Who are you living for? Really, who is it?
Too often, the actions we take throughout our day are meaningless and aren’t self-serving, and so many of us live our lives by the objectives of others – our parents, our boss, our friends – that we frequently forget to align our actions with our core beliefs and values. And, blindly following the ideas of others on autopilot creates a life devoid of consciousness and intent.
But, that’s not to say that working on autopilot is a bad thing, it’s not. In fact, many say that creating daily habits are what make success stories. But, as the old adage goes, ‘too much of anything is bad’, and, likewise, too long on autopilot can lead to a life lacking meaning and purpose.
Regaining consciousness of your actions by taking the time to flick the switch from autopilot to manual can remedy this and, actually, this action is at the core of how self-reflecting can help us understand who we are as individuals.
What does self-reflection mean?
The Importance of self-reflection
The benefits of self-reflection
Learning and development
Cast off the ego
Open the door, broaden your mind
50 Self-reflection questions
Pondering about who we are is no new phenomenon. In fact, it’s been puzzling humans for some time. Take, for instance, the aphorism inscribed on the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo, Greece – “Know thyself”. Existential thoughts about ‘the self’, and the reflection of it, have, therefore, been pestering the minds of humans throughout history.
But, what does self-reflection really mean?
To put it simply, self-reflection is the process of taking the time to think about your fundamental nature, purpose and essence. More specifically, this is about asking questions regarding your beliefs, motivations, thoughts and purpose (to name but a few). The answers to these questions can often be difficult, but sometimes they’re simple. They can be provocative and enlightening or they can be challenging and distressing. Nevertheless, the answers always have the potential to initiate development.
However, many people struggle to think of appropriate questions to ask themselves to elicit the answers they seek, but don’t worry, our list of 50 introspective questions means that we’ve got your back on this one!
Basically, introspection is about taking the time to truly understand yourself. It’s important that you step away from what others say about you and approach yourself internally. That’s not to say that reflection can’t be sparked by what others have said – because it can – but it’s important to reflect in a way that is personal and objective.
But being objective can be difficult, especially when there’s a bazillion-million things pinballing around your skull at the same time. That’s why, for reflection, calmness is crucial – try to bring the mind from chaos to stillness to meditate on the questions that bring our lives purpose. Journaling in a quiet and peaceful space and later reading back on your thoughts is a useful way to bring calm to your self-reflection. It also helps to keep you inspired and in check.
But, facing these questions can be a real challenge, so why bother? Can’t we just continue on autopilot? Is self-reflection really that important?
The short answer to the previous question is this – yes, it is that important. Working, moving, consuming, 24/7, all systems go, go, go will: (1) fry your brain; (2) mean that you avoid the most important questions in life – questions which, whether you like it or not, will come into play at some point. Introspection means that these are questions that, with regular self-reflection practices, won’t be so distressing when they do arise.
Self-reflection, therefore, is important because it helps us to assess all aspects of our lives, from the minuscule and mundane to the monumental and grandiose. Taking a step back from ourselves to truly understand the reasons why we do things is a humbling experience that will serve as a reservoir of inspiration for you on a day-to-day basis.
But, in order for me to demonstrate to you just how important self-reflection is, it’s vital that we look at the benefits together…
What you resist, persists – emotional scars
Even though emotional scars don’t sound like a benefit, they actually are, because they represent your ability to heal after you’ve been hurt. Your scars show your story, they show strength, they show that, no matter what, you will heal, learn and develop.
It would be great if we could live a life free from suffering, but, unfortunately, traumatic events happen to us all. And it’s usually during these times of despair when people take a moment to look inwards. It could be a near-death experience, the loss of a loved one, or even the insidious build-up of discontent from working in a job you hate – whatever the cause, reflection is the response; whether it’s reflecting on your life’s significance, memories of a loved one, or the meaningfulness of your work. It’s in this response where the importance of regular self-reflection practices comes into play because, if you frequently take time to examine your life’s purpose, you will be able to either deal with these traumatic events better when they happen or (in the case of working a job you hate) prevent them from ever causing a problem.
