Do you ever wake up in the middle of the night and reminisce the time five years ago you said

Do you ever wake up in the middle of the night and reminisce the time five years ago you said something you regretted? Or perhaps you’ve walked down the street and had a “lightbulb” moment on why a situation panned out the way it did?

At times the human mind can be its own worst critic; we reimagine memories different to the truth and even create fake scenarios in our heads that can leave us standing in the shower angry at someone for something that hasn’t even happened.

That being said, by tapping into our subconscious mind and taking time to understand our thoughts and behaviours, we can actually find some serious benefits in the long run. It’s time to change our perspective on what has previously been dubbed “over-thinking” and to use this in a positive way that will help us grow as individuals. Let’s talk about self-reflection.

What is self-reflection?

Self-reflection is the practice of actively looking at your thoughts, attitudes and behaviours to understand your impact on yourself and others. If you were to compare your thoughts to the words on the pages of a book, then self-reflection would be like going to book club and discussing them in depth. 

By taking an inward look at ourselves we adopt empathy for others, understanding how our actions impact those around us both positively and negatively. This helps us to become more self-aware and enables us to grow. To use the infamous Einstein quote, if “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”, then self-reflection is the first step in achieving a different and desirable outcome. 

The act of self-reflection can be understood by the term itself: to reflect on one’s mind as if to hold up a mirror to yourself. An example of this, albeit satirical, is Derek Zoolander staring at his reflection in a puddle asking: “who am I?”, although you might want to opt for a setting that doesn’t result in getting splashed.

This can be incredibly useful when trying to understand sources of conflict or resistance, moving towards a more self-compassionate state. In doing so, you are more likely to see the views of others and understand how your individual thoughts and actions have an impact on them. 

Let’s look at an example: perhaps you have been working at a company for a while now and feel like you deserve a promotion. Despite attempts to progress, you feel that you aren’t being recognised.

In this scenario, self-reflection can help you understand more about your current thoughts and behaviours to enable you for a stronger future. By reflecting on your current state of mind you may ask yourself certain questions – why do I feel so frustrated? How do others see me from the outside? Is there anything more that I can be doing or giving to help me progress? How do I envision myself in the future – what specific attributes does this future-self have that I don’t currently? 

By asking these questions and reflecting on previous experiences you may be able to gain perspective on the problem. You may find that you need to tackle it from a different angle, give yourself more time or perhaps pursue new opportunities. By taking time to actively reflect on your previous experience you can define your own future.

Why is self-reflection important? 

Despite what Hollywood might show us on the big screen, life is never truly as simple as we would all like it to be. There are always new challenges to face in both professional and personal settings and these experiences are what shape us as individuals. It is perfectly normal to feel anxious about these challenges as they bring change which at times can feel overwhelming. 

Self-reflection is a tool that can help you manage these situations. Remember, you can only truly review your own personal thoughts, beliefs and behaviours. With this in mind, you can gain a better understanding of what you are able to do in that moment. This could mean having a constructive conversation with a colleague, family member or partner, or perhaps just showing yourself some compassion and self-love to feel stronger in the situation. 

In the modern world with the speed and accessibility of technology, we are more impatient than ever before, and this can have a dire impact on our self development. By slowing down and taking a step back to truly reflect, we can take one step closer to where we want to be.

What are the benefits of self-reflection?

A great place to begin with self-reflection is having a goal or question in mind that you want to solve. This can help shape your focus on reflection and help maintain objectivity. By being goal-orientated you are more likely to be open-minded on the potential solutions available, rather than focusing on the journey at hand. If we don’t set a goal of positive outcome for ourselves, there can be a danger of becoming overly critical. 

Here are some examples of what you could achieve from self-reflection:

Finding peace: We are consumed with our thoughts and the likes of social media can regularly have a negative impact on our perception of ourselves. By reflecting on your thoughts, behaviours and emotions, you can begin to identify your own inner strengths and focus on what is important to you. This can help add balance to your life and restore a sense of inner peace.

self reflection definition
(Oscar Wong / Getty)

Improved relationships: Whether it be a partner, family or friends, we all struggle with the relationships in our lives from time-to-time. In these struggles, it can be hard to empathise with others if you have been hurt, but through the process of self-reflection you will gain a better understanding of your own thoughts and behaviours towards specific situations. This can help shape difficult conversations by demonstrating empathy towards others. You may find that this in turn allows the other person to do the same. 

Increased confidence & self-esteem: Like the muscles in our body, we need to break down layers in our mind before we can grow stronger. Through this process of introspection, we can uncover pieces of our potential identify and our hidden strengths – self-reflection is equally about the successes as it is finding the areas for development. Take pride in this and add that extra bit of swagger to your step. 

How can I practice self-reflection?

While there isn’t a set routine to practice self-reflection, no cheat sheet or 1-month programme, self-reflection is something that we do more regularly than you think. It may be on your commute home, when exercising, at work or in bed – all of the time our minds are analysing the events of our days and you may find yourself asking questions about your thoughts, feelings and emotions. 

We are constantly developing by the second, however it can take longer than anticipated to reach our aspirations if we do not dedicate time to actually listening to our minds. This can lead to frustration and anger towards situations that with a little focus could become more manageable. Here are three easy steps to break down the process:

Identify important questions:

Either in actual conversation or inner monologue, you’ve probably found yourself asking questions about your own beliefs or characteristics to try to resolve a problem. Perhaps you’ve wondered “why do I avoid confrontation?” or “why do I struggle to control my emotions under pressure?”. You may also aspire for a new or changed characteristic – “I wish I was more confident having difficult conversations” or “I wish I could remain calm when my back is against the wall”.

