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Criticism: Deal with it well by being in the right mindset

I would be surprised if there is anyone who deals with criticism well. If someone actually likes being harshly criticised for work that they did, I’m sure other people might have some concerns about that person’s psychological profile.

An image of two people, one filled with ways to give harsh criticism, and the other filled with the effects that criticism can have on our self image.

Criticism is something that we deal with on a daily basis. Whether it’s our own self-criticism or the criticism of a teacher or trusted mentor, or if you’re someone who releases your creative work to others, then you can be criticised by random people who may or may not have any concern for your mental well-being.

Criticism of my goals

Earlier this week, I released the first of what will be a series of videos about my practice goals and my practising over the next couple of years. I was incredibly nervous about doing this. I’ve released videos my playing before, but these were polished videos that were compiled after significant amounts of practice, edited to make sure that they were perfect. These videos are raw footage of me in my practice room, still learning pieces, still making mistakes, and understandably I was nervous about the criticism that I may receive.

I shared these videos into a few different places, including a Reddit community for violinists. One user gave me some really good feedback about my plans but hadn’t had the opportunity to watch my video yet. When they did watch it, they came back and suggested a shift in strategy to focus on technique for a bit.

Criticism in the wrong headspace

However, when I read that comment, it was 2 am. My son had just woken up and was refusing to go back to sleep. I was tired and grumpy, and I shouldn’t have been reading these comments. In that state of mind, I saw that comment and saw it as a big attack on my playing. That then brought me into a spiral of whether I was doing the right thing. Have I set myself goals that are too lofty? Am I even doing the right thing in pursuing music again? All those sorts of things were playing on my mind. Understandably, in that mindset, I was never going to receive the criticism well. I spiralled, which led to an awful night where not only did my son not go back to sleep, but neither did I.

However, one thing I did do well is that I didn’t respond. I waited. And later that morning – after a very large coffee – I sat down and actually read what the user had written. They suggested that I would benefit from a bit of a concentrated focus on technique to correct parts of my playing that had dropped off during my time away from playing regularly. That through doing that work now, I would save time later. And I was able to see that their criticism wasn’t that I was doing the completely wrong thing, but that my path just needed a little bit of guidance.

Being in the right mindset lets you see the benefit

And in that mindset, I was able to recognise the benefit that the criticism was giving me. I was able to adjust my plans and realise that it wouldn’t change my progress but actually improve my progress. My goal isn’t to play an orchestral audition next week, it’s to be able to play it in two years. This isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon – and just like my marathon training, I need to set a strong foundation. You can’t run a marathon with bad technique – it just won’t happen. You’ll injure yourself, and have an awful time. However, with a strong base of technique, with a high level of fitness, you will have a wonderful time, complete the marathon, and feel the elation when you do.

So I’m switching up my plans. I’m putting a focus on my technique for at least the next week, possibly two. Nathan Cole has an orchestral audition prep series. He sets out a 16-week program to get ready for an audition. I’m using the first week from his series as a basis for my technical preparation.

How do you deal with criticism? Are you the weird one who welcomes it as a growth opportunity? Or do you prefer to stick your head in the sand, ignore the criticisms, and just be you? Or, does the fear of criticism stop you from ever releasing anything you make to people you don’t trust?

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