It’s often said that prevention is better than a cure, but there is no preventing some things, so having the right remedy techniques is necessary too. Having the tools to deal with certain situations, such as identifying your triggers or being able to see things in broader perspectives, are examples of things that you can work on.
To sum up, preventing existential crises and being able to deal with them when they do occur, are the two huge pros of looking inwards.
Learning and development
But introspective work isn’t only for when times are tough. We can use self-reflection to better our lives every day. We can do this by cultivating new skills daily through questioning what we do, the way we do it, and why we do it.
Think of it like deseeding a bell pepper (if you like bell peppers, you’ll thank me later). You can wedge your knife right into it and start slicing away, but then you’ll end up with all the seeds everywhere. Instead, question why you try to remove the seeds this way. You’ll probably find that the answer is, quite simply, that you don’t know the best way to deseed a bell pepper. Next, ask yourself what you can do to overcome this problem. The answer, research and find a better way to do this. The solution: turn the pepper upside down, make three slices from the bottom to the stalk, pull the segments apart and, voila, your bell pepper is seeded no longer!
You see that the outcome of this thought process is this – you’ve learnt a new skill (or at least improved an old one). And, whilst this example is unlikely to be life-changing (unless you’re a bell pepper fanatic), other examples can be. For example, changing how you approach a relationship could change your love life, or learning how to cast off unhealthy habits and form healthy ones can help you to become more productive. These are only a couple of examples of more significantly life-changing learning outcomes you can receive from introspection.
Cast off the ego
Now, let’s face it, our minds are chaotic, I know it, you know it, we all know it. Sometimes our brain is working at a million miles per hour, just. In the midst of all of this is our ego, you know, that internal narrative that’s telling us a multitude of things that serves as a continual source of confusion. Some days our ego might be telling us things we’d rather not hear. It can be negative, overly critical and outright mean. Or it can massage itself, make itself seem better than those around you, be overly critical of others, be judgemental.
Acts of stillness momentarily stop the ego. So, take a second, take a breath, still your mind. After all, self-reflection doesn’t always have to be about thinking and questioning, it can be about meditation, residing on a thought without thinking, actionless action. Taking time to stop will calm the ego, centralise it and give your chaotic mind that desired moment of peace. These moments of stillness will help the periods of reflection.
The art of compartmentalising your biases and putting them to one side so that you can understand something impartially is a refined skill, but it is also one that can be developed through introspection. The big question to help development here is “why?”.
Our monkey minds flash all kinds of thoughts and visions through our noggins throughout the day and asking why we think these things help us to take a step back and to understand our thought processes more objectively. Cognitively restructuring our thoughts provides us with the opportunity to develop objectivity because rather than just thinking, we’re now thinking about why we’re thinking our thoughts in this way.
Confused yet? Let me help; when you have your next thought, simply ask yourself, why did I think that? You might be surprised by the answer to your own question!
Open the door, broaden your mind
Objectivity leads directly into this one – openness.
Being able to take things for what they really are rather than what we think they ought to be can be challenging. So often we see the world through a lens that we ourselves have created, and this is limiting. It’s limiting because it only allows you to perceive things from the context of the truth you’ve created. It’s time to remove the lens. Self-reflecting can help you to question your truths and biases so that you can construct new opinions about the world that surrounds you. The objectivity of thought can help you to release these biases that are so deeply embedded in our psyches.
Events happen, and we process them. That’s just how life works. But people so often lack perspective. Usually, this is due to a lack of experience, living a privileged life, or maybe having a sheltered life. Questioning the key aspects of your life is such an important part of self-reflection because it rewards you with gratitude. You see, it’s not always about objectives. You can set goals and ambitions, this is a good thing to do, but it’s important to enjoy the journey on the way and to love all the hard work that you put into reaching your objectives too. Because, if you don’t enjoy the journey to the destination, you won’t enjoy the destination when you get there. Asking yourself about the things you’re grateful for in your daily life is a key that will unlock the door to happiness.
Practising introspection regularly can’t surely mean that you live longer, right? Well, actually, research has shown that people who believe that their life serves a purpose greater than themselves live significantly longer than those who don’t. So, having a purpose literally makes you live longer.
