With an endless stream of emails, errands, and events making up our days, is it any wonder that many of us are moving through life on autopilot?
When we exist in this state of consciousness that is unaware and unintentional, we’re being piloted by our buried habits and behavioral patterns that shape our day-to-day experiences. Constantly working, staying busy, and striving for betterment might be lauded as ideal traits in our fast-paced culture, but it leaves little room for a very important thing called self-reflection.
Self-reflection is an accessible practice that can deepen our awareness of the below-the-surface beliefs that direct our thoughts, feelings, and actions. It requires us to slow down and initiate a presence with the self that is not preoccupied, busy, or mentally drafting notes for our next meeting.
While self-reflection might draw uncomfortable feelings, thoughts, and memories up into your awareness, it is a vital prerequisite for developing self understanding and compassion — both of which are necessary for making meaningful changes in our lives.
Self-reflection, like other ingrained behaviors, can become a habit with regular practice. Keep reading for simple, actionable tips for self-reflection that can help you care for yourself more consciously through knowledge and understanding.
What is Self-Reflection? What are the Benefits of Self-Reflection?
Self-reflection has become something of a pop psychology buzzword in recent years, and for good reason. The positive effect of introspective, reflective thought for leaders, teachers, and people in relationships of all kinds has been widely documented.
Just a few of the benefits of self-reflection, from neurological to interpersonal, are:
- Boosted self confidence.
- More consistent self regulation skills.
- A deeper understanding of your core values and identity.
- Stronger relationships and improved social interactions.
- A compassionate understanding of areas in need of improvement.
- Better cognitive functioning.
- Performance benefits associated with high self-esteem.
- Improved glucose metabolism.
In its simplest definition, self-reflection refers to a meditation centered around one’s character, experiences, and actions. This meditation slows us down in order to recognize and evaluate our behaviors, attitudes, motives, desires — it’s an act of “being with” ourselves that is honest and non-judgemental.
If the idea of meditation sends a shiver up your spine, fret not! In practice, self-reflection can take many forms that look nothing like the traditional stationary silence.
Attaching an action to your practice of self-reflection, on your own or with the care of an experienced therapist, can help you ease into the process of engaging the rational mind in reviewing your day or a situation while still noticing your heart, emotions, and deeper feelings as well.
Self-Reflection: Where to Start?
Mindfulness and self-reflection go together like two peas in a cognition-boosting pod. Developing a mindfulness practice can benefit your self-reflection efforts by giving you a checkpoint to reference when you’re reflecting on your week, a past conversation, or a particular situation.
For example, one simple mindfulness trick you can incorporate into your life is taking note of how your breathing changes throughout a regular day. Before you dive into specific breath exercises for mindfulness, simply noticing when your breathing pattern becomes sharp and irregular – after being cut off in traffic or in the middle of an argument with your partner – can tell you more about how your physiological and emotional selves are intertwined.
Then, the next time you utilize a self-reflection practice, you can have specific moments to recall and reflect upon.
My favorite place to start your new mindfulness journey: the HeadSpace app.
Mindfulness practices can help us bring awareness to the present moment, whereas self-reflection calls our attention to the deeper undercurrents of each moment in our lives.
Your self-reflection practice might look different from others’ and it might grow and evolve over time. Here are a few self-reflection exercises to explore — take only what works for you, and expand with the thoughtful guidance of a therapist.
Journaling – The main benefit of documenting your thoughts and feelings in a journal is that this practice can help you learn from your past, recognize patterns, and find the core self-beliefs that lead to certain reactions or situations. While a blank page can be intimidating, even writing one sentence a day or week can jumpstart your self-reflection process.
Dream recording – The dreamscape offers us a safe place to revisit past experiences and present circumstances in elaborate, symbolic narratives. Thankfully, everyone dreams, so it’s one of the easiest places to start a daily practice of reflection. Analyzing both the content of your dream and your response to it can help reveal where and how you find meaning in life.
Yoga – Engaging your body with a specific intention can bring a physicality to your self-reflection and introspection that really works for some people. Gentle walks, yoga, and spending time outdoors can all strengthen mind-body connections and help repair nervous systems when they’re centered on reflection, rather than weight-loss or body alteration.
Guided meditation – For those who enjoy a still, breath-oriented practice, guided meditations can help direct your thoughts and awareness toward self-reflection. In addition to providing a safe structure for your reflections, guided meditations can help reduce stress and its side effects like sleep issues or foggy thinking.
Prayer – While typically associated with religion, the act of prayer transcends any particular dogma. At its core, prayer can be viewed by agnostics and atheists alike as a form of self-guided meditation that emphasizes self-reflection. Plus, recent research shows that frequent prayer can improve our ability to control brain activity.
When is Self-Reflection Not Advised?
Sometimes, self-reflection goes awry.
Some individuals may trend toward virtually zero self-reflection or, at the other end of the spectrum, self-reflection in excess. The latter comes in the form of rumination, overthinking, or obsessing — like going over a conversation in your head repeatedly after an interpersonal encounter.
In situations like these, it’s actually necessary that we reflect less, pause, and interrupt our cyclical thoughts.
Whether you’re building a new, introspective practice or working to repattern ruminations, you don’t have to do it alone. Working with a counselor in a therapeutic environment can provide you with the safety and support needed to explore your experiences in a healthy, productive way.
Katy is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor, (LCPC) in the state of Maryland, proudly serving the DC Metro area. She’s had the privilege of working with a diverse range of community members in settings such as, outpatient community centers, substance use clinics, partial hospitalization programs for adults and adolescents, and a psychological testing center for children and adolescents.