I recently stumbled across an article in the Harvard Business Review about how to stop worrying about what other people think of you.
No, really — that’s the title of the article. In How to Stop Worrying About What Other People Think of You, psychologist Michael Gervais digs into the phenomenon of social approval and how it can affect our day-to-day performance, productivity, and well-being.
I dove in. And to my pleasant surprise, Gervais cited an analogy from shame and vulnerability researcher Dr. Brené Brown. Dr. Brown was actually a guest on Gervais’ podcast back in 2018, and when his article mentioned her “1x1 index card” analogy, I was intrigued enough to listen to the interview and learn more.
So what is the 1x1 index card trick, and how can it help you?
The Origin Of “Daring Greatly”
Before we get to that, let’s quickly recap.
Dr. Brown’s research has taken off tremendously over the last several years. In this podcast interview and many others, she’s spoken about the origins of the phrase “daring greatly” connecting back to a speech delivered over a century ago.
The passage she refers to is the famous “Man In The Arena” address from former U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt given at the Sorbonne in Paris in 1910. Technically, the title of that speech is “Citizenship In A Republic,” but this one passage became so popular that the whole speech is now referred to as “The Man In The Arena”.
You may have seen this passage before. It reads as follows (Paragraph spaces mine for readability):
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
The passage is very relevant these days. As you’ve probably noticed, there are critics everywhere — especially on the internet. We also have an unshakeable human desire to seek out social approval. This one-two punch is what makes creator life hard at first: It’s easy to collapse these two landscapes together and assume we have to win over critics to succeed, which causes us to lose ourselves along the way.
So we hermit ourselves. We put our heads down and grind. But that too can be self-sabotaging. Remember: Feedback is how you get better. It’s how coaches train athletes; it’s how planes fly thousands of miles in exactly the right direction; it’s how artists master their craft. Without feedback of any kind, you’re navigating without a map.
So you need a happy medium. You need a little bit of feedback, not a lot. And you need feedback from the right people. That’s where the 1x1 index card trick comes in.
The 1x1 Index Card Trick
…is as simple as this:
The names of all the people you’ll tolerate and accept feedback from should comfortably fit on a 1”x1” index card.
In Dare To Lead, Dr. Brown calls this group of people your “square squad”. The squad is intimate because a one inch-by-one inch piece of paper is very small, y’all; it’s about 25% of the surface area of a standard-sized Post-It note, and often less.
This forces you to get really specific and pare down who you’ll accept feedback from. In doing this, you not protect yourself from letting outside acceptance define you; you also protect yourself from becoming a silent drowner or going down a path that leads nowhere.
Find your squad. As you dial in feedback loops and self-improvement rhythms along the way, here are a few other things to keep in mind.
- Get messy. Many people struggle to go after their dreams as adults because they’re unwilling to look bad. Don’t let your daydreams be strangled by perfectionism; done is better than perfect, and putting yourself out there gets easier with practice. Put in the reps.
- Know that reinvention is confusing at first. Here’s a personal growth analogy I’ve always liked: If you’re a circle, and one day you decide you want to become a triangle instead… everyone, including your loved ones, will still relate to you as though you’re a circle at first. This can be unnerving. Know that with change comes the process of retraining or re-evaluating your support system.
- Don’t get too attached to ideas. The longer you sit on an idea, the more demoralizing it is when you finally act on it and it falls flat. It can be tough to kill your darlings; pursue honest feedback from trusted sources early on and the bruises to your ego won’t last as long.
Too much criticism can paralyze you from creating the life you want. But to work in a vacuum cuts you off from valuable insights that could make all the difference. Look for a happy balance of feedback and execution and you’ll find it easier to go after what you truly want in the world.
Thanks for reading. 🙏🏼
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