This post is part two of a three-part series. Be sure to read part one on Setting an Effective New Year’s Resolution & Proper End-of-Year Self-Evaluation.
There is a great deal of variation in the accuracy of our end-of-year self-evaluations, which can strongly impact the success of our New Year’s resolutions. Research suggests that many of us are prone to a self-serving bias, which means that we may give ourselves too much credit for successes, and blame failures on factors out of our control (see What’s the worst that could happen?). The average level of self-serving bias, appears to vary somewhat by culture. North Americans tend to be especially guilty of it.
My work focuses on helping people with anxiety and depression. For many of these people, the bias is reversed – they are more likely to blame themselves when things go wrong, focus on what they view as personal flaws, consider those shortcomings as deeply entrenched, and consider the situation as permanent. In Cognitive Behavioral Therapy we help people with social anxiety problems examine their own tendency to create excessively high standards and their inclination to declare it a disaster if they don’t live up to those standards.
In the first post in this series I mentioned that perfectionism can be a problem for many people. Sometimes people with very high standards will compare their lives to a composite of the best qualities and accomplishments of the people around them. They may believe that they should excel professionally at the level of their very-successful relative, have children who excel at athletics as much as the children of their most-athletic friend, have a home as clean as their tidiest neighbor, and be as socially skilled as their most poised acquaintance. All those accomplishments and attributes are seldom found in one person, but some driven or anxious people put pressure on themselves to achieve all of them.
Many of us do ourselves great harm by aiming for an idealized version of every part of our lives, rather than realistic goals of the things that are most important to us. If we have set a New Year’s resolution to complete our education this year, then we may want to ignore whether or not our house or apartment is as clean as we would like. By setting small, realistic goals, we are able to build our sense of accomplishment and our confidence heading into the next goal.
In the next posts we’ll look at how to avoid feeling depressed after a particularly poor self-evaluation and how to set realistic New Year’s resolutions.