Methods and reasons for self-reflection

I talked in a previous post about areas of life to optimise for balancing wellbeing and productivity.

I wanted to expand on one of those areas in this post: self-reflection.

Self-reflection is a process of continuous self-monitoring and assessment with the purpose of helping us make better choices in our lives.

It can be as simple as observing one’s eating habits to identify opportunities for dietary improvement, through to an in-depth analysis of one’s upbringing to identify the origin of certain present-day beliefs, perceptions and patterns.

Taking time to self-reflect can provide clarity on a number of things:

  • likes and dislikes
  • goals and values
  • dreams and aspirations
  • meaning and purpose
  • strengths and weaknesses
  • personality characteristics
  • why we act or behave in particular ways
  • helpful and unhelpful coping strategies and behaviour patterns

That clarity can then be leveraged to generate next steps in one’s life or solutions to current problems.

For example, I might take the time to self-reflect on previous job experiences, in order to get some insight into what new job opportunities to take. I could do the same with relationships.

Self-reflection isn’t necessary a simple process. Biases in how we see the world may prevent us from being able to view ourselves or our behaviour accurately. The complexity of human behaviour means it might also be the case that its really hard to see accurately the drivers of our behaviour. I might assess a difficult situation at work being due to the behaviour of a colleague, but it may turn out that it was strict policies and procedures that had put immovable barriers in my way.

The complexity of self-reflection means that I think it is something we need to engage in on an ongoing basis, hence why I see it as one of 12 daily habits worth considering. It isn’t often until we have revisited a particular issue multiple times that we start to see it more accurately. It is also the case that life is constantly happening to us, and as such, there are multiple opportunities to understand ourselves better, on the basis of witnessing how we interact with these new events.

The complexity of self-reflection is also why it can be important to get others involved in the process. Therapy, counselling, mentoring all represent opportunities to learn about ourselves but with the benefit of a third-party and third-party perspective. It takes a third party pointing something out before we can build it into our self-concept.

Self-reflection can take many forms:

  • journalling
  • mentoring/coaching
  • therapy
  • expressive writing
  • strengths identification –
  • conversations with trusted friends, family and colleagues
  • supervision
  • quiet contemplation
  • meditation

The form of self-reflection we’ve chosen can be considered helpful if it assists us in adapting to new situations, finding novel solutions to difficult problems or leading to life changes that increase wellbeing. Self-reflection includes the insights gained that preempts these changes, but also the ability to monitor the impact of those changes over time.

In my own life, since the beginning of 2022, I have used journaling as a form of self-reflection. At the beginning of most days of the week, I stop and consider my life from a number of different perspectives, which I outlined in this post.

The process is imperfect but its repetition allows me the chance to slowly refine it over time. I start to notice areas that I avoid or embrace, depending on how comfortable the topic is. I see places where my self-knowledge isn’t matched by my everyday actions. In this regard, self-reflection can be discomfiting. You may need to venture into difficult psychological territory to make progress. I recently asked a couple of friends to highlight areas I could work on. Their answers were very helpful, but also difficult to hear.

Self-reflection can easily end up as a kind of anxious or depressed rumination: running problem scenarios over and over in our head. The thing to look for, in my opinion, is whether the self-reflection is generating helpful responses and actions. Consistent with this, I include in my self-reflection process a consideration of habits that might translate self-learnings into action. My journaling process also precedes my time and task management (to-do list, calendaring) so I can build self-insights into my schedule.

What are the processes by which you try to gain a better understanding of yourself?

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