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Self-reflection - the question of one's own self

Our everyday life, whether professional or private, is primarily characterized by interaction with other people. How do I understand my colleagues, friends, family? One deals explicitly with the external, the people opposite and subjectively evaluates what one perceives in order to react accordingly. Too seldom do people question their own emotional and psychosocial processes, too many have gotten lost in the external world of technical and electronic overstimulation.

In order to counteract precisely this condition, healthy self-reflection has become more and more important in today's world. It is not just about the question "How do I react to something?". It is also about observing and evaluating of one's own thoughts and feelings.

But what exactly does this special form of self-perception encompass? And what are its advantages and methods? These and other questions about self-reflection are answered below.

What is self-reflection?

Self-reflection – Definition

As the name implies, self-reflection basically involves reflection, i.e., a retrospective look at or a view of oneself. Above all, the question of the effects of one's own behavior plays a major role. It is much more about being able to foresee and assess what thoughtful action entails. This ability is of extraordinary importance for interpersonal relations, especially in conflict prevention. The aim of the procedure is therefore to take appropriate action and to avoid inappropriate activities as far as possible.

Furthermore, self-reflection is a psychic phenomenon that is unique to humans and is not found in animals. Self-reflective thinking and acting plays an important role in psychology as well as in psychotherapy and, as already explained, especially in interpersonal relationships. In certain mental disorders, the capability for self-reflection is considerably to completely limited, such as in the case of psychosis. At the same time self-reflection, among other things, recognizes and develops self-confidence.

From a biological point of view, self-reflection is the ability to develop and compare different neural patterns at the level of the nervous system. On this basis, the mental process is called thinking or reasoning.

Epistemologically or philosophically, self-reflection is the ability to develop different concepts based on the mind. In this context, the main task now is to compare these concepts at the level of ideas in order to decide what is best for the situation.

Well-founded self-reflection takes time and is, if the matter is taken seriously, not a one-time thing. It can be quite a process of personal development that extends over many years and should take place as far as possible away from the hustle and bustle and the 24-hour constant supply of radio, TV, Internet, etc. One technique that can help to increase self-reflection in the long term is meditation.

Self-reflection vs. self-knowledge

Self-knowledge (or self-awareness) is the recognition of a person about his own self and thus closely linked to self-reflection. It should not, however, be confused with self-reflection.

In addition to thinking about oneself (introspection), self-reflection also includes self-criticism, that is, the critical questioning and judging of one's own thinking and its associated actions. As a result, individualized self-confidence can be developed. It is precisely this self-confidence that is now the prerequisite for the ability to self-knowledge. Self-knowledge in this context is the acquisition of knowledge about one's own psychic abilities, possibilities and realities and thus represents the prerequisite for self-realization.

In psychoanalysis as a recognized treatment method, the ability for self-knowledge and self-reflection is a prerequisite for the success of any treatment. Self-knowledge thus presupposes a certain objectivity of self-observation (introspection) and self-image; that is, the correct appraisal of one's own qualities, dispositions, powers and values of the self.

Self-knowledge, then, is a fundamental human faculty, studied in particular by Apperceptive Psychology. It is also the basis of intersubjectivity, that is, the understanding of other people, and thus an important prerequisite for functioning social coexistence. The opposite of self-knowledge is self-deception, which can lead to both self-overestimation and self-underestimation.

Overview of known reflection questions

Particularly in the field of psychotherapy and in conjunction with personality tests, generally valid questions of reflection are constantly being developed. These can and should also be used outside of psychoanalysis in everyday life and fully support self-reflection. For example, the question structures can be subdivided into questions concerning one's own will, prevailing self-doubt and dissatisfaction.

Regarding the question as to what one wants

  • What do I really want?
  • What really makes me happy?
  • Do I take my passions seriously enough?
  • What does success mean to me?
  • What job would I give myself?
  • What do I want to change, improve in my life?
  • Why is this goal so important to me?
  • What would I have to do without for that? Could I do that?

Regarding existing and recurring self-doubt

  • Suppose I could start over, what would I do differently?
  • For which values do I want to stand?
  • What should I do to achieve my goal?
  • Do I believe that I will achieve this goal?
  • If not, why do I trust my doubt more than my first impulse?

In cases of constant or frequent dissatisfaction

  • How much time do I invest daily in myself and my development?
  • How much success do I need personally?
  • Can what I am doing today still inspire me in five years' time?
  • What would I give up in order to have more time for myself?
  • If I had the job I was aiming for in my dream business, would I be satisfied?
  • What could I do to make me feel happier?

The Psychoanalytic Approach - the Five Factor Model

A model often used in psychoanalysis to illustrate self-reflection is the so-called "Big Five", also called the five-factor model. This is a model of personality psychology, commonly based on five existing major dimensions or criteria of the personality into which each person is divided:

  • Openness to experience (open-mindedness)
  • Conscientiousness (perfectionism)
  • Extraversion (sociability)
  • Agreeableness (consideration for others, willingness to cooperate, empathy)
  • Neuroticism (emotional lability and vulnerability)

The development of the Big Five began in the 1930s with the lexical approach of Louis Thurstone, Gordon Allport and Henry Sebastian Odbert. This is based on the view that personality characteristics are reflected in language, and thus that all essential differences between persons are already represented by corresponding terms. On the basis of more than 18,000 terms, the most culturally stable factors were filtered by factor analysis - the Big Five. Proven through a variety of studies and applied in more than 3,000 scientific studies, the Big Five are still regarded today as an internationally accepted standard model in personality research.

