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From Self-Criticism to Self-Inquiry

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Many times after a business or work meeting, especially those involving one-on-one interaction, I would leave the meeting and a voice in my head would say:

  • You should have said _____.
  • Why didn’t you bring up _____? Why did you hold back?
  • You could have been smoother when you were discussing ____.
  • The other person wasn’t receptive to my idea about ___. I should have explained it better.

And on and on my thinking would go. It would immediately focus on what is wrong and then tirelessly replay the parts that went wrong. My mind would then attempt to solve what was wrong. But how can I fix something that already happened? I would deliberately think of what went right too, but it certainly took a back-seat. In other words, I seemed to automatically put what was right in the trunk.

And what was the result of replaying what went wrong and trying to find a solution? Little to nothing gained. In addition, I was left feeling worse about the meeting.

One day I took a different approach. After a business meeting while driving back to my office, I immediately asked myself what went well? Then, my second question: What character strengths did I bring forth in the meeting? I carefully listened to what my mind had to say.

I observed my mind as it traveled through a panoply of strengths. This meeting was no different than the previous meetings. What was different was my follow-up thinking.

The character strengths that were used swelled and swelled to the point where there was almost no room to even consider what went wrong!

My mind considered how my basic approach was one of humility linked with curiosity because I placed the focus on the other person, allowed them to share widely and deeply, and encouraged them to continue sharing by asking them a variety of questions. I used love of learning to gather knowledge about their organization and the various programs and outreach. I deliberately used self-regulation and perseverance together (some might call this patience) to not interrupt or quickly share my reaction. Instead I persistently held back this natural impulse and listened and asked questions. When I did share my comments and experiences, it was from my signature strengths of love and hope. These core strengths were my drivers – or the motor – that fueled what I said; therefore, warmth, genuineness, future-minded planning, and positivity drove the conversation from my end.

And, what went wrong? I did leave a little bit of focus in my thinking to consider the meeting from a deficit perspective. I had already mentally processed many dimensions of the conversation that only one new area popped up. There was one point in the conversation where I felt I could have been a bit smoother in the transition, namely when I introduced a discussion point around how our two organizations might collaborate in the future. I considered I might bring forth greater strength of social intelligence in future scenarios during transition points. For example, rather than blurting out a general question of how might we work together more, I could shift to context-driven comments such as: “Wow, we sure do seem to have a lot in common. I appreciate our similar vision and hard work. This makes me wonder about how we might collaborate in the future. Do you have any thoughts about this?”

I’ve outlined a simple approach to take with your thinking following an event or situation that takes place in your life. Perhaps mindfulness is the key? If we aren’t aware of our thinking and how rapidly our thoughts can fire from one thing to the next, then we don’t stand much chance in shifting the focus of our thoughts.

After your next meeting, ask yourself: What went well? What character strengths did I just bring forth?

Make these your first and second questions. Be sure to listen to the response.


VIA Survey (the research-validated test)

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VIA Classification (the system of strengths and virtues)


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From Self-Criticism to Self-Inquiry

Ryan M. Niemiec, Psy.D

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APA Reference
Niemiec, R. (2013). From Self-Criticism to Self-Inquiry. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 17, 2019, from


Last updated: 3 Dec 2013
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