Scott H Young

Honest Self-Evaluation


Few skills are more important to self-improvement than being able to take a step back and honestly evaluate yourself. Self-reflection allows you to expose problems early, before they become too painful to ignore.

Unfortunately, honest self-evaluation is one of the hardest skills to master. People tend to be self-serving in their thoughts. For most people, self-reflection involves looking into a carnival mirror, with all the information warped and distorted until it barely resembles reality.

One of the reasons I’m cautious to recommend faith, optimism or confidence as a solution to problems is because it distorts honest self-evaluation. The benefits are outweighed by the extra distortions you face when looking in the mirror.

The Power of Truthful Reflection

Honest self-evaluation is a skill I must consistently use when running this website. Feedback that comes to me is warped, I only receive comments from a tiny fraction of the readers of this website. Often what works in the short-term to generate attention, sacrifices value in the long-term.

If I distort my self-evaluation towards confidence, I will become ineffective. When I ignore flaws in the value I deliver, I can’t fix those mistakes. If I distort my reflection towards pessimism, I may not take the bold actions to market myself and my ideas that could deliver more value. Only truthful reflection can give me the best results.

Truthful reflection also impacts my health, finances and relationships. Any distortions, however minor, corrupt my thinking and my ability to make changes. If I believe I’m in better physical shape than I am, I may be cutting myself from being more fit and energetic. If I feel my finances are too low, I may waste time scrambling for money when I should be focusing on other goals.

The impact honesty has on your self-improvement outweighs the impact of false confidence by a factor of ten. Whenever I try to learn a new skill, ruthless honesty is my entire goal in self-evaluation, no matter the result. I simply can’t afford to distort the reflection.

Achieving an Honest Perspective

The best way to achieve a greater level of honesty in your self-evaluations is to demand it. If you’re still under the illusion that false confidence and blind optimism are the correct path, you scrap any hope of an honest evaluation.

This sounds easy, but it’s hard to practice. Honesty, especially when it is negative, is uncomfortable. Few people are willing to spend the effort needed to strip away all the distortions and arrive at the truth.

Honesty doesn’t mean pessimism. If you respond to over-confidence by giving up hope, you’ve just added one distortion to another. Honesty is a mental step that involves evaluating things before you have time to alter that evaluation.

Writing Uncensored

A good exercise to get more a more honest reaction to a given situation is to write whatever immediately comes to mind. If you’re trying to evaluate whether your current product is delivering the value you hope, immediately write down your first intuition.

Some, although not all, distortions occur after you’ve spent some time thinking about an issue. You have a gut reaction, which doesn’t fit your self-image, so you distort that gut reaction to fit the self-image. If you get in the habit of writing things without censorship, you can break off that layer of distortion.

Brainstorming functions on the same principle. Often we censor immediate ideas because they don’t fit our constraints of what a solution must look like. By forcing yourself to write down an idea without evaluating it, you remove those constraints and get better ideas. Of course, a lot of the ideas are still garbage, but its easier to filter through them consciously when they have been written on paper.

I keep a journal for exactly this purpose. My goal isn’t to write down my thoughts and feelings about current events. I don’t really have a need for that. But having a space where I can write uncensored, allows honest reflections I hadn’t considered to properly surface.

Gaining Emotional Distance

Uncensored writing removes the distortions to honest feedback that occur after you have an impression. But it still doesn’t remove the distortions that occur before an impression. Your mood has a profound effect on channeling your ideas in a particular direction.

If I use the uncensored writing approach to evaluate a business strategy, but I do so right after I receive a negative comment from a reader, my entire evaluation will be colored. If you recently went to the gym and felt out of shape, that’s going to corrupt your perception. Pessimism isn’t a tool for self-evaluation because it is easy to distort too far, mild over-confidence swings to extreme under-confidence.

Removing the pre-impression distortions from your self-evaluations is more difficult than the post-impression distortions. You need to make sure you are removed from the situation enough so that prior emotions won’t overwhelm your impressions. You need to gain a level of emotional distance.

