Dealing With Criticism: The Secret To Managing Feedback and Growing

Today we’re going to talk about an uncomfortable topic – dealing with criticism.  Have you ever felt hurt or demotivated after receiving criticism at work or in your personal life?  Do you struggle with knowing how to respond to criticism without getting defensive or feeling attacked?

In today’s episode, we’re diving into the world of criticism and uncovering the secret to handling feedback in a more constructive and empowering way.

Criticism is an unavoidable part of life, especially in professional fields like accounting. Whether you’re on the receiving end of a formal review or providing feedback to others, the process can often be uncomfortable and awkward. 

The impact of criticism goes beyond mere words. It can leave us feeling vulnerable, drained, and questioning our abilities.

But here’s the good news: understanding the intricacies of our brain’s response to criticism can help us navigate these challenging situations with greater resilience and growth. By unraveling the neural pathways and thought patterns associated with criticism, we can retrain our brain to respond in a more positive and productive manner.

In this episode, we’ll explore how our brain processes criticism, the impact of different types of feedback, and the subjective nature of interpreting others’ words. We’ll also delve into the power of our past experiences and self-image on our ability to handle criticism effectively.

We’ll also uncover a powerful distinction between criticism and feedback, and how it empowers us to take control of how we interpret others’ words. Finally, we’ll provide practical strategies for managing criticism, developing a growth mindset, and transforming feedback into an opportunity for personal and professional development.

If you’ve ever found yourself struggling with criticism, feeling defensive, or letting negative feedback consume your thoughts, then this episode is for you. By the end, you’ll be equipped with a deeper understanding of the psychology behind criticism and the tools to navigate these situations with confidence and self-assurance.

Get ready to become a Smarter Accountant who knows how to handle criticism with grace and use it as a stepping stone to even greater success.

Mark’s story: Struggling with criticism

To shed light on this topic, I want to share the story of Mark from my book, “The Smarter Accountant.”  Mark was a financial analyst at a large healthcare organization and despite his dedication and hard work, Mark struggled with receiving criticism throughout his life, often allowing it to linger and affect him deeply. 

He was due for his mid-year review and told his girlfriend that he knew that reviews were a necessary part of the job, but he couldn’t help feeling horrible afterwards.

Ever since Mark was younger, he had had a hard time receiving criticism, often being upset for weeks due to a remark a teacher made on his report card or something a sports coach said to him. He struggled with moving past other people’s feedback and critiques, often feeling a good deal of shame.  

He knew he was intelligent and a hard worker, but he dreaded hearing criticism, especially from his employer. Sometimes, he became so worried about negative feedback that he became a people pleaser, trying to control other people’s opinions of him.

After he received this year’s mid-year review, all he could focus on was the one or two “needs improvement” ratings and not on all the “meeting or exceeding expectations” ones. He felt inadequate after his review and spent a lot of time trying to figure out what he had done wrong.

He could see how much it was distracting him and how it was affecting how he showed up around his boss, but he couldn’t stop. A trusted colleague tried to help him deal with the mid-year review feedback, but he wasn’t getting through to Mark. 

The brain’s response to criticism

Can you relate to Mark’s story?  I know I definitely can.  Criticism is a part of life, but it’s not fun.  The truth is that our brains play a big role in how we react to criticism, and understanding this can help us manage our emotions and respond in a more productive way. 

It’s important to understand that when we receive criticism, our brains go into overdrive. When we receive criticism, our lower, primitive brain that I refer to as The Toddler, is activated, triggering a fight-or-flight response that can cause us to feel threatened, defensive, or even attacked.

This automatic response has been hardwired in us since humans lived in caves.  If you think about it, it makes sense because if our brain interpreted something as a criticism and we were ostracized from our tribe, it could be a matter of life or death.

In other words, our safety depended on being accepted by the tribe.  If we were criticized, we could be left on our own and possibly die.

It’s also important to understand that our brains have millions of neural pathways that make our reactions seem like they’re not within our control, especially when it comes to dealing with criticism.  Neural pathways are the connections formed between neurons in our brains that allow information to be transmitted and processed. 

They are like highways for information that become stronger and more efficient with repeated use.  The way I like to explain it is that neural pathways start out as overgrown, impassible jungle paths, but with repetitive use, they are eventually cleared to become super highways.

While our lower, primitive brain wants to jump right into a fight-or-flight response, we also have the higher part of our brain, that I refer to as The Supervising Parent.  This part of the brain is only present in humans and is responsible for executive functions, such as decision-making, problem-solving, and impulse control. 

When we receive criticism, the higher part of our brain is activated as we try to process the information and figure out what to do next.  Thankfully, this part of our brain is more rational and less reactionary.

The interesting thing about criticism is that not all criticism is created equal, and the type of criticism we receive can have a big impact on our brain’s response. For example, constructive criticism, which is intended to help us improve, is often easier to process than destructive criticism, which is intended to hurt or undermine us. 

Studies have shown that constructive criticism can actually activate the reward centers in the brain, leading to feelings of pleasure and satisfaction.  Depending on certain factors, constructive criticism can feel helpful instead of harmful.

On the other hand, destructive criticism can activate the brain’s stress response and lead to negative emotions such as anger, anxiety, and depression. In fact, research has shown that even mild criticism can activate the same neural pathways as physical pain.

Subjectivity and past experiences

Another factor that can impact our brain’s response to criticism is the source of the criticism. Criticism from someone we respect, such as a boss or mentor, may be more easily accepted than criticism from someone we don’t know or don’t respect. 

For example, your friend could make the same comment as your mother-in-law, but you might see it as helpful from your friend and harsh criticism from your mother-in-law.  The key is understanding that the way your brain interprets other people’s words is completely subjective. 

Also, our past experiences with criticism can form strong neural pathways, dictating how we respond to criticism in the present moment.  In other words, the way we process and respond to criticism can also be influenced by our past experiences with feedback. 

For example, if we have had negative experiences with criticism in the past, our brains may be more likely to respond negatively to future feedback, even if it is delivered in a constructive and supportive way.

Similarly, research has found that people who have a more positive self-image tend to respond more positively to criticism, while those with a more negative self-image may experience more negative emotions in response to feedback.

