Self-reflection is an amazing tool that helps to reinforce learning and put things in perspective but it also blows self-doubt out of the water. I always feel a little self-reflective this time of year.
So often, when we’re chasing our goals, we’re looking ahead of us to the next shiny thing. Sometimes, when the results are slow to come through we start to doubt ourselves.
Maybe you’re in a bit of a slump, receiving more than your fair share of rejection letters or non-responses and you start to wonder, “What’s wrong with me? What am I doing wrong?”
Everyone else seems to have it all together. Especially in this age of social media when everyone is sharing their shiny life and yours seems dull in comparison. The temptation is to fall into the comparison trap and judge yourself as not good enough or lazy or unlucky. Your inner critic knows just the right spot to attack which keep you scared and playing small.
Reflection is the antidote to this torturous self-doubt.
The big picture is inspiring!
Consider this: would you prefer to gamble your life savings on one big bet or 100 small bets? Chances are, you chose the 100 small bets. You are not likely to win as much, but you’re not likely to lose it all either.
When we’re goal focussed, we see things one at a time. This narrow focus can be helpful to ward off distraction but it can have its down sides. One-thing-at-a-time creates a feeling of all-or-nothing stakes. It becomes pass or fail depending on whether we achieve our desired result or not.
But reflection is the key to zoom out the frame. Instead of judging goal by goal, we start to see a string of events – achievements and failures both – and patterns emerge. In his book Thinking Fast and Slow Daniel Kahneman calls this Broad Framing.
Just like the 100 small bets, looking at the big picture through reflection reduces our chances of full-on failure. Instead of all-or-nothing pass/fail outcomes, we encounter a spectrum of achievement that demonstrates progress and takes the sting out of a lone failure.
Humans are by nature narrow framers which means we consider decisions and goals separately. We need to intentionally practice reflection.
By seeing the big picture, we recognise and celebrate progress, we learn from failures and create momentum. Waiting another few weeks doesn’t seem so bad in the context of the 10 years we’ve spent working up to this point.
And if we do encounter a string of full-on failure, reflection helps us learn valuable information about cutting our losses and shifting gears.
If you’re weighted down by self-doubt, try this reflection exercise:
List 100 things you’ve achieved in your life.
This exercise is from Cathy Heller’s book Don’t keep your day job and it’s actually pretty tricky.
If you’re like me, you’ll start with the easy wins – the big, memorable achievements. For me, these included getting married, giving birth to my daughter and graduating my bachelor’s degree in visual communication design.
But, pretty soon, you’ll have to dig deep and acknowledge some of the smaller wins. My list included things like practicing compassion, setting boundaries and buying my first set of adult sheets.
The funny thing about this exercise was that it drew out memories I had forgotten about. Fun things I’d done, moments I felt proud of, people I’d met and supported and risks I’d taken.
It’s hard to look at a list of achievements like this and feel self-doubt.
There’s no room for comparison here. Even the highest achiever will have to stretch their thinking to fill up their list. That’s another benefit of this activity: it practices divergent thinking – an essential skill for coming up with ideas.
Look at what you’ve achieved and there’s so much more to come. You’re pretty wonderful. Thank goodness you’re here!
Be brave and curious,