The Importance of Self-Reflection

We’ve all heard of self-reflection, and I’d wager most of us would feel comfortable defining it. But generally, self-reflection exists more as a concept that’s understood in theory rather than in practice. How many of us genuinely self-reflect consistently? And how could we? Why should we? Today’s world is full of information, activity, and resources; it’s hard to find the time or sufficient justification for why self-reflection is needed in the first place. Yet, it’s that abundance that makes self-reflection all the more essential right now. In the following, we’ll take a look at what self-reflection is, why we all need it now more than ever, and the value it can bring into our lives.

What is Self-Reflection?

In the simplest terms, self-reflection is setting time aside to evaluate and give serious thought to your emotions, behavior, motivation, thoughts, perspective, and desires. It’s about going beyond the surface level to find the “why” behind these elements of ourselves and the experiences we have. The idea of self-reflection is to gain a more profound, rawer understanding of yourself. And for those unfamiliar, you’ll find that with that understanding comes empowerment and clarity that simply cannot be captured otherwise.

Today’s world is more advanced than it’s ever been and constantly reminds us of what’s out there and available to us. But within this environment can lie a trap. A trap that convinces us that the answers we need to the hardest questions are out in the world for us to find, rather than within ourselves waiting to be unveiled. With that being said, let’s dive into the reasons why self-reflection is more vital than it’s ever been.

Why Now?

Covid & the Climate of Uncertainty and Hostility 

We start with a somewhat obvious one: the present state of society. Over the last year and a half, we’ve all likely felt like we’ve been carrying extra weight around. The air of uncertainty combined with what seems to be growing polarization and hostility has placed a lot on us personally and societally. In times like these, in particular, self-reflection can be a great friend to us. It can help us stay grounded and sharpen our ability not to lose perspective. Just because you engage in self-reflection doesn’t mean the world will change or problems will go away, but it can certainly help in your ability to manage said problems and stay true to what brings you fulfillment in life.

The Modern, Digital Age

Let’s be clear; this piece is not intended to portray our modern advancement as a negative. There are certainly great benefits to it. However, there are legitimate downsides we’ve all likely experienced. Whether it be social media, the internet as a whole, the many gadgets we use, etc., the point is that there have never been more distractions in the world that make it incredibly hard to stay within ourselves. Every day, we’re constantly reminded of what else is out in the world, what others have that we don’t, and people’s perceptions of us. A failure to keep these reminders in check is a recipe for all kinds of negative mental repercussions. Self-reflection can help you in this regard. It’s an incredible tool for staying focused on what you have in life, what matters most to you, and understanding your true identity, no matter what others may think.

Mental Health Crisis

It’s no secret that mental health issues have become a national, if not a worldwide, concern. More and more young people report suffering from mental health problems, and of course, the issue has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. And while we’ve evolved tremendously in our acceptance of mental health struggles, we still have a long way to go, particularly with helping people navigate these difficult times. Self-reflection is not a cure-all approach, but it certainly won’t hurt in managing mental health issues. As mentioned before, when done right, self-reflection ultimately can be empowering and fulfilling. And as we’ll see next, there’s a lot of value it can bring into your life, whether mental health has been a problem area or not.

The Value of Self-Reflection 

Tool for Learning & Growth

We naturally tend to believe we know ourselves well, which is a fair assumption. However, you’d be surprised how much you don’t know about yourself if you don’t self-reflect often. Not everything is always as it seems on the surface. Sometimes our emotions are driven by something else deep within ourselves, or perhaps our behavior was motivated by a force we had never considered before. We’re far more complicated creatures than we give ourselves credit for, and it can often be hard to keep up without taking the extra time to retrace and reconsider. Self-reflection opens up doors that perhaps have never been seen before, let alone opened. And with that knowledge comes the power to learn, evolve, and grow as a person.

Vessel for Self-Peace

This builds off that understanding touched on before. By having a more authentic conception of yourself, you can make better decisions and engage in behavior that you know will ultimately be rewarding to you. For example, not everything we enjoy doing is necessarily beneficial for us in the long run. Sometimes we engage in behavior that gives us what we need at the moment but leaves us empty in the long haul. It can be hard to truly realize what’s good for us and what’s not until we take that time to dive deep within. And once we do, we have more control over our ability to feel at peace with who we are, where we’re going, and what matters most to us in life.

