How To Use Constructive Criticism As A Key To Self Awareness And Pursue A Productive Life

What is the first thought that comes to your mind when you hear of self-criticism? The answer usually happens to be a word describing a negative feeling. But, have you ever wondered why?

People often tend to think that self-criticism is the negative talk that happens within our heads destroying our peace of mind and that it takes us closer to failure, so they try getting rid of self-criticism on the whole. Yet others, think that self-hatred and self-deprecation motivates one to work better. Alas, self-criticism doesn't work in that manner. 

Then, what is self-criticism? How does it work? And, most of all, how do you use it for your good? 


First, let's make the idea of self-criticism clear by giving it a simple definition, which goes like this, Self-criticism is the act of evaluating oneself, in aspects like their performance in work and their behavior.” Do you see it? The definition itself has no such phrase which implies that self-criticism is always negative or harmful. This is explained well, in a quote by Yong Kang Chan, in which he says,

“Maybe self-criticism isn’t the problem, but rather how we react to the criticism that is the problem.”

Before we go any further into the topic, one needs to understand that critical thinking is not something one can stop doing. The human mind rarely rests. Studies prove that in a day the average person has about 12000 to 60000 thoughts, of which 80% is covered by the negative thoughts and 95% are repetitive thoughts. At the same time, it is also estimated that we have 300 - 400 self-evaluation thoughts per day. This proves that self-critical thoughts are a part of human nature.

So, it must be clear by now that doing away with critical thinking is not the possible way to get rid of the self-criticism that's been impelling you to negativity, making you visualize it as a negative concept on the whole, always.


The next step is to dig out the thin line of difference between the unsparing self-criticism and the one with a positive impact.

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Research has proved that self-criticism is harmful only when it is done with no limits set to it. Self-criticism leaves you with a scar only when you overdo it, usually with a perfectionist idea to things. Such self-criticism no doubt leads to depression as corroborated by research, as it has the trait of judging a person instead of judging his/her work or behavior, which steers the way to self-doubt. It compels you to be vague in the area you are trying to be critical about, and thus makes the process unbalanced, leaving you palsied. This happens to be the main reason one feels discomfort with a sense of negativity when the topic of self-criticism is brought up. 

When self-criticism has a limit set for it, it pushes you forward and helps you grow. The purpose of such self-criticism is to help find the reason and the solution to one's problems. This kind of self-criticism is termed as constructive self-criticism.

Attributes and advantages of constructive self-criticism

  • Constructive criticism provides specific awareness: It focuses on the work and not on the person itself. Thus this helps the person to change the method, environment or any such related factors of working, instead of leading to self-doubt.  
  • It is a constructive analysis: Constructive criticism helps one to look into his strengths and his weaknesses directing them towards self-improvement and boosting their confidence. This form of criticism is thus identified as a positive approach that helps to build oneself. 
  • It opens doors to self-awareness: Once a person starts practicing this healthy and constructive form of self-criticism, he/she will be looking into their soul, which will not just reveal their true potentials but will also add to their happiness. 


Now that you know that the form of self-criticism that you have been rehearsing is not the right method, first, understand that you are not the only one in it. It is just fine to not know everything right from the beginning, after all, we weren't born geniuses. But, it is not fine to be aware of something wrong that you have been doing and do nothing about it. So, here are a few steps to make the process of self-criticism into a yielding and healthy approach.

  • Shifting focus: The toxic form of self-criticism focuses on the person itself, which is why it is been leading to all the negativity all the way long, and thus doesn't yield results. Alec Greven has quoted,

" If it doesn't work out, just let it go. Whatever happens, don't let it make you crazy."

As mentioned earlier, constructive self-criticism specifically focuses on the work or the behavior, instead of the person itself. So, now instead of focusing on the personality, focus on behavior. That is, focus on modifiable aspects which are shouting to you for improvement, instead of focusing on the unchangeable ones. 

  • Look at yourself as one of your loved ones would, and empathize with the situation: Getting rid of the toxic self-criticism and mainly its impacts will take some time. In general, we are harder on ourselves, than we would be to our close ones in the same situation. Sometimes we consider ourselves to be less deserving of many things that we are actually capable of achieving. So, be easy on yourself and imagine how you would motivate your loved ones if they were in your shoes.
A woman looking into the mirror
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  • Check the truth of the criticism: Not to forget, that not every criticism is true. Our mind often works in a defense mechanism, to protect us from the uncomfortable decisions and actions, so don't trust everything that your mind tells you. Check if the criticism is valid and serves any purpose to you.

“Take criticism seriously, but not personally. If there is truth or merit in the criticism, try to learn from it. Otherwise, let it roll right off you.” 

- Hilary Rodham Clinton

  • Replacing words: Our words play an important role when it comes to our thoughts, which in turn affects our feelings. To have a positive outlook, one needs to substitute negative words and statements into positive ones. This will amplify your self-confidence and encourage you to work better.
  • Start small: Don't aim at mastering the concept in a short period, or overdo the criticism, as that will still be the negative form of self-criticism, thus giving rise to the same negative emotions again. Set smaller goals at the start and increase the difficulty level as you get comfortable practicing it. 
  • Practice self-compassion: Be brave to accept it when you have messed it up that its fine to make mistakes because we as humans have all the freedom to be fallible. Forgive yourself for the mistake, look at what caused you to do it, and find a way to avoid that cause from the next time. Constructive self-criticism is aimed at escalating the self-love one has for themselves.
self-compassion in self-criticism
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  • Consider the people around you: Jim Rohn once said,

" We are the average of the five people we spend the most time with."

As the quote clearly says, our environment and the people around us majorly influence our thoughts and thus our behaviors. So, make sure you are in the company of positive-minded people, who inspirit you to strive for better. 

To conclude, remember that flaws don't lie in self-criticism. They lie in the way you do it. It is you who paves your path to negativity from the very moment you begin overdoing it.

Perfectionism in self-criticism only causes harm and leaves you paralyzed. But, neither perfectionism nor self-criticism is something that one can't change. You are just a decision away from each of those things that you want to change. 

So, you have two options to choose from, one is to let your inner critic control your thoughts and the second is to use your thoughts to control your inner critic. What are you going to choose?

Just a girl with a curious mind and an excited heart, living with an enthusiasm to explore herself and the world.

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