A Visit with Yourself

The benefits of self-reflection.

Posted Feb 28, 2018

A visit with yourself may seem a novel, perhaps even wacky idea. The questions, “Who am I?” “What is it, that is the essence of me?” and “What are my dreams?” may seem adolescent—after all, by adulthood one should know these answers. Self-questioning may also seem like something that is the stuff of self-absorption. Yet, a joyful and fulfilled life requires periodic self-appraisal; what you think you need to be happy may be the very thing that is likely to destroy you.

There is short story by the Russian writer, Leo Tolstoy, who asked the question of how much land does a man need? In that story, the unhappy main character believes that if he just had enough land he would be happy. One day, he is told by owners of a large swatch of land that whatever he marks is his so long as he comes back to the starting point by sundown. The man’s greed prompts him to encircle a larger and larger area, until he falls dead. The answer to Tolstoy’s question of how much land a man needs is “enough land to be buried.” Had Tolstoy's character engaged in self-reflection, it may have saved his life.

Self-reflection does not have to require anything beyond making a commitment to

  • Spend an hour of time quietly thinking about your life.
  • Writing down who you are now.
  • Considering whether you are the person you thought you would be 10 years ago or 20 years ago. And asking yourself, where will that person be 10 years from now?

A visit with yourself can trigger self-awareness, such as

  • How are you spending your time? With whom? Doing what?
  • Are you wasting time or are you using it productively? 

Self-reflection can also encourage you toward pursuing a purposeful change.

  • What are your goals?
  • Is it time to re-appraise your career?
  • How much of the day are you engaged in doing what you want to be doing versus doing what you have to do?
  • What is that you really want to be doing?

In one short sentence, can you answer in a way that a five-year-old would understand what your dream is?

Spending time to take a self-inventory may seem a frivolous use of an hour; especially, in the context of all the other things you have to do: paying bills, grocery shopping, laundry, house cleaning, taking care of the yard, work deadlines, eldercare, childcare, etc. etc. Most of us spend our days as if our time was infinite—think of the hours you may have wasted channel surfing or getting hooked into news stories that pop up on the Internet. Time is a slippery entity and a trickster. It lulls us into thinking that whatever was left undone, or whatever deep wish or desire there is in us, that there will “always be tomorrow.” We let the routines of the day take over, and before you know it, another year has gone by.

Self-reflection is your inner psychological compass; it needs periodic re-setting and “course correction.”

This isn’t fanciful talk. We are not suggesting that you quit your job and sit under a tree to meditate about your life. Self-reflection is recognizing that we can get so routinized that we forget what it is that ignites our creative spirit. Even worse than wasting time is mindless living; that is, living without thinking about what it is we want out of life. Each of us has creative powers that lay low like the proverbial unplanted seed. However, they can get deeply buried under life’s routines, or be dismissed by our inner narrative that says such thinking is the stuff of fairytales.

It may take many visits with yourself to correct your psychological compass and to move it in the direction of where you want to be going. But remember that it is time well-spent.

References

Tolstoy, L. (1993). How Much Land Does a Man Need? And Other Stories. London: Penguin Books.

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