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Eliminating the Need for Validation

Posted by on Jan 20, 2013 | 11 Comments

When we consistently suppress and distrust our intuitive knowingness, looking instead for authority, validation, and approval from others, we give our personal power away.
-Shakti Gawain

External validation is the seeking of approval from others. We all do it at least some of the time. We need people to affirm that we’re good, capable, beings. We’re smart, funny, and beautiful. We’re hard-working, accepting, and athletic. In short, we need people to tell us we’re awesome.

And the more we need this approval of others, the more power we give away. The more power we give away, the more unhappiness we drag into our lives. We end up living our lives for others. We give them power over us.

Earlier in my life, I required almost constant external validation. It took me a long time to recognize it. It took even longer to try to fix it. It’s a constant work in progress. No matter how hard we try, we’ll always do some stuff to garner external validation.

Take blogging as an example. As much as I write for my own personal reasons, there’s a part of me that still gets external validation from blogging. I check my traffic numbers about once a week. Why? It makes me feel good that people are reading my stuff. And that good feeling comes at a price… I’m more inclined to write about topics that appease the audience instead of the topics that truly interest me.

A few weeks ago, I started the BRUcrew online group. The object was to present a series of “challenges” that would push the comfort zone of those that chose to partake. It was about overcoming fears. Many of the challenges have involved social situations. The goal is to threaten our source of external validation, which forces us to rely on internal validation. If we can get 100% of our affirmations from ourselves, we enjoy a Hell of a lot more personal freedom. The more personal freedom we enjoy, the more we can engage in the activities that truly excite us. The more exciting lives we lead, the happier we’ll be. It’s quite simple.

Many of the BRUcrew challenges have been things that a very specific fears I personally harbor. The latest one (#16) was to DNF a race at the finish line. This would force us to forgo most external validation- no medals, no finisher’s shirt, no online race results, no PR, no cheering from the crowd, no RD telling us we did a good job… whatever. It forces us to ask ourselves “Why the fuck did I just run this race?”

The answer, of course, must be an internal validation.

Shelly and I ran the San Diego Trail Marathon yesterday. From the very start, I planned on DNFing at the finish. The course was an out-and-back. From the turn-around point, I continually envisioned how the finish would go down. It was a small race, so I couldn’t just blend in with the crowd and slip around the finish chute. As I considered all the possible scenarios, I found myself pondering the reaction from others. As much as I would like to think I’ve come a long way toward the goal of not needing external validation, the prospects of DNFing made me nervous, which was really fear. What would people think?

After a few miles of wallowing in that fear, I came to my senses. I recognized I was considering not DNFing because of the very fear that created the challenge. At that point, I knew I had to DNF to regain the power over that fear. I had to confront it.

And I did.

And it was awesome!

Paul, the RD, met us at the finish. I asked him to DNF me. He asked why. I simply responded that it was a personal growth exercise. Many of the people that watched the finish wondered why I didn’t finish like most normal people would. Some were clearly judging me. A few people asked. I just shrugged and didn’t give an explanation.

The fun continued later last night. I made an offhand comment about banditing to a lady on the course (see yesterday’s post), which started a funny Facebook debate about the merits of banditing. At some point, my friend Vanessa commented that she would be disappointed if I did bandit the race. She assumed I had bandited the race. Instead of setting the record straight, I gave a vague answer. It was another exercise in needing external validation.

Vanessa is a dear friend. Old Jason would have immediately taken steps to assure she wouldn’t be disappointed in me. I would either have denied banditing or given ample justification for banditing. I did neither. I let her disapproval dangle out there. I was forcing myself to be okay with a close friend being disappointed in my behaviors. I was intentionally ignoring her ability to provide external validation.

The goal of these activities is to teach myself to stop relying on others for validation. It’s always a work in progress, but each baby step is a move in the right direction. Each challenge gets me a little closer to achieving self-worth independence.

The cool thing- the quest to free myself of the need for external validation acts as a bit of a filter that attracts people that don’t need external validation and repels people that do. The net result is the creation of a community of friends that’s pretty much free of people that are easily offended, excessively needy, and closed-minded. There’s a pretty good chance that if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’re not someone that needs a lot of external validation. Of course, it’s not a surprise given barefoot running itself is usually a good indicator of one’s need for external validation. :-)

What do you think? Has anyone else went through a similar journey from high external validation needs to low external validation needs? Share your story in the comments!

