Why Being Hard on Yourself is Pointless

Nearly every client I’ve ever worked with is too hard on themselves.

They emphasize their weaknesses and downplay (or outright dismiss) their strengths. They ruminate on their “failures” and barely notice their wins. They constantly imagine how they could have done things better, or faster, or more successfully in some way, and punish themselves ruthlessly for falling short.

And when they’re trying to motivate themselves to get things done, they use pressure and stress as their primary drivers. They worry and argue with themselves and demand high standards and expect instantly perfect results.

Very few of them ever question WHY they do this.

When challenged, they either draw a blank and can’t explain their pattern of treating themselves harshly, or they justify it by claiming this holds them to account – that if it weren’t for being hard on themselves they would get lazy and unproductive.

And the problem they all fail to notice is being hard on themselves is a completely ineffective approach!

It makes them more likely to procrastinate. It makes them feel like they’re never good enough. It causes overthinking which leads to slower productivity and mediocre results. It blurs their vision about what matters vs. what doesn’t. [source]

It makes them hate themselves, or at the very least makes them feel that life is especially hard and unenjoyable.

So why do they do it??

Actually, there’s a fairly straightforward explanation. I think being hard on yourself comes primarily from the following inaccurate and limiting beliefs.

You could have done better

Most people seem to measure their past with a heavily skewed focus on the negative. They cherry-pick the times they failed or were embarrassed or rejected and so on, and string all these events together as if that’s all that ever happened, creating a personal history that appears to be nothing but failure.

I believe this tendency is an extension of the natural human drive to give more attention to threats and risks than to pleasures and successes. There was a time in human evolution where we were only in the middle of the food chain, so it made sense to be pessimistic [source].

Where this gets really bizarre is people will not only fixate on their losses, but the fact they call these events “failures” and so on makes no sense.

Think about it: could you really say someone isn’t doing “good enough” if they’re doing the best they can?

What if you’re always doing the best you can?

Let’s say you have a goal of doing 10 pullups at the gym. You struggle and strain and give it all you got, but you just can’t get more than 8 done. Then you say you “failed” to do 10 pullups.

But if 8 is the most you were capable of on the day, then you did the best you could. Which means the goal of achieving 10 pullups was WRONG. The goal did not match reality.

You say, “I should have done 2 more pullups” but that makes no fucking sense. If you could have done 2 more, then you would have done 2 more!

Even if the reason you didn’t do 2 more is you couldn’t be bothered, like you had the physical strength available but lacked the motivation, then you still did the most pullups possible because you didn’t have enough motivation to do more! How is that different to not having enough strength, or time, or courage, or anything else that’s needed?

You did exactly the most pullups that version of you was capable of in that moment of time. Any other expectation is pure fantasy. There is no reality where you did 10 pullups, therefore the goal was not based in reality.

If I was to ask, “Why didn’t you do at least 10,000 pullups?” you’d say I was being unreasonable. Yet how is 10,000 any different to 10 when both are equally impossible for you at the time? Asking yourself to do more than is possible is insane – asking for 2 extra is as insane as demanding 9,992 extra.

Whenever you failed to achieve the goal, then the goal did not match your current resources. Even if that resource is willpower or motivation, if you don’t have enough then you don’t have enough.

This is not to justify giving up completely or not trying to improve. This is about how you measure yourself after it’s all done. It’s insane to ask more from your past self. He did what he could to the best of his ability. It’s pure abuse and torture to punish him for this.

And most importantly, if you’re busy punishing yourself for failing, you won’t notice the lessons and insights available from this experience, so you won’t grow or learn anything.


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Punishment is motivating

We love to punish ourselves. Why? Because for some reason we think it helps.

All our lives, people have “motivated” us using the stick rather than the carrot. Parents threatened us with time outs. Teachers used the red pen and embarrassed us in front of our peers. Police officers issued fines. And of course we constantly pressured and punished ourselves.

We’ve spent our whole lives associating being treated harshly with progress and success. Most of us have never stopped to consider this possibility: what if punishment actually reduced our progress and held back our success?

