One of the most helpful tips provided to me in improving my mental health has been to engage in self-reflection. However, the tip did not come with any other instruction than to engage in self-reflection. Thus, I provide the following for those who are like me who need a little more than simply being told to “self-reflect more.” Please note, self-reflection is not complicated, does not require any special tools, and is only contingent upon starting. The following is a practical guide to helping to spur starting! It’s that Missouri mindset, I just cannot get away from it!
Self-reflection can be guided and unguided. For the novice, guided self-reflection is a good place to begin to learn to self-reflect and grow into unguided self-reflection. Some people will consider self-reflection meditation, and while I fully admit meditation and self-reflection have many similarities, they are different. Others try to inject religious overtones into self-reflection, and I fully admit self-reflection is used in many religions across the globe to improve worship services; I am not venturing into the religious aspects of religious self-reflection.
If you would like to explore the topics of meditation and religious self-reflection, I know several good resources; don’t hesitate to get in touch with me outside this forum for those resources.
Guided self-reflection is as simple as journaling your thoughts on a specific topic. Yes, it is that simple. There is nothing complicated or crazy, no gurus, no chanting (unless you want to), simply writing down your thoughts on a single topic. The idea is to focus your mind on sticking to a single topic and write. I find pen and paper the most challenging medium and one that I cannot reliably, methodically, and consistently adhere to, so I use a keyboard and keep a journal in MS Word.
At the beginning of guided self-reflection, C. S. Lewis 365-Journal Topics was a book I picked up, and it helped inspire journal topics to consider. Thus, the guided aspect of journaling, using the thoughts of others to marshal your thoughts and write them down. Making your thoughts known is vital to better understanding you. Please note, the blank page is intimidating; thus, novice self-reflection is enhanced with motivating forces of religious texts, quotes, jokes, memes, political feelings, news stories, etc. All of which is fodder for getting the thoughts in your head onto paper for later review.
Free-flow writing, I unguided self-reflection and is where no longer is the blank page intimidating. More to the point, unguided self-reflection occurs where the mind enters a period of peace or tranquility, recognized from journaling and reflects upon recent events surrounding you throughout the day, cataloging these events for later dissemination and discussion in your journal. The advanced stage of unguided self-reflection occurs at different times and seasons for different people. Some people go in cycles between guided and unguided self-reflection due to the chaos in their lives. Other people move rapidly into unguided self-reflection and never return to guided self-reflection. Some people stay in guided self-reflection; there is no right or wrong to self-reflection!
Tips to Self-Reflection
- Find what works, and stick to it!
- Pick a time that works.
- Use what you have.
- Be you! – A friend keeps buying new technology, new note pads, new books, new etc., and never uses them. New isn’t them.
Be you! Be real! If you find yourself journaling on a paper bag with lots of doodles, keep the paper bag, and get more of them. That is real self-reflection to you!
Some random thoughts on self-reflection.
A friend from high school journaled (self-reflected) through their art. Words could never come, but doodles and pictures were easy. Each day their art was either beautiful or terrible, but always dramatic and eye-catching. Most people learned to look at the book for the art before engaging in speech. At the end of the assignment, the teacher freaked out trying to score the assignments for my friend; the art was expressive to the point that you could relate and feel what was felt that day. I have never forgotten that art or its impact.
Simon Sinek wrote the book “Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action” self-reflection helps you to know your “why” to attitudes, behaviors, thoughts, feelings, and so much more. While I am not here to help Mr. Sinek sell more books, if you want a great resource to begin guided self-reflection, I do recommend this book. You need to know your why. Not knowing your why makes life more challenging, and your mind is easier to be manipulated by every wind of modern influence. Knowing your why doesn’t necessarily make life easier, but it makes life easier to understand. Understanding breeds compassion, empathy and allows you the freedom to make better choices.
Geil Browning, Ph.D., in discussing reflective learning, talks about self-reflection and learning, providing counsel and essential guidance. “Reflection is a deeper form of learning that allows us to retain every aspect of any experience, be it personal or professional — why something took place, what the impact was, whether it should happen again — as opposed to just remembering that it happened. It’s about tapping into every aspect of the experience, clarifying our thinking, and honing in on what matters to us.” Practicing self-reflection takes discipline and intentionality. It requires pressing pause on the chaos of life and simply taking the time to think and ponder about life and the events of daily living, which is not easy for many people to do. But it’s a precious practice.
