Pros and cons of being (overly) critical

I promised to write today, yesterday I promised a blog post and I even gave out a hint about the topic – being critical.

Now I am not so sure I feel like writing about this but on the other hand keeping that promise will be a good self-discipline exercise. So I will briefly reflect on the peculiar stage I am currently at as a PhD researcher… I have been noticing for a while that I have gradually been becoming more and more critical of my own work as well as things going on around me. It might be the fact that I feel more confident in my research area and and well past the initial baby steps. Or it might be that there is not enough time or will power to pay close attention to everything happening around me, not even most things, so it could be a selection process in that respect. Or.. last one.. it may well be that I am way too absorbed in my own research and being unable to adopt a different perspective. I feel this is OK. Yes, I’m critical and may be not in the nicest way but it’s a stage and it will go away. I would be interested to know if other people have had similar experiences!?

As a committed researcher I found a quote to reflect my current understanding of being critical – it’s about fixing, improving and developing which does not happen effortlessly I guess:

Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.
~ Winston Churchill

In this light I made a list of the pros and cons of my criticality. It goes like that…

Pros:

Aiming for higher quality work – competing with myself, improving developing as a researcher and knowing that I am capable of doing things in a better way be it writing, research or else (I’ll probably reread this post in a few days and wonder why I even published it – yey for being critical!!!)

Turning criticism to other people’s work into a learning experience for my own work… My favourite tips are in the format ‘how not to do things’, it kind of helps me remember handy strategies to improve performance without having an endless list of ‘how to’ guidance… I guess ‘how to’ is depressing sometimes, I guess it leads to even more self-criticism when the guidance is not my cup of tea.

Being critical can actually be inspiring – in the mood of the above one – knowing what not to do gives a nice framing and yet plenty of opportunities to explore and be creative.

Cons:

Sometimes it slow me down… Pretty self-explanatory – let’s say today I have criticised my own writing, I’ll try to improve it, it’s only logical, but as these things take time I will probably end up being stuck and not productive for the rest of the day.

Sometimes it annoys me… Not a happy bunny…

There is a thin, thin line between healthy criticism and trashing someone else’s work – respecting other people’s work is of paramount importance, I should probably end this one on the note of ‘sandwich’ shaped feedback – the good/the bad/the good.

And I’ll stop here giving my criticality a rest to let the weekend begin. I wrote my post, mission accomplished.

Happy weekend!

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2 comments

  1. Hi, sometimes we need critical thinking and sometimes we don’t. If you are doing a creative pursuit, for instance, you need to let go of all judgments and keep creating. If I kept judging my work at every step, it would be difficult to produce anything. Its like what writers do: Writing is creative, editing is critical. One cant do both things together. But both are essential.

    1. Hi, thank you for you comment. Interesting reflection in the light of me being confused with critical academic writing pursuits. I personally find it difficult to let go of being harsh and judgemental about my own work but still manage to get it going… I do agree with what you say about not being able to do both at the same time, it definitelly helps to hear it from someone else!

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