The results of the model are still clearly defined. Especially in childhood and adolescence, the individual personality positions fluctuate within the dimensions. Only after the age of 30 do the values remain largely constant for a short time. However, at a higher age, a change in the personality comparable to young adulthood becomes visible again. This seems to be due in particular to life experiences and social circumstances. With increasing age, there are particularly significant increases in conscientiousness and agreeableness. The values for openness, on the other hand, decrease with age. In the personality types, the group of the so-called over-controlled grows significantly. Even after the age of seventy, up to 25% of people change their former personality type within four years, which, however, depends strongly in part on gender and personality type. When explaining the changes, the subjective age in self- and external perception, the distance to the actual or expected end of life and the biological age received more consideration than the chronological age.

The benefits of sound self-reflection in private and professional life

A positive view of one's own life is the real key to success. Self-reflection trains the self-perception to a great extent, and thus opens completely new potentials for exercising lasting influence on one's own professional future. Only those who know themselves and know about their strengths, weaknesses, preferences and peculiarities, are able to perceive their own behavior objectively, to analyze and to make necessary behavioral changes. Self-reflected people know their attitude to life and have often developed a very individual attitude to deal with the increasing heteronomy in today's consumer and performance society.

In connection with personal or professional success, scientists constantly build upon one daily question: what was your decisive sense of achievement today? Anyone who points to a sense of achievement every day before going to bed, leads more balanced and satisfied lives in the long term. Regular reflection not only supports the cognitive or emotional side of one's own ego, it can also have a lasting effect on one's own work performance.

This is also shown in a study by two Harvard researchers, Francesca Gino and Gary Pisano. In one of their experiments, 202 subjects were to solve a series of online tests (mainly so-called brain teasers). After the first round of testing, the researchers divided the participants into three groups - the control group, the reflectors, and the mentors. The first group was to solve other brainteasers in the second round. The participants of the second group, however, were to think about how the previously processed tasks can be solved even better and more efficiently. They made notes on successful and less successful strategies before they also completed further tests. The third group acted like group 2 - only they were also informed that their notes would be used by future subjects. They became practical mentors for other participants. Finally, it was found that Group 2 and 3 achieved on average results that were a good 18 percent better than the control group.

Expertise, strategic thinking and hands-on experience - thanks to case studies, compulsory internships and rhetoric courses, these are hardly lacking in today's students and young professionals. The big question, however, is how this all relates to social competence and social coexistence. Priority for employment and promotion is therefore given only to brilliant analysts whose social competence seldom develops in step with their own ego and intellect. In the age of Industry 4.0, however, it is increasingly about skills such as modernizing existing concepts and about motivating employees. For this, correspondingly strong teamwork is necessary - but in the universities, this this is taught rather as an afterthought.

Especially in the field of management, so many mistakes can be made that can rarely be corrected afterwards. Pure careerists, who in most cases work and act completely without self-reflection, often think too linearly. They have learned to pursue their goals in a straight line, regardless of their colleagues and others. Yet it is not the sales-focused workaholics that make a company successful, but people who not only lead with their intellect, but also with heart and empathy. People who are role models, live their values and envision.

Dee Hock, founder and longtime head of VISA, increasingly dealt with management issues and came to clear results in his work. Those seeking success should invest at least 50 percent of their time in self-management in order to better understand and pursue their goals, principles, motives and behavior. They should invest 25 percent of the time in trying to influence those who are above him and invest 20 percent in guiding colleagues, customers or competitors. The rest or free time should then go to the family and friends, i.e., people for whom you are responsible.

So the secret is to keep one’s own character, temperament, words and actions in check. It is not about showing others the way, but about dealing with oneself in a healthy way on a professional level.

The risks of self-refection

As with all human emotion-based evaluation methods, self-reflection also carries the risk of pathological exaggeration. The question "Who am I?" can quickly lead to the systematic search for and condemnation of one's own mistakes and weaknesses. Despite better knowledge, there are tons of people who define themselves in terms of their own performance. That, even though psychologists realized at an early stage that one should not be defined by social status or profession.

Reflecting on oneself negatively means, "blaming oneself". One increasingly reflects only on the things that have gone wrong and blames himself for his own failure. One often practices self-criticism, focusing on one’s own mistakes, negative traits, weaknesses and bad habits. It is no secret that this behavior harms the individual and his social environment. Such behavior is called a vice, which can quickly become a habit and ends in self-loathing.

Self-loathing causes depression in over 50% of cases. After all, self-hatred gives one the feeling of not being good enough. And someone who is not good enough or satisfactory in all areas of daily life, does not deserve consideration or care. Many who have fallen to self-hatred suffer eating disorders, sleep disorders and severe imbalances. Here, too, the only antidote is sound, well-founded self-reflection and the development of distinct self-love. For only those who love themselves accept life and will be successful.