Why Reflection is Important

Several weeks ago I met up with a close friend for coffee. My friend is a hyper-competitive person; she works in the finance industry and puts in a lot of hours every week. We started talking about the concept of time for reflection and immediately got into an argument.

My friend claimed that reflecting on things was “not a good use of time because just thinking about life isn’t going to solve anything. Instead, you should be focused on solving your problems and achieving your goals.”

If you’ve read my blog at all, you’ll know that I strongly disagree with this. I’ve always been a fairly reflective person. Reflection usually helps me take steps forward. I didn’t understand how reflection got in the way of problem-solving and goal-setting.

But as I started talking to more people, I realized that my friend wasn’t alone in feeling this way. Many people seem to think that reflection and introspection to be a waste of time.

This bothered me. I knew that reflection was important, but I hadn’t taken the time to analyze why. So I thought it would be helpful to write out all the ways that reflection has helped me.

Avoid repeat mistakes:

A few years ago, I tried to start a company with a close friend. We were both very enthusiastic about the concept and I was excited to work with him.

A few months in, I realized that I’d made a huge mistake. My friend was a great guy, but we just didn’t work well together. The project ended up going nowhere and we moved on to other things.

A year later, my friend called me with a new idea. He was wildly enthusiastic and really wanted me to be a part of the new venture. Against my better judgment, I agreed. Unfortunately, our inability to work well together resulted in another failure.

We all mess up sometime. The important thing is that we don’t fall into the pattern of repeating our mistakes. But how will we know what we’ve done wrong unless we take some time to think about it? Had I reflected for a little while, I could have avoided making another bad decision.

Come up with new ideas:

We’re all so bombarded with information that it often goes in one ear and out the other. Reflection gives you time to make sense of everything going on in your life and develop new ideas on how to approach it.

My first job ever was at a large investment bank. When I started, I had no idea how to manage my time. I constantly felt overwhelmed and didn't know what to do.

I decided to get away for a weekend in order to gather my thoughts. I packed up my gear and camped out in the woods for a weekend. While there, I realized that there were actually a few simple problems that were causing most of my stresses. I just needed to organize my e-mails, prioritize my tasks, and follow up on certain issues.

It wasn't rocket science, but it took some reflection to realized what I needed to change.

Figure out what matters:

Back in college, I was having coffee with a good friend who was having trouble defining what was important in his life. He felt pulled in many directions – his parents wanted him to go into business and his professors wanted him to be a scientist. He also had some desire to explore a professional career in music. He was genuinely interested in many things and felt overwhelmed by the choices in front of him.

I told him that I didn’t have an answer. The best way for him to find out was to reflect. Take time away from everything and just think. He took my advice and ended up realizing that what mattered to him was enjoying his work and making a substantial impact.

When he thought about it this way, a career in scientific research made the most sense. Today, he is a graduate student in neuroscience at a prestigious university and overall, is very happy with his decision.

We’re constantly being pulled in all directions. With all the external pressures, it is easy to over-commit. Taking time to figure out what matters can help us sort out our priorities and goals from the black holes that we want to avoid.

Providing perspective:

It’s easy to get down on ourselves. We are always struggling for things and sometimes the fight can get exhausting. Taking time to think about ourselves in the context of others often helps me put things in perspective. Thinking about this calms me down; things could be better, but they could also be a lot worse.

In April of 2009, I lost my job in banking, and was pretty down for a few weeks. I didn't really have a clear plan about what I was going to do. But after I reflected awhile, I realized that my situation wasn't actually that bad. I had some money in the bank, and a good education, and no matter what happened, I knew that I'd eventually get back on my feet.

This restored my confidence and gave me the energy I needed to push myself forward. Within a few months, I had already started making money as an entrepreneur, and was on a great trajectory.

How has reflection helped you develop as a person?

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