Retraining your brain’s response

Despite the fact that our brains play such a crucial role in our response to criticism, it is important to remember that our brains are not fixed and can be easily trained to deal with criticism in a more constructive way. By becoming more aware of our thought patterns and emotional responses to criticism, we can begin to retrain our brains to respond in more positive and productive ways.

Let’s face it, in this day and age of social media, product reviews, and Yelp, you are probably asked many times for feedback and reviews. You may also use other people’s feedback and reviews before you hire someone or purchase something.

For example, before I go anywhere on vacation, I always check Trip Advisor and read the reviews and comments about the places and activities I’m planning on visiting. I also scour the reviews of a book I’m interested in reading to get a feel for whether the book is worth my time, and I will check the reviews on OpenTable before I try a new restaurant.

Distinguishing criticism from feedback

So if we live at a time when reviews and feedback are so common, then why aren’t we better at giving and receiving feedback and criticism? To answer that, let’s distinguish between the two by first looking at the dictionary definitions:

Criticize (dictionary)—to find fault; judge unfavorably or harshly; to make judgments as to merits and faults

Feedback (dictionary)—a reaction or response to a particular process or activity

The important thing to notice is that the dictionary definition of feedback isn’t about a person, it’s about the actions or process the person was involved in. Although both involve an evaluation, criticism uses the words “judge” and “fault”, making it seem much more personal to the giver or receiver.

Now that we are clear on the dictionary definitions, I want to give you a different perspective that a fellow coach shared:

Criticize (new perspective)—the action one takes which is caused by negative emotions; action taken with the intention to release negative emotions in order to feel better

Feedback (new perspective)—the action one takes in order to help or convey information; action taken from a neutral place with the intention of informing

As you can see with the new perspective of the difference between criticism and feedback, it all comes down to intention and how you or others were feeling before taking action. Whether you are on the receiving or giving end, determining whether it’s criticism or feedback will always be based on the intention behind it, and the good news is that it’s up to you to decide.

Why is that good news?  Because the words someone says about you are neutral and you get to decide whether you want to think that they are feedback or criticism. You get to decide whether the person was feeling negative or neutral, even if you can’t be sure.

Just knowing this delineation is an important step to learning the subtle art of receiving criticism. It could mean the difference between a powerful opportunity for growth and a frustrating game of shame.

Becoming a Smarter Accountant – the art of handling criticism

While criticism can often feel like a personal attack, triggering our fight-or-flight response and leading to defensive reactions, it’s important to recognize that our brain’s automatic response is not necessarily helpful or productive. The key lies in consciously managing our thoughts and emotions to respond in a more constructive way.

One crucial step in handling criticism is recognizing our own emotional triggers and thought patterns. By developing awareness, we can identify when our lower brain, the Toddler, is driving our reactions. 

This awareness allows us to pause, take a deep breath, and engage our higher brain, the Supervising Parent, which is responsible for executive functions like decision-making and impulse control.

Next, reframing the criticism as an opportunity for learning and growth is a powerful mindset shift. Instead of viewing feedback as a personal attack, we can choose to see it as valuable information that can help us improve and reach our full potential. 

Embracing a growth mindset allows us to see criticism as a stepping stone towards progress rather than a reflection of our worth.

It’s also essential to break free from negative self-talk and rumination. Our brains have a tendency to replay criticism over and over again, fueling feelings of shame, inadequacy, or low self-esteem. 

Instead, we can consciously redirect our thoughts towards more positive and constructive narratives. Remind yourself of your strengths, accomplishments, and the progress you’ve made so far.

In addition, seeking opportunities for improvement based on the feedback received can turn criticism into a catalyst for growth. Embrace a proactive approach by reflecting on the feedback, identifying specific actions you can take to address the areas of improvement, and setting goals to enhance your skills or knowledge. 

By actively engaging in your own development, you regain control and transform criticism into a driving force for self-improvement.

Lastly, remember that you have the power to interpret others’ words. Recognize that criticism is subjective, and it’s up to you to decide how you want to think about it. 

Consider the intention behind the feedback and choose a perspective that serves your growth and well-being. By taking ownership of your interpretation, you reclaim the power to shape your emotional response and subsequent actions.

Handling criticism is an art that can be mastered with practice and self-awareness. By consciously managing your thoughts, reframing feedback, seeking growth opportunities, and taking ownership of your interpretation, you can transform criticism into a valuable tool for personal and professional development.

As a Smarter Accountant, you can have the awareness of what your lower, Toddler brain is making someone’s words mean, and then decide on purpose how you want to think about it to be in control of how you feel, what you do or don’t do, and your results.  You determine the best way to interpret someone’s words, making it much easier to handle criticism.

The truth is that criticism can feel like a personal attack, activating the same parts of our brain that respond to physical threats, leading to feelings of defensiveness, anger, or anxiety. But by recognizing our automatic negative thought patterns and consciously choosing to approach criticism with a growth mindset, we can retrain our brain to respond differently.

The secret to dealing with criticism is to become aware of what your brain is making someone else’s words mean and choosing a more helpful and useful way to interpret those words.  When you learn how to manage your brain, dealing with criticism is much less painful.

If you have difficulty dealing with criticism, let’s talk.  Schedule a quick, free coaching session with me and I’ll help you understand what to do.

While criticism isn’t pleasant, there are things you can do to make it much easier.  I can teach you a simple formula for how to deal with criticism.

Just go to and book a free session with me.

That’s what I have for you, but make sure you check back each week as I help you go from being a stressed accountant to a Smarter Accountant.

Make sure you go to and take The Smarter Accountant Quiz. You’re going to want to know if you’ve been underutilizing your accountant brain so that you have a starting point for becoming a Smarter Accountant..

Also, I would appreciate it if you could get the word out to other accountants about this podcast.  The more accountants find out about it, the more we can begin to change the narrative in the accounting profession.

The truth is that you’re already smart, but this podcast will show you how to be smarter.

Mastering Your Money Mindset

Welcome back to the Smarter Accountant Podcast. As an accountant, you most likely believe you know how to handle other people’s money and finances. But let me ask you a few questions:

  • How do you feel about money? 
  • What is your relationship with your money?
  • Do you know how to money (yes as a verb)?

Most of us, myself included, have a “money belief lineage”—a set of beliefs about money that we’re taught from an early age. Those beliefs are often passed down from generation to generation with tweaks and adjustments along the way.

