Self-reflection, or introspection, is your key to personal growth and success. It helps you to evaluate who you are, examine your values, and bring perspective to your life.
The Greek philosopher Socrates once said:
“The unexamined life is not worth living.”
Alas, most people on this planet are living unexamined lives. But they are hardly to be blamed. We’re living in a world of distraction.
In today’s frenetic world, buzzing mobile phones, enticing social media, and massive amounts of data are begging for our attention.
According to Joshua Becker, a Wall Street Journal bestselling author and the founder of Becoming Minimalist:
“Far more detrimental to our lives are the subtle distractions that quietly surround us. They are not announced with blinking lights or beeping sounds.
In fact, they have become so commonplace and ever-present, we hardly even notice their existence. But these distractions take residence in our mind and wreak havoc on our pursuits.
And in the end, they keep us from living our lives to their greatest potential.”
Because of this, self-reflection is more crucial than ever for you to align your life with your aspirations.
According to psychologists, the single most important life skills a person may possess is Self-Reflective Awareness (SRA). This is in line with The American Psychological Association’s definition of self-reflection:
“The examination, contemplation, and analysis of one’s thoughts, feelings, and actions.”
Self-reflection is the pathway to growth, positivity, and happiness. It enables you to understand who you are, why you are who you are, and what you want in life.
During self-reflection, you will become aware of whether you are living in accordance with your values, objectives, and dreams. You’ll be essentially taking responsibility for your thoughts and actions.
Self-reflection is also the key to self-awareness. With this awareness, you’re able to observe your feelings, emotions, and behavior objectively.
It’s an opportunity to take a step back, look inward, and gain perspective on what really matters to you. This ability will empower you to grow positively.
However, self-reflection is more than just introspection and making changes in your life. There are many positive effects resulting from it. This includes lower levels of stress, improved learning, enhanced relationships, and general wellbeing.
Studies have shown that self-reflection is associated with personal growth and an increased sense of fulfillment in life. It enables you to learn from your past experiences and makes you more receptive to the prospect of positive change.
Making better judgments on how to approach the future is made simpler when you’re aware of your talents and weaknesses.
Self-reflection is a useful strategy for increasing self-awareness and fostering character-based leadership competencies.
Introspection also works wonders when it comes to enhancing physical and mental performance. Athletes and sports professionals use self-reflection to assess their performance and learn more about themselves.
As a result, players become more self-aware, experience an increase in self-confidence, and are more successful at creating goals.
In terms of relationships, self-reflection can establish a system of checks and balances to sustain a solid and harmonious connection.
However, the more important role that introspection plays is helping you create a more authentic life. It prompts you to align your thoughts, behaviors, and actions with your highest values.
When you practice introspection, you will start to wonder if your behavior and words are consistent with your values and beliefs.
Self-reflection relieves you of the pressure of constantly trying to be someone else. Or living the life others expect of you.
Self-reflection ultimately leads you down a path where you may accept who you truly are. Take this path and you get to live your life in accordance with your values and beliefs.
You get to be who you truly are, as opposed to trying to fit into someone else’s idea of who you should be. It means putting your own needs and values ahead of those that others may have for you. This is the path of living authentically.
But this is by no means an easy path. In order to be authentic, you must suppress your urge to blindly blend in and follow the crowd.
Living authentically means you have the ability to choose what you do, where you go, and who you become. To do this, you need to follow your passion and be in tune with your natural skills and talents.
The secret to living authentically lies in the consistent act of self-reflection. If you don’t make time for introspection, you’re likely to regress to thoughts and behaviors that would limit your growth.
Before you get started, do be mindful of your approach because introspection has an evil twin called rumination. There is a fine line between reflection and rumination. According to organizational psychologist Tasha Eurich, rumination “can masquerade as productive self-reflection.”
Reflection is where you have the positive intention of learning from past events or experiences. When you repeatedly think negatively about past events or experiences, you are ruminating.
As observed by Jonathan Alpert, a psychotherapist and the author of Be Fearless: Change Your Life in 28 Days:
“Reflection is the processing of experiences with purpose and with the goal of gaining insight, learning, and ultimately self-improvement. By contrast, rumination is when someone thinks about something over and over again, without purpose.”
