We sometimes, as humans, have a tendency to blame something – anything – else for the problems we see in our lives: we don’t have enough money, we’re not in the right place, we’re not successful enough, we don’t feel happy enough….and on and on in a vicious spiral of outsourcing our discontent.
Hello! Wake up! We’re the only ones who know what we want and the only ones, therefore, who know how we can get there. We often don’t even start trying to get there, however, because – and here goes the blame game again – what if we aren’t good enough? What if we can’t?
When we’ve worn thin/used up blaming the things around us for our own inertia, we turn to blaming the unknown – blaming possible future eventualities – for our inertia. If there was a competition to see which is the most debilitating few words in the English language, my vote goes for ‘What if….’.
There’s always something else to blame!
And, in the meantime, life goes on and the inertia swells and swallows our days whole, never to be returned.
Whilst we flounder around, using our energies to find that something else to blame, we fail to utilise – and therefore harness the power of – our most powerful asset: our mind.
If we take time for regular self-reflections, we can get to know our minds and, through this, get to know what it is we want and to make concrete plans for how we can get there. Studies show that the happiest people are those who feel content with who and where they are and that the most contented people are the people that undertake regular self-reflective practices.
They’re matching their desires with their actions, leading directly to contentment.
[The root of discontent, I’m convinced, lies in the discord between ones desires and ones actions].
Benjamin Franklin and the ‘know thyself’ pathway…
One of the pioneers of self-reflection in the West, Benjamin Franklin, approached self-reflection as a systematic form of self improvement. Early on in his life, he determined he needed to strive for bodily, physical and intellectual perfection and then undertook a rigorous series of actions to ensure improvements in all those areas.
Additionally, he developed a list of virtues (including Temperance, Silence and Order) that he felt he should adhere to, which would allow him to live his version of an ideal life. These virtues guided everything he did. Every day, he took time to answer thirteen questions he had developed that, he reasoned, would help him to adhere to the virtues he’d identified.
Amongst his thirteen questions are two that are particularly interesting: in the morning, he’d ask himself, “What good shall I do today?” and in the evening, he’d ask, “What good have I done today?”. By identifying his virtues and then regularly reflecting on the questions that kept him acting within the ‘bounds’ of his virtues, he ensured that he remained on the path he wanted to tread, throughout his life.
I’m not suggesting we all approach our lives in such a systematic manner but I do believe that self-reflection is an important process in that it helps remove the potential for inertia, for stagnation. Even if we don’t want to be the next Elon Musk, we all have things in our life that we want to achieve but that something other often stops us.
Regular self-reflection can act like a path of breadcrumbs guiding you through the forest; it’ll allow you to identify goals and enable you to achieve these goals, through the removal of barriers, the identification of ways to arrive there and increases in the confidence we have in our abilities and, therefore, increases in assurance in the delivery of our goals.
OK. I’m kind of sold on the idea but how do I start to self-reflect?
Taking time to get to know oneself can be a daunting – if not scary – experience. We all have stuff we’d rather not face. But facing problems, niggly issues, head on is the only way they’ll stop having power over you. Problems always seem bigger than they actually are. They’re actually kind of like bullies. Once we step out, put our Big Girl Pants on and face them in the open, head on, the problems will scuttle away, tails between their legs, wilting, because, once faced, they know they will be beaten. All it takes is a little courage and, once the momentum is there, the process will be easy and will result in multiple benefits.
So, you’ve faced your demons and they’ve retreated. Now it’s time for the good stuff!
Make your own set of guiding principles (thanks, Ben!). Decide what it is you will – and won’t – accept in your life any longer. Once done, you can then make your own set of questions, ones that are a good fit for you and that will ‘stretch’ you a little, to allow you to go beyond the usual confines of your thoughts and allow you new possibilities, new solutions.
I tend to work with fairly basic questions: What went right this week? What went wrong? What could I do to stop the wrong thing happening again? Have I been working towards my longer-term goals? Is there anything I could be doing to realise my longer-term goals a bit quicker?
Each person’s questions will obviously be highly personalised. Directed towards their stage of life/guiding principles/goals.
The important thing is that the questions keep the guiding principles in view and allow you to develop within the framework of those guiding principles. [My current set of guiding principles, for example, are mainly all centred around ensuring that I’m present (in all senses) for my littles and that I show them a good example at all times. Kindness is important to me, as is peace of mind, leading to peace in our home].
You then sit down regularly with your questions (I do this process on Sunday evenings) and answer them as honestly as you are able (the more honest you are, the more benefits you’ll receive from the process). You’ll find that reflecting like this lets you take stock of where you are and identify where improvements need to be made.
Importantly, you’ll also re-gain ownership of your life (both external and, importantly, your internal dialogue) and, through this, you’ll find a source of power from within, because now you’re not only actively assessing your inner dialogue but you’re controlling it, guiding it from where it has been to where you want it to go.
Once you reach this stage, there’s no room for blaming something else for your situation. You’re in control. At the helm.
You can, now, turn the niggling, small-making, ‘What if‘ in to a positive! Instead of being frightened by the ‘What if?’, you’ll feel able to ask “What if I were to (whatever), what good might come?”. By turning the question on its head, in this way, it goes from being a scary-making question (that has the power to belittle all efforts) to a very positive one, that’s simultaneously empowering and inspirational.
The very thing that inhibited you can now be used to set you free!
OK. Now what?
Undertaking regular self-reflections is therefore, more than anything, a way of regaining power through regaining control of your own thoughts. As everything we do is controlled by thoughts, its kind of frightening to think that, a lot of the time, we go through our lives not in control of our own minds!
As with the other techniques for self-care that I’ve discussed so far this week (Quiet Time and Journalling), self-reflection is a powerful way of reconnecting with our selves, of getting to know ourselves.
It’s only when we know ourselves deeply (warts and all) that we can begin to live in a zone of deep internal contentment, on a firm foundation of self love. Only then can we go beyond and actually begin to reach for the things our hearts truly desire (whatever they may be).
Self-reflection offers a key to full self-realisation.
See you tomorrow for ‘A week for self-care: meditation’!