For example, your great-grandmother may have stayed home to raise children and had the belief that there’s never enough money—one that she passed on to her children; your grandfather may have had beliefs that he inherited from his parents about how money “doesn’t grow on trees”; your mother and father probably inherited their parents’ beliefs about what it takes to make a decent living, and passed those beliefs on to you.

Think for a second about your own money belief lineage.  What were you taught about money growing up?

The truth is that we’ve all been taught various things about money, from various people, which have culminated in our own set of beliefs about money. Some of them might be helpful but, if you’ve ever thought to yourself, “If I’m so smart, why am I not making the money I want to make?” you probably have some unhelpful beliefs about money.

I also want to point out that, if you are a parent, it’s important to address your money beliefs so that you don’t continue an unhelpful “money belief lineage” with them as well. If money beliefs have been passed down to you, there’s a very good chance that you are also passing those beliefs on to your children.

Your relationship with money

As accountants, we’re surrounded by other people’s money and helping companies and individuals manage their finances.  But just because we deal with money doesn’t mean we have a great relationship with money.

The first thing we need to know when it comes to the truth about money is that, as we have relationships with the people, places, and things in our life, we also have a relationship with money. The reason it’s important to see money in this way, as something we have a relationship with, is that that relationship probably needs some improvement so that we can have the financial success we want.

The key is understanding that a relationship with anything or anyone is based on our thoughts about the thing or the person.  Thankfully, mastering our mind will show us that we have much more control over money and financial success..

When I talk about having a relationship with money, I am referring to the thoughts, beliefs, and emotions we hold about money. These internal factors influence how we interact with money, make financial decisions, and perceive our financial situation. Just like in any other relationship, the quality of our thoughts and beliefs about money can impact the outcomes we experience.

By understanding that our relationship with money is based on our thoughts, we gain a powerful insight. It means that we have the ability to shape and improve that relationship through the mastery of our mind. This realization puts us in the driver’s seat when it comes to our financial success.

It allows us to identify and challenge any unhelpful or limiting beliefs we may have developed over time. Through awareness, we can explore the origins of these beliefs and consciously choose new, empowering beliefs that align with our financial goals and aspirations.

When we recognize that our relationship with money is within our control, we become empowered to make intentional choices and take actions that align with our financial goals. 

Your brain’s role in making money

So what does our brain have to do with making the money we want? Everything! The reason why making more money can seem so difficult and daunting is that there are so many people’s opinions about what we should be doing—invest here, move there, sell this, buy that—it’s no wonder we can’t figure out what to do.

I’m here to make it super simple for you—focus on your brain.

When it comes to money, we need to understand what we are thinking when we are making money, and also what we are thinking when you aren’t.  The key is that our thoughts and beliefs about money are going to fuel the action we take (or don’t take), which will ultimately create our money results.

As a Smarter Accountant, you will understand that the money you currently have is simply a result that your brain produced by virtue of your thoughts, feelings, and actions. So, if you want to change the result, you have to first get clear on the thoughts and beliefs that created the current result, and then choose more empowering thoughts and beliefs that will create the result you want.

For example, if you currently make $100,000 a year but would like to make $200,000, your current beliefs that created the $100,000 are not the beliefs that will create $200,000. You must become aware of what you are currently thinking and believing about money, improve your relationship with money (i.e. your thoughts about money), and use the higher, prefrontal cortex part of your brain, The Supervising Parent, to manage your lower, Toddler brain’s tendency to think $100,000-producing thoughts.  

In other words, there are thoughts that created the actions that led to you making $100,000 and those thoughts will continue creating $!00,000 unless you intentionally choose more empowering thoughts.  The key here is that mastering our mind takes awareness and intentionality.

The “time plus effort” perception

In addition, as accountants, we also tend to have a “time plus effort” perception when it comes to making money, leading many to have huge issues with time management and burnout. What I encourage you to do is shift your beliefs about needing more time and effort to make more money, and instead switch to a belief that value is what creates more money.

The truth is that we do not need to spend more time working or put in more effort to make more money. That is just a belief that you’ve probably never considered challenging before.

Instead, consider this—what if the more value we provide, whether it’s to our boss, our company, or our clients, and the more willing we are to receive money—the more money we’ll make? What if, instead of equating time with money, we instead equate value with more money? What would be possible then?

As accountants, we often find ourselves caught in the belief that time equals money. We measure our worth based on the hours we invest in our work, assuming that the more time we dedicate, the more money we will make. 

However, it’s time to challenge this conventional wisdom and explore a paradigm shift: What if time doesn’t equal money? What if value equals money instead?

Imagine the possibilities that unfold when we prioritize value over time. By shifting our focus from the clock to the impact we create, we can revolutionize our approach to making money. 

It’s not about working harder or longer; it’s about delivering exceptional value that drives financial growth. And where does exceptional value come from?  Your brain.

You have to master your mind in order to master your money.  So, how can you make this shift? 

Making a shift with brain management

Start by examining your beliefs about money, your confidence, and your current activities.  Then ask yourself: How could I think differently about money?  How could I think differently about myself?  What value could I offer that I’m not offering now? 

Take a moment to reflect on your skill set, expertise, and unique strengths. Consider how you can leverage these qualities to provide additional value to your clients, your organization, or even your own business.

Here are a few strategies to help you embrace the value-driven mindset and unlock new opportunities for financial success:

Expand your knowledge and expertise:  While most accountants would suggest staying updated with the latest developments in your field and investing in continuous learning, I’m going to suggest something different. Let’s face it, as accountants, we have plenty of knowledge available.  What no one is teaching is how to manage your brain so that you can manage everything else.  

If you want to take steps to increase your value, improve your financial success, and decrease the amount of time you spend working, you need to first understand how to manage your brain.  The truth is that you are in business with your brain, so you have to make sure you’re managing it properly.

Offer strategic insights and guidance: Brain management plays a crucial role in offering strategic insights and guidance as an accountant. When I talk about brain management, I’m referring to understanding and harnessing the power of our thoughts, beliefs, and cognitive processes to drive positive outcomes.

As accountants, it’s easy to get caught up in the routine of number crunching and focusing solely on the technical aspects of our work. However, to become a strategic partner, we need to expand our perspective and tap into our cognitive abilities to provide valuable insights beyond the numbers.

