Posts Tagged self-evaluation

Balance Achievements and Enjoyments To Have a Great Year

Over dinner on New Year’s Eve, my family discussed our individual evaluations of 2018. The unfiltered (occasionally brutal) honesty that seems to be part of our shared DNA made for a lively, insightful conversation, and showed a diversity of perspectives around the table.

Rather than simply asking, how was your year, I suggested that we rate our years on a scale from one to ten, with ten being the highest. I didn’t suggest criteria for a ranking, and each of us used something different. The rankings ranged from seven to nine. (I had the highest, but I also had a second glass of wine in front of me.)

The exercise of ranking a year is revealing because it forces you to decide what’s important and to judge how you approached the things that are important to you.

I assessed my year by these criteria (in no particular order): health, time with family and friends, time enjoying hobbies and travel, and my professional performance. Basically, were my achievements in line with my expectations, and did I take the time to enjoy my blessings?

Were my achievements in line with my expectations? This is where I factored in health and professional performance. This is the first year in several where I finished the year in a much better physical state than I did the year before. My progress is mostly related to adopting a keto lifestyle. I had always been faithful in my exercise routine, but 2018 was the year that I decided to do something about my diet. By cutting carbs and incorporating more healthy food, I have lost 25 pounds and vastly reduced the inflammation that was causing me joint pain. The results have encouraged me to make the diet a lifestyle.

Professionally, I was very fortunate. I’m not sure that I worked any harder, but a strong economy and some good breaks yielded a year that beat the rather ambitious goal I set for myself at the beginning of the year. Since I can’t control the economy or the breaks that helped my year, I’ll likely need to work harder next year to match or exceed those results.

Did I take the time to enjoy my blessings? Too often, we focus strictly on performance when evaluating ourselves. Just as important is taking the time to appreciate and enjoy the blessings of our lives. After all, why work hard professionally and personally, if you’re not going to take the time to enjoy the results? I’m usually pretty good at enjoying life, and this year was no different. Of course, it helps that I have a very supportive family. Hunting was the only area that I neglected this year. I will make more time in 2019 to enjoy this passion.

Though they all had some remarkable achievements in 2018, the three others around the table were more critical of their years. In their evaluations, each of them had emphasized achievements over enjoyments, and they weren’t quite happy with what they achieved. Many of the things that kept them from satisfaction were outside their control, and I suggested that outside, uncontrollable factors should not be part of the evaluation.

A lot will happen in 2019. Some of it will work in our favor, and some of it won’t. Most of it will influence our experiences and results. The challenge is to focus on what we can control, and to take the time to enjoy our blessings. Have a great year.

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Where I Park, Not Who I Am

I’ve been qualified for a handicapped parking placard for as long as I’ve been able to drive, but I drove for nearly 20 years before I got one. During that time, I’ve watched people with far less challenging disabilities than mine use them, and I’ve heard people with no disability at all boast about using them to get a better parking place. I’ve limped past both.

Friends who went to NASCAR races with me admonished my stubbornness. “Why the hell do we have to park way out here?” they asked. “Because he’s too stubborn to get a handicapped placard,” my wife would answer for me.

I resisted the handicapped placard, because I didn’t see myself as handicapped. Sure, if I paid attention to such things, I would have noticed the obvious, but no one really treated me any differently, so I wasn’t forced to acknowledge the obvious. Ironically, I convinced myself that parking in one of those reserved stalls would alert the world that I had a handicap, as I limped by. Such is the power of self-image.

Obviously, my self-image was overly optimistic, but far too often, self-image is overly pessimistic. We see ourselves as failing before we even try. We feel inferior to others, though we’ve never really looked for our own worth. We become our own worst enemy, because we let doubt and negativity cloud our thinking.

