5 ways self-reflection can improve the happiness and meaning in your life.

Groundhog Day- you know that movie where Bill Murray lives a single day over and over again? A couple of months ago, I had a string of “Ground Hog” days where my day started with my alarm sending me racing into the shower and then going from meeting to meeting, then errands, traffic, dinner, homework and finally bedtime where, as I set my alarm I was keenly aware that in just 7 hours, it would start all over again.

I carried on with this heated schedule through the holidays. Oh, did I mention that my daughter was getting married just a week after Christmas? The only way I was going to get it all done was by filling every last spot on my calendar.

I’ll confess that I vaguely heard a small voice of warning in my head. “You should slow down, a bit.”  “Take a few minutes and meditate, go for a walk, be still…” But this quiet voice was easily drowned out by my to-do list and the anxiety I felt every time I looked at it.

I thought it was all going pretty well until… I hit a wall.

It was a little health issue that brought my jam-packed schedule to a screeching halt. Nothing life-threatening, but it required me to cancel meetings for about a week and put off all of my errands so I could get to a doctor appointment.  Much to my initial dismay, there wasn’t a quick medication to take so I could keep going at my frenzied pace. Instead, doctor’s orders were to rest and recover.

I literally had no choice but to obey. For about a week, unstructured time stretched out before me and I had a chance to think. Not only think, but reflect. As I sat outside on my back porch wrapped up in a quilt, I felt my body relax for the first time in months.

If you don’t want to hit a wall- create a daily habit of self-reflection.

Do you notice how fast our lives are moving?  We live in a very busy world in which almost every moment of our day is filled with tasks and electronics. It may seem almost impossible to slow down and make time for self-reflection. But I can tell you from personal experience, that it’s so important that we do it.

When I think about reflection, I think of looking in a pool of water and seeing my image reflected in the surface. When we self-reflect, we get to pause and look at ourselves in the context of our lives. What are we doing? What are we thinking and feeling? Are we experiencing the kind of meaning in our life that we value?

We think peace is going to come from getting everything done and then we can rest and reflect. But actually, that list of ours will never be completely checked off. Instead, we have to front-load our self-reflection. It’s the only way we can know where we are in the context of our lives. If we just keep our heads down and never come up for air, we can get off course and run into walls.

Self-reflection gives the brain a chance to pause, untangle thoughts, make decisions based upon what you value rather than on the demands of others and most importantly connects your mind and heart to your body so you can feel whole rather than segmented and scattered. It is part of being powerfully self-aware.

When we pause to reflect on our lives, it helps us to learn from our experiences and make more conscious choices about how we want our tomorrows to look.

In my week of quiet and self-reflection, I realized that I was racing to the demands of too many people and too many expectations. I hadn’t actually realized all the inner expectations that were driving me. Once I had the chance to think through them, I recognized which were important to me and which were not. That literally cut my list of to-dos in half.

That forced time of quiet gave me my sanity back. As I recovered, I felt empowered to make the tough decisions and set better boundaries around what I did and how I thought about it.

Every day I try to take time to reflect on what my deepest purpose is. I know that I have a list of a hundred things that are important to someone, but what do I think is the most important? It’s in moments like this, that I recommit to choosing to do the things that matter most to me. Of course, that means something else isn’t going to get done, but when I can pause and reflect, I get to choose the priorities that determine the use of my time.

It is almost impossible to feel in control of our life without making time for self-reflection.

When I reflect, I get to remember who I really am, before all the roles and labels. I get to focus on my value and it helps me commit to taking better care of myself that day. I am learning that the stronger I am, the more I can serve and love others. It’s kind of counterintuitive, but when we pause and get quiet, it really gives us more control over our lives.

Here are 5 ways self-reflection can improve the happiness and meaning in your life.

  1. Build quiet time into your day to notice what you are feeling and thinking, and allow yourself the time to process those feelings and thoughts.

This may be difficult at first, but with practice, it will be something you cannot live without. Start by picking a time where you can spend 10-15 minutes alone. This might be first thing in the morning or before bed. It might be on a daily walk. I have a client who walks in a nearby greenbelt trail and stops every day for a few minutes to sit on some rocks and just observe nature. In this quiet time, she has a chance to think thoughts she rarely gets to focus on.

 

  1. Guard your self-reflection time with some ground rules.

This is a time for constructive observation, not critical evaluation. Many women have a hard time with this and will avoid quiet time because it is an invitation to get beat up by her internal critic. If this is you (and it is usually something that all of us struggle with) then spend a little time in the self-compassion pillar.  Don’t be afraid to be alone with your thoughts. It takes practice to replace criticism with compassion. There is no better time to practice than during self-reflection.

 

  1. List the things that you feel are going well in your life.

Always start with the positive. The negativity bias in your brain is going to always lead you to notice the negative. But you can retrain your brain to look for what is going well and build on it. What you feed is what grows-so take time to feed the positive and do more of what you feel is working.

  1. Notice where you are on your to-do list and commit to moving yourself up to the top.

I’m not talking about being selfish. Taking good care of yourself is very different from selfishness. (See “How self-care is different than being selfish”) When you take responsibility for your own well-being, then you become a deep well that never goes dry because you are always filling it. Check out Are You a Good Parent to Yourself?

  1. Pay attention to what you might need and how you can ask for support in getting that need met.

Remember that all “bad behavior” comes from hurt. So, if you notice you have some behaviors that don’t match what you value, ie. losing your temper, feeling resentful because of saying yes to things you don’t really want to do etc., then see if you can find the need you have that is not getting met. First, try to meet that need on your own. If you do need help, remember that asking for help is a sign of strength.

It’s funny how the universe will bring you what you need, whether it’s through a quiet reminder like this blog post or a health condition that forces you to slow down and take time for yourself. I hope that this discussion can be that quiet reminder to all of us that we need to make time for self-reflection. (and maybe save you a doctor visit!)

Self-reflection is a great tool to help you stay connected and in charge of your life! I’d love to hear how you find time to self-reflect. Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

And as always- take good care of YOU!

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