Perfectionism and self-criticism

Does being self-critical keep you motivated?


People who are self-critical often believe they rely on self-criticism as the only way to motivate themselves to do things or do them to a high standard. In order to consider how useful self-criticism is to you as a motivator, consider whether you would use criticism as a form of motivation for a friend or a child.

Take the following example:

Imagine you were helping teach a child how to read and write. In the first scenario, every time the child misspells a word, you call them names or tell them they are "useless" and "need to try harder". If the child spells a word correctly, you don't say anything or carry on without offering any praise.


In the second scenario, when the child misspells a word, instead of berating them, you tell them that "mistakes are a part of learning" and encourage them to try again. You give them a chance to reflect on the word and guide them through how to spell it correctly. You offer them rewards and praise when they spell words correctly.


Which scenario do you think will better help the child develop their writing skills? 

Now apply this same logic to yourself.


When you want yourself to work harder, improve a skill, and be able to take on feedback after a mistake, one of these two methods will increase your resilience and help you improve, the other will make you afraid of trying. The result? When people are continually criticised, it damages their self-esteem and decreases motivation to reach goals because they will stop trying in order to avoid being criticised. 

It is likely that for most of your life the way you have talked to yourself sounds more like the first scenario. However, just like the child in the example, learning how you can strive to achieve without criticising yourself will ultimately lead to a better performance. It is not about 'going easy' on yourself, but about how you wish to motivate yourself in order to reach your goals.