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The famous Irish poet Oscar Wilde once said, “The final mystery is oneself.” But how do you unravel the mystery that is you? This can’t happen without self-awareness, and self-awareness won’t happen without reflection.
But what does reflection really mean?
Reflection is different from introspection.
Introspection is simply looking in. Stopping there not only limits your perspective, it can also diffuse it. In fact, it can lead some to pessimism, or even depression. Introspection is a one-way street. Reflection goes two ways. Let me explain.
The word “reflect” in Latin means to “bend back, turn back.” Take the example of your reflection in the mirror. When you look in the mirror, the image goes in, turns back and reflects. In the same way, taking the time to reflect on circumstances or events in your life will bring you new insights. There is no real learning process, sense of discovery or insight without reflection.
Reflection is looking in so you can look out with a broader, bigger and more accurate perspective.
Without reflection, your life becomes happenstance—activity without insight. Our experiences will not become insights without evaluating: Where I am, and why am I here? This in turn will help us to get to where we want to go. In other words, we become more authentic. Authenticity is about getting closer to our true identity.
I loved going to the carnival as a kid, and I especially enjoyed the fun house, running through the maze of mirrors, totally confused as to which way I should go. I would leave with knots on my head and bruises on my knees. The tiny lobby on the way out was lined with wildly curved mirrors reflecting distorted images of myself. I laughed until I cried because I knew what I saw was not the real me—the authentic me.
The point? We all have an internal mirror that reflects how we see ourselves. What you see determines your behavior—often subconsciously. But these distortions are not funny! It actually minimizes who you really are and what you really want. Without honest self-reflection, you can spend a lot of energy trying to find the right image to project to others. It’s not about being perfect. It’s about being honest with who and where you are, and what you really want.
Honesty leads to a more accurate picture, and accuracy leads to authenticity.
Leadership expert Warren Bennis says, “To be authentic is literally to be your own author, to discover your own native energies and desires, and then to find your own way of acting on them.” The more authentic we become, the more we are authoring our lives, and not simply living someone else’s script. And the more authentic you become, the greater is your sense of well-being.
So take some time to reflect. Don’t just start doing. Before doing, knowing and going, settle the question: What do I truly value and want? This won’t happen without reflection. We are quick to answer what I do questions, but your identity is not what you do, or who you know—it’s who you are. What are your values? What do you believe in? What do you hold onto? That truly makes you the person you are.
Maybe you’re saying, “I’ve made a lot of mistakes. It’s too late for me.” Whatever occurred in the past is history, and yes, there is life after failure. The game is not over.
So as you get ready to reflect (with pen and paper in hand), here are five questions to help get you started:
1. What are five non-negotiable values in my life?
2. What would I do if I were guaranteed success?
3. What are the experiences I want to have?
4. What is on my schedule that doesn’t need to be there?
What things can be abandoned or at least cut back? What obligations am I creating for six months from now that I will regret then?
5. What am I doing that I don’t enjoy, and what am I doing that I love?
What are the things that other people want me to do? What are the things that I want to do?
Your most powerful insights will be generated through this reflection, without any need for additional information. Your brain already has more information than you can imagine, and reflecting will bring your best ideas to the surface. And those ideas become your action steps.
This post originally appeared on LeadershipTraQ.com.
Mick Ukleja, Ph.D., is the founder and president of LeadershipTraQ. He empowers leaders to optimize their talent and equips them to excel in their professional and personal life. Mick is an author, speaker and generational strategist. He writes and speaks on engaging millennials at work. He is the co-author of Managing the Millennials: Discover the Core Competencies for Managing Today’s Workforce, 2nd Edition, which is used in corporate training and business schools. He co-founded the Ukleja Center for Ethical Leadership at California State University, Long Beach, which promotes ethics across the curriculum. Mick is an adjunct professor in the MBA program at Concordia University. His book Who Are You? What Do You Want? has been praised by legendary coach John Wooden: “I have always taught that success can be achieved by each one of us. These principles provide an excellent life-planning guide for bringing out your best.” Mick has been featured on Fox News, CNN, Fox Business Network, NBC and in numerous publications. Keep up with Mick at Leadershiptraq.com.