Did you take some vacation time this summer? What about it did you enjoy? What “worked” for you? What didn’t you like? What would you want to repeat—or not?

Now—a couple of months later—is a good time to reflect on these kinds of questions. A review like this can give you information both about how you live and want to live your everyday life. It’s also something that you can apply to performance events, both to evaluate your performance and to set future goals.

Let me give you a couple of examples (As always, I’ve disguised a few elements for others’ privacy):

Alison’s summer—at least in retrospect, as she thinks about it now—was exactly right. During her vacation, she spent hours each day outside, biking long distances, swimming, gardening. The weather determined many of her actions, which helped her re-connect with nature and the world around her. Time didn’t matter—in fact, many days she didn’t check the time, she just went by what her body was telling her—which helped her re-connect with her body. In a life usually filled with people, she filled up on being alone—which helped her re-connect with her sense of herself.

As Anthony’s vacation ended, he said, “I didn’t have a vacation.” Yes, he’d been away from the office and its’ intellectual demands, and yes, he’d gotten many household projects completed—but it had been at a cost: Although he had been in pleasant surroundings, with various enticements to “play,” he had responded, instead, to the demands of the projects. He felt pressured and obligated. Even though he felt satisfied about completing these tasks, it was with a tinge of loss that he returned to his work world.

Here are three questions that Alison and Anthony could ask themselves:

What went well?
What did I learn—or re-learn—about myself?
What would I want to do differently next time?

Alison responds readily:

“I enjoyed just about everything. Even when it rained and forced me inside, I could read, I could putter, I could waste time, I could look out at the beauty of the wet field. I relished the options and the flexibility. I recognized, yet again, how many people-demands there are in my life and how I need to build alone time into my everyday life.”

Anthony pauses, thoughtfully:

“Well, I am happy that those projects are done. And I did a good job with them. But I’m also resentful that I didn’t have time to re-set my inner life and that I drove myself so hard. I came back to work tired, not refreshed. I need to remember this summer and what the costs were for me. I need to set smaller goals for time off—time really isn’t infinite—and let myself appreciate what I have done. Mostly, I need to build in the activities that truly relax and refresh me.”

Those three questions are ones that I encourage performers to ask themselves after a performance or competition. They are ways of evaluating and learning, based on our own individual experience. Deliberately, they are phrased positively, because the most useful critiques help move us forward rather than feel the need to defend ourselves.

Writing down the answers to those questions can offer additional insight: Over time (especially if you remember to write the date of your self-evaluation!), you can see your trajectory of change; you can winnow out the things that don’t work; you can reinforce those that do. You can set new and specific goals.

For something as “big” or long as a vacation, it may take a month or two to make an accurate evaluation, where you can still recall the details but can see the whole picture and aren’t swept up in the emotions of the moment.

To evaluate particular performance events, it’s also critically important to take a bit of time before your self-evaluation. You can judge for yourself whether that’s a couple of hours or a day or two. As I often remind parents and teens, that time is probably not when it usually occurs: on the car-ride home. That’s the time when, no matter how well things went, we tend to be most emotional and focus especially on what went wrong.  Other than feeling badly, ashamed, and embarrassed, there’s not much constructive learning that’s going to occur at those moments. Much better to find the “sweet spot” where there’s enough distance from the event that one can look and evaluate clearly, without a tangle of emotion and yet with accurate recollection.

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