How can we conduct a self-assessment without self-judgment?
A Crucial Element to Improving in Any Skill
To improve in something it’s not enough to do it. You need a process for reviewing what you’ve done and distilling the distinctions that will help you improve. Honest self-assessment is crucial to self-improvement.
If you’re a high-achiever who takes pride in being your own worst critic, you might find that you easily fall into the negative spiral of self-judgment and self-criticism. The negative spiral breeds doubt — the opposite of what you need to improve.
Studies show that negative feedback rarely helps people improve.
The best way to improve is to build on our strengths. Acknowledging what you did well boosts self-confidence and self-efficacy, which create the foundation for improvement.
The challenge is how to look at where we need to improve without falling into the spiral of self-judgment.
The Process of CANI
CANI — constant and never-ending improvement — is a process of evaluation that I learned from Tony Robbins. Over the years I’ve spent volunteering at Tony’s events, CANI has become a habitual part of my routine.
But I noticed that I was resistant to self-assessment certain areas — specifically in audio and video review of my talks, presentations, workshops, and stand-up comedy sets. Like many people, I don’t like to listen to or watch myself. That makes it difficult to do an honest self-assessment.
My 5-Step System for Self-Assessment Without Self-Judgment
Enter my 5-step system. My system is an adaptation of CANI. I add an element to focus on what’s crucial for review, as well as actions that are proven to boost self-confidence and self-efficacy.
Follow this system to conduct your own self-assessment without falling into the negative spiral of self-judgment and self-criticism.
(1) Define your focus areas
This isn’t the time to start berating yourself about how your body looks or critiquing your hair, makeup, or outfit.
A list of focus areas will keep you focused on what’s most important to improving your skills.
When I listen to or watch my stand-up comedy, I have lists of what I’m listening for in my audio review and video review. I have similar lists for evaluating my workshops, talks, presentations, and coaching calls.
Not only do these lists keep me focused on what’s relevant, but having them helps me track my progress over time. I know I’m always monitoring the same criteria.
(2) Evaluate each area objectively
This is the heart of the CANI process. It’s divided into two parts, and you must do them in this order:
(a) What Was Great?
Our negativity bias causes us to remember the bad parts more than the good parts. Typically this is what we look at first when we evaluate our own performance. It’s natural to walk off the stage, leave a presentation, or come off the trapeze net (or soccer field, etc) and immediately point to what went wrong. The same thing applies when watching or listening to a recording of our work.
We start with what was great because it forces us to look for the positive. You see what you seek.
Seek even the smallest wins
In each category, focus first on what was great. Or at least acceptable. Or at the very least not terrible. Ideally, find three things in each area of evaluation.
Often we get stuck looking for big things. The smallest things count. Sometimes, you don’t have anything to say for a specific area of evaluation. If that’s the case, look at your overall performance. You can find three things to celebrate even in the worst performance.
Don’t believe me? Here are three to get you started:
- You showed up.
- You got on stage (or did the thing).
- You made it out alive.
If you’re like many of my clients, I know you’re thinking: those are not wins. Yes, they are.
(b) Where Can You Improve?
Framing the question
After you identify what you did well, you can move on to looking at where you can improve.
When you get to where you can improve, how you frame the question is crucial.
Do not ask what did I do wrong?
Instead, ask what can I improve? or what can I do better?
Criteria for areas of improvement
When identifying what you can improve, keep to these three criteria:
You are likely to see the big places for improvement in this part of the process. Sometimes the answer you want to give to “what can I improve?” is “everything.” “Everything” is not a helpful answer.
Small changes are easier to implement; trying to bite off more than you can chew will only get you stuck.
Vague direction kills momentum. This is true when you give directions to others and when you give directions to yourself. The more specific you can be, the easier it will be to implement. Specific changes are also easier to track.
3. Positive Framing
Again, we are countering negativity bias here. When we see the places for improvement, our instinctive reaction is to say don’t do that.
Your brain cannot process the word don’t. It only hears what comes after. Also, when you tell yourself not to do something, it makes you feel like a bad child and triggers self-judgment.
Don’t do that.
Haha. Just kidding. Frame your improvements in the positive.
For example, in flying trapeze, I often bend my legs where I should be keeping them straight. When I see the video, I immediately think: don’t bend your knees. In my notes, I write down: keep your legs straight.
Speaking of my notes ….
(3) Write it Down
This process is most effective if you write it down. Ideally with pen on paper, but you can type it if you must.
Writing down what you did well is especially crucial, for many reasons. Here are the top two:
(a) It gives you a written record. When your mind tries to trick you into believing it was really bad, you have a record of what you did well.
(b) The act of writing puts it into your nervous system. What you write down (especially by hand, i.e., pen on paper) has staying power, not just on paper but in your body. It helps you embody the knowledge of what you did well. This will help you remember better.
Focus more writing effort on what you did great. Your brain will naturally latch on to the areas for improvement.
(4) Celebrate Your Wins
Celebrate what you did well.
Really celebrate it. Stand up. Fist pump. Cheer for yourself. Dance around the room. Tell yourself — out loud — how awesome you are.
I am not joking here. This is critical.
As Tony Robbins says, what gets rewarded gets reinforced.
When you acknowledge and celebrate what you did well, you reinforce it in your nervous system. You embody the success. It builds your self-confidence and self-efficacy.
(5) Share Your Wins
Phone a friend. Share it on social media. Tell a stranger.
Some of us were conditioned to believe that it’s not nice to brag. You don’t have to think it’s nice. And you don’t even have to “brag.” But you absolutely must share your wins with at least one other person.
By speaking it out loud, you make it real for yourself. It reinforces the story you tell to yourself and about yourself. This grooves new neural pathways that reinforce positive thoughts and emotions. It boosts your self-confidence.
When you share the news, tell people some specifics about what you did really well in your talk or performance. Give the other people the opportunity to celebrate your achievements. Allow yourself to receive their admiration and praise.
Again, what gets rewarded gets reinforced.
Trust That You Won’t Forget About the Places to Improve
Are you worried that with all this celebration you’ll forget to look at where you need to improve?
That won’t happen. Negativity bias is strong. Your mind won’t let you forget. Trust that you’ve seen the small distinctions and that you will be able to implement at least some of them next time.
This Works For Anything You Want to Improve
This 5-step system for self-assessment isn’t limited to audio and video review. I use it in every area of my life where I want to improve. It’s also a part of my daily journaling ritual at the end of every day.
The more you can engage in self-reflection and self-assessment without self-criticism and self-judgment, the faster you will improve your skills and the more confidence you’ll have.
Give it a try and let me know how it works for you.