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  • Writer's pictureKirsti Gwynn

How Self-Criticism Affects Motivation

Have you ever beaten yourself up about not doing something you’d promised yourself you’d do?

Many of us are self-critical because we subconsciously believe that punishing ourselves will motivate us into action.

It sometimes works... but only in the short-term. 

Self-criticism isn’t a long-term solution because it actually works against the body’s natural motivational response. 

Angry words and a harsh tone of voice (even if they’re just in your head) activate the body’s fight-or-flight stress response. But this time you’re the thing you’re fighting against, and this ongoing battle triggers a spiral of ongoing stress.

And stress that goes on for too long eventually results in “learned helplessness”, better known as depression, which, if you've ever experienced it, you'll know is the least motivational state of all.

Self-compassion, on the other hand, activates the little-known opposite system.

The mammalian caregiving system, which is activated by gentle touch, kind words, and a warm tone of voice (like that of self-compassion), turns down the stress response.

In turn, it opens up brain pathways to areas involved in self-control and motivation, which is just what you need when you’re trying to get yourself to take action!

So, the next time you find that you’re punishing yourself and demanding you change, try out being respectful and kind towards yourself instead.

You never know, you may find it’s just what you need to get you where you want to go.


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