Self-reflection - A Powerful and Transformative Approach

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I was driving my car on a fine Sunday morning, and suddenly a scooter rammed into my vehicle. My knee-jerk reaction was to blurt out on the scooter driver, but as soon as it happened, I took a backseat and chose not to get into the confrontation. However, while driving back home, I was still not peaceful even though I could change nothing. Upon reaching home, I started reflecting upon the incident and thinking about what I could do differently moving forward to avoid losing my peace in the process. An experience such as this is a somewhat common occurrence you’d witness if you’re driving in heavy traffic.

One of the very few factors that make us different from the animal world is our unique capability to reflect upon our own lives. We can choose to stay reactive, or we can respond in an empowering way that’d leave others touched, moved, and inspired. Through self-reflection and consistent effort has humanity evolved into becoming one of the most impactful species on the planet. So the question to ask here is whether you are flowing with the flow of life and react to how life occurs to you, or are you reflecting upon your life consistently to make it better and beautiful for you and the people around you. 

Looking back, I’d recall several instances where the lack of self-reflection brought me many challenges during my early entrepreneurial years.

In the year 1996, a whole new world of possibilities was there in front of me. I always wanted to become an entrepreneur. So, after completing my engineering, I decided to step out and make a real difference for me, my family, and the world at large. 

The year 1997 – My First Big Step 

At the prime age of 23, I am now officially the first generation entrepreneur in the family, and everyone is immensely proud. I am working tirelessly for 18 hours a day, seven days a week, for my first dream venture – a production unit. We started to manufacture ceramic glazing chemicals for the ceramic tiles. This is my first time working on a business, so I can’t afford to leave any stones unturned. But, ironically, being a dreamy-eyed middle-class young boy passionate about chasing his destiny, the real world is nothing as I imagined it would be. Everything started falling apart within two years, and the business came to a grinding halt somewhere in the mid of ‘99. 

While constantly hustling to achieve my goals, the most important aspect I ended up overlooking was self-reflection. I kept reacting to the situation after situation, going through the flow of experiences without being present, and not paying attention to what was not working, such as the synergy among my business partners. I realized later that I could have talked straight, demanded when needed, created a vision, and enrolled others in that rather than complaining or blaming. 

Abraham Lincoln said it best, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first four sharpening the ax.” And I kept cutting the trees, never sharpened the saw. It took me some time to realize that things were not working out well, even after putting in so much effort. 

Big Mistakes Teach Bigger Lessons

Consider an airplane taking off with a fixed destination to land. Yet, it is relatively common for a flight to deviate multiple times from its projected route before it lands at the destination. And this is when Air Traffic Controller (ATC) comes into the pilot’s assistance, so the flight does not lose track. The ATC constantly reminds the pilot about the marginal deviation and helps to redirect the plane back to its projected path. Thus, despite the deviated pathway, the aircraft still lands precisely where it should, only because the pilot is constantly guided.

This is how self-reflection works in human life. It makes us aware when we are off route and guides us back to the right path. Though my journey of self-reflection started after my first failure, I truly understood this when I was on my first overseas tour in 2014. I got present to the impact of my naivety and “going with the flow” had on my life. Not just that, I also got present to how awful of an experience it could create for people around me. That’s where my reflection exercises started, and I started identifying several things that I could do differently and show up as a courageous, loving person for everyone around me. A few things that I could work on through reflection exercises are consistently updating my skills, creating more deep-seated relationships with people around me, having straight, precise, and effective communication, and the list is long. Eventually, I started experiencing the difference and its impact on my overall state of being. I started living life fully, which I always wanted to create for myself and the people around me. 

Once I got the impact of self-reflection in life, I started introspecting everyday actions and approaches. Eventually, I started reflecting on myself at the end of the day, asking questions targeted back at my daily routine - 

  1. How the day went?
  2. What worked as desired?
  3. What did not work as expected? 
  4. Why did it not work?
  5. What more can be done?

By looking at the data from the day, I ask myself these two fundamental questions - 

  1. Have I given my 100% today? – It helps in finding the root cause if I have not given 100 percent. But, on the contrary, it helps me see that I gave my 100 percent effort throughout the day, and irrespective of the outcomes, it gives me peace. 
  2. What more can I do? – It helps me expand the radius of the course of action I take every day. It is like growing the pie of my 100 percent. Despite giving my 100%, if results didn’t show up as expected, what new tools and skills do I need to learn or what different actions do I need to take to produce results. By pushing for a little extra every day, the pie of my 100 percent keeps growing.

Asking these questions every day helped me become effective in living my responsibilities. As a result, the way people relate to me has transformed entirely in the last few years. At the same time, my relationships are on a different level altogether that can’t be quantified. 

For me, self-reflection turned out to be a hidden asset that got me presented to an entirely new world of possibilities. Now, what do I mean when I emphasize so much on the self-reflection technique? Simply put, self-reflection is the time of your day when you reflect on your actions while not being biased about anything you get present to, be it “good” or “bad.”

Recently, I saw a message on WhatsApp that (1.01)365=37.8 and (0.99)365=0.03, which is true. So a little push every day through daily self-reflection can bring the transformational difference in the long run while actually, it is one extra step daily.

Swami Vivekananda once said, “Talk to yourself at least once in a day; otherwise, you may miss a meeting with an excellent person in this World.”

Over the years, I found that the transformational difference is a four-step process to increase our effectiveness, which starts with self-reflection: 

1. The first step is to be aware of what needs to be done, and self-reflection makes it available to us.

2. The second step is to plan what needs to be done.

3. The third critical step is to execute the plan we created for ourselves.

4. The final and most crucial step is to accept the outcomes and reflect upon the process. If results are consistent with what we want, we must keep doing the same, and if results are not in line with our expectations, we need to take corrective actions, bridge the gap and repeat this process until the desired results are produced.

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As I am writing this article, I’d recall one more incident from my life. In the year 2011, I was standing in front of approximately 200 students as a guest speaker. The moment I began to speak, the students started talking, and the listening was over as they lost their interest in my sharing. I somehow managed to finish my presentation, and I felt embarrassed for not creating the experience I was supposed to create for those students. 

In 2019, I got the same opportunity with a similar setup, where approximately 700 students were present. I had no presentation prepared, but I was awestruck to find that the conversation between the students and me was so interactive that the time had to be stretched from 45 minutes slot to one and half hours. 

Now, what was the difference created between two different yet similar scenarios? Only through daily self-reflection could I realize that in the first scenario, I was presenting my views as theory, no sharing, and in fact, the whole conversation was dull. My communication was not clear enough either. As soon as I realized it, I started working on my communication skills and the clarity of thoughts and created a plan to work in these areas. 

The self-reflection defined my purpose, and I joined many courses, talked consistently with my friend, Jeet, learned a lot from him and his experiences. Alongside, I read many books, and results started getting produced in this area and many other areas of my life where I felt stuck earlier. 

One of the things I recently noticed while reflecting on this journey is that we work so hard nowadays that we often forget to see if our actions are aligned with our intentions. To conclude, self-reflection acts as a guide to your actions that prevent you from deviating from your end goal. Self-reflection is nothing but a combination of intellectual thinking, giving yourself enough room to improve, and observing your actions from an aerial perspective while seeing yourself as a second person. Self-reflection as a practical approach is truly powerful as it only moves life forward. Thanks for reading and getting present to self-reflection through my reflections of life.