You spend more time with yourself than anyone else. But how well do you know yourself?
Being confronted with who we are is often uncomfortable. It means holding ourselves accountable, admitting to weaknesses, and trying to further our personal development. Sometimes, it seems easier to ignore anything potentially negative about ourselves.
And we’re actually less self-aware than we think. Many people believe they’re self-aware, but only 10-15% of Americans actually are.
When we understand our influences, drives, and impulses, we’ll have an easier time living a happy, fulfilling life. And the key to understanding yourself is self-reflection: the process of looking inward and examining our emotional responses and behaviors.
What is self-reflection?
At its heart, self-reflection is setting aside time to think deeply and evaluate your thoughts, attitudes, motivations, and desires. It’s examining your emotions and behaviors and then asking yourself, “Why do I feel and act this way?”
Taking the time to reflect on life might sound like an overwhelming task. We might think of this act of introspection as something that naturally occurs as we grow older, but the truth is self-reflection can and should be practiced at any age. And it can be as simple as looking back at your behavior in any scenario to ask yourself why you behaved the way you did.
Self-reflection builds self-awareness, but only through intention and dedication. This means you must regularly press “pause” on your busy life to create time and space to sit peacefully to sift through your thoughts and interactions to scrutinize them without judgment or condemnation.
Why is self-reflection important?
The value of self-reflection lies in its power to help identify what’s working well in your life and develop insight into what isn’t — and why.
Without the self-discovery that comes from introspection, you can become stuck in a routine that’s neither productive nor inspiring. You may not understand why you’re dissatisfied or what you can do to improve your circumstances if you don’t know what you truly want.
Regularly taking part in the process of self-reflection can:
1. Give you a fresh perspective. When you’re in the moment, emotion can cloud your judgment, making a bad situation seem worse than it is. Self-reflection lets you re-evaluate your circumstances calmly and rationally to process what’s happening and find a solution with greater clarity.
2. Let you respond with intent. Instead of saying or doing something you regret, self-reflection allows you to consider the best and most effective course of action to deal with a troubling situation. With the space to safeguard your feelings and the feelings of others, you can navigate difficult circumstances with intent rather than impulse.
3. Help understand yourself. Self-reflection grants insight into your authentic self, allowing you to really grasp why you make certain choices and what makes you truly happy. When you identify your priorities, you can pursue them without doubt and confusion. You can be confident that you know what you want and what’s best for you.
4. Improve your decision-making skills. When you know what makes you tick, you’re better prepared to make the right decisions for your future. You have the clarity you need to pursue your dreams while giving you the flexibility to respond to changing circumstances.
5. Facilitate learning. If you don’t take time to analyze a situation, particularly an uncomfortable one, you may find yourself drifting from one thing to the next without understanding or appreciating how you got there. You also risk making the same mistakes over and over again.
Self-reflection lets you evaluate the path that led to your current circumstances, allowing you to think about the feelings, desires, and motivations that have guided you to this place. If something about your journey doesn’t sit right, you know you need to change to avoid turning a misstep into a pattern.
6. Foster a sense of well-being. Understanding your priorities and values helps you establish healthy boundaries that protect your mental health and build self-esteem. When you have an intimate understanding of what inspires, upsets, and drives you, you can better prepare yourself for negative reactions and find positive motivators to spur you forward.
7 ways to practice self-reflection
When setting out to discover yourself, start slowly. To grow, you need to confront both the good and bad aspects of your nature, but self-examination shouldn’t lead to anxiety, stress, or depression.
Step back and re-center if you ever find yourself overthinking and beating yourself up over things that went wrong. The point of introspection isn’t judgment and condemnation, but understanding and connecting with your sense of self.
Incorporate self-discovery into your daily, weekly, and monthly routines with some simple tips. Choose a time of day that’s typically quiet and worry-free. For some people, it’s when they wake up, and others go to bed. Whatever routine you set, stick to it — you won’t see the same results if your self-reflection is inconsistent or approached without authenticity.