When you feel pressured and stressed and abused all the time, you will assume it’s a necessary part of the journey. You got your assignment done and it was super stressful, therefore stress somehow contributed to it getting done. You got negative reactions whenever you failed, so you assume when you succeed that somehow those negative reactions improved your skills.

Are you SURE about that??

Once challenged, many of my clients are able to recall memories of times where they succeeded and improved without stress, pressure, punishment or threats. They usually recall these moments as being easier than usual, quicker than usual, and most importantly, far more enjoyable than usual.

If you carried a heavy stone with you every time you ran a race, and you won those races, you might start to think the heavy stone makes you faster and helps you win races. But the truth, obviously, is you’d run even faster without it. Just because it’s always there doesn’t mean it’s helping.

Humans are actually largely unmotivated by negative feedback, punishment and threats. Sending criminals to prison actually increases their risk of reoffending [source].

So what really motivates us?

Isn’t it obvious??

Encouragement. Acknowledging past successes. A sense of confidence in your abilities. A certainty that you have the inner strength to see something through. Support from loved ones and peers. Helpful feedback that isn’t personal or insulting.

Putting pressure on yourself is like introducing a resistor to an electrical circuit – it reduces the flow. You’re worried that without pressure and fear you won’t be motivated, but the opposite is true: pressure and fear are the reasons you procrastinate and overthink and lose interest in completing projects.

Winners keep winning because they feel like winners. Making yourself feel like a loser is so obviously counterproductive. It’s incredible how many people believe being unkind to themselves will help them succeed.

Acknowledging strengths is “bragging”

In many cultures, “bragging” is seen as a bad trait and “humility” or “modesty” are seen as noble traits.

And when “bragging” means inaccurately exaggerating your strengths and successes in order to manipulate others into being impressed, then sure, it makes sense to condemn it. And when “humility” means being accurate about your flaws and areas for improvement, then it makes sense to praise this.

But most people have taken it too far.

They think accurately acknowledging their strengths is “bragging”, while dishonestly playing down their strengths and exaggerating their flaws is “humility”. In this way, they lie first to themselves and then to others, ironically to manipulate other people into being impressed with them!

If you’re good at basketball, then saying “I’m good at basketball” is merely acknowledging a fact. If you tried your best to be honest during a conversation, then saying “At least I was as honest as possible” is recognition of the truth.

I used to interview people for jobs, and it broke my heart how falsely modest they were (i.e. dishonest). They’d talk themselves out of a job by avoiding the discomfort of acknowledging the strengths, skills, and successes they genuinely had. How is that helpful?

I also learned from managing staff that I could get the best performance from my team when I focused on their strengths and ignored their weaknesses. I got them to identify their strongest traits and double down on those, e.g. I made the chatty person into our liaison officer; the disagreeable person into our quality checker; and the uncontrollable maverick into our creative ideas guy. Not only did this automatically reduce the problems caused by their “weaknesses” without even trying, it increased their productivity to the point where they became the highest performing team in the entire country (versus approx. 37,000 other staff).

You don’t need to worry about your weaknesses and flaws, and humble-bragging about them only makes you look pathetic while simultaneously killing your self-esteem.

If you want to be more successful, be honest about your strengths, focus on them to get more out of them, and constantly remind yourself of your successes, no matter how “small” you think they are.

Enjoying success is dangerous

I’ve noticed a few people are superstitious about good times and success. They worry that if they enjoy themselves too much, Fate will punish them.

People take comfort in complaining. They like to give the impression that life is hard and they are largely unsuccessful. They want the world to believe they are unlucky and generally the underdog. The compete with each other over who sucks the most.

But this weird behaviour is just more dishonesty.

If you’re reading this, then you have access to technology. This alone means you’re doing better than most humans who have ever lived. If you can read, you’re doing better than many humans currently alive today.

If you have a roof over your head, access to food and water, and are not in immediate survival danger, then you must have made more good decisions than bad ones overall, and/or you’re more lucky than unlucky.

