The Importance of Self-Reflection
15th November 2016
Self-Reflection: noun. Serious thought or consideration. Synonyms: thought, thinking, study, musing, consideration, contemplation, deliberation, pondering, meditation, rumination, cogitation.
In today’s hustling, busy world, it’s easy to get caught up in the mundane activities of day to day life—constantly distracted by all the technology like internet, television, radio, countless buzzing emails, text messages, or other phone alerts throughout the day few people seem to find the time for some self-reflection.
Everybody wants a piece of your precious time, and too often it is automatically given without a second thought. Think about all the distractions throughout your day; Facebook’s constant notifications, popups that demand your instant attention even when 95% of it is not urgent. We’ve been trained to drop everything and check any updates.
On average we check our phones 150 times per day – Source Google April 2016
Do you remember consciously agreeing to all these drains on your time and energy? Or did we just slowly adjust to the increase in the data we allow ourselves to consume, without ever making a conscious decision to opt into this level or information invasion? Without even realising, you’ve spent an entire day jumping from one task to the next, responding to other people’s requests on your time and energy, without ever pausing to reflect on what you’ve done that day, or even why you decided to do most of those things.
Also known as introspection, self-reflection is a very important skill to cultivate because it enables us to assess the patterns and activities of our daily lives in order to see how our actions and habits contribute to our overall well being, success, and happiness.
Self-reflection means looking at who you are, where you’re at, and what you’re doing—both right now in your day-to-day life, as well as what you’ve done in the past— then using this information to move closer to where you really want to be. Because if we truly sit down and reflect on our actions and habits, we can quickly find that they often don’t align to what our real goals in life are or the person we truly want to become. Somewhere along the way we’ve just accepted this extra baggage that we often don’t remember signing up for.Burton Posey mentions this alignment between habits and goals on his blog, where he shares a video about the work habits of basketball players that lead to success—he sums this up with one telling question:
“Are the habits you have today on par with the dreams you have for tomorrow?”
This talk about self-reflection might sound a bit vague, or it might sound like too big of a task—maybe you just don’t know where to start when assessing your daily life and actions, maybe you don’t know how to figure out your real goals in life, and possibly you don’t know how to tell if those things are aligning with each other or not. If you feel a little overwhelmed just starting to think about it, don’t worry—you’re not alone! In fact, most people don’t really have a technique or learn the habit to stop and reflect over their lives, so you’re actually in good company, with everyone else who runs their lives on autopilot. In face experiments prove that when we are given a scary scenario without a possible solution we tend to procrastinate and effectively ignore the problem.
When we run our lives on autopilot like this without taking time for deliberate deliberation, and often start to lose our sense of “life balance”— a subject which Harry Kraemer talks about in his blog post here: https://harrykraemer.org/2016/07/26/on-balance/
Here’s the good news:
Self-reflection is not a difficult skill to acquire, any more than brushing your teeth each day or making your bed. At first, it may be something that you have to consciously think about doing each day, but with continued practice, self-reflection will become a habit that you engage in effortlessly. In this post, I want to break down what exactly self-reflection is, and why it’s so important. I want to talk about simple, clear-cut ways to reflect on your past and present life in order to learn about yourself and your priorities, then clearly assess whether your daily habits line up with your overall goals and dreams in life.
As you get started with your personal journey, you might want to check out this blog post from Larissa Marks with 6 simple questions to ask yourself for the purposes of self-reflection.
The Positivity Ratio
Before we dive in too deeply, let’s take a moment to talk about something called the “positivity ratio,” developed by Dr. Barb Frederickson. Basically, this is the idea that for every 1 negative thought or emotion you have throughout your day, you should balance it with 3 positive thoughts. Studies have shown that people function at their best level whenever they are able to achieve that 3-1 positivity ratio in their daily emotions.
Dr. Alice Boyes has written a bit more about this positivity ratio in her blog post here — there’s even a link to a self-assessment test that will help you determine your own positivity ratio!
