Self-reflection: is it a help or hindrance?

by Leona McDonnell, Mindfulness and Wellness

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‘Without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and failing to achieve anything useful.” (Margaret J Wheatley)

This is one element that never would have crossed my mind until recent years. To reflect on myself, my life, my thoughts, my choices, why would it even matter? Was I not just like any other person coasting through each day, just doing what needed to be done, working to live and living to work? Why would I even have thought that by taking some time out to analyse my true self and my life choices that I could give myself direction, enthusiasm, motivation, drive, commitment and a zest for living each day to the best potential that I could?

Nowadays, I love to have an opportunity to self-reflect as a person and on my life choices. I love to deeply identify and uncover the elements that help to grow and enhance myself as a person and also those elements that are destructing my ability to believe in myself, in my hopes and my inspirations.

So, what is self-reflection about? It can be defined as: “The activity of thinking about your own feelings and behaviour, and the reasons that may lie behind them.” (

When you combine self-reflection with mindfulness, the result can be truly life-transforming. As mindfulness is about paying attention, on purpose, to your present experience, whatever that experience may be, without judgement, you can experience a deep level of self-compassion and respect when you reflect on your life in a meaningful and mindful way.

So why do so many of us not realise the importance of self-reflection? Perhaps it may be because it can be hard to meet and see ourselves as others meet and see us. We’ve often heard the saying that sometimes ‘the truth hurts’ and this may be one of the reasons that we often avoid delving deep into our hearts and souls for reflective questioning and answers.

We may sense ourselves that we could be doing better in our lives, that we could be more patient, kinder, more caring, more understanding, more positive, make better life style choices and we may not want to face this head on by spending time reflecting on this. But when you commit to live more mindfully and treat yourself with kindness and compassion, these elements that you may perceive as ‘flaws’ can be viewed upon as a part of who you are as a person and when you let go of any self-critical or harsh judgements about them and towards yourself, you will find a way of being able to mentor, coach and empower yourself to make whatever changes you may desire in your life.

A quote I love to illustrate this point is: “Before I ask you to sit with me, I must be able to sit with myself. Before I ask you to accept my pain, I have to accept the pain myself. Before I ask you to love me, I have to be madly in love with myself.” (C Thorn)

Some people love to spend time reflecting on their lives, their choices, their views and opinions especially as they approach a year end and before they start a new year ahead. When we learn to slow down, to take time to self-care and reflect, we gain more clarity and enhanced vision, as if observing our lives from a higher perspective. We tend to be able to see things differently and can start to realise that ‘we do have a choice’ in our lives.

We can choose what thoughts we want to entertain, just as we can choose how deeply we are willing to let ourselves get overwhelmed and consumed by our emotions and their associated physical sensations. But this wisdom and insight only comes from a commitment to spend and invest time into getting to know yourself, by being willing to go places within your heart and soul that might hurt and feel uncomfortable, that you may not want to address. When you learn to do this, you will see that:

“Everything in your life is a reflection of a choice you have made. If you want a different result, make a different choice.” (

It’s important to acknowledge that sometimes, as humans, we can experience difficult life challenges, health challenges, relationships and much more. Even though each individual person could be living with a similar or different life challenge, the one thing that we do have in common is our ability to ‘choose’ how we wish to respond to these life challenges every second, minute, hour, day, week, month or year of our lives.

A thought to leave you with as you may contemplate whether to self-reflect at any time of the year or if self-reflection is a ‘help or a hindrance’ is: “Don’t become too preoccupied with what is happening around you. Pay more attention to what is going on within you.” Mary-Frances Winters)


How to create a time for self-reflection in your life

The following is a step by step guide on how to create a time for self-reflection in your life:

1. Commit to yourself that you will create a space of 10-15minutes each week to sit alone in your own presence and to listen deeply to what your heart and soul wants you to know about your life.

2. Each week choose one element of your life that you would like to address, reflect on, enhance or change.

3. As you hold this element as a focal point in your mind’s eye, use your breath to navigate you through any thoughts or feelings that may arise. Just breathe in and out as you normally would.

4. Just be aware of any thoughts, feelings, emotions or hurts that may be present and commit to yourself to be non-judgemental towards them or towards yourself.

5. You may find it helpful to journal or write down some bullet points on each element you reflect on weekly so that your have a clear, concise and accurate vision and plan for any changes you may wish to implement.

6. Be confident in the knowledge that you have the internal strength, power and choice to embrace any self-reflection questions and to overcome and implement any answers that may arise as a result.