Self-reflection has been part of spiritual practices for thousands of years. More recently, therapy and programs like Alcoholic Anonymous have incorporated it to help change undesirable behaviors. As a means of examining our lives, self-reflection offers a great opportunity for transformation. It can lead to insights and new perspectives in how we see ourselves and others, which opens a door to change and personal growth.
What Self-Reflection Is… and Isn’t
Simply put, self-reflection is taking a deeper look at your life—your strengths, flaws, behaviors, beliefs and things you want to change. It is an intentional attempt to understand how you think, feel and behave. Taking a step back to reflect makes space for you to discover what you’re feeling and why you’re feeling it. Cultivating an objective viewpoint is key to productive self-awareness and deeper connection with ourselves.
Self-reflection is NOT self-obsession or narcissism. Rather, it is an investment in self-care and a step toward positive change. You must know where you are to get to where you want to go. Self-reflection can help you achieve your goals for getting in better physical shape, being a better parent or saving money to make a down payment on a house.
When we “fly blind,” we follow the familiar path of habit and pre-set behaviors. Results are often not what we want. We don’t see that we’re overspending on takeout, or how ineffective our attempts at discipline are with our children. We run on autopilot that runs us.
Self-Reflection in Practice
The process of self-reflection is simple:
- Take a step back
- Notice what’s going on
- Listen for insights
- Act on what you want to improve or change
- Repeat as needed, being gentle and compassionate with yourself
To step back from normal activities, create a quiet “island.” Do something relaxing—meditate, breathe, take a walk or sit quietly—to calm the noise of daily life and help you focus. Then ask yourself questions about what’s going on, what’s bothering you, what you want to improve. From what comes up, choose a single issue or memory. Notice how it makes you feel, how your body reacts to these emotions. Notice what you’re thinking. Now go deeper: Why do you think you feel this way? Why do you think you behaved that way? Where does this anxiety come from?
Be patient as you wait for answers. Note your insights. Practice this quiet self-reflection regularly or as often as needed. Then take the process into your daily life. Catch yourself in action. Notice your pre-programmed behaviors. “I’m angry again at my family, and I’m starting to react and argue.” When you notice what’s going on inside, both during quiet reflection and in daily life, it’s easier to gain control over your actions and behaviors. You facilitate change and personal growth.
Questions for Self-Reflection
Issues for self-reflection include relationships (friends, family, work), behaviors, health, financial matters, work and career, work-life balance and spirituality.
Questions for self-reflection include:
- What do I want to change about my behavior, circumstances or certain areas of my life? What would I improve? What actions could I take?
- What do I want from life? What do I want more or less of? Where do I want to be in 5 or 10 years? What are my goals and dreams?
- What difference do I want to make to others, my work or the world?
- How can I be a better friend / partner / spouse / parent / employee / co-worker?
- What are my gifts and strengths? When and where am I at my best? What are my accomplishments and successes?
- What are my weaknesses or problem areas?
- What am I passionate about? What matters to me? What makes me feel more alive?
- What’s working in my life? What am I grateful for?
- What do I regret? How can I let it go?
- Do I have beliefs or fears that hold me back?
Tips for Self-Reflection
Self-reflection can be counterproductive when it causes stress or negativity. The goal is positive personal growth; it helps to look at yourself and situations with some detachment. Some people even talk to themselves in the third person so they can examine more distressing thoughts and feelings at a slight distance.
It helps to pick smaller, more manageable objectives and work toward larger goals. If we’re overwhelmed by how far we need to go, change can seem out of reach. For example, if your goal is to be a better parent that doesn’t mean you will never yell at your kids. (We’re only human.) You may start by reflecting on this, noticing the urge to yell, then incorporating a few deep breaths to head off your habitual reaction.
People with a history of depression may be triggered by too much self-introspection and become overly critical of themselves. It can help to set a time limit on self-reflection sessions, or seek out a professional counselor to guide you through your self-reflection process.
Benefits of Self-Reflection
While there may be some discomfort in confronting shortcomings and undesirable behaviors, there is also promise in it. Feeling disappointed in ourselves is motivation to change—and we cannot change what we do not acknowledge.
On the other hand, recognizing what we’ve done well can lead to resilience; there is evidence that reflecting on past successes can help us process negative experiences (Paersch et al., 2021). Another study found that beginning the day by reflecting on the kind of leader you want to be can improve your work performance (Jennings et al., 2021).
Self-reflection takes time and discipline, but the rewards are great. Self-reflection can help you face challenges, find gratitude and discover your own wisdom. If you want to experience the benefits of self-reflection for yourself but feel you could use some assistance, Best Day’s counselors are ready to help you make positive changes in your life.
“We do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience.”John Dewey, American philosopher, psychologist and educational reformer
“Reflecting on how you have overcome past personal challenges can help you process negative experiences.”Science Daily
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