The Art of Self-Criticism: 6 Ways to be Less Harsh on Yourself

Do you dwell on your perceived flaws or failures for countless days? Do you set expectations for yourself that you struggle to achieve? After making mistakes, do you harshly judge yourself rather than seeing them as learning opportunities? These are all signs you may be too hard on yourself.

Self-criticism can be a powerful tool for growth and improvement, but only if done in the right way! When you are too harsh on yourself, it can have negative effects on your self-confidence, motivation, and mental well-being. Here are some effective ways to combat it.

1) Separate your actions from your self-worth

Always remember that you are more than the sum of your past mistakes! Don’t turn your mistakes into your identity. Instead of saying, “I’m such an idiot,” why not rephrase it? You could tell yourself, “That was a foolish thing I did”.  This keeps your self-worth separate from any actions.

Cut yourself some slack! Don’t be too hard on yourself for falling short sometimes. If it helps, make a list of your positive qualities and skills and look at it when you’re feeling self-critical. Remind yourself of times you succeeded and coped well with challenges.

2) Practice self-compassion

Everyone makes mistakes. Ask your close ones what are some of the silliest ones they’ve made, and you’ll be equal parts amused and relieved to hear their stories. Remember that imperfection and failure are part of the human experience, and be kind to yourself as you would with a good friend. Say affirming things like “I’m doing the best I can” and “I’m learning from this”.

Beating yourself down does little in the way of self-improvement, and vague criticisms like “I always mess up” aren’t helpful. Pinpoint exactly what you’d like to improve, like “I could have listened more actively during that conversation”.

Acknowledge your mistake, focus on what you can learn from it, and then move forward.

3) Catch and challenge negative thoughts

When you notice self-critical thoughts, label them as just “thoughts” rather than facts.

Examine whether these thoughts are truly realistic or based on rigid perfectionist standards. Think of counter-evidence and alternative explanations! This helps you identify what you could have or couldn’t have controlled and reduces any disproportionate blame you’re placing on yourself.

While doing so, evaluate your goals and how achievable they are. Unrealistic expectations often fuel self-criticism when not met. Be specific and break larger goals into smaller, achievable steps. Give yourself credit for progress made along the way.

4) Seek social support

We are our own worst critics, so talk to trusted friends or family members about your struggles with self-criticism. Their positive feedback and encouragement can help balance your harsh inner voice. You can also check in by asking yourself: would you say what you’re telling yourself to a friend?

Do seek professional help if needed: excessive self-criticism can indicate an underlying issue like depression or anxiety. Our loved ones may also be untrained to handle deeper issues. With the help of a therapist, you will be able to identify negative thought patterns and replace them with more positive self-talk.

5) Create a self-criticism/self-esteem jar

Sometimes, the only way to reduce a bad habit is to make ourselves aware of how often we engage in it. Find an empty jar, and drop a small item (like coins or marbles) into it anytime you catch yourself being overly self-critical. As it fills, you’ll be more conscious of your thought patterns. This helps you pull back or stop self-criticism in its tracks.

Hopefully, you’ll fill it less over time! Simultaneously, you can also keep a reminder jar, or a notebook if it’s easier, with each self-criticism and its corresponding rephrased statement. You’ll then have all the rebuttals you need within easy reach!

6) Explore New Experiences

Picking up something new can be a good way to nip excessive self-criticism in the bud! It’s an avenue to practise the strategies above, and you grow in self-confidence when you expand your skill sets. You’ll also distract yourself and obtain some breathing space.

Start with something small and low-stakes, like a trial class for a sport you’ve been curious about. Be patient with yourself even if you’re fumbling: you’ve gone one step further than the you of yesterday!

With consistent practice, these strategies can help you develop a more balanced, compassionate inner voice that serves —rather than undermines — your well-being and growth. It’ll take time to be less self-critical, but you can do it. We have faith in you!

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