Reality Check: “Keys” to Self-Evaluation

Elise has the unfortunate habit of misplacing her keys. Over the years, she has been late for important meetings, she’s held up family outings, and she’s wasted countless hours searching.

Her key-losing behaviour even contributed to missing a chance for her dream job; she showed up late for her interview because she couldn’t find her car keys. It has become a family joke—if Elise is not where she’s supposed to be, then she’s probably looking for her keys.

Losing your keys may seem like a trivial behaviour to be concerned about.However, it’s not trivial when Elise finds herself scrambling through drawers, coat pockets, and piles of papers when she needs to drive someone to the hospital!

When Elise can’t find her keys, the behaviour she chooses is panic. She doesn’t view panicking as a choice; that is, she doesn’t sit down and say to herself, “I’ve lost my keys; I think I’ll panic now.” Nevertheless, Elise has many options for behaviour at that time, and the one that Elise chooses is panic.

In choice theory terms of total behaviour, there are four components of a behavior: doing, thinking, feeling, and physiology.

When Elise panics, her “doing” behaviour is to search frantically. This involves tossing everything into disarray as she scrambles haphazardly through the usual spots, leaving the area looking like a tornado has passed through.

Her “thinking” behaviour for panic is, “I’ll never find these,” “Why do I keep doing this?” “I’m such a disorganized person,” and, “Why don’t other people have this problem?”

The “feeling” behaviours include feeling exasperated, frustrated, envious of others whom she perceives as never losing things, and self-loathing of what she perceives as a weakness.

Elise’s “physiology” plays along: her stomach gets queasy as the search continues, her head starts to ache as she frustrates, and her neck becomes tense.

Choice theory emphasizes the concept of self-evaluation, where you evaluate your own behaviour and make a judgment about it. You needn’t ask anyone whether they think that your judgment is the right one. Simply ask yourself, “How is that working for me?” Then, make your own assessment to decide whether it’s effective.

How would self-evaluation work in Elise’s situation? Elise would ask herself questions such as, “Is what I’m doing really helping me?” “If I continue to rummage through these drawers and fling things around, am I likely to find my keys?” and, “Is there anything I could do that would be more effective?”

What else could Elise do as an alternative to her key-finding panic? More effective behaviours could include sitting down quietly and retracing her steps. Elise could ask herself, “When was the last time I had my keys? Where was I? What was I wearing? What was I driving? What did I do since then?”

When the current crisis is over, Elise might consider whether she wants to continue this key-losing behaviour.

Losing keys is just one example of a habit or repetitive behavior that can have a negative impact on overall life satisfaction. Can such habits be changed? Or are they indelibly engrained? What do you think?

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