Self-Reflection: Definition and How to Self-Reflect
Want to know why you do the things you do? When we use self-reflections we gain a better understanding of ourselves, our motivations, and our behaviors. So let's learn how to self-reflect.
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So many of our habits, patterns of behavior, and pre-set programming are buried in our subconscious. They operate in a sort of “control room”, directing how we think, feel, and act, often times hurting our well-being (take this well-being quiz to see how you're doing). If we want to be in control, we need to look beyond the conscious mind, and change some of the programming we no longer benefit from. One way to access the unconscious is through self-reflection—i.e., putting a mirror up to ourselves and analyzing what we see or feel as objectively as possible so that we can better understand ourselves and how think, feel, and behave. But how do we engage in this type of deep self-reflection?
What Is Self-Reflection?
Self-reflection is defined as a mental process you can use to grow your understanding of who you are, what your values are, and why you think, feel, and act the way you do. When you self-reflect and become more conscious of what drives you, you can more easily make changes that help you more easily develop your self or improve your life.
Why Is Self-Reflection Important?
It can give you perspective
Self-reflection can allow you to take a step back and gain perspective on what really matters to you. As a result you can make better decisions about pursuing goals in your life that suit your needs and interests.
It can help you respond more effectively
When we better understand who we are and why we do the things we do, we can more easily make changes that allow us to respond to circumstances in more effective ways. Hopefully, this can keep us from saying and doing things we regret.
It helps us better understand ourselves and possibly others
Self-reflection can help you get to know who you truly are. As a result you can find yourself , pursue your purpose more easily, and be more authentic.
Here's a Video on Why Self-Reflection Matters
Preparing to Self-Reflect
We are super busy, distracted (and addicted to our phones), and therefore, seem to have a harder time with self-reflection. That's because self-reflection requires a reasonably tranquil mind. Some self-reflections begin with a short meditation, maybe several deep breaths, or some deep breathing to quiet their thoughts. Perhaps you prefer to loosen up your mind with an imagination activity or practice a bit of mindfulness (which includes self-reflection before really diving in.
Of course, penetrating the unconscious can be illusive. Sometimes self-reflection can be challenging, so sooth yourself, if that helps, and ask yourself questions to get your mind thinking of answers. If answers are not forthcoming, then give it some time, and return to any thoughts or questions later when you are feeling open to learning more about yourself. Let busy thoughts fly away and focus on your goal—to know yourself better.
If It Helps You, Try Listening to This Self-Reflection Meditation to Mellow the Mind:
Identify The "What" of Self-Reflection
Once you feel calm and quiet, direct your focus inward. Choose a particular issue you want to change. Pull up a memory of an important incident.
Identify the "Why" of Self-Reflection
With your mind quieted, try to look deeper. Aim to go to the most important aspects of this issue. What did you feel, think, or do? Now, go a layer deeper, and ask yourself: Why did you think, feel, or do these things?
This kind of inner search-and-discovery with self-reflection can reveal some scary stuff, so go at your own pace and remember to be kind to yourself as you learn more about what's underneath.
Observe Yourself with New Insight
Next, observe yourself living your life, in the present. Try to "catch yourself" when your unconscious is in control, leading you to feel, think, and act in ways that go against your true self and your values. Through self-reflection your self-awareness is likely to grow, helping you on the path to authenticity and greater control over your life.
5 Self-Reflection Questions to Ask Yourself
Use Self-Reflection as a Tool for Change
The next step is to cultivate the desire to change behaviors that bother you. After identifying any problematic aspects of yourself, take baby steps and slowly shift your behavior in ways that better represent how you want to be, the life you want to live, and the career you want to have.
If you thought “that issue” was “fixed” but it comes back, self-reflect once again to see if you missed something important or if you were hiding something from yourself. It’s not easy to change ourselves or our behavior, and it may take several attempts to get it “right”, so just accept and appreciate yourself for trying.
Other Approaches to Self-Reflection
Self-reflection can be aided or enhanced by using other tools, like writing or imagination. For example, I recently got the book True You, which is a workbook with guiding questions designed to help you get to know yourself better. But any notebook will do if you already have questions for yourself. Just write them down an answer them honestly.
Exercise to Help You Reflect on Your Best Self
The best self exercise can help us not only become more self-aware, but gain a better of understanding of our strengths and where we want to go next in our lives. Plus, when we use our imagination, our brains experience the things we image as if they are real. So when we imagine the best version of ourselves, our brains can begin to build pathways that support us becoming that person.
Continuing on With Self-Reflection
Be sure to be gentle with yourself as you self-reflect. The goal is not to judge your past choices, but to reflect on them, learn from them, and make whatever changes you feel are appropriate for you in the here and now. As you build new habits through self-reflection, you can become more balanced, healthy, and happy.
About Dr. Tchiki Davis
Dr. Davis is founder of The Berkeley Well-Being Institute. After getting her PhD in psychology at Berkeley, she started creating online content & programs to boost well-being—some of these have reached more than a million people. As author of Outsmart Your Smartphone, and contributor to Psychology Today, The Greater Good Science Center, and Shine Text, Dr. Davis aims to share her insights on happiness & health with people all across the world. Learn more about Dr. Davis.