Two Questions to Change Your Life: Balanced Critique Journaling

Learn to evaluate your performances using two simple observations.

Goal Setting Makes Mojo Happy

By Coach Mojo

If you think you had a bad day, wait until you listen to Cinderella’s regretful evening. Yikes:

Dear Journal,

It’s currently 12:53am, and boy do I have a lot to tell you. Earlier today, this woman showed up at my door, claiming to be my “fairy godmother” (whatever that is). She seemed like a decent person-I’ve-never-met-before, so I grabbed her hand, abandoned my cleaning duties, and made my way to the royal ball.

Spoiler alert: I have never had so many regrets in one evening. For starters: I wore a blue dress. How stupid! Who wears blue to a ball? (I should not have listened to that bird!)

But then the real disaster happened: I slipped out of one of my “perfectly-fitted” glass slippers and hobbled out of the ballroom with one bare foot, mystified that the glass didn’t shatter beneath the other. Long story short, now some dude is after me because he thinks his perfect woman should wear size 4 shoes.

Overall, it was a disastrous night and I’m mad at myself for my horrible choices. Next time, I’ll remember: just stay home and play Scrabble with the mice.

WHOA, LET’S BACK UP FOR A SECOND.

Doesn’t a fairytale ending come next?

Well, yes… but Cinderella doesn’t know that yet. And at 12:53pm on her famous evening, she is a soon-to-be-legend with a very human trait: she’s her own worst critic.

Rather than objectively thinking about actions she can do differently in her next adventure, Cinderella rolled out self-targeted insult after insult, vowing to return to her miserable, chore-filled life and never wear the color blue again.

OK, I GET IT. I DON’T WANT TO END UP WORKING FOR MY EVIL STEPSISTERS FOREVER. WHAT COULD CINDERELLA HAVE DONE DIFFERENTLY?

It’s simple, really. Instead of immediately labeling her actions as “bad,” she could have asked two simple questions, known as the “balanced critique” journaling technique.

WHAT IS A BALANCED CRITIQUE?

Balanced Critique Journaling
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A balanced critique is a type of high-performance reflection in which we evaluate our performances using two simple observations:

▸ One specific thing you did and want to KEEP DOING
▸ One specific thing you want to DO DIFFERENTLY

→ Note the non judgmental statements – by taking away subjective labels such as “did well” and “did poorly,” we can objectively analyze our own performance.

Then, TAKE ACTION by continuing what worked, and making a specific change toward what you decided to do differently. That creates the “balance” in a “balanced critique.”

WHAT DOES THIS LOOK LIKE ON PAPER?

Cinderella, for example, could change her journal entry to the following:

“Today was an eventful evening, to say the least. It felt great to swap out my mop-water-washed rags for a ballgown, and do something fun for a change. I want to do more of this!

“For my next trip outside the house, I will be more forthright and proud about who I am. I won’t sprint away to avoid my true identity being discovered – I’ll be open to meeting new people!”

This way, Cinderella has a specific, tangible, and realistic action plan toward improvement without self-judgment. Rather than giving up entirely, she knows the specific thing she should keep doing, but also recognizes what she could change or do differently next time.

ALRIGHT, THAT MAKES SENSE. BUT WHAT’S THE BENEFIT OF THIS TYPE OF JOURNALING?

In addition to physical actions we can take to improve our performances, balanced critiques are also useful for reflecting on:

▸ How we PREPARE for our performances, like public speaking
▸ What we do AFTER our performances to process our emotions, for example when we’re looking for a job
▸ How we manage our performance ENERGY
▸ Our physical performance MECHANICS

Now, keep in mind that Cinderella is a Disney princess, so she takes frequent trips to royal balls and extravagant luncheons. Balanced critiques work best for your recurring “performances” or activities that you work on at least four times a week (the more, the better) — so we continuously do something, tweak it, and try again. Things like:

▸ Athletics: hitting a fastball or shooting a free-throw
▸ Personal life: putting our kids to bed or eating healthier
▸ Daily work tasks: Preparing for tests or participating in meetings

The balanced critique, therefore, allows us to make simple improvements with every repetition, so we can work towards mastering our personal goals.

I WANT TO TRY IT OUT! WHAT PROMPTS CAN I FOLLOW IN MY OWN JOURNALING ROUTINE?

Prompt #1: What’s one recurring thing you practice or perform almost every day that you’d like to improve?

Prompt #2: What’s one thing you did during your most recent practice/performance that you’d like to keep doing?

Prompt #3: What’s one thing you did during this practice/performance that you’ll try differently in the future?

That’s it! Answer honestly, accurately, specifically, and objectively — and turn your own disastrous royal ball into a glamorous opportunity for judgment-free improvement. You’ll never lose your glass slippers again.

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