Does Self Criticism Lead to Future Success?

The last couple of weeks I’ve been practicing mindfulness of self criticism.

I’m attempting to notice when I’ve got a self critical internal monologue going on, rather than my own self criticism being so automatic I’m not even aware that I’m doing it.

As a result, I’ve realized how much I use self criticism as a strategy for attempting to achieve greater future success (i.e. make fewer mistakes and get more done).

Here’s a couple of examples of self criticism I noticed myself doing today.

– I misread an email and arrived for an appointment that was next week rather than today.

– I bought a tomato that had mold on it. I criticized myself for not looking it over more carefully when I was buying it, and then again for not being able to find the receipt so I could get a refund (I did find it eventually).

Lately, I’ve been working hard on getting things done in more efficient ways, so these types of screw ups are particularly psychologically painful at the moment.

These types of errors trigger thoughts like… “ugh, one step forward, one step backwards” and “I’ve been working so hard at being efficient and organized, and I’m STILL screwing up.”

Here’s where I take some of my own advice.

I often say to clients

– if you’ve been using a strategy a lot, chances are its going to have already worked to the extent its going to work. Or, if the strategy you’ve been using hasn’t been working, chances are its not going to start working all of a sudden.

It’s ok to be compassionate about your own experiences of psychological pain, even when the pain is your own fault.

I’ve been experimenting with…

1. Telling myself

Its psychologically painful to have screwed up. Maybe it doesn’t matter that the pain was “my own fault” – its still ok to be compassionate about what its like to experience the consequences of whatever has already happened.


2. I’ve been working on having a softer, more emotionally open response when these types of things happen.

For example, allowing myself to feel my own feelings of psychological pain in response to screwing up (e.g. disappointment, fatigue, anxiety), rather than emotionally jumping to irritation and self criticism when I haven’t performed as well as I would like to have. Since the psychological pain has already arrived, then being willing to feel it is a good choice (Paradoxically this tends to lead to fewer future problems with those emotions – more info here).

The results of the experiment?

My organization, efficiency, happiness, and non-avoidance are all trending upwards. I think this is mainly due to my A and B tasks 30 day project, but it does not seem like doing reducing self criticism has lead to diminished productivity.

How this might apply to you

You could try becoming more aware of the moments in your day when you experience psychological pain as a result of not living up to your own expectations.

And/or, try experimenting with a different response to one of your common experiences of psychological pain. For example, instead of resolving to diet or exercise after overeating, try something else.

Or, you could just try what I’ve been trying i.e. try to notice instances when you are using an inner monologue of self criticism as a strategy for trying to achieve more success, and question the assumption that self criticism in response to having screwed up will increase your future success.