It's that time again. The season when we look back at the year we've had – the good, bad, and ugly.
What do you see when you look back at the past year? Is it filled with pleasant memories or crowded with not so great moments? Whatever the case for you, you're not alone.
Many of us have faced plenty of upheaval over recent years. The pandemic led to plenty of economic, social, physical, and mental ups and downs for each of us. Now that we're nearing the end of 2021, we can look in the rear view mirror and reflect on our thoughts, feelings, achievements, and more.
When you contemplate what has passed, remember not to judge yourself too harshly. We tend to paint things with a tarred brush or rose-coloured hue and can unintentionally ignore all the colours in between. Be kind to yourself in your reflections. You might find it helpful to speak to yourself as you would to a loved one. We're often more forgiving towards others than ourselves.
So, what do self-reflection and awareness really mean?
It is human nature to have some self-awareness and the capability of reflection. What you may not know is that many people overestimate their current capacity. Fortunately, that is not necessarily a problem. We can grow to become infinitely more reflective and aware. As Philippe Rochat argues, it is a constant process, not something static that we achieve or fail to achieve.
In many ways, self-reflection and self-awareness are two sides of the same coin.
Self-reflection is a conscious decision. It involves looking inwards to find out who you are, what you value, and how you react in various situations. Self-awareness centres specifically on our ability to identify and manage our emotions. Ultimately, we develop our awareness through reflective thinking. You cannot have one without the other.
Both are central to our emotional intelligence. By improving our reflective abilities and awareness, we can better navigate the world around us. Each step in the process increases our understanding of ourselves and enhances the management of our thoughts and feelings.
Why should self-awareness and reflection matter to you?
Self-reflection and awareness should matter to everyone. They essentially shape how we see ourselves and can completely alter our interactions with the world.
We grow by looking inwards and paying attention to ourselves. Not only do we better understand ourselves by doing this, but we also better understand others.
Some studies suggest that we achieve personal and even societal transformations through consistent and reflective awareness. So, we can potentially reach more of our goals and find peace simply by taking time to contemplate our thoughts and feelings.
It's pretty hard to argue with that.
Of course, nothing is ever that simple. Pursuing self-awareness through reflection is challenging. It requires consistency and effort. But, if you do want to get to know yourself better, then this can help. You'll find things that you love and want to keep the same and discover others that you want to change. The first step in making these changes is to reflect on your habits and feelings.
Introspection can help us to re-connect with the world around us. We can develop greater compassion and kindness towards both ourselves and others. This can also promote enhanced self-control and regulation. Something we all need a little help with at times.
So if you are feeling discontent or disconnected, maybe it's time to take a breath and reflect. Perhaps you're struggling to find balance, or you're unhappy with your drinking patterns. Self-reflection will help you improve your awareness of your habits and identify your feelings towards them.
From daily life to the future
Without self-reflection, we can’t find self-awareness. And without self-awareness, we struggle to manage our emotions. It becomes difficult to show empathy and maintain healthy relationships when our emotions are out of control.
It is easy to see how things can go by and leave us feeling helpless. One thing feeds into another. This loop can lead to negative or positive results depending on our actions. We use our private and public self-awareness to better practice self-control by evaluating if individual habits and choices are helping us reach our goals or not.
For instance, maybe your goal is to be healthier, and your current habit is frequent drinking. If you meditate on a decision to have a beer after work, thinking about your health goal, you are more likely to exhibit self-control and not drink.
Questions to ask yourself to reflect and develop self-awareness
You can use a range of direct and indirect questions to challenge your self-reflection and awareness. It can be helpful to keep these queries related to things you want and things that are important to you, like your goals or values.
So, how can you use questions to enhance your understanding of yourself? Well, if you want to take a look at your strengths, you could ask a direct question, like what are my strengths? For a more complete picture, ask yourself what others compliment you on. You can also ask someone else what they think your greatest strength is. Each of these answers the same question, but you might find you get slightly different answers each time.
Never stop challenging yourself when you’re asking and answering questions. It will help you remain reflective and leave you with a more robust sense of self. In turn, this can translate to you finding out more about your goals and how you can achieve them.
Our goals are as much a part of us as our strengths, weaknesses and habits. Think about what you want and why you want it. Is it specific and realistic? When do you want to achieve this goal? What will reaching this dream look like?
For example, if you want to stop drinking, that can feel like a bit of a vague aim. You can set the objective as Dry Jan – one month of no drinking. This feels much more achievable. And reflecting on why you want to achieve this will help keep you constantly aware of your choices, so you stick to your goal.
