What Is Self-Reflection And Why Is It So Important?
28 Feb 2021 • 10 min read
Socrates was onto something when he said, "The unexamined life is not worth living."
Unfortunately, many of us live an unexamined life, overwhelmed by responsibilities, bombarded with notifications, tempted by Binge-watching, or simply sucked into the demanding, fast-paced life our society has created. Being productive, moving forward, climbing the corporate or social ladders, and achieving our dreams are all things we strive for every day.
Yet, seeking to progress without self-reflecting can prevent you from living a happy life and hinder your success.
Think about it; when was the last time you took the time to be at one with your thoughts? When was the last time you took a step back and spent some time reflecting on your life?
Self-reflection is one of the best ways to shift your mindset, connect with yourself on a deeper level and increase positivity in your life. Only then will you be happy and able to unlock your full potential.
Are you intrigued and would love to better understand the connection between self-reflection, happiness, and success?
If that’s the case, you’ve landed on the right page. In this article, we’ll define what self-reflection is and assess why it is so important to your life. We’ll also explain when the best time is to self-reflect before providing you with some tips on how to do so using proven techniques. Ready for your self-discovery journey?
What is Self-Reflection?
According to the Cambridge dictionary, self-reflection represents "the activity of thinking about your own feelings and behavior and the reasons that may lie behind them".
Simply put, self-reflection is about conscientiously examining your thoughts and recognizing the origin and causes of your feelings, emotions, and actions.
Self-reflecting involves taking a step back and reflecting on your life, behaviors, and beliefs. This reflective process helps you to understand your essence and your true nature and allows you to shift your mindset, improve your life and grow as a person.
Why is Self-Reflection so Important?
As human beings, we keep moving, and we tirelessly push through every day. We continue working for companies we don’t believe in, we cope with draining jobs that are slowly destroying our souls and stay in relationships that are sapping our energy. All these situations can lead us to feel stressed, tired, and unhappy. That’s why burnout is on the rise. In fact, according to a study, 75% of workers have experienced burnout at work in the past.
Yet, we keep moving as we want to keep up, caught in this fast-paced unfulfilling life. We think that’s the only way to move forward. We push ourselves a little more every day, working hard on our relationships to improve them and working harder at work to be promoted. But after all, isn’t the definition of insanity to keep doing the same thing over and over again expecting different outcomes?
What if we told you that the key to your happiness and wellbeing is actually to stop and take a moment to reflect on your life?
Indeed, self-reflection can help you in many ways, including:
Being self-aware requires consistently practicing self-reflection (or personal reflection).
Indeed, personal reflection prompts you to think about your actions and how you want to be perceived by others, thus making you aware of how you currently feel your actions are affecting these areas. For instance, after self-reflection, you might become aware of how you feel you’re tracking with your goals and how you feel others perceive you as a leader, wife or husband, a friend, or a parent.
Improving self-awareness is essential to your success and happiness because it helps you recognize and acknowledge your strengths and weaknesses. As a result, it allows you to adapt your behavior accordingly and shift your mindset to live a more positive life and have a more positive impact on the world around you.
Self-reflection allows you to take a step back, reflect, and meditate on your thoughts, actions, and motives. This, in turn, enables you to better understand a situation, see the big picture, see things from a different point of view, and ultimately become more open-minded. It also helps you build empathy and opens you up to learning from your experiences, thus facilitating positive transformation.
For instance, after spending some time reflecting on a situation you had earlier in the office, you might come to the conclusion you were a bit harsh with one of your colleagues during a team meeting or didn’t respond to a situation the way you should have. Therefore, it might help you understand what you did wrong and how to correct your actions in the future.
Research has shown that self-reflection can help to facilitate a deeper level of learning and understanding. Indeed, reflecting on your learnings means assessing the way you learn and gaining insight to adjust your learning process and correct poor habits.
Besides, self-reflecting encourages self-regulated learning. For instance, if you’re a student, consciously thinking about your learning methods can help you establish a routine such as planning academic tasks, monitoring your progress, and assessing the outcome, ultimately allowing you to adjust your approach.
Challenging Your Beliefs
What you believe to be true is not always the truth. After all, we all have limiting beliefs based on what we hear and what we’re being told. Unfortunately, our limiting beliefs can sometimes prevent us from moving forward and succeeding. And lingering limiting beliefs can also significantly affect our happiness.
