Mindset Family Therapy

Mindset | Blog

Does Self-Criticism Motivate You?


Carson’s self-evaluative thoughts didn’t seem to cease in his life. He was consumed with thoughts such as, “I’m so dumb! Did I eat something that contained alcohol? I’ve sinned” “I’m so despicable for having those impure thoughts!” “I don’t deserve salvation.” “I’m unworthy of God’s love!” Unfortunately, there are many others who also experience these types of thoughts when they struggle with scrupulosity OCD.

The human mind’s main function (OCD or not) is to protect us when it perceives we are in danger. However, when you’ve made a “mistake” (believing you’ve sinned, though you haven’t), and start stressing about it, your mind can quickly come to the rescue. It may provide evaluative thoughts so you can do “better next time.” The question is, what happens when you start paying too much attention to these self-critical thoughts? Do you start believing them? How do you feel afterwards? Have you found it helpful?

There are those who who claim that self-criticism helps them work harder and that it actually helps them improve their performance. Do you share this belief?  

Most importantly, does it really help you become a more balanced human being? Does self-criticism motivate you to become the type of person you wish to become?

There is research that indicates the opposite. Kristin Neff states that when we are constantly putting ourselves down, we are not able to trust and believe in ourselves. When we use self-criticism as a motivator, it only works because the motivator is fear, and fear can lead to anxiety and depression.

Ponder these questions:

  • When I am harsh on myself, does it motivate me in the long run?
  • Do I feel optimistic and full of hope when I beat myself up?
  • Am I truly able to improve my character and resilience when I criticize myself?
  • Am I willing to take chances in life and not be afraid to fail?

There are ways to decrease this unhelpful habit and you can start with the following practice.

Is Court in session? Did you even notice?

The next time you feel triggered by your scrupulous mind, take a few minutes to notice your thoughts.

Imagine you are in a courtroom (the courtroom of your mind) as a spectator. Imagine your mind dressed as a judge and you are hearing and noticing all the evaluations and judgments the Judge is making.

Whatever it is the Judge is saying, keep noticing. Become aware of how you feel as you hear those evaluative statements. For example, before Carson engaged in treatment for OCD, he would become self-critical and obsess for hours about his imperfections and inability to have pure thoughts. Don’t fall into this trap! For now, just notice what the Judge is saying.

When you notice the Jugde at work, notice what it’s saying? You don’t need to talk to the Judge because you are merely an observer of what is going on in the courtroom. Just notice.

The judgments are not directed at you, because you are an observer. Your job is simply to notice the judgments and how you feel as you hear them (e.g., “I’m noticing the Judge saying, “I’m bad.” I’m noticing I’m getting stuck with the meaning of those words.”).

Every day, intentionally notice what the Judge is saying. When it begins to provide unhelpful thoughts about you and about others, notice and acknowledge it as indicated.

The more you notice and acknowledge what the judge is saying, the sooner you’ll be able to acknowledge it and gently focus back on what matters to you in the here and now.

You don’t need to get caught up in long arguments with the Judge. You can continue to do what matters most to you and be imperfectly good despite what the Judge says. After all, you are in charge of your life, not the Judge!


  1. Neff, K. (2011). Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself, New York: William Morrow.

Contact Us

3355 North University Avenue, Suite 100
Hartford Building at Jamestown Square
Provo, UT 84604


(801) 427-1054

A guide to help you find relief and happiness in spite of religious or moral OCD. Learn more about Annabella Hagen's book.
Imperfectly Good - Book by Annabella Hagen

Join the Mindset Family Therapy Newsletter

Join the newsletter to stay up-to-date with the latest articles from Mindset Family Therapy.
First NameLast NameEmail (required)