Ultimately, becoming a Smarter Accountant involves brain management and empowers us to leverage our cognitive abilities, think critically, tap into our creativity, and communicate effectively. These skills enable us to provide valuable insights on financial trends, cost-saving strategies, and growth opportunities that can positively impact our clients’ bottom line.

Streamline processes and improve efficiency: Brain management plays a significant role in streamlining processes and improving efficiency as an accountant. It involves harnessing the power of our thoughts, cognitive abilities, and mindset to identify opportunities for optimization and implement innovative solutions. 

By leveraging brain management techniques, we can contribute to saving time, reducing costs, and adding value to our clients’ or organization’s operations. Brain management helps us  optimize efficiency by leveraging analytical thinking, problem-solving mindset, continuous learning, change management skills, collaboration, communication, and innovative thinking. 

By applying these cognitive abilities and techniques, we can identify areas for improvement, introduce automation or innovative tools, and streamline financial processes. 

Provide proactive financial planning and forecasting: Brain management plays a crucial role in providing proactive financial planning and forecasting services as an accountant. It involves utilizing cognitive abilities, critical thinking, and strategic mindset to help clients anticipate future challenges and opportunities. 

By applying brain management techniques, we can demonstrate our value as forward-thinking professionals and provide valuable insights for informed decision-making.  Brain management enables us to provide proactive financial planning and forecasting services by utilizing strategic thinking, data analysis, scenario planning, risk assessment, effective communication, and continuous learning.

Develop strong relationships and foster trust: Brain management is important in developing strong relationships and fostering trust as an accountant. It involves utilizing cognitive abilities, emotional intelligence, and effective communication to build connections with clients and establish a foundation of trust and reliability. 

By applying brain management techniques, we can enhance the value we bring to the table and strengthen our client relationships.  Brain management allows us to develop strong relationships and foster trust by practicing empathy, active listening, effective communication, transparency, reliability, problem-solving, proactive support, continuous improvement, and learning. 

By utilizing our cognitive abilities and emotional intelligence, we can build connections with clients, understand their needs, and demonstrate our commitment to delivering personalized and valuable financial services. 

Explore new service offerings:  Brain management helps us to explore new service offering. It involves utilizing cognitive abilities, creativity, and strategic thinking to evaluate existing services and identify opportunities for expansion. 

By applying brain management techniques, we can make informed decisions, adapt to market demands, and effectively cater to evolving client needs.  Brain management enables us to explore new service offerings by engaging in strategic thinking, stimulating creativity, conducting market research, assessing and mitigating risks, incorporating client feedback, embracing continuous learning, and effectively managing resources.  

Remember, embracing value as the driving force behind financial success requires a mindset shift. It’s about recognizing that your worth is not solely determined by the hours you put in but by the impact you create and becoming a Smarter Accountant. 

Becoming a Smarter Accountant – Money mindset mastery

Becoming a Smarter Accountant is about transforming your mindset and embracing a new perspective that will lead to professional growth, increased opportunities, and a competitive edge in the accounting industry.

In my book, The Smarter Accountant, I told the story of Danielle who was a CPA, a wife, and a mother of two teenage daughters. She had a good job in a medium-sized public accounting firm and had received the standard pay raises each year.

Although Danielle’s husband was also a hard worker, they never seemed to be able to make ends meet. Even from the beginning of their marriage, money was a struggle for them, often causing arguments and creating problems in their relationship.

The truth was that Danielle grew up in a low- to middle-class neighborhood and watched her parents struggle to make ends meet as well. Her parents also often fought about money issues, which she and her younger brother witnessed.

Part of the reason Danielle chose an accounting career was that she wanted to have a better understanding of finances and not repeat the same mistakes her parents had made. She wanted to not only understand how to account for other people’s money, but also to earn a good living doing it.

The latest issue was that she and her husband had accumulated $50,000 in credit card debt, in addition to their mortgage and car loans. It seemed like they would never get out from under the pile of debt or be able to help their children pay for college.

On top of being frustrated by their debt, Danielle was also embarrassed by it. She felt a lot of shame from the fact that she was a CPA with a good job, yet she just couldn’t get a handle on her money. 

Because both she and her husband were frustrated and embarrassed, they often looked at ways to drastically cut their expenses rather than how each of them could make more money. They were so focused on the money they spent, and feeling bad about it, that they just couldn’t change their scarcity mindset around money.

For Danielle, it was essential to let go of the conventional notion that time equals money and instead, shift her focus to delivering exceptional value. This mindset shift is powerful because it moves you away from the limited mindset of trading hours for dollars and opens up a world of possibilities for financial success.

When she learned to recognize that value equals money, she understood that it’s not about the amount of time you put in, but rather the impact you create through your expertise, skills, and unique contributions. By aligning her actions with this value-driven approach, she positioned herself as a trusted advisor who went beyond traditional accounting services.

Taking it a step further, she learned to consider the fact that her brain is what produces value. As an accountant, your knowledge, problem-solving abilities, analytical skills, and strategic thinking are the valuable assets you bring to the table. 

Your brain is the powerhouse behind these abilities, and by learning how to manage and optimize your brain’s potential, you can maximize the value you provide to your clients and your organization.  She learned that managing her brain involved understanding how to intentionally use her higher, Supervising Parent brain more often.

By learning techniques and strategies to manage her thoughts, emotions, and cognitive abilities effectively, she became equipped to navigate challenges, make sound decisions, adapt to changing industry trends, and provide innovative solutions to her clients.

So for the listeners, recognize that your brain is the source of value, and by managing it effectively, you unlock your full potential as an accountant. The possibilities for sustainable financial growth and professional fulfillment as a Smarter Accountant are limitless.

That’s what I have for you, but make sure you check back each week as I help you go from being a stressed accountant to a Smarter Accountant.

Make sure you go to and take The Smarter Accountant Quiz. You’re going to want to know if you’ve been underutilizing your accountant brain so that you have a starting point for becoming a Smarter Accountant..

Also, I would appreciate it if you could get the word out to other accountants about this podcast.  The more accountants find out about it, the more we can begin to change the narrative in the accounting profession.

The truth is that you’re already smart, but this podcast will show you how to be smarter.