These are seven effective ways to approach the process of self-reflection. Start with just one, testing the techniques until you find what works for you.
1. Think: What do you want to know?
Take time to decide what questions you want to ask yourself during self-assessments. To make the most of your sessions, you need to identify where you could improve your understanding of yourself.
Questions can be as simple as “What makes me happy”’ or more specific, like “What happened this week that made me feel good about myself?” Start by identifying whatever you’d like to discover, then use it to guide your self-reflection process.
2. Practice gratitude
Sit back and review what you’re thankful for. Itemizing things that make you feel grateful is an excellent way to boost your mood and improve your outlook. Start by listing three things that made you happy during the day, and then scale backward. What are you thankful for this week? Month? Year?
Meditation takes a little discipline, but it’s a great way to connect with your brain’s inner workings. Focus on your breathing to clear and calm your mind, then take note of what thoughts and impressions bubble up. You may identify patterns or themes worth exploring, such as lingering anxiety you can’t seem to shake.
4. Set your goals
Get specific and identify your goals. Write them down and use them as guidelines for your introspection activities. Have you reached the milestones that will bring you closer to the desired outcome? Are there any thought patterns holding you back? Is there something you need to learn to progress? These questions and more are fuel for your self-reflection journey.
5. Put it down on paper
Regularly writing your innermost thoughts in a journal is a great way to make your ideas and impressions more concrete. Putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) allows you to process feelings and reflect on past experiences from a safe emotional distance. You can also compare how far you’ve come by re-reading past entries to see what’s changed over time.
6. Have a conversation with yourself
Hearing your thoughts out loud can generate insight in ways that merely thinking about them can’t. Self-talk forces you to clearly articulate your emotions, leading to a clearer understanding of what you’re feeling at the time. It also helps you organize your thoughts logically to communicate them clearly to others.
7. Get out into nature
If you’re having trouble getting into the frame of mind required for personal reflection, try getting out into nature. Spending time in the outdoors has a grounding effect, putting you in the moment by removing distractions and clearing your head so you can think.
It’s also a wonderful way to remove yourself from an environment, like your home or office, that may contain triggers that distract you from the self-reflection process.
Self-reflection may seem overwhelming when you’re just starting out. An excellent way to kick off your introspection routine is to ask yourself some beginner self-assessment questions. These also come in handy if you find your practice becoming stale and want to freshen up the way you approach time alone.
Daily self-reflection questions
- What can I do to take better care of myself mentally?
- What can I do to create a positive outlook on life?
- What areas of my life do I feel satisfied with? Which ones need attention?
- Am I taking anything in my life for granted?
- What fears or worries keep me up at night?
Questions to jumpstart self-reflection
- What are my concerns about the future?
- What do I want my loved ones to remember about me?
- What matters most to me?
- When was the last time I left my comfort zone?
- Who is the person that’s had the most significant impact on my life?
- What is an act of kindness I have received that I will never forget?
- What can I live with: failure or never trying?
- What aspect of my personality would I change, if anything?
- Do I genuinely care what others think of me?
- Is there anyone I would entrust with my life?
Self-reflection journaling prompts
- List 30 things that make you smile.
- What have you discovered about yourself during your self-talk?
- What are the words you live by?
- Describe what unconditional love looks like for you.
- What’s the one thing you can’t imagine living without?
- What does “enough” look like to you?
- What changes have you discovered in yourself since beginning self-reflection exercises?
- What piece of advice would you give your younger self?
- What 10 words would you use to describe yourself?
- What words do you need to hear the most right now?
Keep self-reflection manageable
Yes, self-reflection see,s like an intensely personal process, but embarking on a journey of introspection practice doesn’t have to be intimidating. Simply taking five minutes in the evening to review your day and evaluate what worked for you and what didn’t can set you on the path to self-improvement.
Making this small change to your day-to-day can improve your well-being, strengthen your relationships, make you a better leader, and help you gain traction in your personal and professional development. You have nothing to lose from settling in and starting your self-reflection journey today.