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What is self-reflection and how can it help you?

Self-reflection is the activity of thinking about your own feelings, actions, motivations and behaviours and the reasons that may lie behind them. It is a mental process that you can use to understand who you are, your values and beliefs and why you think, feel, and act the way you do.

Self-reflection is about taking a step back, being introspective and widening your perspective about what really matters to you. When you are more self-aware and better understand yourself, you can more easily make changes to be more effective, happier and successful. Self-reflection can also help you understand issues and challenges you may be facing in life and at work and what you can do about them. Self-reflection is a fundamental part of learning too, as only by reflecting on experiences will you be able to learn and move forward. You can reflect on yourself in your personal life, at work, in the roles you play, in your relationships and in many other ways.

It is easy to get caught up on the treadmill of life and never stop and reflect on what you are doing, where you are going, what you are thinking and feeling, what your purpose is, what you value and what is happening in your life and at work. Without self-reflection, you will go through life moving from one thing to the next trying to keep your head above the water.

So, how can you practice self-reflection. Here are some ideas:

Increase your self-awareness. Self-awareness is the ability to notice, identify and understand your feelings, thoughts, behaviours and physical state. Self-awareness allows you to observe the patterns of your mind, body and behaviour, as opposed to being completely identified with them. A simple way to begin practising self-awareness is by regularly checking in and asking yourself: What am I feeling right now? What thoughts are running through my mind? What am I saying to myself? What emotions am I feeling? What am I doing or wanting to do as a consequence of how I think and feel?

Allow yourself time to reflect. Self-reflection is very difficult in the middle of a busy day so you have to schedule in time to reflect. Taking time out to reflect will allow you to start to notice your own thoughts and feelings and become aware of your own internal stories. This will enable you to move from reacting in the moment to responding thoughtfully and with intention.

Ask yourself reflective open questions. You may want to start with some straightforward questions like What is going well? What is not going so well? What can I do differently? You may then move onto more overall questions such as What do I want to achieve this year? How am I getting on at work? What am I avoiding? Finally, as you become more comfortable with self-reflection, you can then go deeper with questions such as What am I grateful for? What do I value in life? What is my purpose in life?

Take part in activities and interests. Taking part in activities and interests (such as running, walking, cycling, exercise classes, walking the dog, doing chores at home, reading or cooking) calms your brain and body, helping you to think and self-reflect. Often the best self-reflection will arise when you are taking part in activities and interests.

Use a journal. A diary or journal can be a great way to understand yourself better. You may want to diarise your the answers to self-reflective questions and your feelings, thoughts, behaviours and physical state over time. Reading through may help you notice patterns and stimulate further thoughts and ideas. There are many ways of keeping a diary or journal so find a way that works for you.

Slow and calm. To create a reflective state, it is good to slow and calm down. You can use relaxation techniques and practises like yoga, meditation, mindfulness and breathing exercises that calm your mind, as well as interests and hobbies, like listening to music, cooking, photography, watching a film, going for a walk, a hot bath and reading a book.

Be curious. Curiosity is a state of active interest or genuinely wanting to know more about something. It is a journey of discovery and very helpful in self-reflection. Curiosity enables you to look at things from a different angle, ask questions and become more creative. Ways of being curious include noticing, observing, asking questions, exploring, being open and flexible and being creative.

Look for patterns. A pattern is the repeated or regular way in which something happens or is done. Looking for patterns in your feelings, thoughts, behaviours and physical state will help you to understand yourself better. Observe yourself from a neutral standpoint and start to become aware of how your mind, brain and body work and what patterns occur. This will help you self- reflect holistically.

Author: Liz Makin
Published: February 2023

Makin It Happen has a range of personal development online courses to purchase, created by Liz Makin, including anxiety management, communication, resilience, soft skills, stress management, time management and coaching. Liz Makin also provides personalised business coaching, business mentoring and stress management services to business owners, directors, managers and professionals.


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