Escaping The Compare And Despair Trap

Have you ever found yourself scrolling through social media, comparing your life to the seemingly perfect lives of others? Or maybe you’ve compared your achievements, relationships, or appearance to those of your peers, feeling like you don’t measure up? You’re not alone. 

The issue that I see for most accountants when it comes to comparing ourselves to others is that it affects so many areas of our lives, not just our work. It can affect our relationships, self-confidence, ability to set and achieve goals, and much more.

If you’re not familiar with the term “compare and despair”, it’s when we constantly measure ourselves against others, and it often leads to a downward spiral of negative thoughts and emotions. We make these comparisons, and suddenly we feel inadequate and less capable than before.

But before you beat yourself up for your tendency to compare yourself to others, let me help you out—it’s completely natural. Our brains are wired from a young age for comparison, so it’s not our fault.  It’s just part of being human.  

The psychology of comparison

In order to survive, the human brain has a tribe mentality and looks for ways to understand our relationship with the rest of the tribe and how we fit in. Our lower primitive brain equates rejection with death. Therefore, not being accepted or valuable is quite threatening.

As we learned about survival of the fittest in school, our brain’s motivation for survival has been to measure us against others, build connections that keep us safe, and to be on the lookout for any threats. We’re not just looking for differences in people and situations, we are also hardwired to see if those differences are better or worse.

Here’s the interesting part: even though we know that comparing ourselves to others can make us feel inadequate and insecure, we still find ourselves doing it. Whether it’s mindlessly scrolling through social media, observing the success of our peers, or even comparing ourselves to an unrealistic version of who we think we should be, we can’t seem to shake off this behavior.

So why do we continue to compare ourselves to others, even though we know it can be harmful?  Because comparison is a natural and necessary part of our survival and adaptation. 

Throughout human evolution, comparison has helped us to assess our environment, understand social dynamics, and make decisions about how to behave. It’s no wonder, then, that we continue to engage in this behavior today.

The negative effects of social comparison

However, the problem is that our brains are not well-suited for the kind of comparison that we do today. In the past, comparison was limited to our immediate environment and social group. 

But today, we have access to a global network of information and social comparison. Social media, in particular, has created a world where we are constantly bombarded with images and information about other people’s lives, accomplishments, and successes. And our brains simply aren’t equipped to handle this level of comparison.

One reason why social comparison can be so damaging is that our brains naturally tend to focus on the negative. This is a phenomenon known as negativity bias. 

Essentially, our brains are wired to pay more attention to negative information than positive information. This is why we tend to dwell on criticism or failure, even when there are many positive aspects to a situation. 

The issue is that when we engage in social comparison, we are more likely to focus on the ways in which we fall short of others, rather than our own strengths and successes.  Another reason why social comparison can be harmful is that it activates the same neural pathways as physical pain. 

In a study conducted at the University of California, Los Angeles, participants were asked to rate their level of social exclusion while undergoing an MRI. The researchers found that the brain regions that were activated during social exclusion were the same as those activated during physical pain, suggesting that social exclusion, or the feeling of not measuring up to others, can be as painful as physical injury.

In addition, social comparison can lead to feelings of envy, jealousy, and resentment. These can be particularly damaging because they can erode our relationships with others, and can also lead to feelings of shame and guilt. 

When we compare ourselves to others in a negative way, we are essentially saying that we are not good enough as we are; a difficult message to shake.  So, given all of these negative effects, why do we continue to compare ourselves to others, besides the fact that our brains are hard-wired for it? 

Healthy versus unhealthy comparison

Well, besides the fact that our brains are hard-wired for comparison, another reason we continue is that comparison can also have positive effects. Think about it – it can motivate us to improve ourselves, to strive for greater success, to achieve our goals, and in some cases, comparison can be a useful tool for self-evaluation and growth.

The issue is that it’s important to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy comparisons. Healthy comparison involves looking at others as a source of inspiration and motivation, rather than as a measure of our own self-worth. 

Healthy comparison is looking at someone else’s achievements as an example of what’s possible.  It can give us a source of inspiration.

Healthy comparison involves recognizing that each person’s journey is unique, and that we all have our own strengths and weaknesses. 

On the other hand, unhealthy comparison involves using others as a yardstick for our own success.  Sometimes it can lead to feelings of inadequacy, insecurity, and a lack of drive or motivation.

There have been numerous studies done to understand how our inclination towards comparison affects our happiness and contentment. Some interesting studies of Olympic medal winners were done to compare the happiness level of each winner. 

At first glance, you would think that the Gold winner would be the happiest, the Silver winner the second happiest, and the Bronze winner would be the least happy. But that’s not what these studies discovered.

Because of the tendency to compare and despair, the Silver winner was looking at the one person, the Gold winner, to compare themselves to and thinking “I was so close!”, which then created the feeling of unworthiness. However, the Bronze winner was looking at all the people they needed to beat to be on the podium, thinking, “This is amazing!” and actually feeling happier than the Silver winner.

The truth is that our brain is constantly looking to see who we may be in competition with and determining who is “winning”. This means that we believe we need to accumulate validation and gold stars in order to feel good about ourselves.

When we add our brain’s natural tendency to compare, as well as being taught at an early age that competition is good, it’s no wonder we compare and despair. We’re constantly scanning to see if we measure up and looking for those measurements to determine if we should feel better or worse about ourselves.

Unfortunately, when the cycle of compare and despair becomes a habit, we are not only measuring our self-worth against others, we can also begin doubting decisions or getting stuck in confusion. If we have a habit of looking to the past, comparing it to the present, and then feeling bad about a decision, we are also strengthening the compare and despair cycle.

When we haven’t worked on understanding and managing our brain, we will mistakenly believe we need to be different, or have a different situation, in order to feel happy, but that’s not true. The only way to get out of the cycle of compare and despair and feel better is to change the way we are thinking.

Becoming a Smarter Accountant

In my book “The Smarter Accountant” I shared the story of Kendra.  Kendra decided to study accounting a little later than most. After high school, she decided to join the military and, once she finished serving her time, she chose to go back to school for an accounting degree.

Not only was she older than most of the students in her class, she was also balancing school, a part-time job, being a wife, and being a mom to her young daughter. Although she had a lot on her plate, she completed her undergraduate accounting degree, was finishing up her Master’s, was planning on taking the CPA exam, and was at the point where she was going to be interviewing for an accounting position.