But here’s the thing: it’s all about balance. Your thoughts and ideas should be positive, but at the same time you need to be honest with yourself. What works for you and what doesn’t? You don’t want to fall into a trap of negativity, self-blame, or self-hatred—negative self talk is completely counterproductive and will only get in the way of progress or forward motion in life.
However, it is also important that you are able to honestly assess both your past and current habits and actions. You need to be able to recognize failures and bad habits when you see them in your life, because you can’t cut out negativity until you are able to honestly identify negative traits as such.
Kevin Olusola, a popular, innovative, and groundbreaking cellist/beatboxer, has written a short blog post about the importance of balancing self-reflection with constructive criticism in order to move forward and improve yourself. He argues that a “bruised ego” can be a good thing as long as it helps you to “enhance your abilities in whatever you’re tackling” as well as to “shape your character” — and the way we do that is by balancing the criticism.
“Now whereas constructive criticism allows you to improve your skills with critical feedback, self-reflection is the zen that allows you to evaluate whether the goals you’re pursuing are even the right ones for yourself and, if not, change them. That way, the constructive criticism you receive will only advance you in the right direction because you’re chasing after the right goals.”
Read the rest of his post here.
The optimal time of the year to do this is often around the start of the year. We like to define time in calendar years, it makes logical sense to us and therefore doing this at the beginning of the year is clearer in our minds and much easier for us to track. We already think back to momentous times in our life and add the year to that event. Jessica Cohen talks about the importance of self-reflection at the end of the year so there is no set time to do it – Just as long as you do.
Everyone has some Genius – Discover Yours
The best outcome of self-reflection is, quite simply, learning to understand what you are great at and should be doing more of. There are a lot of different ways that we can learn about our own personal “genius”; personality tests are one common method that many people use to learn about themselves and their own strengths and weaknesses. These tests can give you some clues and they are a great starting point, but to truly find your genius, you do need to dig deeper.
Murray Kilgour has some excellent advice and some clues to “finding your genius.” Go ahead and take 5 minutes and watch his video here.
Murray’s main point is that the place where you can find your true genius lies at the intersection of your talents and your passion—your talents being “what you are really good at” and your passion being “what you really love doing.”
In his video, Murray advises that you should think about both your talents and your passions, and then you should begin journaling (writing them down) to determine how much of your life falls under either of those categories. How much time do you spend doing the things that you are really good at, and how much time do you spend doing the things that you really love doing?
When you find the sweet spot in your life where you spend the majority of your time doing things that you are both really good at and that you really love doing, that’s when you’ll have found your genius.
It should look something like this Venn diagram:
So how to go about discovering your own personal genius? That’s where the contemplation you have already done really helps. It isn’t just about your personal life—it’s a relevant skill to develop as part of your business practice, as Jared Lafitte discusses in his post.
Andy Drish has a fantastic, deeply thought out video and accompanying worksheet that can help you learn how to “Discover Your Genius.” The video is about an hour long, so it will require you to set aside some quiet time for some introspection, but in our opinion the process is definitely worth it. https://andydrish.com/free-genius-discovery-kit-2/
Reflect on the Past: The good…
First, think about what you’ve already done in your life, the successes that you’ve already achieved. What has worked for you?
Don’t skip this step! It’s important. – Stop and take some time to think of at least 3 different situations in your life that you would consider to be 3 big “wins”—times when you’ve really, really wanted something, and you’ve set your mind to it, worked hard, and sacrificed in order to achieve your goal. This shouldn’t be too difficult—just about everyone can probably think of three different times in their life when they’ve achieved a certain level of success at something they really wanted. It might have been difficult, but you were able to push through and overcome in order to gain that big win.
