Self-criticism leads to improvement

Students can become complacent when they are content with themselves


RYAN PUGH | The Daily Evergreen

Freshman architecture studies major Nicholas Heay works out regularly and likes to target areas that need improvement.

LUKE HUDSON, Evergreen columnist

If you want to get better at something, you should try hating yourself a little bit.

Many people think that you have to love yourself in order to be motivated, and that self-esteem and motivation are inextricably connected. While it may be true that these qualities are closely related, high self-esteem does not always result in high motivation or happiness, and in many cases the opposite is true.

As society has become more aware of mental health issues, we have also become more sensitive to the issues of low self-worth. This new sensitivity has benefitted many, but the one-dimensional solution of self-love has also skewed many of our views on the importance of being self-critical.

Many people misuse and misunderstand what it means to be critical. Critiquing isn’t limited to pointing out flaws — the actual process involves analyzing both the positive and negative aspects of a particular subject. When you are being critical, you’re more aware of what you can do to get better.

To use the sport of bodybuilding as an example, freshman architecture studies major Nicholas Heay is motivated by the results of his hard work and finding places that need improvement.

“I really admire the old style of bodybuilding,” he said, “and seeing myself make improvements and get closer to that is exciting.”

The Greeks have four words for love, each with its own meaning. Agape refers to unconditional love wherein feelings don’t change regardless of the circumstances.

This unconditional concept is what can be the most destructive, as it implies that love will exist regardless of whether a person is deserving or not. If people love themselves unconditionally, they can develop a complacent mindset where they rest on their laurels and use love as an excuse not to try harder.

“Negative experiences and feedback can be motivating,” associate professor of psychology Chris Barry said. “But there are many individual differences in terms of how we respond to dissatisfaction.”

This is the clearest reason why self-love can’t be the only choice for truly building motivation; it doesn’t work for everyone.

Self-respect, on the other hand, is a far better way of cultivating self-worth than love because it is more active in inspiring change and care for yourself. Love means treating yourself well no matter who you are, but respect means treating yourself well enough to deserve your own approval.

Respect plays a critical role in our lives. You respect yourself when you eat right, you respect yourself when you study hard, you respect your future when you take the time to learn and grow.

And if love doesn’t work for everyone, then it shouldn’t be the only prescription for feeling better. Love is supposed to be the reward you get for performing well, it’s what you discover in yourself along the path to self-improvement, not what you do to get started on that quest.

What I think most fervent advocates of self-love miss is that being critical of yourself and loving yourself are not mutually-exclusive.

As Barry told me: “The clearest connection between self-esteem and motivation has to do with self-efficacy, our evaluation that we have the ability to be successful on a task.”

As long as you have faith in yourself, love can wait awhile. It takes some time to get it right anyway. It’s not too much to ask to do a little each day to make yourself worthy of receiving it.