See yourself realistically 2: Identify challenges in your life

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Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

One of life’s challenges is undertake a self-assessment. This helps you see how you’re managing in major areas of life. After you’ve worked out what’s going well, it’s time to identify challenges you in your life.

Have the courage to see yourself realistically, and aim for the life you want.

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

In the first step, she listed what was going well in each domain of life. After reviewing what she’d written, she concluded she’s doing a reasonable job overall.

However, her self-assessment also brought up some areas she’s not happy about.

Identify areas to work on

The review also helps highlight areas Alice wants to work on.

Alice can now use this information to find ways to:

Make her life less stressful

Reduce guilt and worry

Improve relationships

Find greater self-fulfilment.

Next steps: list areas to work on

Alice now lists points in each area she thinks need attention.

Unfortunately she’s fallen into a common mistake. 

She’s forgotten to use neutral or active statements. Notice how self-critically Alice writes about herself.

That’s guaranteed to make her feel like a failure. It paints an unrealistically negative picture of her efforts.

In fact, she’s actually doing well overall.

This exercise is to encourage Alice to make some changes. But that won’t happen if she’s feeling bad about herself.

So later, she’ll change this negative version into a more helpful version.

For now, let’s look at this negative, unhelpful version. So here’s what Alice is unhappy about in a couple of domains:

Negative version (unhelpful)


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

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

I avoid having parties or family gatherings at my house.

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

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


I should help my parents out more.

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

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

I should be doing more for my kids and partner.

I should spend more time with my kids.

I yell at my kids more than I should.

I feel guilty I want time away from the kids.

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

I brood and get angry over small disagreements.

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

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.

However we know she makes heroic efforts to keep life on track. So it’s unfair for her to think she’s not trying hard enough.

The critical tone of these statements is unnecessary. They need to be rewritten in a more encouraging way.

On a new page for each domain, she rewrites each statement. She phrases them to show what she positive action she needs to do differently. Not what she isn’t doing now.

Each statement now tells her what actions to take. Then she can set specific goals as to how to achieve them.

It’s about accepting the challenge, not giving in to self-dislike.

Self-criticism is unhelpful

There’s little benefit in being harshly self-critical. Self-criticism makes people feel terrible about themselves. And in doing so, it destroys motivation to improve.

Start with one area

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

For now, she’ll compare her critical statements in this domain with more helpful action statements. 

These action statements will help her in setting more useful goals.

Compare the two versions:

Negative version

Helpful action statements

I should help my parents out more.I would like to help my parents more but I don’t have time. I will think of other solutions to help them cope.
I let my mother make me feel guilty I’m not there enough.I don’t need to feel guilty about not spending more time with my parents. I’m there as much as I can.
I should spend more time with my kids.I’d like to spend more time with my kids. I’ll look at dropping unnecessary tasks to free up some time.
I try to solve everyone’s problems instead of listening.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.
I should be doing more for my kids and partner.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.
I yell at my kids more than I should.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.
I feel guilty I want time away from the kids.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.
I resent my partner not helping with the kids or housework.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.
I brood and get angry over small disagreements.I’ll use mindfulness skills to acknowledge my anger and refocus attention onto something more useful or pleasant.
I can’t tell my partner I want time alone.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.
I can’t stand up to my father and brother.I will learn to be assertive with my father and brother.

After reading both versions, can you see the difference?

Drop the critical tone

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

Of course, they are still fairly vague ideas. Alice can use goalsetting and problem-solving to define the exact steps needed to solve each issue.

Growth mindset

A positive, growth mindset also helps when starting change. This concept was popularised by Carol Dweck.

If you have a growth mindset, you believe you can learn new skills. You’ll be more willing to change the way you act.

Challenge 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.


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.


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?

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.

Work on one domain

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

Trying to work on everything is just too overwhelming.

Working on one domain at a time is more manageable. Then you’re only dealing with a few issues at once.

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.

Be realistic

Don’t be too ambitious all at once! Be patient and take small steps to start with.

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

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.

But commit to starting your self-assessment today. 

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