Executive Coaching Articles

Minimize Self-Criticism

According to more than a dozen medical studies the path to a longer, healthier life is fairly simple: be optimistic. Dr. Christopher Petersen, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, has found that pessimistic young people are less likely to grow into healthy adults, and more likely to die prematurely. Pessimists are also more likely to suffer traumatic accidents.

Believe it or not, optimism also pays off at the racetrack. Dr. Petersen’s studies revealed that pessimists were more likely to take risky bets and lose while optimists came away the winners. So it’s no surprise that optimism also pays dividends in the workplace. Positive people are more likely to get hired and promoted.

But there’s one problem. It’s ourselves. We’re our own worst enemies when it comes to positive thinking. We need to minimize self-criticism by being aware of the constant self-evaluation.

Self-evaluation is an effective way to monitor and improve your performance. It’s healthy and necessary for learning. According to psychologist and author Terry Paulson, it’s estimated that individuals make between 300 to 400 self-evaluations per day.

That’s a lot of opportunities to correct your mistakes, sharpen your focus, adjust your style and improve the perceptions others may have of you at work. But here’s the rub. Paulson says that, for the average person, 80 percent of these self-evaluations are negative!

Constant self-criticism can be demoralizing. It erodes your confidence and self-esteem. You become overwhelmed with self-doubt and take fewer risks. You’ve already got enough pressure on you without your inner-voice second-guessing and undermining your every move.

If you’re a victim of chronic self-criticism, I suggest you take the following steps to minimize self-criticism:


  1. Catch yourself in the act. Be sensitive to your thoughts and feelings and be alert to the times you are critical of yourself. This can be difficult, but with 300-400 opportunities, even if you identify a dozen instances you’ll be ahead of the game.
  2. Find the real reason for the negativity. When you hear your inner-voice saying “no, you are wrong, don’t do this or you screwed up,” probe for the real reason. Ask yourself some tough questions. Is it because you’re afraid of failure? Don’t want to take a risk? What is it you’re afraid will happen?
  3. Don’t be afraid to challenge yourself. Obviously, some self-criticism will be justified. Everyone makes mistakes or could’ve done something better. Chalk up these criticisms as learning experiences that will lead to better performance. That’s a good thing. But you can’t possibly be wrong or incompetent 80 percent of the time. Question each negative judgment and determine if it is honestly warranted.
  4. Then ask yourself, “So what?” Does the punishment fit your so-called crime? In the overall scheme of things at work, does it really matter? What’s the worst thing that can happen? Could you be fired? Will your boss think less of you? Chances are you’ll find you’re being overly hard on yourself.
  5. Replace negative thoughts with positive ones. As you assess and monitor your inner-voice, you’ll find opportunities to replace faultfinding with positive, constructive thoughts. For example, say you’re leaving a staff meeting and your inner voice whispers, “You should’ve spoken up about that issue with Accounting. Why are you such a coward?” Rather than feel guilty, you think, “I brought up a lot of important issues and handled myself well in the meeting. I’ll look for the right opportunity to talk to my supervisor about the problem with Accounting and she’ll help me solve it.”
  6. Learn to feel good about yourself. You’ll know you’re making progress when your inner voice instinctively sends more positive, empowering messages. When in conversations or situations with others, your thoughts focus on what you can achieve versus what you should fear, what can go right versus what can go wrong. You’ll become more confident about who you are and what you’re capable of doing.