This One Simple Mental Exercise Will Help You Maximize An Important Self Improvement Practice
Technology has created a culture of information consumption, which has caused us to neglect this one, vital mental exercise that makes us uniquely as humans.
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We are busy -- seemingly busier than ever before. Task lists, emails, mobile notifications, new Netflix releases -- we have a never-ending supply of information and obligations to keep us occupied. Technology, it seems, has essentially propelled us all into a culture of information consumption.
This is a problem because our brains are wired to think in two ways, according to social psychologist Dr. Tabitha Kirkland. The first is "quick, animal thinking that comes effortlessly and uses the actual physical lower areas of the brain." It is our daily actions and reactions to our surroundings.
The second type of thinking -- one that is uniquely human and separates us from all other living things -- is called meta-conscious cognition, the process of thinking about thinking -- or self-reflection, and because of all the distractions, we are slowly losing our ability to effectively practice this.
Before I lose you on what you may likely be thinking is hippy mumbo-jumbo, consider that studies have demonstrated that this self-reflection process of understanding our thoughts and feelings helps us learn better and be more self-aware, which when applied regularly can help improve productivity, creativity, and overall well-being.
You do not need to burn incense or sit under a tree or even spend much time practicing self-reflection. In my practice, I take 10 minutes every day to journal as I plan and reflect, since writing requires more attention and focus.
If you do not think you have the time -- or the inclination -- to self-reflect, consider this abbreviated process. Take five minutes every day to ask yourself -- and answer -- the following three questions.
What have I done?
Reflect on what you have and have not accomplished since your last reflection. Did you devote time to development or check off an important task, or did you get stuck doing menial and less important work? How much time did you waste in irrelevant tasks or on YouTube and social media?
The key is to identify things that went well and those that did not. If your day is filled with lost time, do not shame yourself, but rather use this reflection to motivate yourself to do better the next day.
You cannot become better if you are not aware of what you are doing wrong.
What are you doing?
Focus on the progress you are making toward important, long-term personal and professional goals. Have you started that online class or important project yet? Have you spent more time with your kids or called your parents?
Again, the point is not to be hard on yourself. I can tell you from experience that I am constantly delaying big tasks and important ongoing development goals for the sake of smaller yet important tasks. In the process of reflecting, however, I am much more likely to turn my attention in my spare time to these important goals than binge-watching Netflix.
What will you do?
Now that you have taken a mental audit of your situation, ask yourself what you will do to improve yourself tomorrow. This is where it is beneficial to have a pen and paper next to you to record important tasks or actions you want to take next. You may not act on them, but at least you are thinking of them.
One more thing -- you should never strive to be perfect, but rather simply better than you were yesterday. As Winston Churchill opined, "Perfection is the enemy of progress."
If this all seems foreign, try starting slowly. Reflect on your week every Sunday and later expand to a "mid-week check in." If you see progress -- and I think you will -- then devote time daily, such as while making coffee in the morning or while brushing your teeth at night. The key is to do so in silence when your is without the distraction of music, news or conversation -- just you and your thoughts.
Finally, if you still cannot grasp the importance of self-reflection, consider this analogy. When you take a road trip, you cannot expect to effectively reach your destination without planning your route and regularly looking up to see where you are.
The same can be said about you and your goals.
What do you think? Do you spend time self-reflecting? Please share your tips for effectively doing so with others in the comments below.