The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as careful thought about your own behavior and beliefs.
Google calls it meditation or serious thought about one’s character, actions or motives.
The Bible refers to it as examining your heart.
Regardless of your preferred definition, self-reflection is the first step toward sparking passion. It is the vehicle by which you determine your values.
When I was in grad school, one of the assignments I had to turn in at the end of each semester was a metacognitive letter. Metacognition is simply thinking about the way you think or being aware of your own thought processes. At first it made my brain hurt, but as time went on, I became a huge fan of the practice.
As an aspiring teacher I was expected to look back over the previous weeks and write an essay justifying my philosophy of education. I needed to take an honest look at each lesson and ask myself: Did I achieve my objectives? What worked well? What did not work well? What would I do differently if I were to do this lesson again?
The goal of these exercises was simple: learn from your experiences.
I waved goodbye to my college days almost 10 years ago, but I reflect more regularly today than I did back then.
Self-Reflection is asking yourself the tough questions. Probably questions other people wish they had the nerve to ask you.
Habitually examining your motives and actions maintains honesty of the heart. You grow as an individual when you can objectively look at where you have come from and then set honorable goals for the future based on what you truly value.
To effectively reflect, you need three things: brutal honesty, thick skin, and serious guts.
How to Self-Reflect:
- Step back and look at your life. Try to remove your own opinion from the equation and be as objective as possible. This is the hardest part because we tend to think our way is right. When we stop and think for long enough, though, we can break away from the cycle of doing the same thing and expecting a different result.
- Evaluate recent results. Recall the latest developments in your life to evaluate whether or not you are satisfied with the outcomes. This assessment goes deeper than whether the things you are involved in are right or wrong. It’s about truly feeling fulfilled versus simply settling. Are the things happening in your life things you have reluctantly chosen to accept or are they what you truly desire?
- Ask lots of questions. If I had a week left to live, what would I spend my time doing? With whom? Why? What do I want to be remembered for? Why is that important to me? Will the current path I’m on help me attain that legacy? Am I satisfied with where I am in life? What behaviors have gotten me here? What behaviors do I need to change? What makes me feel alive? What drives me? Where does my joy come from? Is my attitude dependent on my circumstances or is it determined my character? Whose company do I enjoy? Why? Whose influence makes me a better person? Which relationships are toxic for me? How do I impact the lives of those around me?
- Metacognition. Determine why you think the way you think. Search your memory for past experiences that have pushed you to certain beliefs about yourself and about the world. Sometimes we act on beliefs we hold from long ago without realizing we no longer agree with those views. Metacognition helps you wake up if you‘ve been lulled to sleep by the “that’s just the way it’s always been” mentality. It forces you to challenge, and in a way refine, your attitude.
- Take control/ownership. This is my personal favorite because it’s where you get your power back. Here is where you resolve to be true to your beliefs. After pondering on the status and direction of your life, you will come to a place where you are ready to embrace change. You can spend a lifetime complaining about how you’ve been wronged and how others should change to make life fair for you (I call that giving away your power) OR you can stop waiting around and do something for yourself.
Let’s be clear that self-reflection is a strategy for refining values; it is NOT condemnation or negativity. Your tone should be constructive, not critical. We all make mistakes. We all walk through difficult situations that deeply affect us. Things happen to us beyond our control.
By examining your heart you get to choose what you’re going to leave behind and what you want to pursue. Those are things no one else can decide for you. The clarity that comes from this process is what some people refer to as “finding yourself.” We are bombarded by the opinions and expectations of others on a daily basis. If we aren’t confident in our identity, we’ll find ourselves buried under pressure, continually grasping for something with no satisfaction.
The next post in this series will be about defining values. I will challenge you to come up with your own list of values through self-reflection and I will share my own process. Then we’ll figure out how to get our beliefs to be evident through our behavior.