Your Life GPS

Where those previous points lead you is here, a conceptualized roadmap for life. Now, let’s be clear, a big part of life is the unknown, taking chances, learning from experience, and simply “living.” However, most of us often have an overwhelming feeling that we have no idea where our life is going, what we want from it, and where to go next. And that’s precisely where self-reflection and that understanding of self can help. You’ll be able to better understand what fulfills you the most, what you want to get out of your time here, where you want to go next, and how you might be able to do that. Self-reflection will not give you all the answers or allow you to map your entire life step-by-step, nor should that be desired anyway; that’s what living is for. But it can help you on your journey towards getting those answers, learning from your experiences, growing as a person, and finding your purpose in life.

Conclusion

It’s important to know, value can only be experienced if you approach self-reflection with discipline, legitimate intent, and consistent action. Self-reflection also requires a willingness to be honest with yourself and possibly confront areas you may have been reluctant to in the past. But, what you get from self-reflection and how you do it is really just up to you. Below, I’ve included a few resources to help you get started. If you’re new to this, try different ones out and see what sticks for you. Don’t look at self-reflection as a daunting task; it’s meant to be helpful, not stressful. You have to find what brings the most value to you. And hopefully, this journey will leave you feeling empowered, more connected with yourself, and more clear on what you want from this life.

Resources to Get Started:

https://positivepsychology.com/introspection-self-reflection/

https://www.minimalismmadesimple.com/home/self-reflection/

https://www.wikihow.com/Self-Reflect

Five Tips for Overcoming Self-Doubt

Your comfort zone

Some self-disclosure here—I’m a rather sensitive person and I often tend towards self-doubt, thinking something is my fault if it doesn’t go well and lots of critical voices in my head always.  With time, I’ve learned to see this as a strength since it means I’m constantly evaluating myself and pushing myself to become better.  However, often in the day to day, this self-doubt can be difficult.  And especially so in the field of social work, where decisions made often have far-reaching repercussions.

Over the years I’ve had to develop methods to help me not to linger in my own self-doubt and to feel more confident in my decision-making.  I’m guessing there are other social workers out there who have struggles with self-doubt as well, so wanted to share the methods I’ve used and continue to use today, to help feel confident and to shake off the nagging self-doubt voice.  These are applicable to non-social workers, as well so feel free to share with others you know who might find these ideas helpful.

1. Regular self-reflection.

This almost seems counter-intuitive, but I’ve found it to be very helpful. For years, I don’t think I recognized or acknowledged my struggles with self-doubt and so maybe didn’t realize I needed the extra support.  It can be helpful to talk with your supervisor about your own self-doubt so that they can help you process what is reality versus what is going on in your mind. Once you become more accustomed to those kinds of questions, you can ask them of yourself.  This will help you to be able to figure out what is the truth in the situation compared to thoughts based on self-doubt. Are there tangible things to be learned that will help you improve your practice in the future? If so, learn from the experience and move on.

2. Continued professional development.

I love learning…and have found that when I know more about myself, about the profession, about current practices, current issues, etc., the more I feel like and am a competent social worker. It’s interesting, but I feel this area has actually gotten harder to take time for as my personal life has gotten busier and required more of me.  I didn’t realize how much I craved professional development until I did take two days a few months ago and went to a conference that for me was all about professional development.  I left feeling so recharged, confident, excited…and during a timeframe when if I had not gone I probably would have felt professionally drained and would have questioned myself lots and lots.  By taking the time for professional development, one grows. And when you know you are growing, self-doubt can take a back seat.

3. Be aware of your biases.

Letting my supervisors and/or trusted colleagues know my biases and asking them to push me on certain topics based on my own self-awareness has been extremely helpful. Self-reflection leads to self-awareness.  I know most of my biases…and have been sure to share the ones I know about with my supervisors. Often this has been within the context of case-specific work. When I know I’m struggling with a decision because of my own experiences and biases I share that.