To illustrate what I’m talking about and to help you think of your own personal successes, here are a few common examples of some big areas in life where many people have experienced achievement:
Sports — This could be making a sports team, or it could be more personal, like running a marathon. Have you ever tried out for a sports team (whether in elementary, high school, or beyond)? Think about how much work and time goes into training and perfecting your physical skills in order to make the team — and when you got it, you can probably still remember that feeling of exhilaration that came after achieving something you’ve worked so hard for. Or if you’ve ever run a marathon, you know how many weeks (even months) go into the physical training for the big race day, and you know the incredible high of achievement that you felt after completing a task that you’d worked so hard for. Even something as simple as learning how to ride a bike as a child can serve as a reminder of a time when you’ve had to work for something that was challenging and difficult at first, but eventually becomes second-nature.
Education & learning — For example, obtaining a degree or getting into the profession that you’ve always wanted to be. University is time-consuming and hard work; when you were a student, you might have felt like there was no light at the end of the tunnel and that the work and stress would continue forever, but you still persevered because you knew it would take all your concentration and diligence in order to obtain that degree at the end of it all. And boy, did it feel good when you finally graduated.
A hobby or “passion project” that requires quite a lot of technical know-how; think knitting, sewing, skiing, painting, or something similar. When you first started learning, it might have been difficult or challenging, but eventually the skill either became easy, or at least you felt that the reward was big enough to continually motivate you to improve your skill at the chosen hobby.
Paid Work — Maybe you wanted a promotion at work, or maybe you were working on a big project and you wanted positive feedback from your boss and coworkers on what you’d done. Whatever the specifics, think of a time when you invested a lot of time and energy in something at your job, and think of how great it felt when it paid off in the end.
Your own personal successes could be similar to what’s listed above, or they could be completely different. You might be thinking of something large-scale, or you might be thinking of something smaller—that doesn’t matter. What’s important is that you have those three successes in your mind right now; those moments of achievement and of winning.
Can you remember what that success really felt like? Can you pinpoint exactly how it felt? — The sense of achievement in the end, how motivated you were throughout the process, and how your mind overcame any and all objections or doubts in order to get the tasks done.
So what did you have to do in order to achieve your success? If I had to guess, you probably had to set a very clearly-defined goal, you had to actively make time to work for that success, and you might have had to make some big sacrifices along the way. You knew EXACTLY what you wanted, and you weren’t afraid to expend all the time and energy that was needed in order to achieve that goal.
Why did you do all this hard work? – The simple answer probably is… because you wanted to! What was your motivation? Was it intrinsic (internally motivated; e.g. I enjoy learning new things, or this is fun) or was it extrinsic (externally motivated; e.g., if I finish this training, I will be able to get a better paying job).
…And the bad
“It is partly because we are so willing to blame others for their mistakes that we are so keen to conceal our own.” Matthew Syed
Now, think about a “failure”—one specific time in your past when you had every intention of doing something grand – a big project or something similar to the 3 examples you just thought of above. But instead of finishing it off with a grand achievement, instead you fizzled out and felt defeated.
Do you think about that failure often? “Hindsight’s 20-20,” the saying goes—with hindsight, you’re in a better position to understand what lessons can be learned from past mistakes. But a Harvard study in 2014 showed that it’s not just the experiences that we learn from—it’s the actual reflection over the past experiences that enable us to take a lesson away from them. When you take the time to reflect on your mistakes, it enables you to turn that success into failure, a process that’s described in this blog post over at Barmetrix. He sums it up with three main points: as you reflect and learn from your past experiences you are able to: 1) confirm that you are pushing hard enough, 2) confirm the areas that still need improvement, and 3) share your learning with your team.
So take a moment now to reflect over your own past failure. Contrast what you did in order to achieve success versus what you did that ended in failure: what did you do differently?
When you “failed,” you were likely less motivated and less excited, and thus you were not working as hard and not dedicating as much time to achieving success.
But failure doesn’t have to be a bad thing. In fact, according to Matthew Syed, “failure is the key to flying high”:
Consider the finding that world-class figure skaters fall over more often in practice than low-level figure skaters. At first sight this seems contradictory. Why are the really good skaters falling over the most?
The reason is actually quite simple. Top skaters are constantly challenging themselves in practice, attempting jumps that stretch their limitations. This is why they fall over so often, but it is precisely why they learn so fast. Shizuka Arakawa of Japan estimates that she endured some 20,000 falls as she progressed from a beginner to an Olympic champion.
