Reflective thinking—the habit of looking at the bigger picture and asking “why”—can actually be the key to a good life.
When done right, it can improve your life dramatically.
Here are eight ways you can benefit from reflective thinking.
1) Reflective thinking can help you determine whether what you’re doing is worth it
It’s easy to get caught up in the moment and fixate on whatever you’ve been doing, especially when emotions come into play.
It could be anything— like an argument you have to win or a life milestone you feel like you MUST achieve.
But sometimes, things just aren’t as important as you think they are, and sometimes it’s what you’ve been overlooking that actually matters.
You might be arguing with a friend, for example, and in the heat of the moment, neither of you want to admit you’re wrong… and so you stop and ask yourself:
- “Is this really important?”
- “Is it truly worth it to risk burning down your friendship over that argument?”
In taking a moment to reflect on what you’re doing and have been doing, you can better determine whether anything you’re doing is worth the trouble.
2) Reflective thinking can make you turn failures into lessons
People like to say things like “people learn from their mistakes”, and “failure is a stepping stone to success”, but this isn’t quite right.
You can make all the mistakes in the world and fail for years on end, but if you don’t spend any significant amount of time actually reflecting on your actions, you’ll end up being a failure well into your 80’s.
The thing is that to really improve and learn how to do better, you need to sit down and reflect… not just on your failures, but also your successes.
Try to figure out why you failed or why you succeeded, to see what you could have done better, and try to figure out what is and isn’t worth committing your time and energy to.
Very little learning can actually be found in doing.
It’s in reflecting and analyzing your actions, their effects, and their costs to you that you can truly learn to move forward.
3) Reflective thinking can help you see your habits and patterns
As a rule of thumb, we aren’t usually aware of our habits unless someone tells us.
But here’s the thing—we can’t rely solely on other people to tell us about us! We need to do it ourselves.
You see, people aren’t always inclined to point things out especially if doing so will make them look rude. So doing some self-reflection is the best way to know yourself and your habits.
For example, you might think that there’s nothing particularly off with scratching your hair whenever you’re stressed. Your colleagues might not like seeing it… but if they tell you about it they might end up sounding rude or nosey. So they just don’t bother.
Or perhaps you have a habit of always pushing the blame on someone else when things go south. And if someone tells you about it, you probably aren’t going to believe in them.
That’s why you need to stop and do some self-reflection—to look closer at the way you act and how it affects you and others. This is the only way you can improve yourself.
4) Reflective thinking can broaden your perspective
It’s quite normal for us to find our comfort zone and stay there. In fact, you might even consider it a basic aspect of human nature.
And we fight hard to stay in that comfort zone, to the point where we almost refuse to listen to others or refuse to acknowledge experiences that might prove our beliefs wrong and shatter our sense of comfort.
Generally, we call people who are exceptionally stubborn in this regard as “closed-minded.”
You probably had times when you did the same—when you were confronted with a truth or realization that was perhaps a bit too inconvenient, so purely by reflex, you dug your heels in… and made up excuses for yourself.
Now what you can do about that is to use reflective thinking. Reflect on the conversations and notable encounters you had with others, especially those who brought with them a perspective very different from yours.
Try to understand—to actually see where people are coming from.
There will be times when you will find yourself wondering “wait, was I wrong?” or “did I misunderstand them?” and if you do, mull on those questions.
5) Reflective thinking can help you define your values better
What are the values and ideals that you stand for, and why?
If you haven’t tried to actually do some deep reflection and ask yourself these questions, you probably won’t make much sense.
You might have a vague idea of what you want or stand for, but it will be so drowned out by the things you hear other people say that it’s hard to even claim you understand them.
You might say “I believe that everyone should respect their parents no matter what!” but have you ever thought about why?
What if you have those beliefs simply because you grew up in a happy family, and simply didn’t consider the times when one’s parents are neglecting or abusing their kids.
Self-questions like these, though they might be tough, are important if you must understand yourself.
And who knows, you might just find that you’ve been holding on to ideals or values that are actually quite harmful, backwards, or contradict the rest of your personal beliefs.
6) Reflective thinking can help you come up with new ideas
Going through things you’ve already done might not be the first thing on your mind when you want to come up with something new.
But you’ll be surprised at just how much inspiration you can find in the things you’ve already done, or in experiences you’ve taken for granted.
The thing is that there really are no ideas—from movies to strategies in making a relationship—that are legitimately completely new. In fact, trying to invent the wheel all over again is how you end up repeating mistakes that other people have already dealt with.
Instead, we simply have ideas that are inspired by what already exists. If something works, understanding why it works will help you figure out how to make your ideas succeed. If something doesn’t work, then you’ll learn about what you need to avoid.
And sometimes, novel ideas already lie in plain sight, and all you need to do is to realize that they’re there.
That’s why reflecting on the things you’ve already done and seen and analyzing them can really help inspire “new” ideas or improve existing ones.
7) Reflective thinking can help you boost your self-esteem
Sometimes, when it feels like there’s no end in sight and you’re about to fall apart, all you need to find the strength to carry on is knowing that you’re not a complete failure.
And you know what, that’s true—no matter where you might be right now or how you’re doing, you most likely have had your fair share of successes and failures both.
Reflecting on the past and remembering the times when you did things right will help boost your self-esteem.
And even your failures can boost your self-esteem simply by seeing how far you’ve gone since then and how much better you are right now.
Let’s say that you’re feeling down because you’ve been trying to be the “Employee of the Month” for a few months straight now, and you always end up third or fourth in the company rankings.
But if you think about it, is third or fourth place really that bad?
In fact, if you used to have low evaluations back when you were new to the company, a change in perspective can show you that being in third place is already a massive improvement.
8) Reflective thinking can help you understand your limitations better
We all like to imagine that we can do anything so long as we put our hearts into it, but the sad reality is that we’re all just human.
We all have our limitations, and there’s just no way we can do everything we want to do.
Now you can just keep on doing whatever you want to do blindly and forget the times when things didn’t turn out the way you wanted them to go. But then you easily run the risk of failing over and over again because you’re assuming that you simply did something wrong when in truth, you’ve actually hit your limits.
It’s not always easy to understand whether your failures are because of errors or mistakes that can be fixed, or whether it’s because it’s simply beyond your abilities—like your environment or the kind of people you deal with.
That’s why, from time to time, you should step back and try to think deeply about where you struggle or fail. You do this to truly analyze and ponder on what you can do about it, and whether it would be in vain to keep trying.
An unexamined life—that with unexamined relationships, jobs, goals, and interactions—is not only NOT worth living, it’s such a waste of time.
Sure, it can seem daunting to always reflect, especially in this fast-paced world we live in. And some even say that too much self-reflection and introspection can lead to misery.
But when done in healthy amounts, reflective thinking can transform your life and your relationships.
Hopefully, this article convinced you to make reflective thinking a habit.