Either way, try probing beneath the surface a bit further, look for examples of your past-behaviours and reference times where you have achieved what you set out to do. 

Write down your thoughts in a journal

A great tool to help you with this is to journal. By putting down your thoughts and emotions on paper you can literally review the contents of your mind in front of you. In doing so we can develop a deeper understanding of ourselves and what our true beliefs are, how they affect us positively and negatively and what we can do to either improve or celebrate these. It may seem scary or silly to actually put thoughts onto paper but allow your mind to take over and focus on getting something down, rather than producing a polished article.

This could be first thing in the morning as a dream diary, or perhaps just a notes section in your phone to take down random thoughts, emotions and feelings. Make sure to return to these entries and look for common themes to address. If you feel comfortable enough, talk these through with a friend, colleague, partner or family member. Your journal does not need to be shared with anyone else if you don’t want to share it, so think of it more as a tool at your disposal when reflecting, rather than a record. 

Meditate 

personal reflection
(Luis Alvarez / Getty)

As we go about our everyday life, our minds get clouded with waves of thoughts that can sometimes feel overwhelming. Practicing meditation can help gently organise your mind and become more present, even with just 5 minutes a day.

While it’s not directly self-reflection, it has benefits such as improved concentration and better memory recall which can better equip you when looking inward. When we assess our thoughts and beliefs, we are referencing memories and events associated with these, so the more open-minded and objective you can be, the more likely you will be to think solution-first. Make sure you check out our guide to self-reflection meditation for more information.

Remaining open and objective

Even with a clear goal in mind, self-reflection can seem like a frustrating process as you uncover different layers about yourself. We can easily get wrapped up in fake scenarios and misconstrued memories which can lead us astray, so remaining open and objective is crucial to help us get to where we want to be.

Remain open: Through the idea of looking inward at our thoughts, beliefs and emotions we are looking at our existing footprints, rather than finding the direct route to our next destination. You may find that things don’t necessarily turn out the way that you originally thought but this does not have to be a bad thing – keep an open mind and explore new possibilities and perspectives, you never know what you might find. 

Practice recognition: It is easy to get caught up in the negatives of what we find and to focus on perfection. The reality is that no one is perfect, so by recognising who you are and the people/things around you in your life you will be more likely to see the better side of your findings. Start with the things that we take for granted: a roof over our heads and food in our bellies and move your way up. Through this process of self-acceptance, we can move towards a more positive mindset and cultivate new habits.

Adopt a new perspective: Each time that you ask yourself a question, try to think of how you are seen from another perspective. This could be a colleague, friend, family member or partner. Imagine yourself in their shoes and look at yourself from their lens. Whilst it may be difficult to face negative feelings, this will help provide clear actions that you can take to help you feel better. This could be things like asking more questions, being more direct or showing more compassion. Try out these new perspectives and gauge the results that you receive, you may receive a more positive reaction than what you have previously experienced.

Providing positive insights as well as areas for improvement

When asked to name three positives about ourselves, we are likely to struggle much more than if we were to be asked to name three negatives. Through the process of self-reflection this can equally be an easy route to take as we uncover things about ourselves that we may not necessarily like or agree with but understand the need to overcome. 

Remind yourself that purely by taking time to improve yourself you are demonstrating a huge amount of strength, humility and willpower, so give yourself a big pat on the back. Make sure to practice gratitude throughout the process of what you do have and keep in mind your goal when uncovering layers in your thoughts and beliefs. 

When setting these goals, it may be useful to adopt the SMART objectives acronym (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely). This will help you identify where your current strengths are in order to focus on areas for improvement. Whilst this is usually known for the work environment, the same can be applied for goal setting in your relationships. 

For example, perhaps you feel that your relationship with your partner is unbalanced. You feel that your wants and needs aren’t being fulfilled and you may want your partner to put more effort into the relationship. Firstly, identify where your strengths are and ask yourself key questions: “do I actively make an effort to please my partner?”, “do I take an active interest in their life?” “Do I feel happy and secure in my relationship?”. 

Remember to peel back the layers and put yourself in the shoes of your partner, reflect on previous experiences and reference the emotions, thoughts and behaviours that you had in those moments. 

These references can then help shape transformational conversations – perhaps you give too much of yourself without your partner asking for it. Maybe you don’t actively ask for things you want or maybe your partner feels you ask too much?Use these same references as guides to help you both achieve a positive outcome. Try to remain calm and adopt empathy, rather than using these as bargaining chips. Focus on improvement, not impediment. No one is perfect and no one can know everything, but adopting a positive mindset will help you on your way to what will hopefully be a positive outcome.

Conclusion 

Without realising, you’ve spent your whole life self-reflecting. From babies to adults, we grow as humans through learning from our actions and listening to the feedback from others around us. So why does it seem so daunting to actively practice looking inside our minds? 

The prospect of finding something that we don’t like is scary, but it’s something we must face.

Remember, by separating this as an activity rather than as a passive thought shower, you are always in control. You can choose when to self-reflect, you can choose which goals to set for yourself and you can choose the actions that you take as a result of it. This is not a practice of exposing flaws but quite the opposite, like creating a sculpture. Through the process of reflection, we see our creation under a more magnified lens. We can explore it, tweak it, mould and remould until we are happy with our new creation. 

self reflection quotes
(Ben Roberts Photography / Getty)

We don’t get to choose what we see in our reflection but maybe, just maybe, eventually we might like what looks back at us. The strength to get there is inside of you right now.