Recovering the Lost Art of Reflection

Recovering the Lost Art of Reflection



min read

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards” - Soren Kierkegaard 

Did you know one thing that separates us humans from other creatures is the ability to reflect? The ability to step outside our lives and look back at it. It’s quite remarkable. Quite wondrous. Honestly, just thinking about it makes me feel like some kind of superhero! And yet many of us struggle to utilise this powerful potential. 

So why is our reflection superpower often underutilised? 

Our default “Go Go Go” culture means that reflection is often not prioritised or valued. I initially saw reflecting as a waste of time and a hindrance to me keeping up with what I perceived was the pace of success. I also wasn’t around people who demonstrated the importance and benefits of reflection. 

Even if reflection is prioritised and modelled, the increasing weight of our life responsibilities often squeezes it out.  The sheer bulk of things that need to be practically done on any given day, e.g. job responsibilities, care for others, personal fitness, spiritual practices, household maintenance etc, means we often have little bandwidth and energy to reflect. 

Reflecting also requires us to face things we prefer not to. Unsurprisingly, most  would much prefer to “veg” out to some YouTube videos rather than revisit challenging moments or relationships.

Why bother reflecting?

The case for recovering the lost art of reflecting is compelling. There has been a proliferation of research into the many benefits of self-reflection and here’re just a few:

  1. Reflection provides a core foundation from which other important soft skills grow. The important human traits of empathy, compassion, communication, adaptability, emotional intelligence are correlated with our ability to self-reflect. If we want to grow in these capabilities, healthy and regular reflection is critical. In other words, contemplation and reflection are an essential art for those of who want to live a life of holistic flourishing.

  2. Reflection offers the opportunity for growth and innovation. This has been particularly true for me through my addiction recovery and personal transformation journey. Previously, I would look to avoid any thoughts that made me feel uncomfortable e.g. worrying about how I’m seen by others, afraid that I had failed to meet someone’s expectations or frustrated that I didn’t have control in a situation. As I’ve learnt to better reflect on my mistakes and frustrations, I’ve found that I’m less inclined to blame shift or cast presumptuous judgement, which has in turn improved my interpersonal interactions. 

  3. Reflection offers surprise in the pursuit of dead certainty. There’s nothing wrong with planning and predicting but the danger is when we become overly attached to a particular outcome, what I like to call “dead certainty.” Reflection allows us to see the things that didn’t fall within our plans and the “surprise factor” has the potential to make us more grateful for moments as well as more adaptable to changing situations in our lives.

How to reflect? 

There is not one right method to reflect and there are many forms I’ve tried across my personal and professional life and over varying seasons. Here are a few that you could consider:

#1 What? So what? Now what? These questions help us go through three reflective stages to think about an experience, considering its implications and what it means for the future. 

  • What? Identify the facts and feelings of the situation.

  • So what? Allows you to extract meaning from the situation.

  • Now what? Allows you to create an action plan based on the first two questions.

#2 The Daily Examen. This is an ancient practice of prayerful reflection on the events of the day in order to detect God’s presence and discern God’s direction. It was developed by St Ignatius of Loyola, a Spanish priest from the 16th century, and includes:

  1. Becoming aware of God’s presence 

  2. Reviewing the day with gratitude 

  3. Paying attention to your emotions 

  4. Choosing one feature of the day and pray from it 

  5. Look forward to tomorrow

#3 The 4Gs. I developed the 4Gs (Gratitude, Grace, Growth, Going Forwards) as a way to reflect on any period of life, and I currently use this method as a part of my daily and yearly reflections.

  • Gratitude. What am I thankful for? 

  • Grace. What was a surprise or mystery that came my way? 

  • Growth. What can I learn? 

  • Going forwards. What do I want to do more of? 

You may have your own method or want to try to mix a few components from different options to make your own customised version! 

I’d love to hear the method(s) of reflection that have helped you, whether in the past or currently. Simply reply and let me know. 

To round things out, here’s some further tips when it comes to the art of reflection:

  • Start small, start somewhere - if too many questions are overwhelming, a good place to start is what are you thankful for today? 

  • Some is better than none - having one minute of pause is better than none so do what you can. 

  • Choose the method that fits your life and adapt as you go - some people prefer to reflect using physical journals, others use digital apps, some write, some draw, some record. If you are struggling to work out which way you go, remember that some is better than none! I personally use physical journals using a mix of words and drawings and then take photos and categorise them in a notes app. 

  • Healthy reflection over unhealthy rumination - the goal for reflection ought to be increasing well-being and flourishing. If you find you are getting into unhealthy rumination such as self bashing or over speculation that drains your energy, then stop and speak to someone who could help guide you towards what is healthy for you

Developing your own art of reflection can and should be fun! I'd love to hear about what you discover along the way.

Over To You

Self Reflection

  1. How often do you have dedicated time to reflect? 

  2. How has reflection helped you in the past? How has it been unhelpful? 

  3. What small step can you take to develop your art of reflection? 


I've love to hear what's on your mind, whether a thought or a question. I read all emails and will respond as appropriate. Message me

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p.s. If you want to take serious action beyond reading, set up a time here and we will have a conversation about options to get you moving on a new trajectory starting now.

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