The practice of examining ourselves can be a powerfully healthy one. Done correctly, it leads to self-awareness, which increases our ability to exercise control over our emotions and provides a greater sense of well-being.
But done incorrectly, self-reflection can go awry.
Sometimes, the examination of ourselves leads to self-loathing. Rather than looking inward to better understand ourselves, we may become absorbed in comparing ourselves to others, which only leads to insecurity and anxiety about the future.
As the unattributed saying goes, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” That’s no way to start the new year.
Arming yourself with a few methods for positive self-reflection can turn the traditional New Year’s practice into an insightful experience that boosts your self-belief, confidence, and motivation for the coming year.
It’s important to note that you won’t gain greater self-awareness overnight — self-reflection is a lifelong practice. But the spirit of New Year’s is a strong catalyst for such a practice.
Offer yourself compassion
As you self-audit, maintain unconditional positive regard for yourself. That means offering compassion to yourself even if you feel you’ve done wrong or could have handled something better this past year. Look at yourself with curiosity, not contempt.
Judgment and shame only elicit defensiveness. Acceptance fosters safety, which invites honesty and self-exploration. It’s important to take responsibility for any failures or mistakes you’ve made. But don’t forget that everyone makes mistakes.
With wisdom — particularly the wisdom that comes from honest self-reflection — we learn that failure is temporary and doesn’t speak to our value as a human being.
Viewing ourselves with unconditional positive regard can also spark self-betterment and keep us emotionally fit, fostering self-actualization, self-confidence, and motivation.
Dig deep with the right questions
Self-reflection is key to taking control of your life, happiness, and success. It’s the first step to understanding and overcoming long-held misconceptions and limitations. And that involves asking yourself questions.
For example, what situations or events were stressful for you this past year? What situations or events made you happy? Have you struggled to connect with certain friends or family members?
Additionally, we must ask ourselves the right questions. What are the right questions, you ask? One rule is to ensure those self-posed inquiries ask “what,” not “why.”
“Why” questions can cause us to obsess over our problems. Studies show they lead to greater anxiety and symptoms of depression.
If you ask yourself why you feel or behave a certain way, the answer you land on will likely confirm your pre-existing beliefs rather than uncover truthful insights.
“What” questions, on the other hand — e.g., “What was I feeling in that situation?” rather than “Why did that upset me so much?” — may reduce negative feelings and attitudes by helping you to name your emotions.
Also, the right questions are solutions-focused, not problem-focused. Ask yourself questions that shift your focus to the possible solution of something that’s weighing on your mind.
Looking at a problem from this perspective not only identifies potential answers to the problem but also increases your confidence in your ability to solve future dilemmas.
Don’t quit self-reflection after the new year
Think of the New Year as the beginning of your self-reflection journey rather than a once-a-year exercise. If you want your introspection to generate insights about yourself, then you have to make it part of your routine.
Yet self-reflection requires a balance: We should neither obsess over nor ignore ourselves. In fact, studies show that people who dedicate too much time to introspection may experience more anxiety and negative attitudes about themselves.
Still, we do need the space to ponder our problems in order to work through them. And in this digital world, where our devices are just inches away, ready to feed our distraction, we have to make time for that introspection.
That means timeboxing 15 minutes or so every week for self-reflection in our calendars. The good news is that by becoming self-aware, you become less likely to veer off track when difficult emotions surface — which is why self-reflection is such a compelling practice for the New Year.
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About the Author
Nir Eyal is a former Lecturer at Stanford and is the bestselling author of Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products and Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life.