Lower-level skaters have a quite different approach. They are always attempting jumps they can already do very easily, remaining within their comfort zone. This is why they don’t fall over. In a superficial sense, they look successful, because they are always on their feet. The truth, however, is that by never failing, they never progress.
What is true of skating is also true of life.
You can read the rest of his article here. The takeaway from this message is that it is only through “failing,” through pushing ourselves to try new things and learn new skills, are we ever able to get better and move forward in life.
You shouldn’t be afraid of failure, nor should you view your past “failures” as dead ends. Instead, approach your failures with the mindset of “failing forward,” as Eric Kim describes it—learn from your mistakes, and use the experience as an opportunity to do better next time.
“Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end. Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” – Denis Waitley
Are You Running Life on Autopilot?
“By the time I get home, I realized that the whole day went by without me even thinking about anything.
All decisions were made on the spot, if any even had to be made.
The whole day was on autopilot.
Of course, not every single day feels like this but it’s more often than I’d like.”
-From Gabe Johansson
When was the last time you took some time out to stop, reflect and take stock of what you do each day/week/month…even in a year?
Chances are, you don’t even know the answer to this question… because if you’re anything like the average person, you probably can’t remember the last time you really paused and reflected on what you’re doing in life. And that means that you’re running on autopilot.
Running life on autopilot is when you’ve gotten so caught up in the same ruts and routines of day-to-day life, that you no longer take time to think about what you’re doing every day, or why you’re doing it.
What sucks about being in autopilot mode is that a lot of the time, you don’t even know you’re doing it – because you’re so caught up in all the distractions and the meaningless routines of life that you don’t even notice when it’s not making you happy or successful.
So the first step to getting out of autopilot mode is to first acknowledge that you need to start making changes. But from there, where do we go? These tips from GradUit Thrivers can help you get out of autopilot mode and into “living your best life” mode: http://graduitthrivers.com/stop-living-on-autopilot-tips-for-living-your-best-life
Again self-reflection helps because when you know yourself and you know what motivates you and excites you, then you are able to restructure your life in such a way that you can get out of “autopilot” mode and into the mode of actively working for success.
“Mindfulness” is a popular buzzword right now, but mindfulness is a real skill that can help you to maximize your highest life potential. On The Balanced Life, Dawn Olivares shares some tips about how to be “fully present and living intentionally,” as she says, in order to avoid going through life on autopilot. Her list includes items like “sleep,” “prioritize,” and “minimize distractions” — simple things that are too easily forgotten in our daily lives. Check out the rest of her list here.
Take some time now to ask yourself a few questions:
What motivates you? What is the driving force that wakes you up each morning and gets you through the day? What pushes you to start a project, and not just start it, but see it through to a successful end?
Where do you look for and find your personal inspiration? Who are the true thought leaders, writers or even just average people that you admire?
What are your biggest fears? Why are you afraid of those things? What steps can you start to take now to overcome those fears?
What is important to you? Is it money? Creativity? Feeling like you’re helping others? There’s not a right or wrong answer; every person is different, and will have different items of importance in their own lives.
What excites you the most about your life? Is it your family, friends, and building relationships? Is it your job? Is it travel? And don’t just say “travel” or “work” or “friends” – what is it about that thing that specifically excites you, and why?
What inspires you?
Answer those questions honestly; be completely real with yourself. And when you know the answers to them, it is time to…
Assess your life and see if the things that you do every day are actually contributing to the things that are important to you.
Figure out what motivates you, then make sure that everything you do will help you achieve your goals in some way. This excellent podcast from The Science of Success—a discussion between Matt Bodnar and Shane Parrish—gives some great examples on how to get your life out of autopilot and into a deeper understanding of reality.
If your daily life is not contributing to your overall success, then ask yourself what’s holding you back. What are you afraid of? These things in life that hold you back often go by the term “Limiting Beliefs”, so-called because they are beliefs that can limit you from doing or achieving something. Limiting beliefs usually take the form of small, seemingly insignificant statements that slip into our everyday speech, but with repetition they can become part of the identity that we create for ourselves, severely holding us back from achieving our goals and dreams.
