Highlights
  • Self-reflection involves examining thoughts, feelings, and behaviors to gain insight and promote personal growth.
  • It’s considered a hallmark characteristic of being human and starts in childhood, developing throughout one’s life.
  • Examples of self-reflection techniques include journaling, talking with friends, practicing mindfulness, creative expression, and spending time alone.
  • Self-reflection is essential for internal awareness and understanding personal identity, focusing on the “what” rather than “why” to stay objective and productive.
  • Consistency, courage, discipline, compassion, and a non-judgmental attitude are key for effective self-reflection, benefiting various aspects of life like relationships, parenting, and professional development.

Self-reflection is essential for cultivating self-awareness, understanding personal identity, and identifying unique characteristics, whether physical, psychological, or interpersonal. Its objective nature, focusing on “what” rather than “why,” fosters productive self-awareness and decreases self-criticism. Self-reflection is valuable in various aspects of life, such as relationships, parenting, and professional development. 

Practicing self-reflection can help ensure that one’s actions align with their values, promoting emotional stability and improved self-regulation. Discover more about how you can start self-reflecting more effectively.

What Does Self-Reflection Mean?

Self-reflection is a broad term that refers to the process of examining, considering and analyzing what or how you think, feel or behave. 

Originally called ‘reflective consciousness’ by William James, commonly known as the  “Father of American Psychology”, the act of self reflecting is used to aid in survival through learning and adapting. The ability to self reflect is what many believe to be a hallmark characteristic of being human. 

A person’s ability to self reflect begins in childhood and develops throughout one’s life.

What Is an Example of Self-reflection?

Some of the most common examples of self-reflection include: 

  • Journaling: A classic self reflection technique where a person writes down their perspective, thoughts, feelings and/or experiences. It can also be considered an ‘emotional photograph’ that captures an intimate view of a period in your life. 
  • Talking with a friend: This can occur within the context of a casual or a structured conversation. One can write notes regarding revelations that they discovered about themselves for further reflection or speak openly to their friend to freely speak about an issue that feels unsettled.
  • Mindfulness: By practicing mindfulness an individual is taught to observe, without judgment, thoughts, feelings and experiences.
  • Creative expression: This can include using outlets for ideas and emotions such as art, writing or singing/playing an instrument.
  • Alone time: The absence of stimulation can promote more awareness for one’s internal state. Try going for a walk without music, podcast or anything else that demands your attention and see what ideas arise.
  • Therapy/counseling: Talking to a mental health professional is a great way to participate or get guidance with techniques to learn or enhance self reflection.  
  • Podcasts or talks: Attending or listening to credible thought stimulating forums can help promote new ideas and raise awareness of the things that elicits one’s attention.
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Why Is Self-Reflection Important?

Self-reflection is important because it helps with internal state of awareness and understanding personal identity by identifying characteristics not completely shared with others. These characteristics can be physical, psychological and interpersonal.

One study found that 95% of people think that they are self aware however only 10-15% actually are. To be fair, some attempts at self-reflection do not promote self awareness because it often asks questions (why?) to things we really don’t have the answers to or we can create an answer that can feel true but isn’t actually factual or introduces trails of negative thinking. 

By asking ‘what’ instead of ‘why’ you are more likely to stay objective and productive. For example, if you dislike your job rather than ask ‘why am I still here?” consider “what specifically about this situation is causing me distress and what can I improve?”

When Self-Reflection?

Self reflection relies on consistency, courage and discipline. There is no agreed upon starting place for self reflection however compassion is a key component to counter self criticism which is often a deterrent to starting self reflection. 

When you extend compassion towards yourself you are seeking to provide comfort for sorrowful or distressing feelings. This journey can involve challenging unhelpful thoughts that reinforces the idea that what you see during self reflection will be awful and unchangeable. 

A non judgemental or neutral attitude is a helpful mindset during self reflection. 

This mindset helps decrease criticism. When criticism is decreased it promotes an environment useful for producing free expression.Courage can be displayed by overcoming habits that are unhelpful. 

If we were to reframe the question and explore how can someone stop using distractions to prevent self reflection it may open up options such as decreasing use of tv/phone, reading, socializing and substance use. Self-reflection is best practiced consistently and to do so discipline is required. 

Discipline is used to train one’s mind and actions to perform in a desired manner. Discipline relies on habit building and it may be helpful to incorporate it into a daily routine.

When Is Self-Reflecting Helpful?

Self-reflecting can be helpful in all areas of functioning such as in relationships, parenting and in one’s occupation. Other ways that self-reflecting can be helpful include:

  • Relationships: Be they platonic, romantic, or familial, relationships can benefit from an improvement in communication, understanding and authenticity- when at least one person practices self reflection.
  • Parenting: Those who are providing care for children or aging parents, can benefit from the improved perspective that self-reflection can provide. A new perspective can help with introspection, effective responses and improved self control.
  • Professional development: This skill can provide benefits at work, improving decision making, accountability/responsibility and one’s ability to influence an outcome.

Self reflection in general is helpful with making sure your future actions align with your values. By doing so it helps with self regulation, emotional stability and an overall improvement in how a person views themselves.

What Are the 5 Steps for Self-Reflection? 

There are no universal ‘5 steps for self reflection’ however best selling author Janice Jernigan identified 5 steps to help with self reflection, which are: 

  1. “Be intentional”. This refers to prioritizing and specifically identifying your goal for this time
  2. “Start where you are”. This refers to using the time that is already available to you, if you have the ability to schedule time do so, if not try lesser utilized times like when in line or commuting.
  3. “Ponder a big question”. This involves identifying a big question of your choice and seeing what your thoughts are about it free from judgment.
  4. “Jot down insights”. This refers to writing notes about new things you learned or perhaps another thought that you want to consider more deeply.
  5. “Repeat soon”. This refers to incorporating self reflection into lifestyle. By intentionally setting a day and time to repeat this practice it helps prioritize and strengthen this ability

Self-reflecting is a practice that involves the ability to thoughtfully observe and assess our thoughts, feelings, and actions, often with the aim of gaining insight, personal growth, and a deeper understanding of oneself. Self-reflection is a valuable tool for enhancing self-awareness, making informed decisions, and fostering personal development—one that you can cultivate with time, patience, and the right internal dialogue.