Why it’s important to reflect

As the year starts to wind down, I find myself once again in the mood to reflect. Despite the increased busyness of the holiday season, there’s something about the cold, dark days of December that seems to encourage me to engage in deeper thought. It can also feel like the ending of a chapter, which is always a good time to stop, take stock, and make any adjustments before starting the new year.

Benefits of reflecting

When life is so busy, it can be difficult to find the time or mental energy to start a practice of reflection, but it is worth the effort. There are a lot of benefits to your personal and professional life when you regularly take the time out to reflect.

Creating space

A major benefit of consciously reflecting comes from creating mental space. When we slow down from our usual hectic pace, we can consider how we exist in our various roles, and identify whether we’re living in alignment with our values and making progress towards our goals. Without stopping to taking this step, we might keep doing things that don’t serve us and be completely unaware until it’s too late.

As Brené Brown says in The Gifts of Imperfection, “If we stop long enough to create an emotional clearing, the truth of our lives will invariably catch up with us.”2

The two selves

You might be wondering why you need to reflect. Why can’t you simply rely on awareness or mindfulness in the current moment? With the focus on mindfulness in the media, you could be forgiven for thinking that would be the solution. Unfortunately, current moment mindfulness is not enough and should be augmented with reflection. A helpful idea for this is to think about having two ‘selves’, the experiencing self and the remembered self.

In the self-illusion, Dr. Bruce Hood suggests that our experiencing self is our “..subjective experience of conscious awareness living in the present…,” while the “…remembered self is our memory of our past experiencing self.”1 Unsurprisingly, each of our selves has different experiences of our lives. If we rely solely on one or the other, we will end up with a skewed idea of events. Combining both in-the-moment awareness and periodic self-reflection allows us to take advantage of the best of both worlds.

Managing complexity

Finally, life is complex and can sometimes be difficult to fully understand as it happens. There are so many factors influencing our behaviours and our experiences of our lives, but reflection allows us to take pause. By reflecting, we can start to process the events that occur, and create meaning out of seemingly unrelated events.4

How to reflect

That’s all well and good, but how do you ensure you’re reflecting in a way that helps you understand yourself?

The way we choose to reflect is as unique as each of us, and there’s no one way that you should practice self-reflection. Some people like to write their thoughts down, while others like to think out loud. Whichever method you prefer, here are some general principles that will help you out.

Identify your purpose

The first step is to be clear about what you’re attempting to reflect about. You shouldn’t constrain yourself too much, but you will need some structure to ensure you’re achieving something useful. You can come up with some specific questions to guide your thinking, or identify a specific area of focus.

Here are some examples of helpful questions for reflection:

How have I…

  • …made progress this year towards improving my relationship with my siblings?
  • …cared for my physical health this year?
  • …progressed towards my goal of getting a promotion?

Notice that these are open questions that should invite you to answer in several sentences or paragraphs. You can come up with a single, umbrella question to guide you, or develop multiple questions that focus on different aspects of the topic. Each of us will have a different method that works best for us.

Find stillness to reflect

The next step is to find stillness so that you can reflect. This might mean scheduling time in your calendar or communicating to important people that you will be unavailable for a period of time. Personally, I like to wake up early before the rest of the household, so that I can be sure I’ll have some uninterrupted time before the bustle of the day starts.

What is stillness, though?

Well, it’s as simple as just stopping for a moment. It’s where we turn off the notifications, stop doing, and just open ourselves up to thought. Once again, I’ll lean on Brené Brown and her definition that stillness is about “…opening up an emotionally clutter-free space and allowing ourselves to feel and think and dream and question.”2

Stillness is…opening up an emotionally clutter-free space and allowing ourselves to feel and think and dream and question.

Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection

It’s simple, but it’s not easy.

If you’re not used to stillness, it can feel uncomfortable. You may even feel some anxiety if you’re not used to being unstimulated. Be patient with yourself and start small. Even practicing 10 minutes of quiet reflection can make a difference, so don’t beat yourself up if you’re not yet ready for a longer session.

Practice self-acceptance

Finally, as you begin reflecting, ensure you’re practicing self-acceptance. This means being willing to accept “…that we think what we think, feel what we feel, desire what we desire, have done what we have done, and are what we are,” and not being in an adversarial relationship with yourself.3

Why is this important? As Nathaniel Brandon explains in The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem, you must practice self-acceptance if you wish to change and grow.3 If you are not willing to accept who you are in this moment, whether or not you like it, then you will have a hard time becoming the person you want to be.

Parting thoughts

While it can take a while to establish an effective practice of self-reflection, the benefits are well-worth the effort. Each of us can develop a more complete understanding of ourselves through this practice, and improve our chances of meeting our goals.

I encourage you to take some time this month to think about the year that was. Celebrate your successes and whatever progress you made this year, and identify what you want to focus on for your future.

Looking for some inspiration to change? Check out last month’s post On change and not being a mouse in a maze!

Curious to find out how a coach can support you in your reflective practice? Check out the services I offer or get in touch to find out how coaching can help you.

1 Illusion: How the Social Brain Creates Identity, Bruce M. Hood
2 The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, Brené Brown
3 The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem: The Definitive Work on Self-Esteem by the Leading Pioneer in the Field, Nathaniel Branden
4 Why You Should Make Time for Self-Reflection Even if You Hate Doing It, Jennifer Porter, hbr.org

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