• Dr. Mario

The Shocking Reason Why Self-Judgment Derails Online Learning

Updated: Sep 19, 2020

“To liberate yourself from your own self-judgment is to liberate others from it as well. To love yourself is an act of love for the world.” –Vironika Tugaleva

Self-judgment is one of the hardest things for human beings to overcome. How do I know? 🤔 Because I’ve spent years overly criticizing myself for not living up to my own expectations of what my skills and abilities should be. But, over the years, I’ve learned that students also hold the same harsh self-judgments about their academic abilities.

Those self-judgments arise when students stress too much about their learning experience. For some students, receiving feedback that’s less positive or more critical than what they expected often produces self-judging thoughts that lead to anxiety, fear, and doubt. As we all know, anxiety inhibits our ability to put forth our full effort for fear that our work won’t meet someone's standards or even our own standards for that matter. This fear paralyzes us, which ultimately guarantees that we don’t achieve the results we want. 😱

As both a teacher and a life-long learner, I can personally relate to this type of fear because I’ve experienced it from each side. What’s most important about my experiences with self-judgment is that they have not served me well, and that’s the main reason I wanted to write this post. I want to teach you how to let go of the self-judging thoughts that hold you back from being successful in your online studies. To do that, I have to tell you more about my story of self-judgment. So, here’s goes.

My Personal Story of Self-judgment

A while back, I posted a video to the Office Hours Facebook page that described my self-judging experience when I was writing my dissertation. In the video, I explained how I judged myself for not moving through the process as quickly as some of my classmates. I kept asking myself questions like: “Why am I having such a hard time with this, and everyone seems to be breezing through?” “Why are my classmates so much better at this than I am?” In other words, I was trying to figure out what the heck was wrong with me!

Those questions were clearly pointed towards a negative answer and always led me to feel anxious and depressed about my work. 😓 Of course, that didn’t help me get my writing done. NEWS FLASH, right? I realized that I was judging myself so harshly that I was preventing myself from developing my personal relationship with the dissertation writing process. In other words, my own self-judgment was preventing me from learning the skills I needed to be successful. So, there you have it. Now, you know the deep, dark secret that was holding me back in my academic experience. If you haven’t seen the video 📽️ yet, check it out here.

What are the Signs of Self-Judgment?

Self-judgment shows up in our lives, buried in the thoughts we have about our personal worth. Those judgments are based on opinions we’ve chosen to believe about who we are, and they directly impact our feelings and behaviors. What I find most interesting about self-judgment is that it shows up as negative self-talk, which causes us to react in ways that are counterproductive to obtaining the results we want.

Negative self-talk encourages us to throw ourselves a pity party. 🎉We experience thoughts that make us feel sad, unmotivated, and disempowered. These thoughts usually bring us down so much that we don’t even want to try to overcome the obstacle associated with those thoughts. But pity parties are not fun because we can’t function properly until the party ends. So, let’s take a look at how some negative self-talk statements are counterproductive to making progress in online learning.

· I’m not smart enough to get an A in this class. I’ll be lucky if I even pass the course.

· I’ll never get ______ right. Why am I even in school? This is impossible!

· I’m so stupid. All my classmates get it, and I still don’t understand.

· I shouldn’t need this much help from the professor. What’s wrong with me?

These examples prevent students from taking actions that help them become successful in online classes. If a student gets caught up in negative self-talk, then he must change his self-judging behaviors to earn the grade he wants in his online course. But here’s the funny thing that I learned from my teaching experience – even “A” students suffer from self-judgment and negative self-talk. 😮 However, what these students do differently is reprogram their brains, so they don’t get stuck in a cycle of shame and doubt that stops them from completing their work. So, what’s their secret?

Tips for Changing Overcoming Self-judgment

In the Office Hours blog, I’ve explained the Think-Feel-Act Model (TFAM) and how students can use it to get their work done and graduate on time. If you haven’t read my post, TFAM – A Framework for Student Success, make sure you go back and read the post. You will need an introduction to the concept to understand my approach to the scenarios I explain here.

Now that we understand that self-judgment begins with negative self-talk, which are just thoughts and not reality, we can apply my TAME YOUR BRAIN 🧠 strategy to create the actions that defuse self-judgment. Let’s look at an example.

Jamila often thinks, “I’ll never get ______ right. Why am I even in school? This is impossible!” The blank could be anything, like an assignment, a test, or using technology in online classes. Jamila’s thought pattern suggests that she believes her present situation is final and that there is nothing she can do to overcome the circumstance.

However, if Jamila viewed the negative self-talk demonstrated here through the TAME YOUR BRAIN 🧠 lens, she can learn how to change those thoughts creating feelings that prevent her from taking actions that lead to her desired outcome. Jamila might even show herself some self-compassion if she focused more on what shed needed to improve rather than what she wasn’t getting right.

Let’s look at where Jamila should focus her attention.

1. Identify the negative self-talk.

In the example above, Jamila used words like “never” and, “impossible,” which creates feelings of powerlessness. These are tell-tale signs of negative self-talk. Jamila needs energy and power to change her outcome, so she must learn how to recognize when what she thinks could be a false perception of reality. The possibility of improving always exists, especially when you are taking action to improve your circumstances.

2. Categorize the situation causing negative self-talk to a neutral circumstance.

Altering how you define a situation is an easy way to defeat negative self-talk. For instance, Jamila can try thinking, I didn’t get _____ right this time. I’m still learning how to think about______. This subtle change takes the sting out of negative self-talk, replacing self-judgment with objectivity. In other words, it makes Jamila’s brain report facts related to the circumstance rather than dramatizing them.

3. Approach that situation with self-compassion. Generate thoughts that spark curiosity about what’s possible about your circumstance.

Jamila can also try thinking something like, I wonder if my classmates or my professor can show me how to ______. I wonder if I’m being too hard on myself and overthinking. Is there a different way to think about this? In this case, you can see that instead of feeling powerless, Jamila can send her mind on a fact-finding mission to collect data that she can analyze later. She can use that data to train her brain on how to combat the stagnation that negative self-talk creates. Rethinking in a way that allows you the freedom to go through the learning curve at your own pace is a sign of self-compassion since it honors your unique learning process. 😀

4. Covert your list of thoughts to action items.

Write down all the things you wished you should have done better, and you use them as a checklist for your next task. You may even want to identify a target date for completing each task to help you manage your time. This will help you transform self-judgment into action, and action is what it takes to get the results you want! 🏆

Once students like Jamila understand how their thoughts are misleading them, they can make changes to create the thoughts, feelings, and actions that help them get their online course DONE!


Now that you know how and why self-judgment can hold you back from being successful in your online classes, it’s time to practice what you learned. The next time you find yourself going down the rabbit hole of negative self-talk, try using my TAME YOUR BRAIN 🧠 techniques. Focus on one of the thoughts and apply the steps I shared. See if you can neutralize your negative self-talk and use curiosity to spark the feelings that lead you to take the actions that help you get the outcomes you want. If you need help practicing these strategies, watch my short video explaining the process in more detail.


Do you know about the Office Hours page on Facebook? I post weekly videos about my TAME YOUR BRAIN 🧠strategies to help you succeed in your online classes. Check it out here! You don’t want to miss out on all the tips I’m sharing that help you master online learning because I created them for busy students just like you.

That’s all for now BRAIN TAMERS! I’ll see you next time during my Office Hours!

Photo: Nik Shuliahin—Unsplash

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