- “The journey into self-love and self-acceptance must begin with self-examination… until you take the journey of self-reflection, it is almost impossible to grow or learn in life.” – Iyanla Vanzant
- “What we perceive about ourselves is greatly a reflection of how we will end up living our lives.” – Stephen Richards
- “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” – Carl Jung
- “It is always our self that we find at the end of the journey. The sooner we face that self, the better.” – Ella Maillart
- “I visualize where I wanted to be, what kind of player I wanted to become. I knew exactly where I wanted to go, and I focused on getting there.” – Michael Jordan
- “The world is a looking glass and gives back to every man the reflection of his own face.” – William Makepeace Thackeray
- “Our self-image, strongly held, essentially determines what we become.” —Maxwell Maltz
- “One of the greatest tragedies in life is to lose your sense of self and accept the version of you that is expected by everyone else.” —K.L. Toth
- “If you have no confidence in self, you are twice defeated in the race of life.” —Marcus Garvey
- “Self-awareness gives you the capacity to learn from your mistakes as well as your successes.” —Lawrence Bossidy
- ”The promises of this world are, for the most part, vain phantoms; and to confide in one’s self, and become something of worth and value is the best and safest course.” —Michel Angelo
- “You cannot have a meaningful life without having self-reflection.” —Oprah Winfrey
- “Honest self-reflection opens your mind to reprogramming, change, success, and freedom.” —Unknown
- ”Self-reflection is the school of wisdom.” – Baltasar Gracian
- “Doubt, not self-reflection, comes from a destructive energy, and when it rears its head, I talk to it like a lunatic.” —Gwyneth Paltrow
- “There is one art of which people should be masters – the art of reflection.” – Samuel Taylor Coleridge
- “Friendship with one’s self is all-important because without it one cannot be friends with anyone else in the world.” —Eleanor Roosevelt
- “Self-reflection entails asking yourself questions about your values, assessing your strengths and failures, thinking about your perceptions and interactions with others, and imagining where you want to take your life in the future.” – Robert L. Rosen
- “Emotions are there to enjoy life, but they are not used in self-reflection because they inhibit a proper reflection. They gunk us up.” – Frederick Lenz
- “Difficulty creates the opportunity for self-reflection and compassion.” – Suzan-Lori Parks
- “Self-reflection is the gateway to freedom. It also brings greater appreciation and enjoyment. We begin to enjoy spending time with our own minds, and we enjoy reflecting on our experience of the teachings. Like the sun emerging from behind the clouds.” – Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche
- “It is great to be introspective; self-analysis can be useful, but only if it results in action.” —Joe Sacco (emphasis mine)
- “Your self-esteem won’t come from body parts. You need to step away from the mirror every once in a while and look for another reflection, like the one in the eyes of the people who love you and admire you.” – Stacy London
- “By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.” – Confucius
- “Without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and failing to achieve anything useful.” – Margaret J. Wheatley
- “Self-reflection is an important stage to diagnose, develop and strengthen your creativity.” —Pearl Zhu
- “The ultimate mystery is one’s own self.” —Sammy Davis
- “To realize the Self is to be still.” —Ramana Maharshi
- “The self is only that which it is in the process of becoming.” —Kirkegaard
- “Like water which can clearly mirror the sky and the trees only so long as its surface is undisturbed; the mind can only reflect the true image of the Self when it is tranquil and wholly relaxed.” —Indra Devi
- “Reflection is one of the most underused yet powerful tools for success.” – Richard Carlson
- “Reflection can transform something familiar.” – Diane L. Dunton
- “We have so committed ourselves in different ways that we have hardly any time for self-reflection, to observe, to study.” —Jiddu Krishnamurti
- “Your greatest self has been waiting your whole life; don’t make it wait any longer.” —Dr. Steve Maraboli
- “We do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience.” – John Dewey
© Copyright 2021 – M. Dave Salisbury
The author holds no claims for the art used herein, the pictures were obtained in the public domain, and the intellectual property belongs to those who created the images. Quoted materials remain the property of the original author.