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Self-reflection: 9 tips & 4 exercises for better self-awareness

Self-reflection is a real challenge. We are too quickly blinded, overcritical or self-absorbed. But good self-awareness brings you numerous advantages. Below we reveal some useful tips and exercises to help improve how you assess yourself.

Self-reflection involves taking a holistic approach to looking at yourself. To do this, you should observe your actions, emotions and thoughts, among other things.

Self-reflection: a definition

Self-reflection: a definition

Self-reflection could also be referred to as self-awareness or self-observation. It involves the ability to question and take a critical, realistic viewpoint of yourself, resulting in self-understanding or self-discovery.

Self-reflection, for example, is about finding out why we act the way we do and the emotions or reasons that drive us. There are, however, also other important aspects involved:

  • What can I do well, and what could I improve on?
  • What part did I play in the mistakes, but also in the success stories of the past?
  • What is important to me?
  • What do I feel is missing in my life? And why don’t I strive to get it?

So on the one hand, self-reflection, according to this definition, has a spiritual component: it is about personal growth. But on the other hand, self-awareness has very concrete benefits for your everyday life: it can form the basis for more happiness and success, and it enables you to learn from your mistakes or work toward your goals. What’s more, self-reflection grounds you and prevents you from losing yourself in the stresses and strains of the outside world.

By reflecting on yourself, you’ll be more able to make choices that are good for you and deal better with conflict, as you’ll be less likely to go into "autopilot" when you’re familiar with what drives or triggers you. The reasons to work on your self-awareness are plenty.

9 tips for better self-awareness

We are all too happy to criticize other people, but we often give it out too sparingly when it comes to ourselves. In some cases, however, we are too hard on ourselves, which is also a bad thing. We’re here to show you how to find a healthy balance and gain a realistic view of yourself.

Self-reflection needs peace and quiet

Self-reflection needs peace and quiet

With the stresses involved in our everyday lives, there are hardly any opportunities to touch base with ourselves. Daily appointments, obligations, and requirements mean that external factors play far too great a role.

To be able to engage with your inner self, you need to find peace and relaxation. Only in this way can we reflect on our past and future, analyzing our mistakes and identifying room for improvement. As such, you should create windows of time for relaxing and taking time just for you.

You can find some tips for combatting inner restlessness here.

Take your time with self-reflection

If you thought that everything would be over and done with by doing a few exercises over the next three weeks, we’re sorry to be the bearers of bad news. You’re going to need a little patience. Self-reflection is a lengthy process that may take several years and progress is always made one step at a time.

So when you set out on this journey, you need to plan in a certain amount of time, and keep doing so. Of course, even taking small steps will lend a helping hand. Every new insight you gain forms a piece of the puzzle to help you get to know yourself better.

Practice regularly and create routines

If you want to keep working on the topic of self-reflection over a prolonged period of time (and you will need to), you need establish a routine.

Most researchers say it takes at least 21 days for an action to become routine. So keep at it, especially in the beginning, and practice daily.

Reflect on challenging situations

Reflect on challenging situations

In addition to the daily questions you can ask yourself (you’ll learn more about these when we talk about exercises), it’s also important to reflect on situations that have happened in the past. After every difficult situation – regardless of whether it ended well or badly for you – you should take a closer look at what happened.

Why did you act the way you did? What could you have done differently? What led to success or failure? This way, it’ll be easier for you to repeat your successes or learn from your mistakes.

Reflect on yourself to prepare yourself

Reflect on yourself to prepare yourself at work

You can also flip this method on its head and use your reflective skills to prepare yourself for difficult situations. This is a well-known technique before a job interview, for example: it’s usually recommended to tackle the typical questions that can be asked about yourself and the job you’re applying for before you go into the interview.

But you can also apply this to an array of other occasions: a client meeting, conflict among friends or family, a big job you want to land or a task that makes you anxious, and so on and so forth.

