When we went to David’s parent-teacher conference last week, one of the things the teacher mentioned was that David reported a lot of thumbs-downs post-lunch. His class has a routine where they sit in a circle when lunch is over and each of the kids get to say thumbs-up, sideways, or down for how their lunch period felt.

And David was often choosing thumbs-down.

This lined up with what I’ve been seeing lately, too. David seems to often choose to look at things from a negative perspective. And also he doesn’t always realize something is not enjoyable until quite a bit of time has been invested into it. For example, sometimes he gets to spend special time with Daddy at night before bed. Occasionally, at the end of this time, he’ll come down to say good night to me and tell me that it wasn’t fun and he didn’t like what Daddy and he spent their time on. When I ask him if he told Daddy this, he invariably says no. So I tell him that he needs to make sure to communicate when things aren’t going the way he’d like them to go.

But until this week, I didn’t realize something else might be at play, too. Maybe be he doesn’t realize that he’s not enjoying an activity while it’s still happening. It’s only at the end that he evaluates and feels regret. So I told him to try out a new strategy at lunch. I said, “About halfway through lunch, stop and think: Would I give my lunch a thumbs-up if I had to go back in right now? Pay attention to your answer. If it’s not a yes, you still have time to change things so that lunch is more enjoyable for you. You get to control how lunch goes for you. So if you go back in and it’s a thumbs-down, remember that you had the opportunity to fix it and you didn’t take it.” Of course there are times something happens to him and he doesn’t have control over it and it’s a genuine thumbs-down. But most of the time, it’s really because he’s not taking control of his lunch period as much as he could. He’s not stopping to pay attention to how things are going. He’s evaluating too late when there’s no way of going back to change.

That’s how regret thrives.

I notice that we do that often in our lives. We get into relationships that seemed right at the time but don’t take the time to regularly evaluate (or re-evaluate) if it’s still a good relationship. Same goes with long-term projects. Or anything where there’s a long or no defined end-point. I believe that one of the most powerful rights we have as humans is the right to choose. We have choice. This is no small thing. If we don’t exercise our right to evaluate and actively choose things over and over again, we’re no different from people who have no choice. This is a huge deal. It’s one of the major keys to happiness: realizing you have choice and exercising it often.

I believe it’s crucial to take the time to evaluate and re-evaluate all the things in your life. I make a point to choose my husband each morning. I don’t want to be married to him just cause it’s the status quo. I want to choose to be with him on that very day. I want to remember why I made the choice in the first place and see if I still feel that way. Or see if I still want to be with him even if it’s for different reasons than I had when I first met him. Even though the alternatives aren’t as wide, I make a point to choose my kids, too. I remember why I wanted kids. I remember the joys they bring into my life. I make the choice. Same with my relationships. It’s better to not have any relationships than to have one that feels destructive. It’s important to reevaluate because people change constantly. You change and the other person changes, too. Sometimes it’s not in the same direction. Sometimes conflicts that weren’t there show up and it’s no longer a positive friendship. It’s ok to put it on hold for a while. And it’s ok to let it go, too.

Same goes for work. You need to make the choice so you don’t feel trapped. Maybe it’s not the work itself but the fact that the income allows you the freedom to buy things you want. Either way, you need to evaluate and actively make a choice. I do that for my art even. If I don’t feel like scrapping or art journaling many days in a row, I step back and evaluate. While I work hard to honor my commitments to myself, I also take the time to evaluate my choices again and again so I can modify as needed. So I can feel like I am savoring my life fully and not feeling trapped in it.

Some choices come with harder consequences than others. Some even feel like non-choices. I understand this. And, trust me, I feel it too. But I still think it’s important to take the reins when it comes to your life. And you can only do that if you take the time to evaluate regularly.

And make the choice to live a thumbs-up life.

7 comments to Evaluating

  • Allie.Duckienz

    Oh Karen, I REALLY love the way you think!
    Thanks for sharing so much of yourself. I really value you, your thoughts and that you choose to write these essays for us. I choose to keep coming back to your blog because of this!

  • Zeynep

    This is quite possibly my favorite post on your site. I have been circling around this type of thinking for a while but your words expressed my thoughts in a crystal clear way. I often whine and procrastinate when I don’t want to do a certain project. Two recent examples are: excel-related modeling at work or laundry at home. But when I stop to think: “Do I want to have clean clothes to wear in the morning? Do I want to continue to be a productive member of my team?” then the procrastination and the whining seem pointless.

  • dawn

    Karen you have such a good way with words and your thoughts on things. You are so wise and find solutions to so much in life. This is really a good one for two reasons:

    1. The lunch issue with David, first the teacher doing this with the kids is amazing and smart. Lots of issues happen at lunch and you know already they will keep getting trickier as the child grows. We have many issues at lunch with all 3 kids, it’s a shame they can’t just go in and eat and enjoy this break. My memories of lunchtime are wonderful and fun. This idea of changing it to be a thumbs up is brillant and encouraging. If he knows this now and keeps doing it each year his lunches will go much better I’m sure. You are an amazing mom and your ways of showing your boys how to make things happen and to think over things really impress me. Here I’ve been a mom for 22 years and these things never occur to me. I just stick with the turn the cheek and don’t give them your attention lecture. I’m going to print this out and show my kids though and maybe they will try this idea.

    Second the thoughts on choosing your husband each day is so sweet and it would help a lot of marriages I’m sure. I feel this way about my husband but could never put it into words. You are right and that we grow and change but we can still choose to be with that person thru the changes. Thank you for always sharing and making me rethink my own life.

    I agree with Allie, I choose to keep coming back for your wonderful thoughts and inspiration that you give me. You are such a gentle, kind and beautiful person, we need more of YOU in this world.

    I have a question for you, do you write down these thoughts before you type them? or do you just start typing away? Do you keep a journal of things to write about? Thanks for the help.

  • Excellent article. I re-evaluate regularly. Even with things like New Year’s Resolutions I prefer to have ideas for the next 3 – 6 months aswell and see how I am getting along. Life is so fast it’s easy to just get swept along if we don’t stop and think about where we are going and whether or not we are on the right train…

  • This is a great post, Karen, and such wise advice for your son and for all of us. It is so easy to just “let things happen” and not recognize the power we have to take hold and choose to make things as “thumbs up” as possible for ourselves. Obviously, as you mention with your son, we can’t stop certain “thumbs down” things from happening, but we control our responses, and we can gain plenty of positivity in our lives to stop along the way and make sure we are doing the things that “feed” us. Thanks for all of this!!

  • Rachel C

    How coincident. I just finished reading Andre Agassi’s Open. We’ve just had the Australian Open and tennis fever is still on. The thing that got me thinking most about his autobiography is what he said about choice. Something along the line… choosing it matters. The ‘it’ may not be ideal but “choosing” it makes all the difference.

  • Could not agree more. I try to throw everything up in the air every 3-5 years and see what sticks. Have ended more than a handful of friendships – we simply were not a good fit anymore, and I found myself drained after spending time with them. I remember reading a story of this explorer who comes to a river. She spends years making a boat that will take her across, and when she is finally successful and crosses the river, she refuses to leave the boat behind. She had spent so many hours/days/years on it and was loathe to leave it behind. Even though there was no water anywhere for as far as she could see in the direction she was headed. Gave me pause for thought that one. What boats are we carrying around that we no longer need?

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>




This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.