Reflection is a fantastic technique for improving your mental health and wellbeing… and guess what I’m covering this week on my Better Mental Health channel over on YouTube?! So… get comfortable and let’s talk about better mental health!
Want to watch the video version of this post instead? Here it is:
Reflection just might be the secret to improving your mental health. Why? Because it’s an objective way to learn from your past — without judging it — so that you can grow… and growth plays an essential role in improving and maintaining good mental health and wellbeing.
In this article (and this week’s episode of Better Mental Health on YouTube) I’m talking about how reflection improves mental health and I’m sharing a simple, effective reflection technique that you can apply immediately. So… let’s begin with…
What is reflection?
Reflection is the act of looking backwards with serious thought and consideration, and without judgement, so that you can consider what is working well in your life (in order to do more of it) and what might not be working (so you can either stop it or approach it differently).
It’s not about beating yourself up over things that have or haven’t happened in the past – the past has passed, and all you can really do is learn from it and grow (and that’s where reflection comes in).
Why does reflection matter?
Even though ‘reflection’ sounds like it’s about focusing on the past, it’s actually about being fully present; in other words, looking at where you are today and what has brought you to this point and place in time… and that then allows you to more objectively consider you current position so that you can then plan for the future (and, more importantly, so you can actively create the future that you want).
Why does that matter? Because if you don’t know where you are, how can you work out how to get where you want to or need to be?!
So, how do you reflect in an objective way? Well, let’s talk through a process for doing just that…
How to reflect (in an objective way)
Take an hour or so for yourself and find a place where you won’t be disturbed. Make a coffee or tea or whatever, and get yourself comfortable… do whatever you need to do to make yourself feel relaxed.
Grab a notebook and a pen so you can make some notes, or if you prefer using your phone or tablet that’s fine – however make sure that you turn off notifications or put it on flight mode so that you won’t be disturbed.
Once you’re settled, it’s time to reflect. First, make a list of the things in your life that you feel most satisfied about (remembering that there are no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ ideas).
Now make a list of the things in your life that you feel least satisfied about – my advice is to set yourself a timer for just a minute or two, and only use that time. Why do I say that? Because if you’re prone to negative self-talk, anxiety or depression, etc., you could wind up spending hours focusing on negative things and you might end up feeling terrible afterward. Keep it super-short and focus on the big-ticket things, and don’t process any of them – just get them down on the list.
Now, take your dissatisfied list and look at each item for no more than thirty seconds, and ask yourself this question: What can I do about it? Your options are:
- Accept it and move on
- Change it if it’s within your control
- Let it go
That’s it. No other options – sorry about it!
And when I say “change it if it’s within your control” I mean if it’s something you can directly control; in other words, your own thoughts, feelings and actions. You cannot control another person – you can certainly attempt to influence them, but you have zero direct control over what they think, say and do, so don’t waste your time even trying. I know that last one might be hard to deal with – especially when it’s a loved one, like a partner or close family member – but the reality is that nobody can control another person, no matter how hard they might try, so your peace is to be found in letting go of the illusion of control. I talked about control in Episode 48 of the Let’s Talk About Mental Health podcast, so that may be helpful to review.
Work through that list of dissatisfied stuff, without getting too bogged down by it or allowing self-judgement to creep in, and create three lists:
- What you can change
- What you need to accept
- What you need to let go of
Once you have your three lists of things to focus on, make those your self-improvement focus moving forward.
Now spend time with your satisfied list – which is that list of all the good stuff in your life. If you’re satisfied, then the trick is to first be grateful for it, and then to consider how you can have more of that in your life. For example, do you love helping people? Great! Do more of that! Go volunteer, or find something that works for you and increases your satisfaction. Satisfaction in our life rarely just happens – it takes some effort and it involves us choosing not to take things for granted.
Whatever you choose to do to address the stuff you’re not satisfied with or to make the most of the stuff in your life that you are satisfied with, do something every single day to take small steps towards creating the future you want. I talked about how to do that in Episode 100 of the Let’s Talk About Mental Health podcast and you’ll find that linked in the episode description below if you’d like to explore the subject in more detail.
Whatever you choose to do is up to you; remember, better mental health begins with what YOU choose to do today!
Want more? Listen to the weekly Let’s Talk About Mental Health podcast on your favourite podcast service (click here for links to different services via Podfollow) and subscribe to my YouTube channel, Better Mental Health, for weekly how-to videos.
Thanks so much for joining me today, take care and talk to you next time!
Jeremy Godwin (@jeremygodwinofficial on Instagram) is an Australian writer, content creator and coach who focuses on better mental health. His weekly podcast Let’s Talk About Mental Health has more than 620,000 downloads and listeners in over 150 countries, and in it Jeremy shares practical advice for improving and maintaining mental health that is grounded in quality research and personal experience. He also hosts a weekly show on YouTube, Better Mental Health, which focuses on simple advice for how to manage different aspects of mental health. Jeremy’s style is direct-yet-supportive, and his own experiences with depression and anxiety (along with his formal qualifications in psychology and sociology) allow him to provide advice that is both impactful and sensitive.
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This article draws from Episode 12 of the Let’s Talk About Mental Health podcast, written and produced by Jeremy Godwin © 2019. This article © Jeremy Godwin, 2021.