What We Mean When We Say "Reflection" (And Three Things We Don't)

A 2015 Harvard Study found 95% of people believe they're self-aware.

But in reality, the study showed less than 15% actually are. 

With odds like this, chances are we're not as self-aware as we'd like to believe, and our poor reflection practices could actually be working against us.

So how do we change this? 

We're sharing three key examples to learning what is–and isn't–good reflection, so ultimately your practice will lead to a more emotionally healthy you.

1. Reflection is a tool for action, not rumination

Self-reflection can be painful, as we look at our past mistakes or the things we're not particularly good at. But self-reflection is not rumination––the obsessive replaying of a situation. 

Your time spent reflecting should help you identify something in your control, not stuck in an endless loop on everything that isn't. 

Healthy reflection will lead to action––even a small change is a step forward.

2. Reflection asks, "what," not just "why"

It turns out just asking "why" isn't always the best question when reflecting. Research shows we simply don't have access to the thoughts, feelings, and motives that would give us the answers we want. 

"Why" also has a bad habit of leading us to believe false narratives about ourselves or others and create negative thought patterns.

So while "why" can helps us uncover our motives behind something, reflection can't stop there. We also need to ask ourselves "what."

What I am feeling?

What do I have control over in this situation?

What can I change?

What do I need to do next?

"What" questions increase self-insight, help us stay objective, focus on future solutions, and empower us to action.

3. Reflection is finding insight, not confirming assumed biases

If we're honest, we know humans aren't always rational, and when something goes wrong it's much easier to point the finger outwards rather than back at ourselves.

A peril of poor reflection is that it can lead us to assume the worst in others and the best of ourselves.

Many issues we face will come from legitimate and uncontrollable sources, such as coworkers, children, schedules, or medical issues, but reflection should not always devolve into "woe is me" thinking. 

Healthy reflection is understanding what upsets us, taking a step back to see our own role in the situation, and what we can do to make it better or find a solution.

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