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Blog Short #104: Ignoring Feedback Can Hurt You

Photo by DjordjeDjurdjevic, Courtesy of iStock Photo

Today I’m starting with a quote from James Clear, the author of Atomics Habits (one of my favorite books!). He says:

“Keep ignoring feedback and life will keep teaching you the same lesson.”

How true this is, and it explains why the same things happen over and over. More to the point, they will keep happening until you acknowledge the problem or issue and master it.

This quote struck me because of the word “feedback.” When problems surface, we rarely think of them as feedback. Maybe you do sometimes, but I’m guessing another more common response is, “Why me? Why is this happening? Why does it keep happening?” and so on.

A better response would be,

“Okay, this is the second time this has come up. What am I missing? What do I need to attend to?”

Obvious things like bouncing a check don’t require much thinking. You know what that problem is.

Having repeated conflicts with someone or repeated experiences in similar situations are harder to figure out. And if you don’t get a handle on what’s happening, the issue keeps coming back until it’s screaming at you. Even then, sometimes you’ll avoid it.

How should you respond?

Let’s start with how you shouldn’t.

  1. You pass it off. “It’s not me – it’s you (or him, or her, or them). It’s the situation.”  You blame it on another person or the situation at hand.
  2. You avoid it. “I’ve got bigger things to worry about.”
  3. You deny it. “It’s not really a problem. Everything’s fine.”

Step 1: Acknowledgment

A better way starts with acknowledging and accepting that an issue keeps appearing and is trying to tell you something. It’s no different than having a repetitive physical symptom that you investigate by going to the doctor. The symptom is a warning that something’s amiss.

After acknowledging that something’s amiss, it’s time to apply some real thought and investigation to see if you can figure out what the issue is and devise a plan to make changes.

Doing that requires emotional energy and sometimes facing something you don’t want to see.

The thing is, when you face something, it’s always better than if you don’t. Because once you do, you break through your fear or annoyance or whatever emotion that’s keeping you from taking that look.

And when you attend to it, it feels good to get on a path to repair it. Eventually, you master the problem, and it’s gone. Otherwise, it’s like a mosquito that continues to buzz around your head until it morphs into a huge horsefly that you can’t ignore.

All right. You’ve acknowledged that there’s a problem. Now what?

Step 2: Define

Step two is to define it thoroughly. Depending on what it is, you may need some time for this.

For example, if you seem to get into conflicts with people at work, and this has happened at the current job and two you had before this one, then you might not immediately know what’s causing this. A problem like this requires more investigation.

You could begin by seeking out more feedback. Ask people you know who will be honest with you about their take on the issue. Read up on it if you can, or Google it. There’s information available for every problem conceivable.

You can always seek help from an expert with more knowledge of the issue. For a psychological problem, see a therapist. If you struggle with money, you might contact a financial planner. A health problem might require a physician, fitness trainer, or physical therapist. Find the person or persons who have the knowledge you need to both define and work on the problem.

Step 3: Plan

Step three is to construct a plan, including the steps you need to take to master the situation. This part’s important because it’s easy to think you’re home-free just because you’ve thoroughly understood the issue and defined the problem. You’re not. You still have to do the work.

This is where many people lose interest. They start the work but don’t finish. Then the problem resurfaces later; only it’s worse now.

So do the work. Make the plan, outline the steps, write out the specific tasks, and put them into real-time so you know what you’re going to do.

You might know everything you need to do right away. Or you may start with an initial plan that will give you the information you need to go to the next phase but will need refining as you go along.

Pivot when necessary.

You may need to pivot as you uncover additional layers of the problem.

For example, if your health is an issue, you might start with a complete medical exam. From there, you might learn that you need a specific medical treatment but also need to lose weight and improve your overall fitness. So you investigate diets and exercise plans and choose how to implement those. In the course of doing that, you narrow down the specific fitness regime you need and the type of diet you need. That may lead to learning more food preparation skills. You get the picture. Keep drilling.

As you work, you’ll continue to get feedback that lets you know how you’re doing and when you need to make another adjustment or pivot.

Keep up your momentum.

What’s great is that once you fully get into working on something, you gain momentum and part of your success impinges on keeping it going. That requires two attitudes:

  1. Setbacks and wrong turns provide information you need to keep going. Nothing more. Don’t look at these as failures.
  2. Momentum needs consistent attention to keep it going.

The first one’s obvious. Learn from the mistake, get back on the horse, and keep riding.

The second one is a little more complex. If the issue takes time and consistent effort, you’ll likely experience lags in your interest and focus. For instance, if you’re in a lot of debt and the plan to get out of debt will take three years, you’ll have to create milestones along the way that are close together so you have something to celebrate and feel good about. Those milestones will help you keep your momentum going.

If the issue is psychological, then you’ll need to recognize small gains as you make them, especially when you have setbacks and get into a failure mindset.

These issues are more challenging to work with because gains are not so noticeable or concrete. You work on something for a long time and think you’ve made no progress, and then suddenly, you have some big insight. The time leading up to the insight was necessary, and sticking with the work facilitated it. You need a system to remind yourself regularly that you’re putting in the work and that change takes time

Watch out for the myth.

One of the myths we’re all subject to is the belief and hope that life will be easy. You likely know that’s a myth, but I’m guessing you don’t jump up and down when you meet obstacles and clap your hands in glee because you get to solve them.

Most of us automatically draw back when adversity blocks our path. That’s okay as long as it doesn’t stop you from meeting the challenge. It helps to remember that ignoring a problem only makes it grow. Meeting it head-on leads to mastery, learning, growth, and ultimately more satisfaction.

That’s all for today!

Hope you have a great week!

All my best,


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