There’s no evidence that people get punished unfairly for enjoying their lives. Quite the opposite. The more pessimistic and miserable you are about your life and yourself, the more likely you are to suffer depression, heart disease, and even accidental injuries [source].

Optimistic people are more productive and successful, and obviously get to enjoy their life more as well. Optimism is not the same as false-positivity. Optimism means simply acknowledging the truth: you’re lucky to be alive; most of your decisions are good enough; and you’re doing pretty well overall.

Enjoying your success isn’t dangerous, but bathing in misery certainly is.

Having fun is unproductive

Until recently, we’ve all lived with the certainty that anything done “right” requires a “serious” attitude.

Schools are boring and repetitive, and God forbid anyone laughs or has a good time in class. Workplaces are all about being as busy as possible, and breaks are strictly rationed.

We think productivity comes from stress and deadlines and perfectionism and high standards.

Unfortunately, this simply isn’t true. Like, at all.

People who are relaxed, enjoying themselves, and engaged in meaningful tasks are far more productive than serious and stressed people [source]. It’s not even close. If you want to get things done, and done well, the first problem you need to solve is to figure out how to have fun doing it.

You’re more likely to stick with a sport you love than go to the gym you hate. You’re more likely to finish an assignment when it’s about a topic that fascinates than one about shit you care nothing about. You’re more likely to create a genuine connect with someone else if you’re just going with the flow and speaking spontaneously than if you’re dead serious about making them like you.

And even if having fun wasn’t more productive (but it is), aren’t you interested in enjoying your life? What’s the point of living if it just sucks all the time?

You think you’re supposed to be all serious and pressured and stressed and miserable for most of the time, so that you can achieve very brief and rare highs on those times when you successfully complete the goal. And yet by now you’re probably noticing diminishing returns. The older you get, the less high you get from winning.

You can imagine a future where it won’t even feel good to succeed. Then what are you going to do?

Replace that with just having fun throughout the entire process – wouldn’t that be a better way to live? And given that it’s more productive, isn’t it just smarter to have fun?

Making the switch

If you are interested in ditching the outdated, ineffective, and outright WRONG approach of being hard on yourself, allow me to recommend an alternative.

Measure yourself correctly. That means acknowledging that you win most battles (you’re still alive, right?), you get through the day successfully, you’re trying your best, and you’re always making improvements over the long term.

Take pressure off while continuing to motivate yourself with core values. Instead of saying “I must achieve X result”, start saying “Today I’ll do my best to live by the value of Y”. Set yourself the intention of just showing up and giving it your best attempt at integrity, knowing there will be slips and trips and normal human errors.

Revisit your past “mistakes” and acknowledge you could not have done any better, and you were trying your best. Seek forgiveness from your past self for being so unkind and unreasonable in your judgments of him.

Focus on what’s good about you. From helpful traits to successful attempts to noble values, try to focus on and double down on your strengths. You don’t need to think about anything else, because you already have an autopilot system that fixates on weaknesses and flaws – you don’t need to worry that this system will stop working.

How you can make massive progress in just a few months!

You can do all this on your own.

Through trial and error, books, courses and online content, you can figure it out slowly piece by piece over time if you dedicate yourself to it and are willing to fail often and get uncomfortable in order to achieve social mastery and build strong self confidence.


You can work directly with me in your corner for a short period of time and achieve the same results in months that would take you YEARS on your own (or your money back!).

That’s what my confidence coaching is really all about. I accelerate your progress significantly by ensuring you:

  • Overcome your fear of rejection
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  • Get advanced practical tips to eliminate self-sabotage and give you the best possible chances at career advancement, dating opportunities, and deep connections with quality friends
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It took me about 7-10 years to figure this stuff out on my own. It takes my average coaching client only about 3-6 months to achieve a level of mastery that leaves them able to continue coaching themselves to further success while feeling absolutely certain that they’re on the right path (proven by the results they get).

I’ve turned virgins into fathers.

I’ve created assertive leaders out of meek people pleasers.

I’ve released overthinkers so they become powerfully decisive.

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Thanks for reading

Hope to speak to you soon

Dan Munro

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