Try to recall the last time you mentally replayed a negative event. When you reflect on that event or situation in your mind, do you:
When Eurich studied the relationship between self-reflection and happiness, stress and job satisfaction, she was taken aback. She knew that introspection’s evil twin is at work when:
“The people who scored high on self-reflection were more stressed, depressed, and anxious, less satisfied with their jobs and relationships, more self-absorbed, and they felt less in control of their lives. What’s more, these negative consequences seemed to increase the more they reflected.”
This discovery by Eurich does not mean that the practice of self-reflection is bad. The effectiveness of introspection lies in its approach and the way you fashion your self-reflective questions.
In her book Insight, Eurich presented us with a new self-awareness tool called Ask “What” Not “Why”:
“Why questions draw us to our limitations; what questions help us see our potential.”
She added that “why” questions lead to rumination:
“Why questions stir up negative emotions; what questions keep us curious.”
To get the most out of your introspection sessions, frame your questions with “what” instead of “why.” Asking “what” questions encourages you to take ownership of your problems.
“Why questions trap us in our past; what questions help us create a better future.”
Eurich had devoted many years to researching the traits required to succeed in today’s world. Her research reveals one characteristic that stands out: self-awareness, or knowing who we are and how others perceive us:
“If we’re not self-aware, it’s almost impossible to master the skills that make us stronger team players, superior leaders, and better relationship builders, either at work or in the rest of our lives.
Introspection is arguably the most universally hailed path to internal self-awareness.”
How awesome is this revelation! With this fact in mind, let’s move on to the practice of self-reflection.
In their essay published in the Harvard Business Review, Bailey and Rehman concisely summarize the process of self-reflection:
“The practice itself is all about learning, looking back on the day (without bias or regret) to contemplate your behavior and its consequences.
It requires sitting with yourself, taking an honest moment to think about what transpired, what worked, what didn’t, what can be done, and what can’t.
Reflection requires courage. It’s thoughtful and deliberate. Being at the “top of your game” only comes when you extract from your past how to engage the future.”
So, how do you get started in the practice of self-reflection?
You can begin by examining the guiding principles that you live by each day. Set aside time and find a quiet place where you can sit and think without distractions.
Here are 7 questions you can use to jump-start your introspection:
Your introspection would not be complete without some reflection about the past.
Exploring your past may provide the answers you need to move confidently into the future. Here are some questions to get you started:
You can jumpstart your self-reflection practice by using Reflection Cards. The is a card deck packed with thought-provoking questions, such as:
These questions can serve as a springboard to lead you to questions of your own.
Psychology professors Baumeister, Vohs, and Oettingen wrote in their published study on Pragmatic Prospection:
“In the present, the past is more knowable than the future, but people think far more about the future than the past. Both facts derive from the principle that the future can be changed, whereas the past cannot.”
You cannot change the past. However, you can learn from past events, experiences, and lessons to help shape your future. Here are some self-reflective questions to help you gear up for the future:
In your bid to shape your own future, decide who you want to be. Knowing who you are and what you want to become will always be the keys to your future success.
Now that you’ve decided to start the practice of introspection, the next thing to do is schedule time for it. You can opt to practice self-reflection as an end-of-month personal review and an end-of-year personal review.
Or it can be a brief weekly self-evaluation at the end of each week. It’s not necessary to run through all the questions if you intend to do this weekly. Just look back at the events that happened that particular week and reflect on them.
A study found that employees who took 15 minutes a day to reflect outperformed their counterparts by 23%.
There is no hard and fast rule when it comes to the best time for self-reflection. One of the best ways to be consistent in your practice of introspection is through writing.
You can use a journal to put your thoughts on paper. When you write regularly, it also helps to clear your mind of clutter and put things into perspective.
A recent study by a team of psychologists noted that the average person has 6,200 thoughts per day. From this number, a staggering 80% are negative thoughts and 95% are recurring thoughts.
This means that we not only get stuck in negative thinking, but we are also stuck in the past. So, in order to shift our attention back to the positive, introspection becomes an essential tool.
Introspection helps you to become aware of how to move forward in life with confidence. It also allows you to see things from different perspectives.
The secret to living authentically is knowing what you are and what you want. And that helps you determine what you want to be.
Neal Donald Walsch, author of the Conversations with God series, once wrote:
“The deepest secret is that life is not a process of discovery, but a process of creation. You are not discovering yourself but creating yourself anew. Seek, therefore, not to find out who you are, seek to determine what you want to be.”
I sincerely hope that the practice of self-reflection can help you make the changes you want in your life. Move forth with confidence and become the best version of yourself.
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