Self-Improvement The Importance of Self-Reflection: How Looking Inward Can Improve Your Mental Health By Sanjana Gupta Sanjana Gupta Sanjana is a health writer and editor. Her work spans various health-related topics, including mental health, fitness, nutrition, and wellness. Learn about our editorial process Updated on May 26, 2023 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by Sabrina Romanoff, PsyD Medically reviewed by Sabrina Romanoff, PsyD LinkedIn Twitter Dr. Sabrina Romanoff, PsyD, is a licensed clinical psychologist and a professor at Yeshiva University’s clinical psychology doctoral program. Learn about our Medical Review Board Print Sunwoo Jung / Getty Images Table of Contents View All Table of Contents Why Is Self-Reflection So Important? Benefits When Self-Reflection Becomes Unhealthy How to Practice Self-Reflection What to Do If Self-Reflection Makes You Uncomfortable Incorporating Self-Reflection Into Your Routine How well do you know yourself? Do you think about why you do the things you do? Self-reflection is a skill that can help you understand yourself better. Self-reflection involves being present with yourself and intentionally focusing your attention inward to examine your thoughts, feelings, actions, and motivations, says Angeleena Francis, LMHC, executive director for AMFM Healthcare. Active self-reflection can help grow your understanding of who you are, what values you believe in, and why you think and act the way you do, says Kristin Wilson, MA, LPC, CCTP, RYT, chief experience officer for Newport Healthcare. This article explores the benefits and importance of self-reflection, as well as some strategies to help you practice it and incorporate it into your daily life. We also discuss when self-reflection can become unhealthy and suggest some coping strategies. Why Is Self-Reflection So Important? Self-reflection is important because it helps you form a self-concept and contributes toward self-development. Builds Your Self-Concept Self-reflection is critical because it contributes to your self-concept, which is an important part of your identity. Your self-concept includes your thoughts about your traits, abilities, beliefs, values, roles, and relationships. It plays an influential role in your mood, judgment, and behavioral patterns. Reflecting inward allows you to know yourself and continue to get to know yourself as you change and develop as a person, says Francis. It helps you understand and strengthen your self-concept as you evolve with time. Enables Self-Development Self-reflection also plays a key role in self-development. “It is a required skill for personal growth,” says Wilson. Being able to evaluate your strengths and weaknesses, or what you did right or wrong, can help you identify areas for growth and improvement, so you can work on them. For instance, say you gave a presentation at school or work that didn’t go well, despite putting in a lot of work on the project. Spending a little time on self-reflection can help you understand that even though you spent a lot of time working on the project and creating the presentation materials, you didn’t practice giving the presentation. Realizing the problem can help you correct it. So, the next time you have to give a presentation, you can practice it on your colleagues or loved ones first. Or, say you’ve just broken up with your partner. While it’s easy to blame them for everything that went wrong, self-reflection can help you understand what behaviors of yours contributed to the split. Being mindful of these behaviors can be helpful in other relationships. Without self-reflection, you would continue to do what you’ve always done and as a result, you may continue to face the same problems you’ve always faced. Benefits of Self-Reflection These are some of the benefits of self-reflection, according to the experts: Increased self-awareness: Spending time in self-reflection can help build greater self-awareness, says Wilson. Self-awareness is a key component of emotional intelligence. It helps you recognize and understand your own emotions, as well as the impact of your emotions on your thoughts and behaviors. Greater sense of control: Self-reflection involves practicing mindfulness and being present with yourself at the moment. This can help you feel more grounded and in control of yourself, says Francis. Improved communication skills: Self-reflection can help you improve your communication skills, which can benefit your relationships. Understanding what you’re feeling can help you express yourself clearly, honestly, and empathetically. Deeper alignment with core values: Self-reflection can help you understand what you believe in and why. This can help ensure that your words and actions are more aligned with your core values, Wilson explains. It can also help reduce cognitive dissonance, which is the discomfort you may experience when your behavior doesn’t align with your values, says Francis. Better decision-making skills: Self-reflection can help you make better decisions for yourself, says Wilson. Understanding yourself better can help you evaluate all your options and how they will impact you with more clarity. This can help you make sound decisions that you’re more comfortable with, says Francis. Greater accountability: Self-reflection can help you hold yourself accountable to yourself, says Francis. It can help you evaluate your actions and recognize personal responsibility. It can also help you hold yourself accountable for the goals you’re working toward. 