Spend some time taking a closer look at what might be expected of you and how you can provide a meaningful response.

Take yourself seriously

Self-reflection is, first and foremost, about yourself. This means that you can and should take your perceptions and feelings seriously, even if they seem silly to you at first – they come from somewhere and they’re justified.

Self-awareness: be honest with yourself

Some people are true masters of self-deception. Self-reflection is the exact opposite of this. It’s not about making yourself look as good as possible, but about finding out as much about yourself as possible, even if it means experiencing disappointment. Therefore, you should also acknowledge that you may have played your part in problems in the past.

Show yourself some love

On the other hand, don’t be too hard on yourself either. Self-reflection isn’t about dragging down your self-esteem.

Don’t put yourself down, even in your mind. If you only view yourself in a negative light, you’re certainly not right. Don’t want to let negative thoughts rule you anymore? Here are some top tips on how to think positive.

Align how we perceive ourselves with how others perceive us

Align how we perceive ourselves with how others perceive us

It can be easy for our perception of ourselves to greatly differ from how others perceive us. That’s why it can be helpful to seek the opinions of others from time to time. Feedback is important.

However, you need people you trust, who are sympathetic towards you and who are also willing to tell you the truth. Do you know people like this? If so, ask them how they view you.

But also keep in mind that every person views and perceives things in different ways, so it can be helpful to compare opinions from several different people with your own.

4 exercises for reflecting more on yourself

Not everyone is a natural at assessing themselves, but the good news is that self-reflection is something you can learn. The following exercises will help you work toward more self-awareness in your life one step at a time.

Make self-reflection an evening ritual

A good and very simple exercise for more self-reflection is to review how your day went in the evening. Make it part of your evening ritual to reflect on what went well, what your greatest success was, or what you want to improve on tomorrow, for example.

Make sure, though, that you don’t go to bed brooding. This can lead to insomnia.

Diaries and apps to prompt reflection

There are various diaries or apps available that provide you with daily questions and encourage reflection. They can offer some good prompts to keep you questioning yourself.

The advantage of apps is that they can remind you to pause for a moment and observe yourself at certain times during the day. This reduces the likelihood that you’ll forget to self-reflect on a stressful day.

Self-reflect with a morning journal

Many people report having a good experience keeping a morning journal. Here’s how: give yourself a set number of pages to write – three A4 pages, for example, are a good amount. Then just write down anything and everything that comes to mind, and without any full stops or commas if in doubt.

If you’re struggling to keep writing, just repeat the last word until something comes to mind. This regular activity does require some self-discipline, but if you write in your morning journal on a regular basis, you’re sure to come up with an array of interesting insights.

Self-observation with meditation

On the one hand, meditation can give you the peace and relaxation you need to gain insights about yourself. On the other hand, you can also use meditation techniques for the act of self-reflection itself. If you’re already familiar with meditating, then next time take a question or topic into meditation with you.

The special atmosphere created when meditating encourages mindfulness and brings with it completely different insights than simply sitting and pondering.

Self-reflection: example questions you can ask yourself

Self-reflection: example questions you can ask yourself

You should ask yourself plenty of questions as part of your self-reflection – you won’t find out anything meaningful about yourself if you don’t pose yourself some good questions. Therefore, to conclude, here are a few questions that can get you thinking about yourself.

  • What am I grateful for?
  • Am I dissatisfied? If so, why?
  • What can I do better tomorrow?
  • What am I good at?
  • What goals are important to me?
  • What are my weaknesses?
  • What else could life ask of me?
  • Where and how do I enrich the lives of others?
  • What could I do without, but don’t?
  • If I could turn back time, what would I do differently?
  • Are there things that prevent me from achieving success?
  • When do I stand in my own way?
  • What do I still want to improve?
  • What influence do other people in my life have on me?
  • How happy would I be in five years if I were to continue in the same vein?
  • How do I value myself? Could I value myself more?
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