Many of us feel like we are on a hamster wheel. We are in constant motion leaving us little to no time to reflect. But, and I say this from experience, it is only when we step off, hit ‘pause’ and take the time to examine ourselves and our past, that we can change course and stop running in perpetual circles. How can we truly understand ourselves – what we want and what makes us happy – without stopping to consider where we’ve been, what we’ve done and how it made us feel?
Self-reflection provides many advantages that can make life easier
You learn about yourself. Most people are shockingly low in self-awareness. Some people are too busy, or at least they think they are. Others would prefer to distract themselves rather than spend one second in self-reflection. However, there’s much to be learned by taking a few minutes each day and reviewing your day, the choices you made, the positives and the negatives. When you know yourself, you can make better plans that utilize your strengths and avoid your weaknesses. Recognizing your weaknesses and dealing with them is powerful. You can stop shooting yourself in the foot over and over.
You learn from your past. If you look at the biggest mistakes you’ve made over your life, you may find they’re surprisingly similar. You may have either spent money you couldn’t afford, got involved with someone you shouldn’t, or made poor decisions to get away from stressful situations. If you never taken the time to review these mistakes, you are bound to repeat them. Reviewing the past can also help you to identify what works, and then you can advantageously repeat those actions.
You take intelligent, thoughtful action. Many people are very action oriented and avoid “wasting” time on thinking too much. Rather than just jumping in with both feet though, it can be incredibly helpful to spend some time thinking and strategizing. Reflect on what you actually want to accomplish for yourself. Ask yourself a few questions and use the answers wisely.
A tool: Gibbs Reflective Cycle
Graham Gibbs is a sociologist and psychologist that studies self-reflection. He developed a six-step process to aid in self-reflection. Called the Gibbs Reflective Cycle, you can use this process as a guide to help you get into the habit.
What happened? This is simple enough. Describe the event to yourself. “I dropped out of college.”
What was I thinking and feeling? What were you thinking at the time? What did you think afterwards? “I was stressed and failing. I felt a sense of relief when I first dropped out, but then I felt a sense of dread and felt lost.”
What was good or bad about the experience? “I gained free time and my stress was relieved. But, now I don’t have a plan for my future and my job prospects are much more limited.”
How does this affect the various parts of my life? What does it say about me? “My personal and career development is stifled. My significant other is upset with me and threatening to leave. My parents kicked me out of the house and told me to find a job. This suggests that I am impulsive and handle stress poorly.”
What else could I have done? “Talked to a friend. Spoken to my professors. Sought professional help. Learned meditation or yoga. Lightened my course load.”
If this happened again, how would I handle it? “I would consider the long-term implications instead of just the short. I would get the help I need. I wouldn’t consider quitting to be a viable option.”
Self-reflection is a useful process that enables you to leverage your strengths, minimize your weaknesses, and avoid repeating your mistakes. You can make good use of those painful events from your past. Spend a few minutes each day and apply a little self-reflection. You’ll be happy with the results and happier with yourself.