Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around, he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?
– Clarence, from It’s a Wonderful Life
It is important to make some time for reflection in our lives.
If we can make the time to think deeply about what we do, how we interact with others, and what direction our lives are heading, we can make each of these aspects of our lives more meaningful and give ourselves the peace of mind that comes from living intentionally.
It is important to understand not just what is happening in our lives but why it is happening and what the consequences will be. Sometimes it may feel like we’re going through life like a pinball—being bounced around with little control over our direction (see Control). Why does it feel this way? Are we not taking charge of our direction? Are we trying to take charge but can’t for some reason? Are our lives really out of control, or does it just seem that way? If we reflect on our direction in life and gain a better understanding of the forces that influence that direction, we will be much more likely to move in the direction that we want and will feel more confident in our path.
We can also reflect on the influence that we have in the world. Is our influence positive? Is it what we intended it to be? It’s important to reflect on not only what is happening in our lives but also the effect our lives have had on the lives of other people, on our progress toward our desired goals, and on our health. Give yourself an “It’s a Wonderful Life moment” and try to envision the world without you in it.
What would be different? Throughout our lives, we want things to go a certain way, and we take action to try to achieve these ends. Making time in our lives to reflect—not only on what outcomes we want but also on how we can influence events to achieve those outcomes—will help us to understand our role in these outcomes.
Reflection can also give us the insight we need to know what to do next. Where are we in our lives, and where should we go from here? What have we learned and what might we do differently? What are we doing that has been effective, and what hasn’t been working? What haven’t we done that we should consider doing in the future? Reflection can give us the awareness we need to make adjustments in our path, which will give our lives more happiness and meaning.
Reflection can also help us to understand our relationships more clearly. During our day-to-day interactions, many of us do not really think about the full context of our relationships with others when we talk to them. If we take the time to reflect, we can see people more clearly and understand them more deeply. This will help us to be better friends and make our relationships more rewarding.
Reflection can help us understand specific events, but it can also help us to see the big picture and the major components in our lives—what they are and how they fit together. Is anything missing? Are the elements of our lives in balance? Reflection can help provide the information and insight we need to make big changes in our lives or to make peace with ourselves if we decide that we don’t want to make any changes.
When we take time to reflect, we want to be focused. We shouldn’t let our minds wander: we should be systematic and organized about the way we reflect. This is not to say that day dreaming isn’t a good thing—it can be—but reflection, when done mindfully, should be specific both in terms of the topic of our reflection and in our approach. Reflection is not the same thing as obsession, when we are constantly thinking about something that is bothering us or about something we want. Reflection goes deeper—we try to look at why we want something or why something is bothering us. We look at what brought us to this point and how we should move forward in a healthy and positive way.
Take the time to be aware of and take advantage of your whole story. Know where you’ve been, where you are, and where you are going—and why. Get to know you.