3 Reasons Approval Addiction Is Toxic To Your Mental Health


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Do you find yourself addicted to approval from your manager, friend, or partner and can’t let go of insecurity until you hear it? How many times have you left a situation feeling disappointed after accomplishing a challenging project, expecting praise but receiving nothing in return?

Allow me to share a fictional story based on a phenomenon I often observe with emerging leaders. For the purposes of this story, let’s call our chef Jane.

Jane presented a strategy for a new division she had taken over three months earlier. She had spent days researching the market, analyzing trends, interviewing key stakeholders, and assessing all risks and opportunities. After weeks of 5 a.m. and 11 p.m. shifts, Jane was ready. The result was a comprehensive go-to-market strategy that she was proud to present to her management, and she knew she was more than prepared. The impact of the strategy was critical to a go-or-no-go decision, and she had a vision and an execution plan to get there. As Jane began to present her case with her leadership, she could see the excitement in the eyes of both leaders. They were curious, surprised by the breadth and extent of his research. At the end of her presentation, the participants asked some difficult questions, which she answered in detail. And then – pure silence as she ended the meeting: no return, no good done. Jane was confused. As if something was not complete. She packed her laptop and notebook to avoid the awkwardness of the situation.

Jane felt empty and disappointed for the rest of the day. She was so proud of the strategy she had been working on for so long, and the lack of approval made her question the value of the outcome. Did she miss any critical aspects? Wasn’t that good enough? What else could she do to improve next time?

Critical thinking and constructive feedback can help a leader further develop their skills. But obsessing over the lack of validation or approval can be extremely detrimental to mental health and self-esteem. Consider the following three reasons why you should free yourself from waiting for approval and five steps to get there.

Pending approval:

1. You give someone power over you

While you need approval, it’s important to remember that another person’s opinions are just that – someone’s personal, highly subjective opinions. Their contribution may not be neutral. Their opinions of you or your work, if not objective, may be influenced by personal biases or circumstances that may have nothing to do with you. So it can manifest as behavior or opinions that reflect more of what’s going on in their world than an objective portrait of you.

2. You make your happiness dependent on external input

It may sound like a cliché, but your happiness should generally come from within and the only person in control of it is you. In other words, you shouldn’t depend too much on external praise or approval to feel good about yourself. Focus more on cultivating internal standards for yourself and holding yourself accountable to them. Then you can celebrate your accomplishments from a place of intentional choice.

3. Seeking approval prevents you from listening to your intuition

In the end, you are your best judge. You know what quality of work you are capable of producing. It’s best to leave your decisions to yourself and listen to your intuition when considering how to proceed. Of course, it’s perfectly normal to ask for help when you need a new perspective on something. But, you have to be careful not to let this support become a crutch. When you listen to your intuition, you are also practicing deep trust in yourself.

So what can you do to free yourself from this need for external approval? Try following these steps:

1. Be curious about the root cause of your desire

If you find yourself depending on approval to feel good about yourself, it might be time to do some self-reflection. Ask yourself where this desire comes from. Have you always sought approval? Is there a ritual or process you can adopt that will get you out of this cycle? Now might be a good time to sit down with a notebook and think seriously about the relationship between your inner critic and others around you.

2. Connect to your intuition

If you have become dependent on feedback from others, it probably means that you have slowly disconnected from your own internal feedback mechanism, i.e. your intuition. After a presentation, for example, immediately observe how you feel. Do you feel confident, excited? Do you feel like you could have performed better? Build a strong bridge to your instincts through honest reflection and committed action. Now is the time to start cultivating your intuitive sense. This is probably a more accurate representation of your performance than any external commentary.

Related: Why mindfulness is an indispensable mental skill

3. Take inventory of your strengths and skills

In a notebook or a document, make a list of your skills and abilities in which you excel and of which you are proud. What sets you apart from others? When and how do you shine? Recognizing your strengths will allow you to develop confidence without any external validation. You won’t need a partner or colleague to tell you how great you are – you already know that.

4. Use objective feedback to develop and reject subjective opinions

Remember: as a human being, you are always a work in progress. When you receive objective feedback, for example, your strategy does not cover a critical aspect [fill in the blank] to achieve the projected objectives, how [fill in the blank] do you receive it as valuable feedback to further improve the results of your work?

Objective feedback is specific, measurable, helpful, and can be extremely helpful for your growth. Subjective feedback is influenced by personal feelings, tastes or opinions.

5. Don’t expect any approval, and when you get it, treat it as a bonus

Instead of waiting for an approval, start a self-reflection process as a substitute. Start a journal in which you regularly reflect on your goals, accomplishments, and feelings around them. And if you really need someone else’s feedback, ask them directly.

Related: Could a Journal Be the Next Productivity Game Changer?

Want to gauge whether you’re addicted to approval or validation? Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do I prioritize the opinions or approval of others over my own before making important decisions?
  • If I think I’ve done a good job at something, but the person whose approval I’d like to belittles or criticizes it, does that lower my sense of satisfaction or self-esteem?
  • Have I ever stopped moving on something I wanted to do because I didn’t get the reaction I was hoping for?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, it might be time to do some soul-searching.

Now, here are some questions you can use to direct your attention to more confident and challenging thinking:

  • What is the root cause of my desire for approval?

  • What objective actions can I take to further improve my skills and expertise if I am not satisfied with the quality of my work?

  • What is the opportunity for me if I didn’t expect any approval and would enjoy it as a bonus once received?

  • How can I present myself as my own cheerleader and celebrate the effort I have put in?

Related: The 7 “Senses” of Personal Development


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