Sometimes the only way for us to make a major leap forward is to take a fresh look at where we are right now.
I remember the first time I had this insight. I was 13, attending junior high in the middle of downtown Tehran. Every day, my dad would drop me off on his way to work, usually about an hour before classes started.
To kill the extra time, I’d meet with some friends at a nearby outdoor café located just across from the bustling University of Tehran campus.
Surrounded by college students, we wanted to fit in, so we’d smoke cigarettes and drink tea, just like they did.
We’d play a game where we tried to see who could keep the ash on his cigarette the longest. The person whose ash fell off first had to pay for everyone else’s tea. We thought we were pretty cool.
One day, my dad had to take me to a different school for some advanced classes. Our route took us right past the usual drop-off point, and as we drove by, I spotted a friend of mine from the tea club walking down the street toward the café.
He was strutting along, smoking one of the imported cigarettes that we favored, trying to look cool, emulating the swagger of the much older college students around him.
I was suddenly struck by how ridiculous he looked — ridiculous for smoking, ridiculous for trying to be something he wasn’t. For the first time, I saw myself and my friends the way the rest of the world must have seen us: a bunch of awkward kids pretending to be far more sophisticated than we were.
A wash of embarrassment came over me. I was so mortified by how silly the whole thing seemed that I immediately decided to stop smoking. In fact, I never smoked again.
At the time, I didn’t have a name or explanation for the experience I’d had that day. I now recognize it as a classic moment of self-reflection: I was presented with an opportunity to look at myself from an objective vantage point, and when I didn’t like what I saw, I resolved to make a change.
This is an opportunity that is always available to us. And yet, in our action-oriented culture, the habit of self-examination is not a particularly common one.
We tend to regard mindful self-reflection as more of a luxury than a necessity. That’s too bad. Because if we don’t pause now and then to take stock of our personal reality, how can we expect to know what’s working and what’s not?
Consider for a moment a business that has no mechanism for self-analysis. No performance reviews, no annual shareholders meeting, no customer-comment system, no inventory control, no communication or reporting of whether key projects are aligned and on track.
We would regard such a business as badly broken. Without opportunities for insight and course correction, it couldn’t hope to function well for very long. Yet, as individuals, we often don’t take the time to seek out and give ourselves just this sort of feedback.
The admonition to “know thyself” stretches back to antiquity. And for good reason. Without conscious self-reflection, there can be no growth. And without growth, there can be no progress, no meaningful or sustainable success.
So how can you begin to know yourself better? Here are a few areas to reflect on intermittently:
- Integrity check: How honest am I being with myself and others? Where are my words and actions out of sync? Do I have any messes or conflicts I need to clean up? Am I living according to my authentic values and desires?
- Satisfaction check: How happy am I with how my life is going, and with how I’m showing up? Am I clear about what I want and need? About what I am or am not willing to do? What am I most enjoying about my life right now? What vision do I have for the future?
- Momentum check: How much progress have I been making toward my goals? Are there any obstacles or stuck areas I need to address? Is my energy level high, or is it getting drained and blocked? What’s one positive step I can take today?
You don’t need to consider all these questions on a daily basis, of course. But periodically reviewing one or more of them is a great way to keep yourself — and your life — growing in the direction you most want to go.