How often do you self-reflect? Maybe I need to rephrase the question for some of you: do you self-reflect? Being a huge advocate of introspection, during my senior year as an undergrad, I gave a presentation about the merits of self-reflection to a group of student leaders. My take-away was this: In order to lead others, we must know how to lead ourselves. In order to lead ourselves, we must know ourselves. In order to know ourselves, we must self-reflect.
What is introspection? It’s “an examination of one’s own conscious thoughts and feelings” (Schultz, D.P., & Schultz, S.E.). Does that scare any of you? When I first read that definition, my body clenched; it could have been that the word “examination” was intimidating and somewhat daunting. Rather than looking at introspection as an “examination”, I’ve learned to view it in this way: introspection gives you an opportunity to look back in the past, examine the present, and dream towards the future.
Like many other things in life, most of us are very well aware of the benefits of self-reflection – yet so few of us practice it. Why do you think this is? Here are just a few thoughts that may be lingering in your heads: it’s time-consuming; it seems pointless because you don’t see any external, immediate results; it’s awkward and uncomfortable. To be straightforward with you, you’re right – all of these are true. Yes, it is extremely time consuming. You may feel that you don’t have enough hours in a day to study, work, eat, exercise, etc. – so when would you ever find the time to sit down and jot down how you’re feeling?
Before you put the lid on introspection, give me a chance to persuade you into thinking otherwise. There are numerous benefits, but I want to share with you my top 3.
1. Introspection helps us recognize and ameliorate cognitive dissonance
Are you familiar with cognitive dissonance? Basically, it’s a feeling of discomfort when we have contradicting ideas, beliefs, actions, etc. Let’s say you are a smoker. You smoke very often but one day, you’re given a revelation and you feel it in your gut that you should not smoke. Your behavior of smoking and this revelation you’ve just had are contradictory – you would either have to stop smoking or ignore this revelation in order to relieve the mental discomfort.
When you self-reflect, you give yourself time to recognize areas of cognitive dissonance. There may be things that bring you discomfort throughout your day – at work, school, or even at home – that you just can’t seem to put your finger on. When you give yourself time to reflect upon your actions, beliefs, morals, and values, your intentions become clearer and it becomes easier to make sense of the things that you do (and why you do them).
2. Introspection helps us reach our goals
First, introspection allows you to ask yourself: what are my goals? I don’t know how many people I’ve come into contact with who are unaware of what they hope to accomplish. I don’t necessarily think this is a bad thing, but I love to put purpose into what I do. Sometimes, things are just handed to us or they are just taken away; some things, we just don’t have control over. However, there are things in life that we can control. Despite the external forces that may limit us, we need to recognize that when we set a goal and purpose, we’ll have more control.
Taking the time to write out our goals is a much better way to organize them than to simply keep them in our minds. We take in so many bits of knowledge everyday – and because of this, some of the things that we may actually want to remember, we can’t. Jot them down. Write them in a notebook. On some post-it notes. Whatever works for you. Remember to look at them everyday so that you are always reminded of what it is you want to get to. Write out the steps to get there – be realistic (set SMART goals – and if you don’t know what those are, come see us at the OAR!) and start small so that you don’t get discouraged. I like to write out goals for different time frames: weekly goals, yearly goals, and life goals.
3. Introspection initiates change of behavior
Are there some things that you want to change about yourself? If you’re anything like me, then the answer will be YES. There are so many things that I would like to change – my laziness, lack of interest in politics, inability to socialize, etc. What do we usually do when we know we want to change something but don’t know how to go about doing so?
Well, most of the time, we just ignore it. We put these changes aside, throw our hands in the air, and act like we just don’t care. Okay, no, that might not be the case – but we really do end up suppressing these thoughts. Why? Because we don’t have a set plan in how to go about changing these behaviors, we’re not motivated enough, and we sometimes even forget what it is we want to change.
Here’s a surprise: self-reflection can help!! Write about what you want to change – and why you want this change so badly. This will keep you motivated and will allow you to recognize why it’s necessary. Write out the steps that you want to take to change your behavior, one step at a time. When you write down a reason for change and refer to it every day, you will be alert and conscious about your actions.
As you begin your spring break, do a little bit of self-reflection and think about the past week, month, or year. What decisions have you made and how have they influenced you? Do you have any study habits you want to work on as you near the end of sophomore year? What goals do you have for your remaining years at Haverford and beyond? Who are your strongest advocates and how can you build up your support system? If you have any questions or are having trouble deciding where to start, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org — I would love to talk!
Schultz, D.P., & Schultz, S.E. (2012). A history of modern psychology (10th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.