The issue that Kendra was dealing with was a lack of confidence and caring too much about what others thought of her. Unfortunately, this was holding her back from putting herself out there.

Whether it was simply believing that what she had to share in a conversation was valuable, or having the confidence to apply for positions that she was qualified for, she had a hard time not comparing herself to others and then feeling despair. 

Her dream was to have the confidence to not care what other people think, not compare herself to others, and be able to own her unique gifts and talents. She was intelligent, loved learning, was articulate, and wanted to eventually help a company grow as their controller, but it was as if there was a wall of self-doubt that kept being put in her path.

She was so used to being in the background, not taking charge, and letting others make decisions for her that she believed she wasn’t as capable as the other students she went to school with. She constantly compared herself to others and always came up short in her mind.

She knew she was smart, having one of the highest GPAs in her graduating class, but she just didn’t have the level of self-confidence that she would like. She tried ignoring her feelings of self-doubt but then someone would do or say something and she’d fall right back into her pattern of compare and despair.

What Kendra needed to learn is how to shine a light on her unhelpful thoughts causing the compare and despair cycle and choose instead to direct her brain more intentionally.  She needed to understand that, if the feeling of self-doubt is caused by her thoughts, then the feeling of self-confidence can be as well. 

For most accountants, this can be a big wake-up call—our level of knowledge, the school we graduated from, the experience we do or don’t have, and the number of letters after our last name are just neutral circumstances—they don’t mean anything until our brain makes them mean something.

So, if comparison has been an issue for you, it’s not your fault because you’ve never been taught how to manage your brain.  A Smarter Accountant understands how to get unstuck from the trap of comparing themselves to others. 

They know what’s happening, why it’s happening, and how to stop the compare and despair cycle.  Just like so many of my coaching clients who dealt with the compare and despair trap, once they learned a simple process for managing their brains, they were able to show up in ways that weren’t possible before becoming a Smarter Accountant.

What you can do

So, if you find yourself caught in the compare and despair trap, there are steps you can take to break free and become a Smarter Accountant:

Awareness – Recognize when you’re falling into the comparison trap. Pay attention to the negative emotions that arise when you compare yourself to others. By becoming aware of this pattern, you can start taking control of your thoughts and reactions.

Challenge your thoughts – Question the validity of your comparisons. Are you seeing the complete picture, or are you just focusing on the highlight reels of others? Remind yourself that everyone has their own unique journey, and you’re on your own path too.

Focus on your strengths – Shift your attention to your own accomplishments, skills, and strengths. Celebrate your progress and recognize your unique contributions. Instead of dwelling on what you lack, cultivate self-appreciation and self-compassion.

Limit social media exposure – Recognize that social media often showcases curated and idealized versions of people’s lives. Take breaks from social media or curate your feed to include more positive and uplifting content. Remember, comparison on social media is not an accurate reflection of reality.

Set realistic goals – Define your own goals based on your personal values and aspirations. Instead of comparing yourself to others, focus on continuous self-improvement and growth. Embrace the journey and progress at your own pace.

Practice gratitude – Cultivate a sense of gratitude for what you have and the progress you’ve made. Regularly reflect on the positive aspects of your life and career. Gratitude can help shift your focus away from comparison and bring more contentment and fulfillment.

Seek support and coaching –: Consider seeking guidance from a coach or a mentor who can help you navigate the challenges of comparison and build resilience. They can provide valuable insights, strategies, and support as you work toward overcoming the compare and despair trap.

Remember, becoming a Smarter Accountant means freeing yourself from the negative effects of comparison and embracing your unique talents and journey. By understanding the neuroscience behind comparison and taking proactive steps, you can break free from the trap and create a fulfilling and confident professional life.

If you’re tired of the compare and despair trap, let’s talk.  Schedule a quick, free mini-coaching session with me and I’ll help you understand what to do to stop the cycle.

While comparison might be normal, it’s not always helpful.  I can teach you a simple formula for how to break the cycle and overcome the comparison paradox.

Just go to and book a free session with me.

Also, I would sincerely appreciate it if you could get the word out to other accountants about this podcast.  The more accountants find out about it, the more we can begin to change the narrative in the accounting profession.

As I share each week, the truth is that you’re already smart, but this podcast will show you how to be smarter.

Harnessing The Brain-Productivity Connection

Let’s talk about productivity as accountants.  Are you someone who often finds themselves struggling with productivity, despite putting in long hours and working hard? You know how they’re always saying work smarter, not harder?  What does that even mean?

Well, you’re in luck because in this episode, we’re going to delve into the fascinating connection between your brain and productivity. We’ll explore how gaining insights into this relationship can significantly improve your work efficiency.

As the Get Shit Done Coach for Accountants, I have a wealth of knowledge on how to get more done in less time without burning out. In fact, I’m currently writing an e-book on productivity and time management specifically tailored for accountants.

And if you don’t yet know your productivity score, you’re going to want to check out  the “Get Sh*t Done Quiz for Accountants.”  You can take it by going to  You can find out your productivity score and get tips and information on how to get more done in less time, save yourself 5 hours a week, and learn what does and doesn’t work.

So the reason I wanted to do this episode is to help you understand the brain-productivity connection.  If you feel like there’s never enough time or you’re constantly feeling stressed and overwhelmed, there are things you can do.

As I’m sure you’re well aware, productivity is crucial for accountants like us. The issue is that many of us struggle to maximize our productivity, even when we put in our best efforts.

It can be frustrating and disheartening to invest significant time and effort into our work, only to fall short.  It’s challenging to feel like we’re always dealing with a never-ending to-do list.

To effectively address this issue, it’s important to understand how our brain influences our productivity. The truth is that our brain controls our thoughts, actions, and behaviors, playing a vital role in our ability to focus, make decisions, prioritize tasks, and manage our time effectively.

Thankfully, by understanding the simple neuroscience behind productivity, we can gain valuable insights into optimizing our overall productivity and, most importantly, avoiding burnout.  Learning what I’m going to share with you has literally had the biggest impact for me both professionally and personally. 

By the end of this episode, my goal is for you to be equipped with the knowledge and tools to work smarter, achieve better results, and experience a greater sense of accomplishment.

