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How to Avoid Missed Opportunities for Self-Improvement

Few people like receiving criticism--no matter how constructive. But if you want to make successful changes in your work, you need to get good at it.

Where there is criticism, damaged egos usually follow close behind. You likely know this all too well. 

Humans are hardwired to react defensively to feedback. Unfortunately in the workplace this can lead to missed opportunities for some real improvement.

Over at 99U, writer Paul Jun has a new post that offers tips on how to respond constructively when your shortcomings are brought to light. If you're lucky this occurs when a wise and well-intentioned person points out them out. 

However, since many people don't have a mentor on which they can consistently rely, you should try to get good at recognizing personal flaws on your own.

Jun quotes the Roman philosopher Seneca as saying that "a person who is not aware that he is doing anything wrong has no desire to be put right. You have to catch yourself doing it before you can reform." Jun offers two main tips for accomplishing this not-so-small feat. 

1. Recognize your own defense mechanisms.  

"To be conscious of who you are, how you think, and what you do is invaluable because it leads to self-knowledge, and in turn, change," Jun writes. But understandably, this skill isn't achieved over night. 

So instead, first try recognizing how you react when you're subconsciously minimizing a shortcoming. 

For example, this behavior often involves "fabricating a tale to mitigate the blow." In other words, many people waste time and energy making up a story to justify their subpar performance or actions. Catch yourself when you start to do this, Jun suggests. That way you can discover the true underlying problem. 

2. Adopt a philosophy--or a few. 

Whether it's Maya Angelou or Albus Dumbledore, look to a role model to help you develop your own philosophical foundation. "When we don't have a more experienced colleague to nudge us back into place, philosophy can serve as our guide, our champion," Jun explained. 

Turning to a favorite quote or passage from a book is an immensely effective way to refocus when you feel like you've gotten off track.

What else do you do to increase your self-awareness and capacity for self-improvement?

Last updated: Aug 15, 2014

LAURA MONTINI | Staff Writer

Laura Montini is a reporter at Inc. She previously covered health care technology for Health 2.0 News and has served as an associate editor at The Health Care Blog. She lives in San Francisco.

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