Reflecting on the year – habits to keep and ones to break
How has this year looked for you? Have you developed habits that you’re proud of and want to keep going? Or maybe you’ve formed some bad ones that you’re ready to shake. Whatever the case, now is the perfect time to think. Reflecting on your habits is the first step towards changing. It helps make you more aware of your norms, how you feel about them, and how to keep or alter them.
If you’ve been exercising more regularly this year, then take some time to appreciate that. Feel proud that you have developed and stuck to a good habit. You may want to plan how you will keep on this track. Think about what you did and didn’t like about it. You can continue adapting your habits to suit you.
Fancy going dry in January?
Looking back on the year, are there any habits you’re not happy with? Have you been drinking more often or using it as a crutch to unwind? How often do you drink? How do you feel afterwards? Start by asking yourself simple questions. From there, you can consider a new goal to change the habit.
You could kick start 2022 with a dry month. It’s a short term aim that you can achieve, especially if you keep practising self-awareness and reminding yourself why it’s important to you. You never know- a month without booze might feel so good that you extend the challenge.
Our top tips for self-reflection and awareness
Self-reflection and awareness can feel like a confusing topic. But, it doesn’t have to be. We’ve got some easy to follow steps that you can use to improve your reflectiveness and awareness.
- Practice mindfulness.
Mindfulness is essential to self-reflection and awareness. Meditating in a quiet environment, away from distractions, allows us to connect with ourselves in a way that we don’t often do in the business of our everyday lives.
It can be daunting thinking about when you have time to practice mindfulness. Most of us don’t have 30 minutes to spare daily. If we do, there’s probably something more fun to distract us. Luckily, you can plan mindfulness to suit you. If you get the train home from work every day, why not use the journey home to meditate. Or use the 5 minutes you spend washing up after dinner to reflect and explore your mind.
- Let your curiosity be your guide.
Keep asking questions. If you keep asking, you’ll keep finding new and more in-depth answers. Mix it up with direct and indirect questions. Try asking others these questions as well as yourself. Let your curiosity and values take the lead- that way you’ll always be reflecting and becoming more self-aware.
- Try not to be too harsh on yourself.
I doubt that many of us would make any claims of absolute perfection. We all know that we’re not. It’s simply not human to be too perfect. Yet, most of us still struggle to view ourselves without judgement. Part of healthy self-reflection is learning to look deeply at who we are and realising things we want to change without judging these so-called flaws.
- Keep a journal.
Writing things down works wonders. It can help us to explore our thoughts and feelings in new ways. Journaling your thoughts regularly also allows us to see potential patterns. What triggers positive or negative emotions for you? Why do you think this is?
- Look at things from another perspective.
Seeing things from another perspective is easier said than done. But, there are methods you can try to take a more objective view. Doing this is particularly useful when you face something frustrating, whether it’s in the moment or on reflection.
Try putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. Consider how they might think or feel about the situation. If you’re struggling, you can also ask another person for their perspective.
- Spend time with people
Contrary as it may seem, spending more time with other people can actually help us to improve our self-awareness. We need to develop our sense of self in relation to our sense of others.
The best benefits of self-reflection and awareness
The benefits of practising self-reflection and awareness are impressive. Just a few of these benefits include:
- Increased self-control
- Boosted productivity
- Improved self-esteem and more positive self-development
- Working more creatively
- Better mental health and overall wellbeing
- Enhanced communicative abilities
- Improved relationships
This is by no means an exhaustive list. And if you are planning to start reflecting and want to become more self-aware, then you are sure to find even more of your own benefits.
If you want to find more success in every area of your life, from work to relationships, you should try out our tips for practising reflection and awareness.
How reflective and self-aware are you?
Do you regularly reflect on your thoughts, feelings, and emotions? Maybe you often find yourself contemplating the past and thinking about how certain events made you feel. Perhaps you haven’t given much thought to who you are or only infrequently explored your values.
Whatever the case for you, there’s always room for improvement. You can enhance your personal development, achieve your goals, and build a healthier relationship with others and the world around you.
Reflecting and self-awareness can even help to improve your relationship with alcohol. It is easier to stay focused and exhibit self-control when you know yourself and understand your feelings. So if you set your mind to stopping or reducing your drinking, you might just be surprised at how far you can go.
If you are considering changing your drinking habits, why not go dry in January?
Ardelt, M., Grunwald, Sabine. (2018). The Importance of Self-Reflection and Awareness for Human Development in Hard Times. Research in Human Development, 15, 1-13.
Rochat, P. (2003). Five levels of self-awareness as they unfold early in life. Consciousness and Cognition, 12, 717-731.
Duval, S., & Wicklund, R. A. (1972). A theory of objective self awareness. Academic Press.