We’re coming up on that time of year when looking over the past and making an appraisal of performance is a regular undertaking.
From a business point of view, we do this so we can find the deficiencies, errors or shortfalls and correct or improve them. Most of the things we look at are measurable and external. We ask “how many?”, “how much?” and “how efficiently?” We chart a course based on the information at hand, and we set our goals for the next year, the next five years or more. What we wouldn’t want to do is base our course on partial information, bad information or insufficient information.
Recovery requires a regular process of self-appraisal, and the same neat, objective set of rules would appear to apply. But there’s a big difference between performance appraisal and self-appraisal. Performance appraisal is largely an external process while self-appraisal is internal. By definition, many of the items on the personal inventory list are obscured from our own view by rationalization, justification and other forms of denial.
Shame and fear are two very powerful filters through which a view of our own behavior can be heavily distorted. One of the biggest dangers in doing a personal inventory is thinking we’re objective about ourselves. Science has known for centuries that observers have a bias, so double blind studies are used so the experimenter cannot influence the outcome of the study.
So what would be the elements of an accurate self-appraisal? The first and most important requirement is the admission that your self-appraisal might be distorted, inaccurate or simply wrong.
Next, a self-appraisal should be followed by sharing that appraisal with someone who knows you well enough and can be honest enough to tell you if your appraisal is inaccurate. Both of these steps require humility – a commodity that can be collected slowly throughout the recovery process.
The next element is the awareness that your mind is not your master and that a regular regimen of quiet reflection will be far more powerful a tool to self-discovery than a structured process of goals and objectives.
A final ingredient is loving detachment from your character problems. All of us have them, and to begin the process of looking at them as lessons to be learned rather than black marks on the cosmic slate or something to be ashamed of will go a long way toward objectivity.
• Rick Atwater is a licensed clinical professional counselor.