How to Stop Self-Criticism and Move Toward Your Career Goals

We’ve all exp

erienced it: that sinking feeling when you know you’ve bombed at a meeting or presentation.

It stinks — and, frankly, it hurts our ego. We all want to be good at our jobs, so a misstep can leave us feeling vulnerable. In our heads, we start releasing harsh internal criticisms, reflecting on our incompetence, or how we’re otherwise disappointing at the workplace. Cue the pity party!

But is beating yourself up doing you any good? Is there such thing as being too hard on yourself? According to research, absolutely. Overly harsh self-criticism has been shown to weaken motivation, impede progress toward goals, and increase procrastination.

How can you deal with your stumbling blocks in ways that are both constructive and helpful? Consider these tips to learn from your strengths and weaknesses — without beating yourself up.

1. Keep calm — and take a walk.

After a bad meeting or presentation, it’s easy to slide down the slippery slope of self-bashing. When your head is spinning with “I should have done this or that” scenarios, you’re in no position to be making rational judgments about your performance.

So, your best bet is to step away from the situation physically and mentally to gain perspective. Taking a walk outside is a great way to detach from the office physically. Try to give yourself at least 24 hours before revisiting the situation. It’s critical to come to the table with a level-headed, emotionally neutral state to kick your motivation into high gear.

2. Leave your perfectionism at the door.

Say it with me now: “Hello, I’m human, and I make mistakes.” That’s reality.

As much as we would love to be the perfect employee who scores every employee achievement award, it’s simply not realistic. In reality, aiming for an unrealistically high standard will only lead to disappointment.

To keep your perfectionism in check, take note of how you describe your mistakes. Do you find yourself saying things like “I always forget people’s names” or “I’ll never figure out how to run a report that pleases my boss”? If so, you’re slipping into what’s known as a negative explanatory style — that is, blaming adverse events on permanent, all-inclusive aspects of yourself (think: “I’m just not that smart” or “I’ll never have the confidence to be good at public speaking”).

Instead, try to turn those thoughts into specific, changeable behaviors that you can improve (e.g., “I felt unprepared for the meeting, so next time I’ll spend 15 minutes reading over my notes instead of five minutes”). Zeroing in on specific actions you can take shifts your mindset from “I have to be perfect” to “I’m a work in progress, and that’s OK.”

Also, remember not to let insignificant details distract you from the bigger picture. Putting the company’s outdated logo on your PowerPoint slides isn’t going to make or break your career.

3. Look outside yourself.

When we’re in a self-critical mode, we often turn inward. So, to constructively address your shortcomings, it can be helpful to shift your focus outward and engage with others.

Finding a coach is a particularly constructive approach. Find someone who has the skills and traits you’d like to emulate, and start spending more time with them. Not only will you learn through observation, but your coach can also be a source of positive reinforcement and guidance. When you’re facing a challenge or dealing with a stumbling block, your coach can provide feedback that’s helpful, constructive, and honest, which can help you move forward in a positive way.

4. Leverage workplace Jedi mind tricks.

After deactivating negative self-talk and putting your weaknesses into perspective, it’s time to take action on your personal critic. Using triggers is a great way to stay on track with improving, without relying on willpower or knocking yourself down.

For example, if you want to stop saying “like” after, like, every word in a meeting, like, all the time, you might have a coworker at the back of the room hold up a count of how many times you’ve said it, which helps raise your awareness. Or, if you have trouble motivating yourself to prepare for meetings, you could try leaving the files you need to review on your keyboard so you can’t ignore them the next morning.

Well-crafted, practical triggers can make all the difference in creating positive habits that stick. By finding external cues outside yourself that inspire you into action, you move away from getting caught up in a blame game of overcriticizing yourself and toward a healthy, productive way of improving your performance.

Selected text paraphrased from: Wilding.Melody. How to Stop Self-Criticism and Constructively Work on Your Weaknesses.

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