See yourself realistically 2: Identify challenges in your life

Side view of wolf with head covered with snow

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

One of life’s most rewarding tasks is do a self-assessment. Although it can be confronting, the benefits are enormous. You’ll see exactly how you’re managing in major areas of life. After you’ve worked out what’s going well, you can identify challenges in your life.

However, it’s really important to avoid self-criticism when doing this exercise. A self-assessment is a neutral exercise that will help clarify where to focus your efforts. As such, it’s nothing to be scared of. 

So have the courage to see yourself realistically – and to accept that there are some things you’d like to change. By tackling areas that are holding you back, you’ll automatically start moving towards the life you want.

In the last article, Alice started her self-assessment.

After listing what was OK in each domain of life, she concluded she’s doing a reasonable job overall.

However, she also found areas she wanted to work on, so life would run more smoothly. 

Identify areas to work on

Alice is now going to use her list of problem areas to find ways to:

Make her life less stressful

Reduce guilt and worry

Improve relationships

Find greater self-fulfilment.

Unfortunately she’s fallen into a common mistake. 

She’s very critical about herself, and overlooks any efforts she’s making. In fact, her view of herself is far too negative, even though she’s managing quite well. 

Unfortunately, being self-critical is guaranteed to make her feel like a failure. And if she’s feeling bad about herself, she probably won’t bother trying to make life any better.  

The answer is to rephrase her statements in a more neutral form, with ideas about what she can do to help the situation. Doing that will point her in the right direction, without judging her performance. 

For now, let’s look at the original, negative statements she wrote down. We’ll focus on a couple of domains, rather than on everything at once. 

Negative unhelpful version 


1. I don’t contact others enough, or make myself available.

2. I don’t want to go out much and avoid large gatherings.

3. I avoid having parties or family gatherings at my house.

4. I feel uncomfortable when people who force me to join in.

5. I go along with everyone else so I don’t rock the boat.


1. I should help my parents out more.

2. I let my mother make me feel guilty I’m not there enough.

3. I try to solve everyone’s problems instead of listening.

4. I should be doing more for my kids and partner.

5. I should spend more time with my kids.

6. I yell at my kids more than I should.

7. I feel guilty I want time away from the kids.

8. I resent my partner not helping with the kids or housework.

9. I brood and get angry over small disagreements.

10. I can’t tell my partner I need time alone.

11. I can’t stand up to my father and brother.

Rewrite statements

As mentioned above, these statements are very negative. They make it seem as if Alice isn’t doing well.

So now Alice will get rid of the self-criticism, and rewrite each statement in a more encouraging way. 

On a new page for each domain, she phrases each statement to show what she can do differently. 

Each statement now tells her what actions to take. Later, she can set specific goals to achieve these actions.

It’s important that she doesn’t give in to self-dislike, and drop the challenge of making her life work better. 

There’s little benefit in being harshly self-critical. It may spur you to make short-term changes, but they probably won’t last. Feeling terrible about yourself usually destroys long-term motivation.

Start with one area

To reduce the stress on herself, Alice decides to focus on the Family domain. Later, she can tackle the rest, one by one.

For now, she rewrites the above critical statements in a more “user-friendly” way.  

Compare each of the following action statements with the matching critical version above.

Helpful action statements

1. I would like to help my parents more but I don’t have time. I will think of other solutions to help them cope.

2. I don’t need to feel guilty about not spending more time with my parents. I’m there as much as I can.

3. I’d like to spend more time with my kids. I’ll look at dropping unnecessary tasks to free up some time.

4. I’ll listen to others when they’re upset, instead of jumping in with solutions. Then I’ll ask them if they have any ideas about that they could do.

5. I already do a lot for my kids and partner. It would be better to spend some family time together doing activities. We need to work out ways of finding the time to do this.

6. I’ll learn to relax and let go of anger, so I can speak to them firmly and not lose my temper. I’ll record how often I yell at my kids each day. Then I’ll record how often I speak firmly and positively. I’ll get them to think of how they can work out their arguments.

7. I’ll challenge my guilt to see if it’s reasonable or not. If not, I can notice each time I make myself feel guilty, and stop it. I’ll negotiate with my partner so we can both have some time away from the kids.

8. I’ll negotiate with my partner to find tasks he’s happy to do in the areas of housework and childcare. If he isn’t perhaps we can get a cleaner.

9. I’ll use mindfulness skills to acknowledge my anger, and refocus attention onto something more useful or pleasant.

10. I need to let my partner know how I feel without guilt. We both have the right to some time to ourselves. We can work out how to support each other to do that.

11. I will learn to be assertive with my father and brother.

After reading both versions, can you see the difference? 

1 No more self-criticism

Notice how the new statements are less critical. They’re using a more factual, neutral tone. They also suggest possible ways to solve problems.

2 Growth mindset

These new statements also assume that Alice can change and learn new skills. In other words, that she has a growth mindset. This concept was popularised by Carol Dweck.

If you have a growth mindset, you’ll be more willing to change the way you act. 

In addition, there are more strategies that will help Alice (and you) tackle issues that pose problems.  

3 Challenge unrealistic beliefs

Alice may need to challenge some beliefs about herself. For example, the belief she should be doing more for everyone.

After all, how can she do more than she already is? And her guilt about needing time alone isn’t appropriate. Each time she feels guilty, she can remind herself of everything she does for others, and that she deserves time to herself. 

What unrealistic beliefs do you hold about yourself?

4 Use problem-solving

Problem-solving will help Alice work out ways to solve issues listed above. Then she can try out the best options one by one.

She can set specific goals to put her plans into action. For example, she could:

ask her partner to help with housework or childminding

employ someone else

swap child-minding sessions with friends

drop some things that aren’t important.

She could probably come up with plenty of other ideas. The important thing is to work out different options. Then to try the best ones to see if they’re what she needs.

Can you see some different options you could use to solve one small issue in your life?

5 Define values

Along the way, Alice needs to define what her values are. Otherwise, she won’t prioritise her time effectively.

What does she believe is most important in life? And how can she make those things top priority? 

How can you make your important values top priority in your life?

6 Downgrade trivial tasks

Once Alice has prioritised what’s important, she can take action. She can downgrade or drop tasks that aren’t meaningful. This will free time and energy for more fulfilling activities.

You can do the same.

7 Work on one domain

Alice chose to work on just one domain at a time, and on one or two points in that domain.

Trying to work on everything is just too overwhelming.

So do what you think will work best for you. Only work on as many issues as you can manage at a time. You can look at the others later when you’re ready.

8 Be realistic

Don’t be too ambitious all at once! Be patient and take small steps, one after the other. 

Changing your life is a long process. It will last till the day you die. Take the long perspective!

Welcome the challenge

Self-assessment is a process of gathering knowledge. Knowledge in itself is neither good nor bad. It’s simply useful or interesting.

View areas that need work as challenges, not failures. They’re opportunities to get your life running smoothly. They show you where to focus your efforts.

Gain greater mastery over your life. See yourself realistically: what’s going well and what isn’t. Identify challenges in your life, and take effective action to deal with them.

Pick up more ideas about writing active statements to pinpoint what you need to do.

Commit to starting your self-assessment today. 

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