Assessing Yourself, Honestly

Self-appraisal is a necessary activity for navigating a course through life. A conscious assessment of our goals, our behavior, our relationships, our performance in all domains ultimately enables self-improvement. It allows us to expand our options in life.

It does more. It’s another way of leading the examined life. You deepen the experience of the life you have.

Coming clean with your errors and learning to forgive yourself for them can become a lifelong habit. Through it, your relationship with yourself gets better and better.

After all, to whom does one go for self-help?

But self-appraisal can be a treacherous enterprise. Most often, we avoid honestly assessing ourselves. There are several reasons. We tend towards inertia. Or we too easily allow ourselves to be distracted.

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Further, we mortals are not really designed to objectively appraise ourselves. It can be painful, especially if we do it improperly. In the course of doing it, we definitely feel miserable. Add in the risk that we can overly self-appraise and get stuck there, endlessly evaluating everything we do.

Still, I recommend that you push to overcome inertia so that you can confront yourself. Only then can you seriously work to change what you can.

The things that are amenable to change normally include:

• How you spend your time and with whom,

• The quality of the time you spend with others

• Other choices you can make about your self, such as how you eat and how you drink

• Your performance in general and your performance towards your goals.

So, welcome to the art of self-appraisal.

As you push yourself to overcome inertia, you need to work against the tendency to feel discouraged and hopeless. Here are some action strategies that are geared toward success.

• The trick is to assess your behaviors and traits honestly—but not rate your inherent worthiness as a human being.

• Focus on corrections. Cognitively reframe correction as just that—corrections, rather than as failings.

• Look upon self-appraisal as identifying a new path for yourself and persistently trotting down it.

Psychologists describe relearning, or changing your emotions and behavior, as similar to retraining a horse along its route. If you ride a horse the same through a path every time, he will only reluctantly go down a new path. And every time the horse gets to that juncture, he will hesitate. It’s only with consistent stopping and guiding the horse down the path that he will unlearn the old and relearn the new.

• Talk sanely and forgivingly to yourself. Do not beat yourself up.

• Recognize the difference between yourself and your behaviors. Too often people make the error of thinking that because they beat themselves up, it’s better not to critique their performance at all. You won’t beat yourself up if you focus on the things that you do, not what you are.

• Pay attention to the labels you apply. The labels we use are often convenient symbols, but they don’t connote your entire existence.

Sometimes we allow a person’s whole being to be summed up in a label like “alcoholic,” even if the last drink he had was 30 years ago. Then, if he has a drink today, he’s seen as a failure, rather than someone who might be successfully controlling his behavior.

• Notice how you unwittingly label yourself when you are down and discouraged—but don’t let that mean lightening up on criticism of your performance. The worst thing you can do is let yourself slide and not engage in self-appraisal or label yourself as a bad person. Instead, aim for a third dimension—critiquing your performance while accepting yourself.

• Recognize that even bad performance is not totally bad.

• Don’t overvalue acute pain. Be aware of acute temporary feelings that bad events are permanent and awful.

Acute pain is commonly given undue weight. But often chronic persistent errors lead to far more pain in the long run. If, for example, you keep on gambling, that behavior will lead you to have more and larger problems than if you sat through the acute pain of changing now.

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