One thing that a lot of people skip when working toward their goals is the process self reflection, of reflecting on how far they’ve come with their goals and what could go better.
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Instead of going through the motions of life on autopilot, just hoping you do all the things to get you toward reaching your goals, take some time to consider whether the actions you’re taking (or not taking) are making an impact on your goals.
If they are, great! Keep doing those actions!
If they’re not, then you may want to adjust and change, do something else to reach your goals.
What is Self Reflection?
Self reflection, also called introspection, is the act of taking some time to pay attention to your own internal experience. This includes things like your thoughts, beliefs, feelings, and desires. The process of self reflection helps you to figure out what your most important goals are and also to discover whether the steps you’re taking are aligned with those goals.
Self reflection helps you to see where you are in relation to your goal and whether you’re taking steps to get you closer to your goals or further away. When you really look at what’s happening, you start to see areas of improvement.
For instance, if you’re like many other people I work with, you’re guilty of putting your most important goals on the back burner while you take care of everyone else’s stuff. If you notice this as an issue, you may need to learn how to say no so you can put yourself first.
Do you procrastinate when things feel hard? Do you know why?
When you take time to self reflect, you start to learn about what you need to do to make sure you’re taking the right steps to reach your goals. Take some time to reflect on how you spend your time, what your thoughts and wishes really are, and take a hard look at whether you are living according to your values, goals and dreams.
Are you spending your time how you want to be spending your time? Or are you spending your time doing things you think you should be doing, or worse, wasting your time avoiding things just because they feel hard?
Why is Self Reflection Important?
The benefits of allowing yourself time to reflect, to think about how things are going in your life are far reaching and can by applied to nearly every goal you have. Download the self reflection journal page to start experiencing these for yourself. Here are 13 of the benefits you can experience by starting to be more self aware:
Self improvement: In general, when you start practicing self reflection, you learn about ways you could improve yourself. If you’re not paying attention, it’s difficult to figure out where things are off course and could be changed. Have you ever experienced a time when you felt like you were doing everything right, but just not getting the results you want? When you take time to reflect, to ask yourself some questions each day about what is and isn’t going well, you can discover patterns and work toward improvement.
Clarify your thinking: Taking time for reflection can help you to clarify your thoughts about things. Your brain is so busy with lots of tasks and thoughts. Taking time to quiet down and think can help you to know how you really feel and think about something. It helps you to decrease the risk of making impulsive decisions.
Know your values and what’s most important: Make a list of your top 10 values and reflect on your actions each day to determine whether you are living out those values. When you live according to your values, you’ll feel much more happy and fulfilled. Keeping values top of mind and asking yourself questions about how you lived according to those values and what you could do better in the future is a powerful way of getting aligned with those values.
Improve your relationships: When you reflect on what you want in your relationships, you can consider how you can change your own behavior to impact the relationship. When you reflect on the things you enjoy about your partner, you’re more likely to act in kind ways toward your partner.
Improve your social skills: We’ve all had the time when we get out of a conversation or an argument and think about what we wish we would have said. Whatever it is, when you take time to think through how your interactions with people went and to deliberately think about what went well and what could have gone better, you can improve your skills for next time.
Challenge your thinking: You constantly have thoughts going through you mind and many of them are not very kind to yourself. If you want to be happier, feel more in control of yourself, you need to learn how to capture these automatic thoughts and learn to challenge them.
Manage stress and anxiety: A lot of stress and anxiety comes from worrying about what might happen as well as from trying to maintain a huge list of things you need to do “or else.”
When you take time to list all these things about and get them out of your brain not only can you evaluate them from a more detached place but you can also remind yourself that they are written down and you don’t have to keep trying to remember them in your brain.
I used to ask my clients to schedule worry time as a way to manage chronic worry. This is a method of self reflection where you schedule 20 minutes or so each day or week (whatever you need) where all you do is focus on your anxious worry thoughts. You get them down on paper and you worry about them during that time. If a worry comes up during other parts of the week you remind yourself that you can deal with that during worry time. Again, when you write it down you can also tell yourself that you already have that written down and scheduled to deal with during worry time.
Sleep better: One of the things that keeps people awake at night is going through their to dos, going through the conversations they wish they improved, that they wished they had. People spend a lot of time worrying about what went wrong during the day or what they need to do the next time. If you schedule time for self reflection, you don’t have to waste your sleep time worrying about all of these things.
Make better sense of things: Sometimes things happen in your life that you just don’t understand. Why did this thing happen? Why did he do that? What could you have done differently? Why didn’t you get that job? Whatever it is, when you take some time to self reflect, you can start to look at these confusing issues from multiple perspectives and start to make sense of them. For instance, have you ever been baffled by something someone did that made you so mad…that you couldn’t understand how they could be so thoughtless and mean…have you ever then just taken a step back and tried to put yourself in their shoes to try to figure out from their perspective why they might have done what they did? Taking time to slow down and self reflect can help with that.