So, if you’ve ever felt frustrated by your lack of productivity or wondered how to make the most of your time and effort, let me share some strategies on how to become a smarter, more productive accountant


Jeff’s Story – Unraveling the Challenges of Productivity

To illustrate the common struggles many accountants face when it comes to productivity, I shared the story of Jeff in my book, “The Smarter Accountant.”  Jeff was a partner in a small accounting firm and had dedicated 25 years of his career to the same organization. 

Throughout his long career, he had seen first-hand the evolution of accounting practices, from manually managing financials using 10-column paper to embracing the latest technological advancements aimed at improving accountants’ productivity and efficiency.  Jeff was known for his eagerness to learn and adopt new technologies. 

He actively looked for different apps and programs to optimize his workflow and improve the overall productivity of his firm. While he acknowledged the benefits of the workflow system implemented in his practice, he couldn’t help but feel dissatisfied with his personal productivity levels.

Despite working an average of 60 hours per week, Jeff found himself falling short of his goals. He noticed that, even with the use of tools like planners or programs like Outlook, he struggled to produce the amount of work necessary to fulfill his contractual obligations. 

Like most of us, the issue extended beyond his professional life. Even during his time at home with his wife and children, Jeff felt a sense of unease. 

Despite being constantly on the move, he couldn’t shake the feeling that he wasn’t as productive as he wanted to be. When asked about his weekend, he often struggled to recall specific accomplishments.

While those around him wouldn’t describe Jeff as “lazy,” he carried a deep dissatisfaction with being busy simply for the sake of being busy. He really wanted a better understanding of how to improve his productivity and feel more fulfilled in both his work and personal life.

One of the biggest mistakes Jeff made, and that I see many accountants make, was his focus on scheduling and calendaring actions. He believed that by meticulously planning out his tasks and allocating specific time slots to them, he would be able to manage his productivity effectively. 

However, this approach failed and left Jeff feeling frustrated.

Scheduling results, not actions

Jeff’s situation is actually pretty common. Many of us who have high-pressure jobs, especially in public accounting, tend to get caught up in scheduling activities instead of focusing on the results we want to achieve.

You know how it goes: we meticulously check off items on our to-do list or calendars, but we still struggle to be productive. It might seem like a reasonable approach at first, but it overlooks an important aspect of productivity—actually getting things done.

If we want to truly improve our productivity, we need to shift our focus from just taking action to achieving specific results within a set timeframe. When we allocate dedicated time slots for producing something, we have to hold ourselves accountable for reaching those outcomes on time.

I get it; this approach can be challenging for accountants who have a perfectionistic streak. It means prioritizing completion over pursuing perfection, but here’s the thing: perfectionism can actually kill productivity.

When we get caught up in the cycle of perfectionism, our brain’s reward center gets activated when we achieve flawless results, reinforcing the belief that perfection is necessary for success. However, this mindset can be counterproductive because it leads to excessive self-criticism and fear of failure.

Sure, striving for excellence is great, but when we fixate on perfection, it often leads to delays, overthinking, and a never-ending cycle of revisions. While it might be tough at first, the key is to embrace the mindset that “done is better than perfect.” 

When I work with time management clients, I teach them to embrace B- work but to also schedule what’s referred to as “Overflow Time” in order to complete what didn’t get done or to just allow the buffer of time at the end of the day to realize that what’s already done is fine and to move on.

The problem with to-do lists

When it comes to being productive, many of us rely on the good old to-do list to keep things organized and on track. But let’s face it, there are some limitations we need to be aware of.

First, our brains can only process so much information at once. When we’re faced with a long list of tasks all at the same time, it can cause what’s called cognitive overload. 

Cognitive overload happens when our brain is overwhelmed with too much information or tasks to handle at once. It can make us feel mentally exhausted and lead to difficulties in focusing, processing information, and making decisions effectively.

This cognitive overload makes it hard to focus, prioritize, and actually get things done. Instead of feeling organized and in control, we end up feeling overwhelmed and unsure, which leads to procrastination and decreased productivity.

Second, one of the problems with traditional to-do lists is that they often lack prioritization. The truth is that your lower, primitive brain sees a list of things to get done as a threat.  

Here’s the thing with to-do lists: they lack structure and time boundaries, even if we number the tasks. They can actually lead to a misuse of time and make things take longer than expected.

The third issue is setting unrealistic expectations. We tend to fill our to-do lists with a ton of complex and time-consuming tasks, thinking we’ll be able to accomplish everything. But that’s not always realistic. 

It just sets us up for disappointment and that overwhelming feeling we get when things aren’t done. When we have an unattainable list, it’s hard to stay focused and motivated, and that ultimately decreases our productivity.

Fourth, multitasking is another trap we fall into when working off a to-do list. It might seem like a smart way to get more done, but research shows that multitasking actually hurts our productivity. 

When we switch between tasks, our attention gets fragmented, and it takes time for our brains to refocus on each new task. All that shifting of attention ends up making us less efficient and feeling spread too thin.

The truth is that to-do lists also have limitations in terms of how our brains process the information they contain. Our lower, more primitive brain struggles to put the items on a to-do list into context. 

It sees everything as equally urgent and overwhelming, without the ability to prioritize or understand complexity. As a result, we end up being constantly busy but without a sense of accomplishment or progress.

To overcome these limitations and avoid cognitive overload, it’s important to explore alternative strategies for managing our tasks and maximizing productivity. In my 6-week Smarter Accountant Time Mastery Program, I actually encourage clients to throw away their to-do lists. 

I know it might sound uncomfortable, but the results speak for themselves. They end up getting more done in less time, feeling more energized, and gaining better control of their time.

Becoming a Smarter Accountant

If you want to up your productivity game, it’s time to become a Smarter Accountant and understand how your brain works when you have tasks to tackle. Just staying busy and taking action won’t guarantee the results you’re after.

Remember Jeff, the partner at that small accounting firm? He thought he had it all figured out with his meticulous planning and scheduling. He even tried using the latest technology to stay on top of things. But guess what? Jeff faced the same productivity challenges that most accountants face.

Luckily, things took a turn for the better when Jeff went through The Smarter Accountant Time Mastery Program and learned about the connection between the brain and productivity. He started implementing practical strategies and saw a remarkable transformation in his work life. 

First, he started setting clear goals for each day and prioritizing tasks based on their impact and ease.  Then, he was introduced to my Container Calendaring approach, which combines brain science with time management. 