But there’s more. When you take a second to evaluate and savour little moments in life, time feels like it’s slowing down. This gives the impression of things lasting longer. So, through introspection, not only are you more likely to literally live a longer life but, also, your perception of time changes making it seem as though you’re living longer in every moment.
I bet you are all now wondering whether your life has meaning, well using the self-reflection questions below can be a useful tool to help you uncover this – you can thank us when you’re older…much older!
So, there we have it, whether it’s fine-tuning microscopic aspects of our lives, or repainting the bigger picture, taking a moment to be introspective is important because it guides us through the difficulties that life unexpectedly throws at us, steadies the mind, or simply helps us deseed a bell pepper. Regular self-reflection also allows you to turn off autopilot and to stop and smell the roses around you. Gratefulness, longevity, objectivity, control and openness are just some of the fruits to be harvested through reflection.
So, after all, self-reflection is about showing up for yourself. But by doing this, you are showing up for others too. Because when you bring purpose to your life, that shows, and who does it show to? Other people. So, through introspection, you can become the eternal pool of inspiration that others turn to when they’re in need.
So, without further ado, here’s a bunch of questions to help you get started!
50 questions to help your start your journey into self-reflection
Gratitude and happiness
- What brings joy to my life? Why?
- When do I feel the most comfortable in my own skin?
- What gives me energy? Why does it energize me?
- What inspires me? (music / art / nature etc)
- Can I make time today to appreciate something small? (a cup of tea/people watching)
- Who am I grateful for? What is it about them that makes me grateful that they are in my life?
- How can I show others that I am grateful about them?
- What am I grateful for in my day-to-day life? Why?
- What makes me smile? Why does it make me smile?
- In what ways can I improve my overall wellbeing?
In the moment
- What thoughts are taking up the most space? Why?
- How have my actions today affected other people?
- What is my intention for today?
- Who am I becoming? Is this what I truly want?
- What can I do right now to support myself emotionally?
- What am I grateful for today? Why?
- How am I feeling right now? Why do I feel happy/upset/frustrated?
- What would I like to change about how I feel today? How can I do this?
- What am I looking forward to right now? Why? What emotions does it bring?
- What actions can I take right now to give myself a moment of peace?
Reflecting on relationships
- Which relationships are the most important to me? Why?
- How do the people closest to me make me feel?
- Are there any relationships I’m particularly happy with? What makes them special to me?
- Am I neglecting any relationships? What can I do to nurture them?
- Who has had a great impact on my life, and how? Take a moment to be grateful for their impact.
- To what extent do others control my life?
- Does anyone look up to me? Who is it? Why do they look up to me?
- What do I like to do with the people closest to me? How does this make me feel?
- What do I love most about my partner/sibling/closest friend?
- Whose opinion is most important to me? Why?
Finding meaningful work
- What have been the primary motivators for my career choices so far? (e.g. money / status / passion).
- What motivational factors do I want to shape my future career choices?
- What are my talents, and where do they meet the needs of the world?
- How is my current job shaping me as an individual?
- In what ways did my education change the direction of my career?
- Is this the right career path for me? Why (not)?
- What are three achievable but ambitious work objectives that I can set for myself this year?
- Did I reach the work objectives that I wanted to reach last year? Why (not)?
- What have been the most challenging aspects of my work so far? Why were they challenging?
- Which directions could my career take me in?
Learning and development
- What is something I wanted to do last year but didn’t do? Why didn’t I do it? Can I do it now?
- What is one thing I did last year that I wish I hadn’t done? Why do I wish I hadn’t done it? How can I change future actions to prevent this from happening again?
- Are there any skills I don’t know that I want to know?
- How much time and effort am I willing to put into learning ___________?
- What simple tasks do I find difficult? Is there an easier way to do them?
- When do I feel at my most creative? How can I harness this creativity?
- What topics can I talk about for the entire day? Why do they interest me?
- Are there any topics I’d like to know more about? What can I do to learn about them?
- What can I do to put myself out of my comfort zone?
- Who inspires me to develop? What is it about them that is inspirational?