Self-awareness has everything to do with change, and it all begins with self-reflection. So what does it involve?
To deliberately pay attention to your thoughts, feelings, emotions, behaviors, and the decisions you make. Retrospect and hindsight are also part of self-reflection. In looking back, we can make better decisions next time.
If you keep yourself busy so that you don't have time to think or are constantly distracting yourself, it can be hard to reflect on yourself or anything else. Music, TV, audiobooks, outings, and busyness, in general, are often curated distractions for our subconscious self-protection.
Feeling the need to be busy all the time is a trauma response and fear-based distraction from what you'd be forced to acknowledge and feel if you slowed down.Maxine Carter
Stopping all activity can be very uncomfortable because it allows the time to acknowledge what is going on inside your head. Your default reaction may be to stay busy so that you have a justifiable distraction.
Instead of filling every waking moment with distractions, what if you did nothing. What if you slowed down for a moment and allowed yourself to feel whatever you've been avoiding. Well, that might be painful. It might get ugly. That is precisely why you subconsciously stay busy!
The only way to clear out the baggage is to unpack it! Taking time to process old emotions, feel the hurt, the anger, and sadness are part of the process. Releasing old emotions and arriving at a place where you feel less fearful is good for your mental well-being.
Okay, okay, so you're ready for some self-reflection, but how do you get started? Here are some recommended prompts and methods of practicing the art of self-reflection.
Writing just for yourself is an excellent way to process thoughts and feelings. If you don't know what to write about, start by writing your life story. As you work through the chapters of your life, note why you made the choices you've made. How do you feel about them? Write down the emotions that come while you are reliving your story. Do you notice a pattern?
Walking in Nature
Forest bathing, hiking, fishing, camping, and spending time outdoors however you enjoy it, without constant access to the internet via your smartphone or other devices. Sunshine and fresh air are nature's remedies.
I spent so many years just letting life carry me along in its current, blindly walking through the dark towards the unknown. Never thinking about what I was doing or what the consequences might be.
Once I realized that I'd spent my life not taking action, not choosing, that discovery filled me with regret. It took me a while to process those feelings. Regret is a heavy load. You can't go back and change the past, but you can recognize, realize, and vow not to repeat.
Talk therapy with a psychologist can help you get started practicing self-reflection. Your therapist will also help you see your progress and help you identify ways you can fine-tune your process.
I used graph paper in the back of my planner to track my mood for a few months. Using various colors of pens, stickers, or just symbols, you can start monitoring your mood. In the beginning, you can keep it simple.
After you are used to tracking three moods: Happy, Neutral, Sad, you could start to identify more feelings. How about hopeful, joyful, restless, creative, impatient, lonely, or others.
When you set and work towards goals, you spend some time thinking about yourself. Why do you want to set this goal? What's the reward? Where will I be in my life journey if I reach this goal?
The Rewards of Practicing Self-Reflection
Self-Reflection is the ultimate act of self-care and can help you gain a greater sense of self. While it may be quite uncomfortable initially, it's virtually impossible to grow as a person without it.
Growing as a person will help you achieve your goals and be more successful in all the areas of your life. You'll find that once you know yourself, your relationship with others will improve. Are you a perfectionist? If so, you may need to work through those feelings that drive you as well. Are you able to accept “good enough” or does everything have to be just so?
Take time each day to reflect on the things for which you are thankful. Some people write down 3-5 items for which they are grateful every day. If you can only do one, that's okay. Remember, baby steps! After a while, you'll start getting better at recognizing things you appreciate in life. Write them down. Any time you're feeling low, you can always go back and take a look at what you've been thankful for in the past.
Calm, Peace, and Better Sleep
When you process your emotions and unresolved feelings about your life and your role in this world, you will feel calmer. You'll have less stress and anxiety. Being at peace with yourself leads to better sleep. Good sleep makes you healthier and happier.
“Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know.” – Pema Chodron
Gain Perspective on What Matters in Life
The art of self-reflection allows you to process your life events and how you feel about them. When you avoid thinking about uncomfortable things, you miss out on a valuable opportunity to gain perspective on what matters.
Once you spend some time contemplating your role in the grand scheme of things, you'll respond more effectively and efficiently. You will move from reactive to proactive.
Taking it back to my life and the decades I spent avoiding thinking about myself, it wasn't easy. I'd spent so many years running, trying to keep up with my life and all the things that weren't going well. I was trying to keep my head above water. Trying not to drown.
For years, the decisions I'd unconsciously made by not making decisions were taking a toll on me. The mistakes I kept making were like a broken record. I was doing the same thing over and over again, even though it didn't produce the results I anticipated.
It wasn't easy to spend time looking at the scars on my soul. But owning up to my part in the mess through self-reflection was enlightening. And self-forgiveness, while also forgiving others who had a hand in those wounds, was healing.
Spending time on personal reflection takes discipline. It doesn't have to take up a considerable part of your day. Set a small goal to start, choose a trigger such as time in the shower. Use that time to search your thoughts and master the art of self reflection. Can you learn to see yourself more objectively?
You may feel awkward or uncomfortable pondering your own life, but it is a valuable and worthy practice.
Further reading on self reflection: