I recently went away for a few days for a silent meditation retreat. The idea was deep, uninterrupted meditation for a few days, but in addition to the meditation, another motivation for me was introspection or self-reflection.
During this period of uninterrupted silence, my goal was to ask myself a series of questions (that I went prepared with) and try to get honest answers without varying forms of inputs and distractions (social media, family, friends, works etc.), and to reflect upon my various processes, systems, thoughts and emotions to improve upon them.
What is self-reflection?
We often operate on auto-pilot mode without giving much thought to our everyday life and the things we are doing. Self-reflection is taking some time out to reflect upon our motivations and methods to examine; what is important, what is working, what can be improved etc. It is like looking in a mirror to observe and note what we see or better yet, taking a birds-eye view of our life.
Self-reflection is giving ourself the opportunity to pause in the midst of the chaos of life and ask ourselves, why are we doing something, why is it important and could it be done a better way?
However, this practice can only happen in a quiet, undistracted environment and for some people sitting by themselves to look inwards can be challenging or an uncomfortable experience. Yet it is one of the most important things that need to happen for growth and learning.
Think of it as a (regular) practice of checking into our lives’ progress and goals to see where we are, and where we are aspiring to go.
Why is self-reflection important?
Other than the above-mentioned benefits, one of the best outcomes of self-reflection is that we get in touch with ourselves. We get the opportunity to know ourself better. Get to know and understand our own morals, values, dreams, hopes, goals, aspirations, desires and motivations.
We spend the most amount of time with ourselves (in thoughts and in our physical bodies) wouldn’t it be helpful if we knew ourselves better?
Once we have a foundational understanding of our priority and our values, our decision making improves as a result of that. We know what we want and can judge what will hinder or encourage growth towards that goal. So we start making wiser choices inline with the greater goal and our higher self.
On a more day to day and practice level, self-reflection helps us to review our methods and routines and check their effectiveness, rather than just carry on doing things as we have always done them.
How is it done?
Self-reflection can take many forms and there are many techniques and different people may be receptive to different forms.
Some people like to journal their thoughts in a notebook. Some like to take long walks and ponder over questions (like I did). Some like to talk to a trusted friend or a professional to help them get the clarity and answers they seek.
Select a reflection process that matches your preferences and lifestyle and there may be some trial and error involved in the process.
The key is to set time aside for it. Schedule it. This cannot happen while you watch TV or play with your dog or while you do the laundry. It needs its own dedicated time (and space) and in the beginning, don’t try to start too big by committing 1–2 hours to it — perhaps start with 15 minutes and see how you go.
The act of actually doing it, is, however, the most important aspect, whether it is 15 minutes or 1 hour. Start with a list of questions (examples listed below) and give yourself the time to think and consider them from multiple viewpoints and consider also how the answers have the potential to impact your life and the lives of those around you.
You don’t have to agree, disagree or judge any of your thoughts. Non-judgment is crucial to successful introspection. If you start judging your own thoughts and emotions in this process, they will get suppressed. So let everything come to the surface — almost like a brainstorming process.
For me personally, self-reflection is a timely thing and I do it in a few different ways and at regular intervals.
End of year reflection and review
This is one practice I follow which is an extensive account of the year. I tend to do this towards the end of December (in the last week or so) and it takes about a week with an hour or two of dedicated time every day.
I have a set of questions (split into various categories) that I like to get answers for. And the goal is not just to fill in the blanks and get it done, but the goal, as you would have guessed by now, is to get an accurate picture of truly how the year went and most importantly, what can be improved.
Once I have this list completed, I then use this to map out my goals, focus and plans for the coming year (more on that later).
Quarterly reflection and review
This is a practice I am still building but this is similar to the yearly reflection but done every quarter as a check-in over a (long) weekend. Instead of waiting for a whole year to review how things have been progressing and what can be improved, the idea here is to do this on a 12-week basis to assess and realign priorities and practises if needed.
As opposed to the yearly practice where the questions remain the same, the questions here can be a bit more fluid and perhaps relate more directly to the projects I am working on and go into the granularity of things.
Now, this practice, although shorter than the yearly practice, is more intensive for me. As my preference is to go away for a weekend where I have the opportunity to disconnect from the world and stop receiving inputs and stimulus.
I prefer to have my phone switched off or on DND for the duration of the time, and be reachable only in case of an emergency. I don’t take any books, laptops or gadgets with me. Just a notebook and a pen (with lots of ink). The goal is minimal input and distractions, and a maximum output of thoughts, concerns and ideas.
Weekly reflection and review
I also have a weekly practice of reviewing the week on a Sunday night.
This is a short quick session of perhaps 15 minutes where I go through the some of the questions listed below. At the same time, I also look at all the goals, tasks and commitments for the coming week and plan the calendar accordingly.
No matter the practice or format you choose, make regular reflection a part of your life. It is only by reflecting on our thoughts, goals, dreams, systems and processes that we can objectively look at and assess them and to improve upon them. In order to learn anything in life, grow and develop, we need good reflection practises. You can use my examples and questions above but make the practice work for you and add value to your life, make it your own.