How Criticism Can Poison You


Criticism stings. It can ruin your day and cripple you with discouragement. This discouragement is often escalated by “Critic’s Math.” I was first introduced to this term when reading John Acuff’s fantastic book Start: Punch Fear in the Face, Escape Average and Do Work that Matters.

What is Critic’s math?

Critics Math: 99 positive comments + 1 negative comment = 1 negative comment.

With Critics Math, no matter how many positive interactions I have, I tend to forget them and latch onto the negative.

  • A Pastor, who positively impacts hundreds of people weekly, is completely discouraged by one negative email or a critical comment after a sermon.
  • An Author who gets 300 five-star reviews for his book instead obsesses about the small handful of negative reviews.
  • A teacher who has 29 parents who support her and 1 who is against her forgets that almost everyone is supportive of her.

Earlier this week, I personally felt the power of Critic’s Math. In one day, 80 people subscribed to my blog and 1 un-subscribed. It was difficult to not let the one-un-subscriber cloud out the success of the 80 new subscribers. (I know who you are un-subscribers!)

Critics Math

An article in Rolling Stone magazine shows Critic’s Math with Larry David, co-creator of Seinfeld and creator of Curb Your Enthusiasm. While attending a New York Yankees game with two fellow writers, Larry was shown on the Jumbotron, and the 50,000 people in the stadium gave him a standing ovation. But later in the evening, as Larry was leaving the game, one guy yelled at him, “Larry, you suck!”

According to Larry’s friends, he essentially forgot the entire experience of 50,000 people cheering for him. All he could hear was the criticism from the one person who yelled at him. It was all that he could talk about on the way home.

Instead of giving into the lie of Critic’s Math remember these three principles:

1. You ARE going to have critics.

There is no such thing as a leader without critics. No one likes criticism, but it is part of what you sign up for when you lead. If you have never been criticized then perhaps you have never taken a stand for anything.

2. When a person criticizes you, ask yourself these questions:

  • Is this a person who I respect?
  • Is this a person who I am in relationship with?
  • Is this a person who cares about me?
  • Is this a person whose advice I would seek out?

If you answer these questions with  “No” then don’t pay any attention to the criticism.

3. Critics math is a lie and is poison.

It’s silly to give in to Critic’s Math but for some reason we are prone to do it. When Critic’s Math gets you down, remind yourself that Critic’s math is a lie. Reject it and move on.

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Posted by Brian Howard

My focus is to help YOU move forward one step at a time. I write about church excellence, personal productivity, and family leadership. I coach leaders, start churches, and help organizations break growth barriers. My goal is to draw on this experience to help YOU move forward in life, leadership, and productivity.

  1. So glad you posted this Brian. This is potentially the most destructive experience one can have. Even adults who were criticized as children (sometimes 50 years after the event) have scars to prove it…that’s an impact if ever there was one. Often criticisms are repeated by the offenders and believed by the offended, permanently affecting how they see themselves, which in turn, determines their assertive will to be successful (or not). I too have experienced less than favorable verbal assertions targeted at me and have not always processed it in healthy ways. As a 55 year old adult I try similar tactics to the ones mentioned in this article – to cope with those fiery darts, asking: Is it someone I respect? Do they have a hidden agenda that is not obvious? What is their track record, legacy, or tradition of communication to others? Do they have a particular hatred or intolerance of those who don’t see things quite the same as they do?

    These questions can go a long way in combating unnecessary criticisms and heading into a downward spiral of confusion and self-doubt. Being strong and courageous and certain about one’s own convictions will serve as an unfailing guide and potentially ward off any irrational comments leveled at us. Of course, simple trust in our Lord and appreciating the ministry of the Holy Spirit in our lives is never out-dated…


    1. Chris, rock solid as usual. If you ever want to guest post, let me know. I love the perspective you bring!


  2. Brian, ‘would love to contribute to your blog if interested. ‘Just let me know what you have in mind…


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