I think it’s so important to know and acknowledge my lens and share it with others, not to convince them that my lens is right, but so that they can help by asking further questions and making sure my assessment is based on all of the facts of the situation.  Having others there to help me explore means a more collective decision-making process as well, and more minds and eyes on the situation generally lead to better, more well-thought-out decisions and less self-doubt.

4. Learn from perceived mistakes and trust your gut.

I’ve been in the same general profession, a social worker in child welfare for over a decade.  I’ve seen my successes and I’ve seen my failures.  There are, sadly, cases I worked on over 10 years ago that I ran across again because of failed adoptions or failed reunification…adoptions and reunifications that I was in some capacity a part of.  And hearing about these cases breaks my heart and makes me want to crawl under a rock because of my participation in something that did not turn out to be the positive ending that I thought it would.

But, once I’m ready to pop my head back out and again go back to #1 and reflect, usually there is some wisdom gained.  Sometimes it means I realize I had a gut reaction, and the next time someone else brings me a gut reaction about a case I will push them further—will point out the importance of the decision and will ask what else can we assess so that the gut reaction isn’t just a gut.   If you are a natural self-doubter and in social work, then PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, trust your gut. And then dig…you may find something concrete to support your gut.  I’m 98% sure of it.

5. Practice self-compassion.

No one is perfect. Even those who don’t struggle with self-doubt are not perfect.  As a natural self-doubter, you are also a natural self-improvement person and that is actually a sign of a true leader.  You will take the time to recognize what you need improvement in and improve it.  And when you doubt yourself and it’s not warranted, with time you will learn to treat yourself with the same compassion that you treat others with.  I’m still working on this piece, but am realizing how important it is to treat myself as I would a friend–listen, acknowledge, support, and be kind.  By doing so, I can move on and be better next time, without unnecessary guilt to hold me back.

Do you struggle with self-doubt in regards to your decision-making and/or work life in general?  How do you help to overcome it? Do you (like me) see this as a potential strength?  I’d love to hear from you so we can learn from one another!

Confidence and Humility – The Dance of the Balanced Ego

Balancing confidence and humility in any relationship, be it personal or professional, is a real skill. The first step is to become aware of what the two are. Author of The Art and Etiquette of Polyamory, Françoise Simpère writes:

“Arrogance…is generally a cover for a chronic lack of self-confidence.To be specific, self-confidence is when one is aware of his or her qualities without falling victim to false modesty. Humility allows one to recognise quietly that even though he or she is a wonderful person, there may be qualities that he or she lacks. An individual with a balanced ego is fully aware of his or her own existence and does not need others to confirm it. He or she is interested in others because of who they are, and not because of a need to see him or herself as a reflection in their admiring eyes.”

Their dictionary definitions are as follows:

confidence: a feeling of self-assurance arising from an appreciation of one’s own abilities or qualities.

humility: the quality of having a modest or low view of one’s importance.

The key things to note about confidence are:

  1. It’s a feeling, not knowledge, action etc.
  2. It’s about you, not others.
  3. It’s about self-awareness.

So being confident requires awareness of self rather than others, and it needs to be balanced by a sense of modesty. But, as Simpère cautions, not false modesty. So it’s not about feeling unimportant — it’s just about moderating your sense of importance. Particularly in professional relationships, it’s important to see your customer or client as more important than you, while retaining an appreciation of your abilities and qualities, one of which needs to be humility.

Simpère says arrogance is a sign of chronic lack of confidence. I think over-confidence also often shows as arrogance, or at least as a lack of care for and interest in the other person.

The balance of confidence and humility is not static. It’s a dance. You need to keep adjusting your sense of both. So, a balanced ego comes from the inner awareness of how confident or humble it is appropriate to be in any given situation.

Engaging with diversity requires a similar dance. It requires you to be confident in your identity while having the humility to know that there will be aspects of others’ identities that you won’t know. I’ve observed arrogance in people who are both over- and under-confident in their understanding of diversity. A lack of humility stops them asking questions, checking that they’ve got things right and apologising if they haven’t, without getting into guilt or shame.

A balanced ego is an asset to foster in all aspects of life. Get dancing!

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