I believe that we often develop negative self-images when we focus on our weaknesses and past failures instead of our strengths and potential. Everyone makes mistakes and has weaknesses. We doom ourselves to negative self-images if we fail to realize that failure and weakness are parts of being normal, and that we need to learn from our past and put it away, while focusing on our strengths and potential.

So, how do we optimize and nurture our self-image?

  1. Develop selective memory. Decide which memories are positive and affirming, and hold onto them. Learn all you can from the negative memories and then throw them away. When I reminisce about college fraternity date parties, I don’t dwell on the five rejections I received for my first date party; instead, I focus on the incredible first date I had a few months later with the lady who would become my wife. (Fortunately, I’m not easily discouraged.)
  2. Feed strengths and starve weaknesses. We often give our weaknesses more attention than they deserve. Sometimes, we even focus on them, to the detriment of our strengths. Discover what you are good at and do more of it.
  3. Blend humility with appreciation. A healthy dose of appreciation puts weaknesses where they belong – out of the spotlight. When you are feeling down, take the time to be thankful for your blessings. This isn’t always easy, but it’s almost always necessary.
  4. Associate with positive people. We all have those people who leave us feeling refreshed. They refuse to let us wallow in self-pity and help us direct our thoughts to positive areas. Spend more time with them and less time with the whiners and those who encourage whining.
  5. Eliminate negative self-talk. Most of us have a silent, but active internal dialogue that we’re often only faintly aware of. Stop and think about it. What are you telling yourself about yourself? If our self-talk repeatedly tells us that we are unworthy of success and happiness, we start to believe it. If there were a little creature sitting on your shoulder constantly criticizing everything you did, you would smash him within minutes. Why let him live inside your head?

I use the heck out of that handicapped parking placard now, not because my self-image surrendered, but rather because it became stronger. Now, I could give a rat’s rear-end about what judgments people might make about the way I walk or where I park. I owe that attitude to a positive self-image that I’m careful to nurture, and I hope the same for you.

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What Are You Really Saying?

For years, I’ve wondered why I’ve had such a difficult time meeting people in passing. It’s rare that I meet someone for the first time when I’m on my feet. Most of the time, even when I look at someone and smile, I don’t get more than a polite hello.

Until just recently, I theorized that my difficulty in getting a friendly response was due to the fact that the way I walked made people uncomfortable. For readers of this blog who haven’t seen me walk: picture Frankenstein with convulsions. My gait is the opposite of fluid; while some parts of my body go in the right direction, others are not on board. I generally get where I want to go, but the trip is typically a struggle, and I’m not comfortable or particularly happy on my feet, even if I force myself to smile.

That’s why I’m not a social magnet on my feet. It’s not that others have negative reactions to my gait; it’s that my body is telling them to back off. I might think that I want social interaction, but my body is over-ruling that thought and saying something entirely different.

I recently listened to a seminar by ex-FBI agent Joe Navarro. Navarro made a living by interpreting not only verbal communication, but non-verbal communication – what people say with their body, not their words – as well. His job was to get information from people who generally didn’t want to share that information, and in many cases, actively suppressed it. Helping him overcome those obstacles was a finely honed skillset that allow him to know what they didn’t. He knew that, no matter how good his subjects were at telling lies, their bodies couldn’t lie.

He watched to see which way subjects pointed their feet when they sat down, what they did with their legs and arms, and how they breathed. If they touched their nose or ears, or rubbed their elbows, he noticed. He observed their pacifying behaviors, like tapping their feet or fingers, or licking their lips. All of these unintentional movements helped him understand when a subject was under stress, and how much stress they felt. He used that knowledge to manipulate them into comfort, so they began to let down their guard and reveal more than they intended.

Of course, Navarro devoted considerable effort to develop these skills, and his conclusions were based on validated scientific data. Most people don’t study body language to this degree, but that doesn’t make them ignorant.

From the time we are infants, unable to communicate verbally, we learn to communicate with our bodies. Watch a skilled mother pick up an infant in distress. She immediately makes eye contact, widens her eyes, raises her eyebrows and smiles. The child recognizes comfort in these gestures, and will return the expressions in an attempt to bond.

