The Power of Self Reflection

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Dr Ottilia Brown

The Power of Self Reflection

Posted 20 May 2018

Emotional Health

Dr. Ottilia Brown

The Power of Self Reflection

In my blog posts in March and April I highlighted the importance of plugging into you and identifying certain aspects of who you are with reference to uncovering values, strengths and passions. I was suggesting that you start engaging in the powerful process of self-reflection. I want to expand on this process in this month’s blog as it really is the foundation for developing self-awareness and for influencing significant change in the self, and in the way the self relates to others and the world.

I want to issue a cautionary note at this point; as I am often asked, ‘Is self-reflection really a good thing? Doesn’t it mean that you are thinking too much about the negative?’ Self-reflection and rumination are two very different things. Self-reflection is a healthy process of self-examination and exploration that results in having a deeper understanding of the self and of how you operate in the world. It is a purposeful process that is focused on learning and growing and evolving. It helps you to assess whether your expectations of self and other and your actual experiences are aligned. It develops the capacity for self-awareness and puts you in touch with your strengths and deficits. This understanding of self and self in relation to other helps you to make very important choices about how you want to respond to your own emotions and to others’ emotions and actions.

Rumination, on the other hand, is a negative process of chewing on that which is going wrong in a circular fashion without achieving any solution that allows you to change what you are discovering about the self. This circular thinking develops the critical inner voice and focuses almost exclusively on problems which results in you feeling stuck. Rumination can negatively affect your mood and can result in feelings of depression.

How do you know when you are engaging in rumination?

  • The content of your thinking is overwhelmingly negative. You may be engaging in ‘what if’ thinking, catastrophising, overgeneralising and several other negative thinking patterns. 
  • You are cycling between problems or potential problems and consequences without generating workable solutions.
  • You notice that you experience stress and your mood is negatively affected when you engage in this circular thinking.

Unfortunately, rumination comes very naturally to human beings which means we must be more aware of our thinking and actively develop the self-reflective muscle. Developing this muscle can be achieved in several ways:

  • Make time to self-reflect. Schedule time with you amidst all the commitments to others. It is highly recommended that you put this in your diary especially if you are aware that you often put yourself on the back burner.
  • Start journaling. Journaling is a useful tool that enables you to keep track of lessons learned. It becomes a handy life reference and a place where you can just be you without any concern of judgment from others. If you are experiencing a particularly busy time and you know that your journaling may be compromised, send yourself voice notes of significant thoughts, feelings and events that you want to focus on in your scheduled journaling time.
  • Tell yourself the truth. This might seem like an obvious point to make however, we often engage in thinking patterns that keep us trapped and discourage self-responsibility. Watch out for these thoughts and highlight them in your journaling process. Ensure that you always reflect on your own role in the challenges you may be journaling or thinking about. Be careful not to engage in self-blaming behaviour as this will derail the purpose of self-reflection.
  • Approach yourself with curiosity. Curiosity encompasses the desire to learn and is known to be correlated with your level of openness to personal growth. Curiosity has been associated with motivation to learn hence could become an intrinsic catalyst for your engagement with self.
  • Ask the right questions. Stick to ‘how’ questions and minimise ‘why’ questions. The latter can unearth defensiveness and can lead to negative thinking processes and feelings. For example, ‘Why can’t I start exercising?’ may lead to feelings of frustration with self; whereas, ‘How can I start exercising?’ opens possibilities for exploring solutions to inaction.
  • Be aware of your thoughts and feelings. This awareness will help you to identify whether you are self-reflecting or self-ruminating. Engaging in negative thoughts and having the resultant unpleasant emotions are a good indicator that you are veering off the self-reflective course.
  • Practice self-compassion. Sometimes we exhibit more compassion for a stranger than we do ourselves. When we experience compassion for others, we engage in a process of noticing the person’s struggle, feeling affected by their struggle, feeling moved to help in some way, and we may even reflect on how difficult life can be for humanity. When you are struggling, engaging in this process of self-compassion allows you to recognise your own imperfections as being part of the human condition. Self-compassion will activate an experience of empathy for yourself and move you to practise goodwill towards yourself.
  • Move to solutions and action. Once you have unpacked your challenges in a self-compassionate manner, brainstorm solutions and actions that you would like to take to remedy the situation. This solution and action component distinguishes self-reflection from rumination. However, it also engenders a sense of personal control over challenges which can significantly contribute to mental health. 
  • Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is about being fully present in the moment and observing our thoughts, feelings and actions in a non-judgmental way. Practising mindfulness builds the self-reflection muscle and limits negative thinking patterns that are associated with rumination. The act of being present with an attitude of curiosity and openness without judgment, allows greater opportunity for enhancing self-awareness in the moment and facilitating meaningful self-reflection.

Wishing you well as you commence or intensify your self-reflective practise! For further information or help with this, please feel free to reach out to me.

In health & happiness



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Lauren says:

11 months 3 weeks ago
Your article is both relevant, insightful and current. I'm often a victim of my own thoughts and will refer to this. I particularly appreciated the underlying caution it promoted against Rumination. How often we are defeated by negative falsehoods we manufacture leaving us feeling bereaved and in an emotional deficit which quite simply put, cause possible missed opportunities. my own reflection.
Dr Ottilia Brown

Dr Ottilia Brown says:

11 months 3 weeks ago
Dear Lauren. Thank you for your positive feedback. I am happy to read that you have found the information useful. Your reflection is quite an insightful one - when we ruminate on these 'negative falsehoods', we may very well be missing out on so many opportunities, not only material or physical, but also opportunities for emotional and spiritual growth. Thank you for sharing your insights with us. Wishing you well... take good care, Ottilia

Claire says:

11 months 4 weeks ago
How does this process relate to the one that so many life coaches tout, which is to look forward to paint a brighter future, and never back. This kinda goes against that school of thought?
Dr Ottilia Brown

Dr Ottilia Brown says:

11 months 4 weeks ago
Dear Claire, Thank you for your question. There are different schools of thought with regard to self-reflection... Some propose that in order to move forward we need to develop insight into the origins of our thoughts, feelings and behaviours and then using this understanding, make the necessary changes. Others suggest that focusing on the now is enough as long as we start reflecting on our thoughts, feelings and behaviours in the present and try to be solution-oriented in this regard, we should be able to make the necessary changes or adjustments required. Neither is right or wrong and would probably be able to claim some evidence for behaviour change depending on the preference of the person engaging in the self-reflective process. It could be argued that it depends very much on the nature of that which you are trying to work on and whether this is rooted in deeper unresolved past issues or are negative habits you have picked up along the way. Either way, engaging in self-reflection can enhance opportunities for growth and lasting change that can improve future outcomes. Wishing you well Claire. Take good care, Ottilia

Mariam says:

12 months 6 hours ago
Dear Dr., I've read all of your articles here, which have helped me in different ways, and also have a friend who contacted you for counsel via this site who you provided alot of help for. I admire the work of the people behind Enritsch and contributors like you whose mission is to help make other people's lives better. To all of you, keep up the wonderful work for all of the people and communities you help. M
Dr Ottilia Brown

Dr Ottilia Brown says:

11 months 4 weeks ago
Dear Mariam thank you so much for your positive feedback... I am happy to read that the articles have been useful to you and that your friend has been assisted. I hope that you will continue to benefit from our content as you brave your personal journey. Wishing you the best, Ottilia

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