A great tool for gaining emotional distance is to take one day off per week and to do a weekly review. I strive to do this as much as possible, because completely removing myself from my goals for one day allows me more honest self-evaluations.

If you’re trying to make even larger decisions that can impact your life for years, I think the importance of emotional distance is even greater. Taking a week off just to be in complete silence, broken from your routines, can give you a higher level of clarity. In the few times I’ve been able to do this, I’ve found it to be enormously helpful in getting back to honesty.

Honesty is the Best Weapon

All progress is filled with wrong paths, mistakes and failures. What creates eventual success, isn’t avoiding those failures, it’s your ability to recover from them. Clear, honest thinking allows you to spend less time on dead ends and more energy towards the right path.


Print Friendly
StumbleUpon It!

This website is supported, in part, by affiliate arrangements (usually Amazon). Affiliate relationships are always marked by bolded links.


10 Responses to “Honest Self-Evaluation”

  1. Glen Allsopp says:

    I’ve been researching the subject of ‘radical honesty’ recently which looks at being completely honest at all times. Always saying what is on your mind and never lying to people.

    It’s actually quite daunting, even though it’s so…honest ;).

    Great post Scott!

    Cheers,
    Glen

  2. Scott Young says:

    Glen,

    Radical honesty is an interesting concept, frankly I don’t think it really coincides with the way humans communicate, but still a neat idea. Reading more into linguistics and psychology, you realize that much (if not most) of communication isn’t to deliver information, but other social goals.

    -Scott

  3. I agree with you that self-evaluation and reflection are really important. When evaluation is directed to the goal of self-improvement it’s effective; however, when it’s just self-criticism (and this does happen), it doesn’t go anywhere but down.

  4. Scott Young says:

    Laurie,

    The difference between self-evaluation and negative self-criticism is the focus.

    Evaluation focuses on actions: how can I improve this, change this, adjust my strategy or tactics?

    Criticism focuses on problems, which may or may not be solvable. A certain amount of avoidance for unsolvable problems is necessary to focus on the problems that can be solved.

    -Scott

  5. AD_Queen says:

    Hey Scott

    well yeah its important for everyone to do self-evaluation , s’times i feel its important to hear it form someone else , but that person got to be fair and honest !!

    -Nouf

  6. I would say that the closer you are to honest release of that which is in on your mind, the closer you are to optimal success rates. Success tends to come when the general public wants you to succeed due to your openness and truthfulness about your abilities. At the same time, there is a definite barrier that has to be crossed when looking to be honest in self-evaluation or expression, because it requires comfort with certain information being released.

    Also, about the weekly review point, it reminds me of David Allen’s concept of taking time out once a week to check up on occurrences and completions, although it was mixed in with so many of his strong points that it was hard to remember many.

  7. Anca says:

    Here is an advice I read these day and I totally agree with “If you feel unmotivated and uninspired, act anyway. Get moving and motivation and inspiration will follow.” This is so true :)

  8. […] know what you are doing and what you want to do.The first step you will want to take is to take a self evaluation. Focus not on goals or weaknesses, but rather on strengths. Think about what you are good at. It […]

  9. hermes handbags says:

    I would say that the closer you are to honest release of that which is in on your mind, the closer you are to optimal success rates. Success tends to come when the general public wants you to succeed due to your openness and truthfulness about your abilities. At the same time, there is a definite barrier that has to be crossed when looking to be honest in self-evaluation or expression, because it requires comfort with certain information being released.

    Also, about the weekly review point, it reminds me of David Allen’s concept of taking time out once a week to check up on occurrences and completions, although it was mixed in with so many of his strong points that it was hard to remember many.

  10. Glen and Scott,

    I too have been reading about Radical Honesty. In fact, I’m going to try it out for the whole month of February!

    I’l let you know how it went once I’m done.

Debate is fine, flaming is not. Pretend that this comment form is a discussion taking place in my house. That means I enjoy constructive criticism and polite suggestions. Personal attacks, insults and all-purpose nastiness will be removed especially if it is directed at other readers.

Leave a Reply