This sort of communication is in effect between grown humans as well, but we usually talk right over it. When we approach our boss asking for a raise, we subconsciously read his body language, looking for cues to his mood. Typically, we don’t consciously interpret the body language of others – we react at a subconscious level.

That’s what’s happening when I walk through a crowded room of strangers. My thoughts are focused on my destination, rather than the opportunity to meet someone interesting, and I’m worried about obstacles, some of which are people. I might feign a smile, but my body language is giving up my true thoughts. Rather than saying, “this is a friendly guy who is open to conversation,” my body is saying, “he isn’t very comfortable and really doesn’t want to be bothered.”

I realize this now, and don’t even really try meeting people when I’m on my feet. At cocktail parties, I’ll find a bar stool or make myself as comfortable as possible by finding something secure to lean against. When I do this, I find that more people approach me, and I have better conversations.

What is your body saying about you? More importantly, are your thoughts consistent with your intentions? If they’re not, your body is giving you up.

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Reaching Your Year-End Goals

Magna cum laude – that was my goal for graduation from undergraduate school. Magna cum laude was an academic distinction earned with a cumulative 3.8 grade point average. A 3.9 would earn you summa cum laude, but a C and even a D+ in my freshman year made that impossible. If I did everything correctly and earned almost entirely A’s in my junior and senior year, I would graduate magna cum laude.

To motivate and remind myself, I made a large sign for my bedroom. MAGNA CUM LAUDE in bright neon blue hung above my desk and glowed in the lamp light during my late-night study sessions. Half way through my junior year, after a 21-credit-hour semester in which I earned six A’s and a C+, I did some math and realized that magna cum laude simply wasn’t going to be possible. The C+ had mathematically eliminated me. My magna cum laude sign stared down at me as I scratched out the numbers.

I could take down the sign and excuse myself for missing my goal OR I could readjust my goals and charge on. I did some more math, and learned that if I closed out my college career with no more than two Bs, I could earn a 3.7, which was a cum laude distinction. I put away the calculator and pulled out my scissors. Before long, a CUM LAUDE sign hung above desk. I still had a goal to guide and drive me, and just as important, it was attainable.

The summer is a good time to look at the sign hanging figuratively over your desk. Even if you didn’t go through a resolution exercise at the beginning of the year, you likely had an idea of how you would like 2012 to end. Are you on track to hit your goals? Have you evaluated your goals and determined what you would need to do to achieve them by the end of the year? Are your goals still attainable?

In my company, I personally review with each employee his or her performance every quarter. Years of doing this have given us solid metrics that allow us to link activity with productivity. I know what each employee must do every day to reach the goals we mutually set. Measuring this activity and evaluating its impact on measurable results gives our employees a clear path to success. Even more, it allows them to easily identify corrections to their current path, before it is too late.

Too often, we wait until it is too late to make adjustments that would allow us to achieve our goals. We might sense that something is wrong – that our performance and effort aren’t what they need to be – but we don’t have the courage to face these shortcomings. The courage to address shortcomings is one of the most important traits of a successful person, but very few people ever master it. It’s much easier to celebrate successes than it is to own up to failures, but when we try to convince ourselves that everything is good, although we suspect the opposite might be true, we stifle progress toward our goals. Only through consistent, courageous self-assessment can we give ourselves an above-average chance of reaching our goals.

Of course, self-assessment isn’t always painful. Sometimes, these assessments will show that we are actually out-performing our expectations and that our goals are more attainable than we realized. Use these positive discoveries as motivation to charge ahead and consider making your goals even larger.

Before the summer is over, take the time and find the courage to evaluate the progress you are making toward your goals. Make sure that your goals are still attainable, and that you are on the path toward attaining them. If not, adjust now, before your goal slides out of your reach.

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