Personal Development

How to Nurture the Insanely Powerful Habit of Self-Reflection

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You work relentlessly on your job. You consider yourself a hard worker. A go-getter.

But deep down you know something is missing. Something that enables you to review your past so that you can comprehend what your future entails.

What is it, you wonder.

It's the habit of self-reflection.

You need it because you want to have a clear sense of direction for your future. You want to nurture it so that your hard work doesn't go to waste on unfruitful strategies.

You also crave for some quality 'me' time. The time you actually focus on yourself and when there's little to no distractions.

So how do you satisfy this craving?

Through self-reflection. And I'll show you how.

But first, what is self-reflection?

It's basically the time where you perform a self-analysis of your life.

The time you spend reviewing your past and trying to charter a way forward for your future.

That analysis could be for:

  • Your current career.
  • Your family's situation.
  • Your financial situation.
  • Your current goals, etc.

For the purposes of this post, we'll stick to the last point – your current goals. This is because the other situations can be improved through goal-setting.

You can come up with goals for your career progression, your financial situation, your family's situation and so on.

In that self-reflection of your goals, these are the 4 criteria you should track:

  • The goal itself
  • The wins
  • The failures, and
  • The way forward.

The goal itself

So you've come up with goals. But have they benefitting you in any way?

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Has your goal improved your life?
  • Has it helped you reap massive rewards?
  • Was it so ambitious that it felt impossible to attain?
  • Did your goal motivate or demotivate you?
  • Did it inspire you to take action?

It's a lot to consider, so here's a simple framework to help you set achievable goals.

I'll use the Stretch and SMART goal setting strategy. It's a concept that's brilliantly illustrated in Charles Duhigg's book, Smarter Faster Better.

Stretch goal

This is the big goal. The ambitious target. Some of its qualities:

  • It's the main goal you've wanted to achieve since time immemorial.
  • It looks and feels impossible to achieve.
  • It has major rewards once attained.
  • It's severely prone to procrastination.

We all set Stretch goals even though we don't recognize them as such.

Every time you wish to do something big, something life-changing, you're dreaming of a Stretch goal.

A Stretch goal feels impossible because, in some way, it is. It demands a lot of change, sacrifice, willingness and willpower to attain it.

That's why it's severely prone to procrastination.

You'll find excuses and reasons of not working on your Stretch goal. You'll say and even convince yourself that you'll work on it at a later time.

But as long as you're not taking any action on your Stretch goal, you're procrastinating.

Some examples of Stretch goals:

  • Learning a new language.
  • Starting a comprehensive fitness program.
  • Starting your side business.
  • Writing a book.
  • Public speaking, etc.

These are just a few of the many Stretch goals we all have.

But to make it easier for us to attain them, we need a catalyst.

We need SMART goals.

SMART goals

SMART is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely.

You need SMART goals to help you stay on course and achieve your Stretch goal.

Let's use the Stretch goal – learning a new language – as an example.

This goal is a little too vague. It's simply a statement.

You need to make this goal SMART so that you can have a clear understanding of its magnitude.

Specific: What language do you want to learn? Is it French, German or English?

For this example, let's say the language you want to learn is German. That becomes the specific goal.

The takeaway: Clearly specify your goal.

Measurable: How are you going to track your progress?

Will you be learning German in class, taking online courses or using the Duolingo app?

The takeaway: Track your progress once you start working on your Stretch goal.

Attainable: Do you see yourself learning German? Is it achievable to you?

The takeaway: Ensure your Stretch goal is within your reach. Don't overcomplicate it.

Realistic: Is it impossible for you to learn German? Are there any resources that can assist you to learn it? Is there a person you can practice with?

The takeaway: Don't aim for the sun if you only have resources to reach the moon. Be realistic with your Stretch goal.

Timely: For how long do you want to learn German? Do you want to learn it before you get into your new job? Is there a deadline factor for it?

The takeaway: Incorporate a deadline factor to reduce or do away with procrastination. It'll help you focus and work on your goal.

So while you're self-reflecting, transform your main goal into a Stretch one and qualify it further using SMART goals.

Then work on them relentlessly.

The Wins

This is a review of the strategies that worked for you inside your goal. Using the same example:

  • What went according to plan? Did you ace your first German test?
  • What made you succeed?
  • What milestones did you achieve? Did you progress to level 2?  Etc.

It's important to keep track of your wins. You do this by documenting them. Write them down on your diary.

Or you can open a spreadsheet with the title "˜Wins' and type them down.

It's a soothing experience. It also goes a long way in boosting your motivation. And your ego too.

Cherish your wins dearly.

The Failures

No one wants to keep track of their failures. And no one likes failing.

But in reality, failing is inevitable. Some of your strategies won't work at all and some will work but end up collapsing.

So the best way of dealing with failure is to unveil the hidden lessons from it.

There's a lot to be learnt from failure. Sticking to the same example:

  • Maybe you failed the first exam. Did you practice or revise enough before the exam?
  • Did this failure hamper your progress towards learning German?
  • Is there a way you can improve on that failure and ensure it doesn't happen again?

Reviewing failure this way is way better than spending your time regretting it.

It grows your mindset by widening the scope of your knowledge.

Instead of ignoring failure, extract lessons from it.

The Way Forward

So you've reviewed your goal, the wins, failures and lessons learned from your past.

But how do you translate all the data you have into something meaningful?

You do that by chartering the way forward.

Reviewing your past or current goal separately isn't enough. The same holds true when reviewing your wins and failures separately.

You need to combine them to see how you can improve in the near or distant future.

You need a clear sense of direction.

Reviewing only your wins blinds you into thinking that you didn't encounter any failures.

The truth is that you chose to ignore them and concentrate only on your wins. Yet a lot can be learned from falling as I've said.

The 3 criteria – your goal, wins and failures – are there to make it easy for you to prepare a way forward.

  • Too many wins and less failures? It means your strategies are working well and you're closer to achieving your goal.

The way forward: Stick to your plan and come up with clever ways to improve your failures.

  • Too many failures and less wins? It means your strategies have hit the wall and you're far from attaining your goal.

The way forward: Ask for help from a mentor. Ask for ideas from your employees. Research for information from books and courses. Et cetera.

The way forward is a clear, unwavering resolution that's as a result of honest self-analysis of your past or current situation.


Self-reflection's main benefit is coming up with a solid, concise way forward.

You can self-reflect on a weekly or monthly basis. And if you have the time, you can also do it daily.

Once you've figured out the time, stay consistent.

Review yourself over and over again until the habit of self-reflection becomes second nature.

With a crystal clear way forward, you can face your future with a dazzling confidence. Wouldn't that be awesome?

So kick-start your self-reflection habit today.

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About the author

Nicholas Muema

Nicholas Muema is a productivity enthusiast on a mission to help everyday people become better through productive habits.
He shares this enthusiasm on his blog where you can download his free guide, 5 productive habits that can transform your life completely.