By practicing self-reflection, you can step back and debate the validity of these beliefs or assumptions. Indeed, by being aware of your limiting beliefs, you can challenge them and replace them with more positive thoughts.
Let’s say you don’t think you’ll ever be able to change careers and become what you’ve always wanted to be. And people around you have been reinforcing this belief by telling you that you should be happy with what you have and it’s too late for you to become a lawyer, a doctor or that you’re not good enough to get the promotion you so desperately want. The truth is, you’ve created a whole system of limiting beliefs that sap your confidence and prevent you from achieving your dreams. In that specific case, you’re the only thing standing between you and your success and happiness.
As a result, taking some time to reflect can allow you to recognize this limiting belief system and reprogram the way you think. By changing your mindset, eradicating your former beliefs, and thinking more positively, you’ll be able to draft a plan of action and get to where you want to be in life.
When to Self-Reflect
If you want to live a happy and balanced life, self-reflection should become a daily habit. You can use different ways to help you incorporate the process into your daily routine.
- Start a gratitude journal to reflect on the good things that happened to you and things you felt positive about on the day.
- Start a reflective journal, list good and bad things that happened to you in the day and ask yourself how you can improve things.
- Consciously write two morning pages every day when you get up. This will help you clear your mind, process any negative emotions from the previous day, and start the day with a clean slate and on a positive note.
- Take five minutes each day to meditate.
- Exercise and use the time to think about your feelings and actions.
- Share your reflections publicly on your social media or blog to hold yourself accountable.
Note that whether you decide to practice personal reflection in the morning, during the day, or at night doesn’t matter as long as it becomes a daily habit. However, try to schedule your self-reflection time at the same time every day.
How to Self-Reflect
The process of self-reflection isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach, and different approaches suit different people. To help you on your introspective journey, we’ve listed below two of the most efficient ways to self-reflect:
Gibbs' Reflective Cycle
Human beings like to learn and improve from experiences, but this process requires an element of introspection. This means that experiencing something isn’t enough in itself to learn from it. Indeed, you also need to consciously think about your experiences, reflect on them and assess what can be done better. Only then will you improve and get better results the next time.
The Gibbs' Reflective Cycle approach aims at providing you with the right tools to understand this "learning from experience" process and make the most of it. Note that this tool can be used for self-improvement, coaching, or mentoring.
The model consists of six steps:
During this step, the idea is for you to describe a situation and understand what happened in that specific situation. Some of the questions you can ask yourself to help include:
- What happened, and what did you do, or how did you react?
- Were other people involved in this situation? If so, what did they do?
- What was the outcome?
Note that during this stage, you should only state what happened and not give your opinion or jump to conclusions. Instead, try to describe the situation as it unfolded as accurately as possible.
During this stage, the self-reflection process will help you understand how you felt before, during, and after a situation and how your feelings might have impacted your experience. In order to self-improve, some of the relevant questions to ask yourself include:
- What did you feel during the situation?
- What did you feel after the situation?
- Were other people involved in the situation? If so, what do you think others felt about the situation?
- What do you think other people feel about the situation now?
- What were you thinking during the situation?
- What do you think about the situation now?
This step is particularly important as the way you felt during a situation will determine whether you need to improve and work on yourself to feel better next time a similar situation arises.
During the evaluation stage, the idea is for you to objectively look at the situation and try to understand what worked and what didn't. As a result, ensure you focus on both the positive and negative aspects of a situation to make the most of your personal reflection process. Some of the questions you should ask yourself include:
- What was good about the experience? What went well?
- What was negative about the experience or situation? What didn’t go well?
- Did you and other people contribute positively or negatively to the situation?
This is one of the most critical steps to the model. During the analysis stage, you’ll get a chance to understand why the experience was positive or negative. The model suggests that you separate what went well and what didn’t and question why. Some of the questions to ask yourself include:
- Why did things go well, or why didn’t they?
- What sense can I make of this experience?
- What additional knowledge can I use to help me better understand this experience?
During this step, it’s time to draw conclusions about what happened. You’ll have the opportunity to sum up what you’ve learned so far and highlight what specific changes to your actions could help improve the future outcome. Some helpful questions to ask yourself include:
- What did you learn from this situation?
- How could the situation have been more positive for everybody?
- What skills do you need to acquire to better deal with a similar situation in the future?
- What else could you have done during this situation?
Plan of action
This is your time to plan what you should do differently the next time a similar or related situation arises. Besides, not only should you plan what you would do differently, but you should also know how to make it happen. Some of the relevant questions you should ask yourself include:
- If you had to go through the same situation again, what would you do differently?