Recognize change: When you’re working on a goal, trying to change something in your life or about yourself, it can be so hard to notice changes. When you take time to self reflect you can share your small wins over time and then look back on them to see the amount of change you’ve made in the last month or year.
This reminds me of a picture I saw the other day in my phone of my front yard when I first moved into my house about six years ago. I had to question whether that was even my yard because the trees have grown so much over the past six years. I never noticed how much they grew and completely forgot how small they were when we moved in. Trees grow slowly and you’d never notice from day to day that growth occurred. But looking at those pictures blew my mind.
The same happens with using a journal to self reflect. Sometimes you read what you wrote a year ago and don’t even recognize that person because you’ve changed so much. It’s neat when that happens.
Track your progress: Similar to recognizing change, tracking your progress is a huge important benefit of self reflection. Have you ever tried losing weight? If you had a lot of weight to lose, you may find that it takes FOREVER and it feels like you’re getting nowhere. If you start tracking things like body measurements, energy level, etc, you can start to see how each of these things impacts your ultimate goal.
I find it helpful to look at a weight loss graph that shows the weight trending downward. It helps for those weeks when it feels like there is no movement or when the movement is going in the wrong direction.
Increase self awareness: Self awareness involves understanding how you react to things and how your behaviors affect other people. When you blunder through your day without paying attention to these things you may miss important information.
What comes to mind for me is when I was learning to do therapy and my teachers often required me to videotape sessions so I could see how I came across in sessions. Watching these tapes can be eye opening because you notice how many times you say um, or play with your hair, or look at your watch. There are things you do every day that you don’t even think about. They are habits. When you start to take time to self reflect, you start to see what these habits are that influence your behavior and impact your goals. Once you’re aware of your habits, you can learn to decrease bad habits or increase good habits in a way that helps you reach your goals.
Live with more intention: Are you really spending your time how you want to spend your time? Are you wasting time doing things that don’t matter? Are you focusing on goals that no longer mean anything to you? When you use self reflection you can pay attention to how you use your time and make sure that you are intentional about how you spend it.
How Do You Do Self Reflection?
Slow down. Take some time to just breathe and calm your mind. Or, if you’re someone who finds quiet difficult, just start to write whatever comes to mind without worrying too much about editing.
You can also just use a journal to write out your thoughts and feelings without guided prompts; however, I think it is helpful to have an intention. What are you trying to focus on in the moment? What are your goals and what steps did you take today to get closer to reaching them?
Another way you can get better at self reflection is to reach out and speak to a therapist who can help you to learn to self reflect.
What if You Hate Self Reflection?
Although for the most part self reflection is a good thing, it can bring you some uncomfortable truths. It’s hard to focus on yourself when you are being overly critical. It takes time to learn self acceptance and to take on a growth mindset instead of just beating yourself up.
It feels sometimes like for some reason we are supposed to hate ourselves and be critical of ourselves all the time. It’s like we’re supposed to punish ourselves for not being perfect.
Self reflection can point out the things that you’re doing wrong and make you feel more critical of yourself. If you do it this way, of course you’re going to hate self reflection.
Instead of using self reflection time to focus only on how things went wrong, you need to do a little guided self reflection by focusing on what went right.
I was going through a particular hard time at work where I felt down on myself and like nothing I was trying to do went well. I felt like everything was impossible to accomplish. During that time I recognized I was really focused on the negative and I started a list in my planner where I had to write down things I did well throughout the day. Sometimes they were things that I would normally take for granted, that I wouldn’t even think about.
But putting them down like that every day helped me to start recognizing my strengths. Because when it comes right down to it, in most cases the things that you find really easy to do are things that others don’t. The things that come naturally to you don’t come naturally to everyone.
When you start to pay attention to things you did well, no matter how small they seem to you, you start to recognize your superpowers. Then you can change the world. Seriously, this is a very powerful exercise.
If you’re mindful of how you spend your time in self reflection, meaning doing what you can to challenge or change your negative thoughts, you will be able to make so many more positive changes in your life and in your mood.
Let me know how it goes! To help out, I’ve created a self reflection journal page which you can get by clicking here and entering your name and email address. You can also read more about using a self reflection journal page here.
Marlena is the blogger behind apenandapurpose.com, where she writes about using journaling for self improvement and reaching goals in life and business. Using her experience as a Licensed Psychologist with a Master’s in Business, she teaches people how to break through negative thoughts and fear to do what matters. For more about me read my about page.