7 Habits of Emotionally Intelligent People When Self-Reflection Becomes Unhealthy Self-reflection is a healthy practice that is important for mental well-being. However, it can become harmful if it turns into rumination, self-criticism, self-judgment, negative self-talk, and comparison to others, says Wilson. Here’s what that could look like: Rumination: Experiencing excessive and repetitive stressful or negative thoughts. Rumination is often obsessive and interferes with other types of mental activity. Self-judgment: Constantly judging yourself and often finding yourself lacking. Negative self-talk: Allowing the voice inside your head to discourage you from doing things you want to do. Negative self-talk is often self-defeating. Self-criticism: Constantly criticizing your actions and decisions. Comparison: Endlessly comparing yourself to others and feeling inferior. Kristin Wilson, LPC, CCTP Looking inward may activate your inner critic, but true self-reflection comes from a place of neutrality and non-judgment. — Kristin Wilson, LPC, CCTP When anxious thoughts and feelings come up in self-reflection, Wilson says it’s important to practice self-compassion and redirect your focus to actionable insights that can propel your life forward. “We all have faults and room for improvement. Reflect on the behaviors or actions you want to change and take steps to do so.” It can help to think of what you would say to a friend in a similar situation. For instance, if your friend said they were worried about the status of their job after they gave a presentation that didn’t go well, you would probably be kind to them, tell them not to worry, and to focus on improving their presentation skills in the future. Apply the same compassion to yourself and focus on what you can control. If you are unable to calm your mind of racing or negative thoughts, Francis recommends seeking support from a trusted person in your life or a mental health professional. “Patterns of negative self-talk, self-doubt, or criticism should be addressed through professional support, as negative cognitions of oneself can lead to symptoms of depression if not resolved.” How to Practice Self-Reflection Wilson suggests some strategies that can help you practice self-reflection: Ask yourself open-ended questions: Start off by asking yourself open-ended questions that will prompt self-reflection, such as: “Am I doing what makes me happy?” “Are there things I’d like to improve about myself?” or “What could I have done differently today?” “Am I taking anything or anyone for granted?” Notice what thoughts and feelings arise within you for each question and then begin to think about why. Be curious about yourself and be open to whatever comes up. Keep a journal: Journaling your thoughts and responses to these questions is an excellent vehicle for self-expression. It can be helpful to look back at your responses, read how you handled things in the past, assess the outcome, and look for where you might make changes in the future. Try meditation: Meditation can also be a powerful tool for self-reflection and personal growth. Even if it’s only for five minutes, practice sitting in silence and paying attention to what comes up for you. Notice which thoughts are fleeting and which come up more often. Process major events and emotions: When something happens in your life that makes you feel especially good or bad, take the time to reflect on what occurred, how it made you feel, and either how you can get to that feeling again or what you might do differently the next time. Writing down your thoughts in a journal can help. Make a self-reflection board: Create a self-reflection board of positive attributes that you add to regularly. Celebrate your authentic self and the ways you stay true to who you are. Having a visual representation of self-reflection can be motivating. How to Use a Vision Board to Achieve Your Goals What to Do If Self-Reflection Makes You Uncomfortable You may avoid self-reflection if it brings up difficult emotions and makes you feel uncomfortable, says Francis. She recommends preparing yourself to get comfortable with the uncomfortable before you start. Think of your time in self-reflection as a safe space within yourself. “Avoid judging yourself while you explore your inner thoughts, feelings, and motives of behavior,” says Francis. Simply notice what comes up and accept it. Instead of focusing on fears, worries, or regrets, try to look for areas of growth and improvement. “Practice neutrality and self-compassion so that self-reflection is a positive experience that you will want to do regularly,” says Wilson. Incorporating Self-Reflection Into Your Routine Francis suggests some strategies that can help you incorporate self-reflection into your daily routine: Dedicate time to it: it’s important to dedicate time to self-reflection and build it into your routine. Find a slot that works for your schedule—it could be five minutes each morning while drinking coffee or 30 minutes sitting outside in nature once per week. Pick a quiet spot: It can be hard to focus inward if your environment is busy or chaotic. Choose a calm and quiet space that is free of distractions so you can hear your own thoughts. Pay attention to your senses: Pay attention to your senses. Sensory input is an important component of self-awareness. How to Use Your 5 Senses to Manage Stress Levels 5 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. Nowak A, Vallacher RR, Bartkowski W, Olson L. Integration and expression: The complementary functions of self-reflection. J Pers. 2022;10.1111/jopy.12730. doi:10.1111/jopy.12730 American Psychological Association. Self-concept. Dishon N, Oldmeadow JA, Critchley C, Kaufman J. The effect of trait self-awareness, self-reflection, and perceptions of choice meaningfulness on indicators of social identity within a decision-making context. Front Psychol. 2017;8:2034. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2017.02034 Drigas AS, Papoutsi C. A new layered model on emotional intelligence. Behav Sci (Basel). 2018;8(5):45. doi:10.3390/bs8050045 American Psychological Association. Rumination. By Sanjana Gupta Sanjana is a health writer and editor. Her work spans various health-related topics, including mental health, fitness, nutrition, and wellness. 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