This approach helped him schedule results instead of just actions. Thankfully, it made him more accountable and motivated to achieve tangible outcomes within specific time frames.

He also learned to let go of his perfectionist tendencies. Instead of obsessing over perfection in every single task, he focused on making progress and moving forward. 

He realized that “good enough” was often sufficient to meet his goals and deliver quality work. He also admitted that taking regular breaks became a crucial part of his routine, allowing his brain to recharge and improve his focus and overall well-being.

By embracing single-tasking, he was able to stop multitasking and saw a significant boost in his productivity. He learned to focus on one task at a time, giving it his full attention before moving on to the next. This approach resulted in higher-quality work and a greater sense of control over his workload.

Managing interruptions also became a skill Jeff mastered. He set boundaries and used tools to minimize distractions during focused work sessions. Once he got the hang of a tool I teach called The Model, his stress and overwhelm reduced dramatically, and that had a massive impact on his productivity.

Jeff’s transformation really is a testament to the power of understanding how the brain plays a role in productivity. By adopting effective strategies that fit his specific needs, he saw significant improvements in both his productivity and well-being.

Signs of cognitive overload 

So hopefully you now have a better understanding of how, by leveraging the brain-productivity connection, you can harness the power to improve your productivity. 

First, I would start with recognizing when cognitive overload is slowing you down.  While it’s incredibly common for accountants to be dealing with cognitive overload due to the nature of the work that we do, here are some signs to look out for:

Difficulty focusing and staying on task – If you find yourself struggling to concentrate on your work and frequently getting distracted or having your mind wander, it could be a sign of cognitive overload. You may feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of tasks or information you need to process, making it challenging to maintain focus.

Increased forgetfulness and errors – Cognitive overload can affect your memory and attention to detail. If you notice an increase in forgetfulness, such as missing deadlines or important information, or if you’re making more errors than usual in your work, it may indicate that your cognitive resources are stretched thin.

Feeling constant mental fatigue and exhaustion – Cognitive overload can leave you feeling mentally drained and exhausted, even if you haven’t engaged in physically demanding activities. If you consistently experience mental fatigue, find it hard to recharge, and lack the energy to tackle your tasks with enthusiasm, it could be a sign that your brain is overloaded.

To combat this, it’s important to optimize cognitive function.  This can be achieved through things like effective prioritization and understanding a better way to create a structured schedule like using my Container Calendaring process to give you much better control over your time and your productivity..

Harnessing the power of the brain-productivity connection

Here is my #1 secret to being incredibly productive without burning out – plan, plan, plan.  The key is that when you are planning your time you are using your higher brain; the part I refer to as The Supervising Parent.

When you are not taking the time to plan, you are allowing your Toddler brain to manage your time.  I don’t know about you, but I do NOT want a Toddler managing my productivity because I will never get anything done.

In The Smarter Accountant Time Mastery Program I teach you how to use The Supervising Parent part of your brain to manage your time, but just know that if you aren’t effectively planning, you’re not as productive and efficient as you could be.

Another thing to consider is optimizing your work environment. You won’t believe how much of an impact it can have on your productivity; your physical and digital work environment play a major role in how efficiently you can get things done.

To create an environment that sets you up for optimal brain function, there are a few things to keep in mind. First off, let’s talk about distractions. We all know how tempting it is to keep those notifications on and constantly check our phones or emails. But guess what? Those distractions are productivity killers. 

So, one simple step you can take is to turn off notifications. Trust me, it’s a game-changer. And if you want to take it a step further, establish boundaries to limit interruptions. Let your colleagues or family members know your work hours and create a space where you can have uninterrupted focus.

The next thing to tackle is digital clutter. Are your documents and emails all over the place? Believe me, I’ve been there too. It’s time to streamline that chaos. 

Take some time to organize your files, set up folders that make sense to you, and develop a system for managing your emails. Trust me, when everything is neat and accessible, it frees up mental space and helps you find what you need without wasting time and energy.

Another thing to consider is the physical aspects of your work environment. Are you comfortable? Do you have good lighting? These seemingly small things can actually have a big impact on your productivity and well-being. So, take a moment to adjust your workspace to make it comfortable and conducive to getting things done.

Remember, optimizing your work environment is all about setting yourself up for success. Minimize distractions, streamline your digital organization, and create a comfortable physical space. These simple steps can make a world of difference in boosting your productivity. 

The last thing is that I encourage continuous learning and growth.  The brain thrives on novelty and ongoing learning so embrace the opportunity to learn new and improved ways to improve your productivity.  

Of course I’m biased, but I recommend engaging in neuro-science based programs and workshops like I offer with The Smarter Accountant because a small investment in learning what I teach not only increases competence but also fosters a sense of confidence and mastery.

As a bonus suggestion, here’s what has also made a big impact on my productivity – I look for ways to make things fun.  If it doesn’t seem like it’s going to be fun, I look for ways to make it fun.  Yes, especially my accounting work.

I cannot tell you how much that has improved my ability to get more done in less time.  I do not allow stress, overwhelm, or frustration to fuel me because they are huge time wasters and productivity killers.

Do you know what’s the most fun?  Getting more done in less time so that I have more time for the things and the people I love.  That is fun!


So hopefully you can now see that by harnessing the power of the brain-productivity connection, you  can transform your work life and achieve higher levels of efficiency and satisfaction. Embracing cognitive optimization, optimizing the work environment, and nurturing continuous learning and growth are key pillars in unlocking the full potential of productivity. 

As you continue listening to this podcast and equip yourself with neuroscience-backed strategies, I promise you will pave the way for professional success and personal fulfillment.

If you’d like to explore how you can learn a simple process for managing your brain so that you can improve your productivity but not burn out, schedule a quick session with me at

We’ll discuss where you’re at, where you’d like to be, and what you need to do in order to get there. 

And don’t forget about the “Get Sh*t Done Quiz for Accountants” you can take by going to  Find out your productivity score and get tips and information on how to get more done in less time, save yourself 5 hours a week, and learn what does and doesn’t work.

Also, I would sincerely appreciate it if you could get the word out to other accountants about this podcast.  The more accountants find out about it, the more we can begin to change the narrative in the accounting profession.

The truth is that you’re already smart, but this podcast will show you how to be smarter.