like knowing the high and low temperatures for the day.
Naysayers are simply stating an opinion. They’re not the laws of physics. They’re not the law of the land, either. I believed the person who told me I shouldn’t wear red, until I did a modeling shoot and the designer told me that “red is your color.” After that, I realized I had based my wardrobe around the opinion of, apparently, the only person who didn’t like that color on me, or maybe just didn’t like that color. My husband loves it on me. Maybe naysayers are subconsciously motivated by envy; who knows?
Think about what it is that naysayers are trying to prevent you from doing. Going back to school? Probably envy. Traveling? Probably envy. Powerlifting, entering a competition, starting a business, remodeling a house? Stop and ask if there are other people successfully doing the thing you want to do. Then go and talk to one of them, rather than your naysayer, who is probably a blood relation or peer with no relevant experience. Naysaying is probably a sign that what you are planning to do is more interesting than anything your naysayer ever did. If that’s true, you should internally thank them for pointing it out, and then go and do it!
As long as it isn’t hurting anybody, go ahead and do whatever you want. There’s no reason not to, and it probably contributes to the economy.
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.