As a tool for growth, self-reflection is indispensable. It’s also a tool that can be difficult for many of us, especially if we’re intelligent and ambitious. The combination of intelligence and ambition drives many of us into business and the professions, where self-reflection can be equated with pointless self-indulgence. Even for those of us who may not fall prey to this wrong-headed judgment, genuine self-reflection still proves elusive, partly, maybe even mostly because we tend to have no idea how to do it. Because we’re so unfamiliar with it, what we’ve come to think of as self-reflection has become an instrument for self-recrimination.
Unraveling your Thoughts
The two things have nothing in common, really, but they become hopelessly intertwined with the addition of a single element: comparison. The comparison I’m referring to is the sort we engage in many times in a single day, probably without realizing we’re doing it. We start what we think of as self-reflection, and before we know what’s happening, we’re comparing ourselves to what we think we know about someone else. We think about what someone else seems to have, or do, or be, and suddenly, we’re not reflecting, we’re either recriminating ourselves for not measuring up, or we’re feeling relieved that we think we compare so favorably to the person or people who come to mind.
Comparison kills compassion because it objectifies the people being compared. Both we and the person we’re comparing ourselves to become objects, so we’re not regarding ourselves or others; we’re regarding what in our minds have become “things.”
Patience and Humility
Self-Reflection may be about humility, but it’s not about humiliation. Humility provides perspective; humiliation only offers degradation. When we compare ourselves, we’re pointlessly humiliating ourselves, or others. This isn’t self-reflection, so there’s no insight to be gained from it. Part of the difficulty many of us have with self-reflection may be that often, there’s no immediate result or “pay-off” from the process. For those of us who are impatient, or who expect immediate results, this can seem like a waste of time. Having taken a peek into ourselves, and feeling as though we got nothing in return for it can close us off to any insight that may present itself after our period of reflection, as often happens. Even when we have the best intentions, seeming to get nothing from our inward look is likely to discourage us from repeating the process in the future.
If you don’t know who you are, why does it matter where you’re going? Where you’re going makes a great deal more sense when you know who you are. Self-knowledge, self-recognition, or whatever you choose to call it illuminates the journey. Without self knowledge, regardless of your goal or level of ambition, you’re staggering around in the dark. Real self-knowledge comes only through self-reflection. In other words, it’s not the events and accomplishments that help us grow so much as it is how we process them, how we reflect on them.