At the end of every year, our family discusses our personal self-evaluations. It’s a simple, informal process, but remarkably revealing for the level of effort it requires. Last year, it opened my eyes to some hidden frustrations and the importance of gratitude in maintaining a healthy perspective.
I started the self-evaluation family tradition a few years ago, after finding success using it with my employees. The discussion typically occurs at the dinner table, and starts with the general open-ended question: how was your year. Follow-up questions include: what factored into that evaluation and was your year better or worse than last year. Finally, we rate our years from 1-10, with ten being optimum.
The open nature of the initial question encourages us to develop our own rating strategy based on our personal priorities. Last December, there were some very outwardly successful people sitting at the table, so I anticipated a light-hearted conversation in which we would recount some of those successes. Instead, the conversation got deep and serious quickly.
The high achievers were not happy with what they accomplished during the year. They expressed frustration at their inability to overcome obstacles. Failure and frustration dominated the evaluations, and gratitude was scarce.
When we truly strive for success, we expose ourselves to potential failure, anxiety and frustration. Most of the evaluations that night centered on ideals and the frustrations with coming up short. While it’s important to set high standards for ourselves and understandable to be frustrated with failure, all of that must be balanced by gratitude. To do that, we need to be purposively grateful.
It’s not easy to be purposively grateful. Unless we make the effort, we tend to take our blessings for granted, as we focus on what we want to achieve. I learned how challenging it is to be purposively grateful two years ago when I read Rhonda Byrne’s book entitled, “The Magic.” This book is a follow-up to her best-seller, “The Secret,” and it challenges readers to create written lists of the things for which they are grateful. I learned that it was easy to start that list, but surprisingly difficult to finish it.
As I listened to my family discuss their self-evaluations, I was struck by the brutal honesty I heard, and I was awakened at just how easy it is to develop tunnel vision when we reach for dreams. Tunnel vision occurs when we are so focused on our goals that our attainment of those goals defines us. If we fall short, we identify as failures, especially if we ignore our blessings.
After a few minutes of listening to the year-end evaluations of my family, I asked everyone to reset and talk about how they were blessed in the past year. I got some quizzical looks as everyone shifted their thinking in another, more positive direction, but before long, smiles and light-heartedness returned to the kitchen.
The focus of our thinking controls almost everything in our lives from our mood to our actions. If that focus is skewed toward negativity, so too will our moods and actions. The year-end evaluation gives us a chance to vocalize who we are, how we identify and what we prioritize. Find some time at the end of this year to share self-evaluations with your family and close friends, and make sure that gratitude factors into your evaluations.