For example, many people have an inherent, ever-repeated belief that they “cannot sing,” which may then hold hold back from ever taking singing lessons and exploring the possibility that they could learn to sing. “I’m lazy,” “I’m not good with technology,” “I talk too much,” “I’m too shy” –– all of these are examples of limiting beliefs. (For more examples, check out this list: “63 Toxic Beliefs That Are Poisoning Your Potential As An Entrepreneur”) Don’t let yourself fall prey to limiting beliefs, but instead challenge them and create new beliefs for yourself.
Thing about your own fears and limiting beliefs; ask yourself if these fears are really real. How can you go about overcoming those fears? What’s distracting you on a day-to-day basis, and how can you start cutting out those distractions?
Farnoosh Brock, founder and president of Prolific Living, has written a bit about limiting beliefs as well as providing 10 steps to overcome those limiting beliefs.
“Make sure everything you do is because you’ve asked and answered”
V Capaldi (Paleo Boss Lady) speaks a little bit about what it looks like to run life on autopilot, and why it’s such a negative thing. Just like you wouldn’t want to ride in an airplane being driven on autopilot but would prefer to be on a vessel navigated by a thoughtful, intelligent pilot—you also don’t want to live life on autopilot, either!
According to V, the way to get out of autopilot is to stop yourself with every action of your day and ask yourself: why are you doing this, should it change, and if so how should it change?
Take a couple minutes now and see what she has to say about how to become the “captain of your life” here.
And if you want to dig even deeper into the idea of self-reflection, Adam Sicinski over at IQ Matrix has published a great list of questions to ask yourself each day that will really force you to step back and think deeply about everything you`ve experienced that day: questions about your thoughts, your emotons, your interactions with others, your health, your attitudes, and more. Go check out his list of questions.
Now Bring it All Together: Past, Present, Future
We’ve talked a lot in this post about reflecting on your past, but it should be clarified that reflecting on the past is not the same as obsessing about the past. Don’t get caught up in beating yourself up over mistakes that you’ve made; thinking about our past is only good for us when we’re able to learn lessons from it, and then either continue doing what works well, or move on and get over our mistakes in the past.
Reflecting should turn into a good habit that you can incorporate into your daily life, as you become more conscious, mindful, and aware of each of your actions and thoughts and how they will affect your future successes.
Strive to find a balance between the positive and negative thoughts within your self-reflection. When you reflect on past failures, don’t fall into a rut of negative self-talk; instead, make those “failures” a positive thing by learning lessons from them.
And don’t just keep it to yourself! Take this positivity out into the world around you and strive to increase the number of positive interactions in your life (while also decreasing the number of negative interactions)––with your family, your friends, your coworkers, and anyone else you interact with on a daily basis. Your personal and professional relationships will prosper whenever you approach them with purposeful and intentional positivity.
Jon Gordon has written about this in his blog:
“We need to engage each other with more smiles, kind words, encouragement, gratitude, meaningful conversations, honest dialogues and sincere positive interactions. And to foster these actions we need to create personal and team rituals that help us interact more positively. If we make them part of our organizational process and individual habits they are more likely to happen.”
Read the rest of his post about “The Power of Positive Interactions” here.
Moving Forward: Setting Clearly Defined Goals
As you move forward with your new sense of personal awareness and as you tune your knowledge of your ideals and values, the next step is learning how to turn self-reflection into action in your daily life (for both the short-term and the long-term). In our next post, we’ll dive much more in-depth about how to set clear, achievable goals.
In the meantime, consider this popular quote (commonly attributed to Mahatma Ghandi):
“Keep your thoughts positive because your thoughts become your words. Keep your words positive because your words become your behavior. Keep your behavior positive because your behavior becomes your habits. Keep your habits positive because your habits become your values. Keep your values positive because your values become your destiny.”