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3 Reasons Why the Addiction to Approval is Toxic for Your Mental Health

And five actionable steps to quit your addiction and learn to trust yourself.

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Do you find yourself addicted to approval from your manager, friend or partner and can't drop the insecurity until you hear it? How often have you left a situation feeling disappointed after accomplishing a challenging project, hoping for praise but receiving nothing in return?

Allow me to share a fictional story based on a phenomena I observe often with emerging leaders. For the sake of this story, let's call our leader Jane.

Jane was presenting a strategy for a new division she had taken over three months prior. She had spent days researching the market, analyzing trends, interviewing key stakeholders and assessing all risks and opportunities. After weeks of 5:00 am and 11:00 pm shifts, Jane was ready. The result was a comprehensive go-to-market strategy she was proud to present to her leadership, and she knew she was more than prepared. The impact of the strategy was pivotal to a go or no-go decision, and she had a vision and an execution plan to make it happen. As Jane started presenting her case joined by her leadership, she could see the excitement in the eyes of both leaders. They were curious, surprised by the scope and extent of her research. At the end of her presentation, participants asked a few tough questions, which she answered thoroughly. And then — pure silence as she was wrapping up the meeting: no feedback, no well done. Jane was confused. As if something wasn't complete. She packed up 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 worked on for so long, and the lack of approval made her question the value of the result. Did she miss critical aspects? Wasn't it good enough? What else could she do to improve next time?

Critical thinking and constructive feedback can help a leader to further develop their skills. But, obsessing about missing validation or approval can be extremely detrimental to one's mental health and self-esteem. Consider the following three reasons why you should free yourself from expecting approval and five steps on how to achieve it.

By expecting approval:

1. You're giving someone power over you

While you may crave approval, it's important to remember that another person's opinions are just that — someone's highly subjective, personal opinions. Their input may not be neutral. Their opinions about you or your work, if it is not objective, may be influenced by personal biases or circumstances that may have nothing to do with you. So this may manifest in behavior or opinions that are more of a reflection of what's going on in their world than an objective portrait of you.

2. You're making your happiness dependent on external input

This may sound like a cliche, but your happiness should generally come from within and the only person who has control over it is you. In other words, you shouldn't be overly dependent on external praise or approval to feel good about yourself. Focus more on cultivating internal standards for yourself and holding yourself accountable to those. Then, you can celebrate your achievements from a place of intentional choice.

3. Seeking approval disconnects you from listening to your intuition

Ultimately, you are your own best judge. You know what quality of work you are capable of putting out. Your decisions are best left to yourself and listening to your gut-feeling when thinking of how to proceed. Of course, it's perfectly okay to ask for help when you need a fresh perspective on something. But, you need to be careful to not let that support become a crutch. When you listen to your intuition, you're also practicing deep trust within yourself.

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

1. Get curious about the root cause of your desire

If you find yourself relying on approval to feel good about yourself, then it may be time to do some self-reflecting. Ask yourself where this desire comes from. Have you always sought out approval? Is there a ritual or process you can adopt that will allow you to break out of this cycle? This may be a good time to sit down with a notebook and do some serious thinking about the relationship between your inner critic and others around you.

2. Connect with your intuition

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

Related: Why Mindfulness Is a Must-Have Mental Skill

3. Take inventory of your strengths and skills

In a notebook or document, make a list of your skills and capabilities that you're good at and you're proud of. What sets you apart from others? When and how do you shine? Acknowledging your strengths will allow you to develop confidence without any external validation.You won't need a partner or co-worker to tell you how great you are — you know it already.

4. Use objective feedback to grow and dismiss subjective opinions

Remember: as a human being, you are always a work-in-progress. When you receive objective feedback, e.g., your strategy does not cover a critical [fill in the blank] to achieve the projected goals, how would [fill in the blank] receive it as valuable feedback to further improve the outcome of your work?

Objective feedback is specific, measurable, purposeful 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 do receive it, see it as a bonus

Instead of expecting approval, initiate a personal reflection process as a substitute. Start a journal where you reflect regularly on your goals and accomplishments and feelings surrounding them. And if you really need feedback from someone else, ask them directly.

Related: Could a Journal Be The Next Productivity Game-Changer?

Want to assess if you are addicted to approval or validation? Ask yourself the following:

  • Do I value others' opinions or approval over mine before making important decisions?
  • If I think I've done a great job at something, but the person I'd like approval from de-values or criticizes it, does it lower my sense of satisfaction or self esteem?
  • Have I ever stopped moving forward on something I wanted to do because I did not receive the reaction I hoped for?

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

Now, here are some questions you can use to direct your focus towards a more confident and empowering reflection:

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

  • What are objective actions I can 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 would not expect any approval and appreciate it as a bonus when received?

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

Related: The 7 'Senses' of Self-Development

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