6 Self-Reflection Questions for Self-Critical People

Try these self-reflection questions to see if you're being too hard on yourself.

Posted May 07, 2018

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Source: Unsplash

1.  What's a skill or goal you've worked on that has proved valuable, even though you haven't stuck with it consistently?

It's easy to berate ourselves for not sticking with skills/goals perfectly or not being consistent enough.  However, in many instances, you can have success by dipping in and out of working on a skill or goal.  For example, I go through phases with cooking but that's still been enough effort to develop reasonably good cooking skills over time.

Your examples of this principle could be in the work or personal domain, for example, mindfulness, yoga, or building up your work-related social media.  I've personally done 30 day projects for both mindfulness and yoga in the past, and even though I don't practice these very consistently now, I've built up enough familiarity with these skills that I'm able to comfortably dip back in and out. 

Instead of criticizing yourself for not being consistent, try recognizing that there are a lot of competing demands on our time and willpower.   By virtue of the fact there are only 24 hours in a day,  it's only possible to devote consistent effort to a very limited number of things.

You may be good at being persistent (going back to work on goals repeatedly) even if you're not good at being consistent.

In my experience, when you practice a skill daily for 30 days, you'll feel comfortable enough to go back and use the skill as the need arises.  If you're interested in mindfulness, I have a free mindfulness 30 day project you can try.  It's a pdf which you can download and print.  By the end of the 30 days, you will have tried lots of different mindfulness skills and found some that you want to try again.

2. What's something you tried that didn't really pay off until a long time later.

Perfectionists tend to be self-critical when something they do doesn't pay off big immediately.  For example, let's say you learn some DIY skills for fixing basic things around your home.  Initially, you may think that for the time spent you would have been better off calling in a professional.  However,  since skills typically build on each other, your effort may not really start to pay off for several years.  Let's say you spend a few hours scouring YouTube learning how to fix something yourself.  Next time you face a similar problem you'll have existing skills and can potentially solve the problem in much less time.

People who have a natural love of learning will typically learn many diverse skills that end up proving useful in other contexts.  Through practice, you'll also get good at certain generic skills like finding information quickly.

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Source: Unsplash

3. What do you enjoy even though you're not especially talented at it?

Sometimes we get into a mode of thinking that it's only possible to enjoy things that feel like strengths.  What are activities you enjoy even though you're not especially talented at them?  When you identify some personal examples of this concept, it can help you to allow yourself that pleasure in more areas.  Relieve yourself of self-imposed pressure to be good/the best at everything. 

4.  What are you self-critical about where looking at the situation a different way might result in a less harsh self-assessment?

Awhile back I was having a phone conversation with my PT colleague Dr Melanie Greenberg.   I mentioned something that is a weakness for me and said I needed to improve it.  Her reply was along the lines of "Some people say it's better to just focus on your strengths."  Her comment gave me a completely different perspective.  I had created a "should/must" thought that I needed to keep trying to improve in an area of weakness.  I still think that's true in the example we were talking about, but it was immensely helpful to change my perception from "I must change this" to "I could change this."

5. Where might your perception of yourself be wrong?

Self-critical people often see themselves as lazy when other people see them as someone who overworks.  Might this be true for you?

6. When might NOT going the extra mile actually work out better for you?

Being extra conscientious and going the extra mile doesn't always pay off.   For example: 

  • Sometimes problems will resolve themselves if you don't jump in immediately, potentially reducing time, expense, or the need for awkward conversations.  
  • By not overworking, you let other people have a chance to contribute and develop their skills. 
  • When you're too busy to give you child constant attention, they learn about entertaining themselves. 
  • If you have to create documents at work, you might find that your colleagues prefer reading shorter documents that get to the point faster versus longer documents.
  • When you have one errand to do and put it off, you may accumulate a second errand you can do on the same trip, and do both more efficiently.

There are many times when being extra diligent and putting in extra effort will pay off, but it's a mixed bag.  It won't always be the case.  By recognizing this principle, you can allow yourself to sometimes take the easier road without harsh self-criticism.  You'll need to accept that you won't always know in advance when you should put in extra effort or not.

Wrapping Up

Self-critical people often have faulty beliefs and biases that contribute to their patterns of harsh self-judgment.  The self-reflection questions I've outlined in this article are aimed at moderating these patterns, so you'll feel better.  When you have more self-acceptance you're likely to put in more effort to correcting real problems versus ruminating about your imagined or magnified weaknesses.

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