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11 Comments

  1. niki_in_france
    January 22, 2013

    I have very low needs when it comes to external validation, I’ve always been this way. I don’t think I am any happier than people who need a lot of external validation. While I think that its good to test your boundaries, it might be just the way you’re wired, why not just accept this about yourself?

  2. Hobbit
    January 21, 2013

    As long as you wish or need to be member (or founder) of a like minded group, you are not free of external validation: That’s what groups are all about: they provide regular external validation by friendliness, affection, feedback (positive or negative, it doesn’t matter) and so on.
    And who doesn’t like to hear or read: “Thank you, you were a great help to me!”
    Who doesn’t like to think that his or her actions or writings have an impact on others?

    By the way: Thank you Jason, your writings helped me a lot!
    Do you feel validated? :-)))

  3. nils
    January 21, 2013

    Many trail races have a participant limit because of the enviromental impact. If races all fo a sudden started to have a lots of “extra” runners, I dought it would benefit some sensitive access issues.

  4. Franklin Chen
    January 20, 2013

    I spent almost my entire life looking for some kind of external validation. I even fell into the trap of thinking that I wasn’t, but each time, realized that I was simply switching from seeking validation from X to dissing X as a result of perceived rejection and then seeking validation from Y instead. This cycle was stupid. I broke it through an extreme measure: starting my blog over a year ago. It was cutting a Gordian knot, because anything I wrote could be seen by X, Y, Z, or whatever, and since there was no way to please all of them, that freed me to break out of the “easy way” of accidentally being approved by Z and then using that as a reason to continue pleasing Z.

    That wasn’t the end of things, though, but just the beginning. After a year, I’m in a different place now. Instead of even thinking about validation or not, just removing the focus makes me think more in terms of how I can create value for other people, not for any validation, but because it’s a good thing to do.

    • Jason
      January 20, 2013

      Blogging has been a good exercise for me, too (hence the sometimes random posts.) I actually learned this from Shelly. It’s the reason I started Sexpressionists. It’s also the reason I started posting exceedingly offensive funny stuff on Facebook- it amuses me. :-)

  5. Angie Bee
    January 20, 2013

    Are you seeking validation for being a person that is above external validation?

    I see your perspective but also think that putting yourself out there has a lot to do with people seeing your perspective and finding inspiration or validation that indeed they are not alone in their views.

    How can you have a group of non self validators….. :)

    • Angie Bee
      January 20, 2013

      Should have read “a group on non external validators.”

    • Jason
      January 20, 2013

      Angie- you hit on what I would consider a powerful positive effect of external validation- the realization that you’re not alone. Many of us will have a particular thought pattern, behaviors, etc. that we consciously inhibit because we think we’re alone in our unconventional patterns. Seeing that others are like us can be enough motivation to take the leap and be ourselves.

      Re: the group of non external validators- external validation is only a part of group dynamics… but it is an interesting question. Is it possible to have a group of people seeking to free themselves of the shackles of external validation if they’re part of a group?

      • HeatherW
        January 21, 2013

        I think it’s so hard to tell who is “unconventional” and who isn’t. Throughout the course of my life, I’ve met so many people that are, at their core, incredibly boring and conventional, but waving a freak flag for attention and some sort of validation.

        By contrast, some of the most interesting people I’ve ever met put on normal pants when they leave the house. They recognize that all of it is a costume and a front, and they don’t care if you mistake them for “conventional”.

  6. Ken S.
    January 20, 2013

    In my opinion this is probably the best post you have written on this blog. For most people, it’s scary to risk becoming an outsider. For a select few, it is scarier not to be an outsider. Some people can let go of their fears either way, and they can be an insider or outsider as their conscience moves them. They can enjoy the validation of others, but they don’t need it.

  7. Rob Y
    January 20, 2013

    I too have gone through this. I became aware of this issue when I was trying to figure out why I was burned out from racing so frequently. I realized that I cared too much about doing my best at EVERY local event; week after week, month after month, year after year. It was getting old! My approach to deal with this burn out was much different than yours. I simply stopped competing. I still had adventures, did long training runs etc… but they were all homegrown routes and courses that were every bit as challenging or more so than a lot of races I’ve done, but it was just me and the course and nobody else around to know how I did or didn’t do. I shared very little. I realized that I can do these things, these challenges and adventures for me alone; that I don’t need the external validation. Eventually though I got back into racing but now my focus is only on a handful of key races per year and that has proven to be a much more sustainable strategy for both my body and mind.