The Power of Self-Reflection

The Power of Self-Reflection

How much are you living your life in accord with your own personal values? 

How do you know that you’re following a path that is right for you?

What kind of life do you want to have lived, when you look back on things in your retirement?

Weighty questions indeed! Not necessarily the kind of questions you want to begin every day with whilst eating your cornflakes.  But nonetheless, it’s a good idea to ask yourself such things periodically, to check that you’re staying on track and being true to yourself.

Because we’re all capable of becoming stuck in a rut, where you’ve been working in a job or pursuing a certain goal for some time, and you’ve forgotten why you ever wanted to do it in the first place. You’re just continuing out of habit, on autopilot.

I’ve known people who worked for years in a job they hated, and then one day they just stopped and thought “What the hell am I doing this for?”, and they took a completely new direction in their life.

An old friend of mine gave up his job in a betting shop a couple of years ago, and within a few months he’d moved to the other side of the country, become an ultra-marathon runner, and started up his own personal training company. As he keeps saying to me, “Joe it was the best decision I ever made”. Not only is he now making significantly more money, but when we meet up I can see he’s much healthier, fitter and happier in himself.

According to the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates,  “the unexamined life is not worth living”. Socrates himself took this principle to an extreme. He trawled the streets of Athens each day stopping passers-by to debate the meaning of words like “justice”, “virtue” and “wisdom”. In fact, he managed to ruffle so many feathers with his probing questions that he was eventually put to death, accused of being a threat to the Athenian state.

The fact that they put Socrates to death for his tenacious philosophical questioning indicates just how much people dislike analysing their own beliefs. But even though it can be a little unsettling to objectively examine your own values and goals, it ultimately leads to a more authentic life that is richer, more meaningful, and more fulfilling.

Which is why I’d like to make this suggestion: schedule in half an hour of self-reflection, once a month. Put it in your calendar or your diary, and commit to doing a monthly review of your life.

What do you do for that half hour? Well, here’s one exercise I find works well:

Monthly review exercise

Martin Seligman is a psychologist who has dedicated his work over the last couple of decades to understanding happiness and well-being. Seligman has concluded that there are five primary sources of happiness and wellbeing. They are:

  1. Positive emotion and pleasure: think about times this month you’ve had fun, laughed, or enjoyed a good meal, been moved by a piece of music or a film, or indulged in a massage or something sensual.
  2. Engagement: how much have you felt challenged and stretched?
  3. Relationships: how much emotional intimacy, mutual understanding and connection have you experienced this month?
  4. Meaning: how much have you felt that what you do has value; that it adds to the world in some way?
  5. Accomplishment: times this month you’ve succeeded at a project, achieved something (big or small), and whether you’ve been satisfied with your financial income.

Spend half an hour reflecting on the last month, and give each of these categories a score out of ten according to how the last thirty days have been for you.

So for example, if you’ve had a month where you’ve been working hard on a project, and you haven’t been able to go out much or socialise, then your Positive emotion and Relationships scores might only be 5/10, but your Accomplishment, Engagement and Meaning scores might all be higher.

It’s also a good idea to write down some examples of specific memories, so that you thoroughly analyse the month that’s been, rather than just quickly jotting down a few numbers.

So what are several pleasurable memories you’ve got from the last few weeks? What’s a specific time you achieved something? When did you feel emotionally connected to someone?Keeping track of good things that happen can help you appreciate them and internalise them more, so that you don’t let positive memories slip away from you.

Then, write an action plan for what you want to be doing over the next month to ensure that you’re living a more well-rounded, fulfilling life. What are some things you could plan in for next month that would make you feel uplifted, challenged or excited?

After doing this for several months, you might notice certain scores are often higher, and certain scores are often lower. And just like my friend who used to work in the betting shop, whose scores for “Meaning” and “Engagement” would have been pretty low at that time in his life, you may find that you too need to re-prioritise how you’re living your life.

That might just mean you need to make a few small changes, or it might mean making a more significant shift in your life.

So have a go. Do a monthly review, either by following the exercise above, or by modifying it to suit your needs. It’s a very effective way of keeping yourself on track. And you never know, it could lead to you doing something absolutely amazing.