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When self-criticisim is too much

When self-criticisim is too much

Perhaps you have thought that self-criticism is what keeps you sharp. Sensitive strivers (high-achievers who are also highly sensitive, demanding excellence from themselves at all times) often use this technique as a form of motivation, hoping that if they’re tough on themselves, they’ll be compelled to perform.

Research shows that, when used excessively, self-criticism is consistently associated with less motivation , worse self-control , and greater procrastination.

Self-criticism shifts the brain into a state of inhibition, which prevents you from taking action to reach your goals.


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Being too hard on yourself is a hard pattern to break

Being too hard on yourself is a hard pattern to break

Being hard on yourself may be ineffective, but it is also a hard pattern to break. It requires consistent attention and practice. Here are a few strategies that can set you on the path to taking a more balanced, emotionally equanimous approach to your performance.


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1. Name your inner-critic

1. Name your inner-critic

Create psychological distance from self-criticism by personifying it. Choose a silly name, like “the little monster” or “gremlin”, or, why not, Darth Vader. Purchasing a small Darth Vader action figure for your desk reminds you to keep the critical voice in check.

Naming your inner critic leverages cognitive defusion — a process by which you separate yourself from your thoughts. Defusion is shown to reduce discomfort, believability, and the stress of negative thoughts. It promotes the capacity to steady your mind, manage your emotions, and be aware, open, and adaptive to changing demands.


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2. Avoid generaliaztion

2. Avoid generaliaztion

Sometimes, our impression of ourselves does not match others’ impression. This is called the spotlight effect — a tendency in which you misjudge and overestimate how much attention others pay to your behavior.

To combat the spotlight effect, consider your performance on aggregate versus zeroing in on a singular negative event.

Think of a bell curve: you’ll likely perform average or higher than average most days. Some days will be below average, and that’s normal.

Keep an eye on the bigger picture.


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3. Flip the “what if” narrative

3. Flip the “what if” narrative

Our minds are wired to make meaning and answer questions; the sensitive brain is making connections and anticipating eventualities. Studies have shown that sensitive people have more active mental circuitry and neurochemicals in areas related to attention, action-planning, decision-making, and having strong internal experiences.

This means that as a sensitive striver you have the power to channel your thinking with greater precision. Make better use of your brain power by posing more constructive questions.

Specifically, consider what could go right in equal measure with what could go wrong .


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4. Set a timer and a goal

4. Set a timer and a goal

Being hard on yourself can ruin your mood, focus, and productivity. Luckily, shame and humiliation – two emotions that are common with self-criticism — are shown to only last between 30 to 50 minutes.

Timebox your feelings: set a timer and allow yourself to fully experience these emotions during that period. One helpful practice is release writing, in which you free write for 3 to 5 mins to let go of frustrations.

Once the timer ends, make a conscious choice about how to move forward. Define how you want to feel and what actions gets you closer to that state (eg: go for a walk to be peaceful).


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5. Expand your definition of success

5. Expand your definition of success

As a sensitive striver, you likely have a tendency to define achievement in a hyper-specific way, that is, complete and total excellence at all times. You don’t need to lower your bar, but you do need to broaden your scope of what qualifies as a “win.”

Achieving the desired outcome isn’t always in your control, so broaden your definition of success to include:

  • Overcoming resistance or fear
  • Pushing back and standing up for what you think is right
  • Approaching a situation with a different mindset or attitude
  • Taking a small step toward a goal


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6. Reflect at the end of your day

6. Reflect at the end of your day

Take a few moments at the end of your workday to reflect not only on your professional highlights (praise, recognition, positive reviews, etc.), but also to consider moments where you made yourself proud. Acting in integrity with your values is the true definition of success.

As a sensitive striver, your desire to be the best is an asset when managed correctly.

Once you tamp down the tendency to be hard on yourself, you’ll be able to more fully leverage your sensitivity and ambition as the gifts they are.


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Full-time digital product designer & part-time traveler. Funny, bald, bearded dad. Foodie, rider, stasher.


As a sensitive striver who deals with the effects of self-criticism on a constant base, I found these techinques interesting to put in practice. Especially the naming one and the timer. It takes a lot of effort to be conscious when this is happening and try to use them, but it’s something I’ll definitely try next time I’m spiralling down into self-recrimination. 🤞🙏

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