Self-Reflection is an essential skill to learn for anyone interested in getting to know themselves better. This how-to guide will show you what self-reflection is, why it is important, and how you can enhance your reflection skills with the right questions, exercises, and tools.
What Is a Self-Reflection?
Self-reflection is the art of honestly and critically observing and questioning your thoughts, feelings, and actions. The result of drawing the right conclusions from it is a fulfilling life, full of true satisfaction, and success.
In our fast-paced and media-dominated world, most people are so focused on external stimuli and the outside world that they completely lose sight of what is going on inside of them. Self-reflection is a great tool to hit the stop button and to look inwards and study oneself. If done right, it leads to true satisfaction and ultimately more success in life.
Many people are frustrated with how things go, doubt their decisions, and somehow feel stuck in their lives. They wonder what might be wrong and what causes these feelings, but without self-reflection, it’s barely possible to find an answer to these questions.
Self-reflection allows us to hit the pause button in the hustle and bustle of everyday life. It allows us to take a deep breath, and to not only become aware of observations and experiences but also to classify and interpret them.
This process gives us new insights that we can use for our future thoughts and actions. Regular self-reflection is something that needs to be trained but it is easier than you might think. Let’s find out how:
Importance Of Self-Reflection – Two Studies Provide Evidence
Two studies provide impressive evidence of the importance of self-reflection. They show how it increases continuous growth, our performance in life, and our happiness:
Call center agents who spent just 15 minutes reflecting on their experience at the end of their workday were 23% more successful than those who didn’t. And this is the result of just ten days of regular self-reflection!
Another study with British commuters found a similar result. Those who were encouraged to use their commute on reflecting and planning their day were happier, more productive, and less stressed than participants who did not reflect.
What Is Self-Reflection? A Definition
Self-reflection can be described as conscious observation of one’s thoughts, feelings, and actions to gain insights from it for the future. We can reflect on ourselves as individuals, but also in the context of a group of people, for example as part of our family, relationship, or between colleagues at work.
However, self-reflection without deriving the right conclusions and concrete action steps is only worth half as much. Ideally, after each reflection, the following question should be asked:
What can I learn from this experience, and how can I apply this learning to my life?
This is the foundation for real growth. If you skip this step, self-reflection is just a collection of interesting thoughts, that do not lead to any action.
If self-reflection is so important and invaluable, why doesn’t everyone do it?
Self-Reflection – Many People Don’t Know How-To
Successful self-reflection involves more than simply answering two or three thought-provoking questions. Some people find it difficult to fully engage in the reflection process. Self-reflection means to slow down and take out the pace of your everyday life and look at your thoughts, feelings, and actions from the perspective of a neutral observer. It’s a continuous process of thinking and reasoning.
A dash of curiosity and an open mind also helps immensely along the way. And this is difficult for many people in the beginning.
The process of self-reflection can lead to tremendously valuable insights and aha moments – but it can also reveal vulnerabilities and weaknesses which leads to discomfort and irritation for some people.
Self-Reflection Reveals Your Weaknesses and Mistakes
In the process of self-reflection, we become aware of our own mistakes and weaknesses. It often becomes obvious to us where we may have made a wrong decision or where we did not react as we should have. That’s good and allows us to learn from these experiences.
However, some people tend to dismiss such mistakes and prefer not to look at their failures, even if it provides a big chance for growth and improvement. Being brutally honest to oneself is unfamiliar and very difficult to most people. The good news is it can be learned, and once mastered it gives us an incredibly liberating feeling.
Great Reflection Skills – The Results Are Not Always Immediately Visible
„What’s my ROI?“
Self-reflection is a process. Our modern society trained us to expect immediate rewards for everything we do. But the fruits of reward for self-reflection are not always immediately visible. Sure, some aha-moments provide us with invaluable insights, but self-reflection is mostly a step-by-step process that shows its true value over time.
What Are The Benefits of Self-Reflection?
Self-reflection is a great way to
- fully exploit your skills, talents, and potential by consciously recognizing what works and what doesn’t.
- know and understand yourself better with all your strengths and weaknesses.
- learn from positive and negative experiences for the future.
- recognize, understand and deal with problems and difficulties.
- find new solutions for seemingly hopeless situations.
- identify negative and false beliefs and thought patterns.
- identify negative or bad habits.
- become aware of your self-worth and impact on others.
- constantly question your actions and ways of thinking and thereby grow.
- gain more clarity in life.
- become more resilient in our everyday life. (Here are some Resilience Building Exercises & Tools)
- shape your own life consciously and mindfully.
- live happier and more satisfied.
- achieve your own goals sustainably.
- understand your feelings and thoughts better.
- consciously control feelings, thoughts, and emotions instead of being at the mercy of them.
- become aware of your perfectionism and all the situations where it affects you. (-> Overcome Perfectionism Worksheets)
- develop a feeling of what is good for you in the long term and what is not.
- live independently and free.
How to: Self-Reflection – Done Right! 6 Tips
For people who have had little experience with self-reflection so far, there are a few tips to make the process as easy and successful as possible:
1 – Find your topic
Figure out what you want to reflect on. Before you tackle the big question “Who am I?”, start small and work your way up. Some self-reflection questions to start are:
What is on your mind at the moment?
Was there a particular incident or experience lately that you would like to look back on in more detail?
2 – The right place and the right time
Create an appointment in your calendar that allows you to fully concentrate on your self-reflection. No distractions, no stress, and no time pressure. Go to a quiet and comfortable place, where no one disturbs you.
3 – Start small
Don’t overwhelm yourself with the intention to self-reflect for an entire hour. To carve out 10 to 15 minutes is perfectly fine for the beginning. The more you practice, the easier it will become for you to spend more time on it.
4 – Journaling for Self-Reflection: Take notes – Write down your thoughts!
Writing down your thoughts, feelings, ideas, and observations helps to organize them. You will find it easier to recognize recurring patterns, topics, and thoughts. We remember things much more easily when we write them down, and writing encourages creativity and therefore often gives us additional perspectives on things.
Keeping a journal is a great way to organize your notes. You can write your journal in a physical notebook or online with a Coaching Software like CleverMemo. Writing things down also sharpens our focus. You vividly relive the situation with all your emotions and feelings.
5 – Repeatability, Traceability, and Order
Writing down our thoughts and insights (for example, in CleverMemo) allows us to recall things over and over again. We will easily understand what we thought and felt in that particular moment weeks or months ago if we write these things down properly.
Rereading our self-reflection after some time often gives us different perspectives and new insights. It is particularly helpful if we share our thoughts with another person, like a coach, counselor, or therapist. A third person will give us another neutral perspective.
6 – No Reflection Without Action
As already mentioned, self-reflection without the resulting conclusions and actions is only worth half as much. So make this a rule after each self-reflection – no matter the topic, to ask yourself this magic question:
What can I learn from this experience, and how can I apply this learning to my life?
The more detailed you plan and outline the necessary steps, the higher the chance to succeed. Remember: No reflection without action (plan)
Self-Reflection Tools, Exercises, And Worksheets
The Self-Reflection Toolkit is the number one resource to start self-reflecting today. It contains various exercises, worksheets, and questionnaires that don’t have to be completed in a specific order.
In addition to the general worksheets, such as the daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly reflection, you will find some exercises sorted by topic that you can do as you see fit. Topics are job and business, relationship, but also learning from challenges or mistakes, and overcoming a crisis. Click here to find out more.