Sometime life is just plain hard. 2020 is not going to be ranked in my personal history as one of my favorite years. The most difficult challenges I faced involved personal relationships. I was pretty much a mess, struggling to know what to do as God patiently waited for me to get a clue and listen.
I finally stopped imagining retakes of conversations and faced the hard truth. The only thing that would help move me forward and grow was self-reflection: focusing on my own thoughts, decisions, emotions, and behaviors. I found this both ironic and humbling as a woman who’d published a book about self-talk. But apparently writing a book on a topic did not mean the author had mastered the content for life. Ahem.
Our humanness makes us blind to our greatest flaws. Self-reflection—particularly the habit of self-reflection—increases our intimacy with God, helps us make better decisions, deepens our self-awareness, increases our awareness and respect for others, and helps us make wiser, biblically-aligned responses.
Self-reflection helps us transition from reactionary living to responsive living and from purposeless decisions to biblical, purpose-driven decisions.It gives us purposeful, intentional time to sit alone with God and ask Him questions about our life, our relationships, and carrying out His purpose in our lives.
Qualities of Self-Reflection: Openness, Observation, and Objectivity
A number of my friends exhibit the qualities of self-reflection. But I also observe confidence, calm, and a Spirit-driven curiosity for others in these same individuals. I believe that the qualities/practices listed below, in conjunction with the regular practice of self-reflection, beget additional positive character qualities and attributes as self-awareness increases.
Openness is described as the ability to see things for what they are, not what we want them to be or think them to be. It’s the ability to view and judge ourselves the same way we look at and judge others—with perspective and non-emotional distance. This requires enormous honesty and hard work.
My openness, thank God, was the key in the lock that opened the door to self-revelation for me. Openness allowed me the opportunity to honesty observe myself and, ultimately, take responsibility for my part in the relational issues that had been troubling me. This ultimately led to healing.
We ‘re not aware of our own biases and stereotypes. And we all are guilty of implicit bias; it’s impossible not to grow up in a culture and not regard that culture as our yardstick for safety, worth, and value. Neuroscience supports this view.
We must be open and willing to search our hearts and examine our part in conflict or tension. Openness means we’re willing to honestly explore our actions, words, and motives.
I wrestled for weeks and months trying to identify my source/s of offense. Then I spoke with a dear friend and counselor who kindly advised me: “It’s not what you say, Shelly. It’s how what you say sounds to someone else.”
In an instant, I perceived my words in a different light. I could see where I was responsible and what I needed to say.
Observation is the ability to observe yourself the way you observe external events and others: with perspective and distance. When we observe, we focus on what drives our decisions and behaviors. When I wrote my apology, I was able to include what had driven my behavior because self-reflection had revealed it to me. Now I’m able to discover it in my self-talk before it comes out my mouth. And even more importantly, I’ve been able to trace the source and pull it out by the roots.
One of the most difficult aspects of self-reflection for me is objectivity: the ability to separate your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors from your identity. Aspects of my childhood deeply influenced a false sense of my identity. I grew up thinking that my thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, as well as other people’s perceptions of me, were my identity. Because part of my identity included my behavior, I worked very hard to be good.
However, as a woman who found my identity in Christ, I learned to question those thoughts and replaced them with objective truth. I am who God says I am. I practice self-reflection because, although my identity is secure, I mess up. Self-reflection gives me the insight I need to grow in Christ, heal wounds, build bridges, and live free. Without self-reflection, I remain trapped in my deceptive self-talk.
The really good news is that as we regularly practice self-reflection, it becomes engrained in our nature. We find ourselves “listening in” to our thoughts and evaluating what we say and do before we say or do it.
What about you? Do you practice self-reflection? If so, how have you used it as a tool of self-growth? I’d love to hear from you.