Welcome to the latest in our series of short blogs to help you stay safe, sane and supported during the current crisis. In this article, we’re going to look at using self-reflection to grow wellbeing.

As restrictions on our contact with the outside world have persisted and we have all settled into a new way of life, many of us have found some unexpected space for reflection. Here we consider how this space provides us with a pivotal moment to grow awareness of what is really important to us and to make key choices about where we want to go next.

What is self-reflection and why is it important?

Self-reflection is a capacity for introspection that sets us apart from other animals. It has been prized since antiquity, being advocated by Socrates in his famous adage for all humans to ‘know thyself’.

Self-reflection involves stepping back and observing ourselves, naming our experience, our emotions and our thoughts. It provides us with a moment of clarity and self-awareness that helps us to reconnect with what is important to us and to re-evaluate the extent to which our lives as we know them are moving us towards our personal values or away from them.

The resultant growth in self-awareness facilitates us to make choices about how we can respond in line with what we really want and value in our lives. This provides us with opportunity to feel more in control of our lives, to be authentic, act in accordance with what we believe and value and be true to ourselves. This allows us to experience more positive emotions such as joy, interest, gratitude and pride, to connect with other people and to engage in hobbies and interests that sustain us and help us to recover from pressures and demands.

Why are we doing more self-reflection now?

Self-reflection is often something that we do when we encounter a block in our path, when we experience challenge or conflict or when we want to make sense of our experiences.

As a consequence of Covid-19 we have all encountered blocks, perhaps like never before, having to adjust and adapt to unanticipated and unprecedented challenges both in our work and our home lives. We have had to step back and reflect on these challenges and review how we do things so we can continue to support our loved ones, take care of ourselves and survive in a changing world.

The limits placed on our ability to participate in activities we previously took for granted – socialising, shopping, travel, going to the cinema, theatre or a museum, attending a sporting event or having a kick about in the park – have for many meant that their pace of life has slowed. The ‘grab and go’ way of living has been replaced with ‘stop and think’.

Six months ago, it would have been hard to predict what good could have come of these huge changes. But within our work supporting people to build resilience and wellbeing through training and coaching, we have seen some unexpected benefits. People report having developed a new perspective, new ways of seeing themselves, their lives and the world.

It is true that the impact of Covid-19 on the previous order of things has been like a pack of cards that has been thrown in the air and landed in a random heap. Our experience no longer resembles that of our pre-COVID lives. Although we can recognise the different components, the way they relate to each other, our priorities and pursuits have changed almost overnight.

A powerful consequence of this upheaval has been that we have started to notice things about ourselves, our interests, hopes and dreams that we had forgotten in the normal hubbub of our day to day lives. And this self-reflection, our attempt to make sense of our situation and how we can live our lives within it has led us to question the status quo that we had established before the virus struck.

As our experience of self-reflection gains momentum, we begin to see how stepping back, observing ourselves, our lives, our work and our dreams, is helping us to find a new order in things.

How to use self-reflection to grow wellbeing

It’s likely that you have already found yourself reflecting on what is important in your life, what you love doing, what you had forgotten you enjoyed. For many of us, joining online dance classes, taking up knitting, playing an instrument, gardening or just taking time to fix things, has helped us to explore what drives and interests us and this has given us strength under lockdown.

But if you have struggled with difficult or negative thoughts and feelings, or become hooked into ways of coping that are unhelpful and undermine your wellbeing, you may need to consciously take time out for self-reflection.

When you notice yourself over-using alcohol or caffeine, spending more time than you feel you should on gaming or online shopping, ruminating or overeating, it can be helpful to step back and notice what is happening. Name the difficult emotions or the negative thoughts that drive these behaviours and write them down. Then take a moment to reflect on these patterns. What benefits and challenges do they bring?

It is common for our ways of coping to have unintended consequences, undermining our motivation, confidence, wellbeing and resilience. If this is happening to you, take a moment to step back, perhaps try using a mindfulness exercise to contact the present moment and allow the difficult thoughts and feelings to pass.

When we want to make changes to problematic patterns it can be useful to identify and draw on our personal values, to reconnect with what is important in life. To help you do this, try to visualise who you want to be, how you want others to see you, and what the key features of life are for you.

It can be hard to nail down our core values, so it can help to look at a list of common values. An exercise to help you do this involves using values cards. Simply print and cut out the cards. Then sort through them to identify your 5 most important values. Work out which of the 5 is your strongest or core value. And then ask yourself whether other people who know you well and care about you would agree.

Doing this exercise will give you an idea of how well you are living to your values and being authentic and true to what you believe in.

Then try asking yourself whether current patterns, ways of coping or being are helping you to move towards these values or away from them. See if you can identify what you need to do to let go of unhelpful coping and take action to move towards living to your values. Write a list of goals, identifying small steps you can take that will help you to act in line with these values and be the person you want to be.

Identifying your values in this way will help to guide you towards goals for more helpful ways of coping, more satisfying and rewarding ways of living your life and ultimately boosting your positive emotions and wellbeing along the way.

And you may be surprised to discover when you do this exercise, that some aspects of the way you were living before the pandemic were not allowing you to live to your values. This is what people are telling us in our training and coaching, as their experience of self-reflection clarifies what is important to them, what really makes them tick and what they need to do to live to their values.

If you found this helpful and would like to find out more about coping in a crisis, check out some of the other blogs in this series. You might also like to join our Facebook group UR Resilient, where members are busy sharing creative and inspiring ideas for staying positive during this challenging time.