“In a dark place we find ourselves, and a little more knowledge lights our way” – Yoda
Why are you here? What do you want from life? Where do you want to go? How do you plan to get there? These are often the questions we ask ourselves as we enter in to a New Year. We reflect upon the last 12 months. Some of us take time to count our blessings and successes as well as failures. We assess what went well and identify where improvements can be made. We take inventory.
If you are finding yourself in a period of introspection and soul seeking the chances are you are seeking to change. That change may be specific to your relationships, career, health or finances. You may be unhappy where your life is currently at and you want to make broad and sweeping changes. Perhaps things are generally going well but you want to do better in some or all areas of your life.
“Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.” – Carl Jung
Self Knowledge is Freedom
Self reflection and introspection is a powerful act which can guide us on a path to enlightenment. The exercise is not meant to be self absorption. We are not using it to think of ourselves only in a selfish or self centered way. The goal is not to garner a spirit of self will or to blame others. Self reflection is to realize our goals and understand where we are in relation to those goals. This leads to self knowledge. With self knowledge comes the freedom to change once we decide to act.
Having worked the 12 Steps for the last five years I have learned the importance of constant self reflection in my practice. When I was drinking I did not want to face the truth of who I was. It seemed easier to coast through life and see how long I could get away with it.
“Searching and Fearless”
Only through being self honest and taking inventory of my character faults did I begin to move forward with the transformation needed for sustained sobriety. I had to take a hard look at myself and wipe away the delusions I had created around my ego. Ignorance, dishonesty, anger and a delusional sense of omnipotence and grandiosity had to be removed. I had to stop acting like a self inflated, narcissistic big shot. The relief came in admitting my faults to myself and to another person and to my Higher Power. I asked that my faults be removed and became willing to start living free of them.
“Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.” – Step 4 (Alcoholics Anonymous)
The 12 Steps are not for everyone. One does not need to be in Alcoholics Anonymous to use self reflection to make positive changes to their lives. The ancient traditions of the East all use practices which lead to self reflection. Meditation is one such exercise. The Abrahamic faiths also use introspection to lead followers to a better life free of transgression. Yom Kippur an example.
Philosophy and Psychology extend self reflection to self knowledge and self improvement. No less the fictional Jedi were encouraged to continuously appraise their own performance and progress through self reflection.
“By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.” – Confucius
Take some time to reflect on your life. Consider the past year and go back as far as you want to. List your achievements for the last 12 months. Highlight your successes. Now do the same for the last 5 years and if you dare go back as far as a decade.
The milestones of your life may be anything you consider significant. It may include finishing school and university, academic achievements, career highlights, military or community service, business achievements and financial growth. List the things that make you proud. Include your family milestones and relationships with partners, family, friends and associates.
List all of your key attributes that you feel describe you in a positive way. Words might include trustworthy, humble, funny, determined, intelligent, kind, considerate and compassionate.
Now list where things have not gone so well in your life. List the areas you regret or wish could be improved. Inventory your faults to others as well as your flaws and failures. Be honest but do not self deprecate yourself in the process. Confronting our mistakes and failures are essential if we want to move on and improve our lives.
List your character flaws and faults which you identify as negative or unproductive. These might be impatient, compulsive, obsessive, aggressive, resentful, demanding, inflexible, bigoted and dishonest.
“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.”- Aristotle
Meditate and Persevere
Self reflection requires a lot of honesty and introspection. We have to be completely honest with ourselves and realistic in the way we look at ourselves. A mirror must be held up and we must confront who we are and where we have come from. We must face the good with the bad in order to make the changes we want to be. This can be hard but persevere we must.
Take the time to meditate on this exercise.
Self reflection can be a confronting as well as a rewarding experience. Unless we know who we are and come to terms with it, we can not hope to move forward. Self reflection is the first step to action.
“My friend…care for your psyche…know thyself, for once we know ourselves, we may learn how to care for ourselves”– Socrates