- How are you going to develop the skills you need to handle things better?
- How will you implement the new skills you have developed?
- How can you review your progress?
You can learn more about the Gibbs’ Reflective Cycle Model here.
The Wheel of Life
The Wheel of Life (also referred to as the Life Balance Wheel) is a great aid for self-reflection, allowing you to gain insight into how satisfied you are with your life. Indeed, this powerful self-assessment tool allows you to evaluate and understand how balanced your life is in different aspects, adjust and lead a successful and happy life. How does it work, you ask?
The methodology is designed around key areas that are important to you as a person, and that will help you assess your current life as well as the life you’d like to create in the future.
The idea is for you to draw a wheel divided into eight categories. Then, you’ll need to look at these eight different areas of your life and assess how you’re doing for each of them, ranking them between 1 (1 being "not satisfied at all") and 10 (10 being "very satisfied").
To do this, divide the eight categories into ten slots (from one to ten) and rank each area by adding a dot on the relevant number for each category. One will be close to the center of the circle and ten at the edge of the circle.
Here is an example of eight different areas, in no particular order:
Business and Career
Looking at the wheel and the Business and Career category that you will have split into ten different parts, you’ll need to assess on a scale of one to ten how satisfied you are with your career right now. As a result, you’ll first need to ask yourself some questions such as:
- Is your career where you want it to be right now?
- Are you passionate about what you do?
- Are you going in the right direction?
To assess how satisfied you are with your finances, some of the questions you can ask yourself include:
- Are you earning enough money to satisfy your current needs?
- Are you financially set for growth and wealth in the future?
Family and Friends
In this section, you’ll need to ask yourself questions such as:
- How are your relationships?
- Are your friends and family supportive?
- Are you regularly engaging and socializing with your friends?
- When it comes to your health, ask yourself:
- How physically healthy are you right now?
- Are you satisfied with your level of fitness?
- Are you satisfied with your diet?
The romance category is all about how satisfied you are with your love life:
- Do you feel loved?
- How often are you expressing your love?
- Are you happy with the way things are between you? Or are you satisfied with not being in a relationship?
- Are you regularly socializing with others together or doing couples’ activities?
Fun and Recreation
Working and being productive is all well and good, but ensuring you’re having fun and spending some time doing recreational activities is equally important to live a happy, successful, and balanced life.
- Are you enjoying your life?
- Are you having fun in your life?
- Are you satisfied with the level of activities that you do?
- Are you happy with how you spend your time off?
If personal growth is essential to you, some of the questions to ask yourself include:
- Are you satisfied with your personal growth?
- Are you satisfied with your progress?
- Are you continuously trying to grow?
- Considering your daily routine, how far will you get in five years?
- What should you spend more or less time on going forward?
The physical environment refers to your surroundings. This might be the house you’re living in or the community you’re evolving in:
- Are you happy living where you are?
- Do you enjoy being in your house or apartment?
- Do you like your neighborhood?
- How satisfied are you with your neighbors?
Note that the categories and questions mentioned above are just an example. Therefore, the name and number of the areas or categories can change and vary based on your priorities and what areas are most important in your life.
Once you’ve reviewed the wheel as a whole, join the dots. This will give you a snapshot of your life, allow you to identify your weaknesses, draft a plan of action to create a more balanced wheel, and track your progress.
To come up with a relevant plan of action that will contribute to your success and happiness, ask yourself some of the questions below:
- When you look at the shape of the wheel, how do you feel?
- How would you like to change the shape of the inner wheel?
- What surprises you the most?
- Which category would you most like to improve?
- What category would you like to start with?
- At the moment, how do you spend time in each area?
- What do you need to do to improve the score in each area?
- What small steps would have the most significant impact on your satisfaction?
- Could a single action improve more than one area?
Once you start answering these questions, you’ll be able to take action, move towards your goals, and live a more balanced and fulfilling life.
Over to You
Now it’s time for you to implement what you’ve learned in this article. Make time during the day to practice personal reflection, pick the self-assessment tool you find the most appropriate, and try to understand how satisfied you are with your life to come up with an effective plan of action. Treat your self-reflection time like a date with yourself and have fun with it. Use your learnings to grow as a person and ensure you live your life to the fullest ;)
Have you been using specific self-reflection techniques? If that’s the case, we’d love to read all about them in the comment section below!