Personal Development

Self-Reflection: How to Do It Right

Photo courtesy of Steven Fernandez
“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 most bitter.” – Confucius

For me Self-Reflection is the way to remove inner road-blocks, to first become aware of the things that really holding me back and then tackle them by finding a solution. Of course writing it down into a personal journal is the best way to do it. It’s also interesting to do with a good friend who is open enough to take part. Some forms of psycho-therapy are similar to this approach, where you have a hopefully competent listener reflecting back to you and guiding you to a finally self-found solution.

This is a process of bringing inner road-blocks or wishes to the light is one of the most important things to do for personal inner growth. It’s one of the best ways to attain clarity and by that immense power.

The alternative would be not making deeper personal issus conscious. If you do this you simply are not aware of them, maybe even denying them and by that saying ok to being limited. But they don’t go away. They merely get stuck into the subconscious and then are influencing from there. Then you are polluting your inner space. Seen in this way, it is like not cleaning your room but simply looking away from your trash laying around, only that it is inner trash now. Having an inner cleaning mechanism is what Self-Reflection really is.

If you do this for the first time in such a depth you might feel a little bit weird, writing your own thoughts down and guiding yourself. I experienced this myself as I thought of this as weakness, to reflect on my problems. This is nothing more than social conditioning like “a real man (or woman) doesn’t reflect on problems, he solves them”. Of course this is totally stupid since analyzing a complex situation is the key to effective action and once I got the benefits of this process, I never gave it up again.

What worked for me really good is the following process of self-reflection. I hope it can be helpful for others as well:

1. Get into the right state and environment

To be effective with Self-Reflection it is good to get into a suitable mental state and environment. Firstly it is helpful to have all of our attention at the process, so don’t be distracted by maybe having the TV turned on etc. It is best if you don’t have anything else on your mind. You don’t want to get interrupted either.

For me the best time to do it is in the evening when I have some exclusive time for myself, or on Sunday afternoon. So clear your mind first of the task you have to do tomorrow and get a bit relaxed. Then focus clearly on the right question …

2. Ask the right questions

I usually start by asking myself the question that is on my mind, the question that expresses an inner conflict. It is something that has a continuing influence on me, where I am not satisfied with and want to change.

By asking a good question you give your brain something to work on. It will try to find a good explanation to it, starting the process of Self-Reflection. So it is crucial to ask the right question here, the one that expresses your topic. Good questions are always the ones that bring your topic to the point by asking “How can I …”. Usually questions starting with “Why …” are not very effective. By asking Why-Questions you will get answers why it is that way. But you want to improve here, that’s why a How-Question is more solution-oriented and therefore usually much more empowering.

Some examples of questions could look like this:

“How can I make more time for myself and my family?” (opposed to “Why do I have no time for myself and my family?”)
“How can I get more energy?” (opposed to “Why do I have no energy?”)
As you can see, the How-Questions are much more solution- and action-oriented. The problem with the Why-Question could be, that you simple get a confirmation of why you can’t do it. But this is only by asking the wrong question.

It can be useful to ask “Why?”, if you really are looking fo the reason. Then you have to be aware that you have to make a shift to a How-Question, once you have found the reason. For example if you ask “Why do I have so less time for the things that really matter to me?” you get a lot of answers and then you will have to move to “Knowing this, how can I make more time now for the things that really matter to me?”

3. Be 100% truthful

When thinking about your question, answer it to the best degree of truth you can. Break out of social conditioning and of beliefs and things that other people put onto you. If you really ask yourself, you usually can find a much deeper answer to questions. Being truthful to yourself is the key, without this you won’t get very far. Of course, this truth may be unpleasant or even scary. But let me tell you something: Nothing will get better, until you tell yourself the truth. Nothing can really change. You can delude yourself for a while, but life finds always a way to show to you if you are off course. The power lies within telling yourself the truth and then act from there.

4. Attain clarity: Analyze the situation by writing and coming to a solution

That’s the whole idea of reflecting: getting to the core of the matter and by that getting an “Aha-Moment”. This is a realization of a new quality, an insight that came out of the reflection-process, something that you have not seen before and that gives you a better perspective on the topic. Here the solution can be found.

Often this process involves several steps: maybe you come from your first question to another, deeper question. Don’t lose sight of the original personal question you wanted to answer for yourself. Otherwise you could drift into different topics, getting overwhelmed and finally getting nowhere really. So stay focused on the question and expect to find an answer to it. This is a critical skill in analyzing in general.

You are not finished until you found a solution that really satisfies you, that is the best solution for your current situation. Yes, maybe it is not the solution that solves all the problems at once. But it is the best way given the current circumstances to go on. Usually it is an important step towards the optimal situation. You can feel this if you did it and then the opportunity to make the positive change becomes more obvious, out of a better understanding.

5. Make a decision and commit to it

If you found a good answer to your initial question you now have the power to work from this new knowledge and really make a very positive and pleasing change. The realization alone will have a very positive impact. Maybe it means you have to stop something, or to intensify something. Whatever it is, to use this self-attained knowledge is the key now. So you make the conclusion and make a decision. Commit to the decision, which should be pretty straight-forward since it is in harmony with the answer you got to your question during Self-Reflection.

Reflection vs. Action

I want to close this post by a quote from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe who said: “Never by reflection, but only by doing is self-knowledge possible to one.” While this first seems like a contradiction to the process of Self-Reflection, it is not. The reason to do Self-Reflection is to be more effective in the doing. As I described I see it as cleaning my inner space, getting an answer and then using this knowledge, testing it in reality by doing. Maybe I get a better answer or even a better question later, but I made real progress along the way.

If you read the article, please give me some feedback in the comments below, even it is negative. It is only then I can improve my articles to make them more helpful, interesting and readable. :)