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Why You Need to Self-Reflect on Your Past & How to Start
They say you learn something new every day. Well today, I learned something new about myself.
I learned that I’m not singular. Who I am isn’t singular. My identity is made up of many different “me’s.” Confusing, I know, but let me explain.
The “me” from yesterday or two weeks ago or five years ago is not the same “me” as today. Each day, I change. We all do. We’re a little bit older, a little bit wiser (some of us), and just a little bit more…different. Inside and out.
Maybe you’re thinking, “Uh, good for you. I already knew that about myself.” Well, maybe that’s true.
However, more often than not, we tell ourselves that we’ve changed as a person, but we don’t actually realize just how much that’s true on a micro level. We think of ourselves as one being over the course of our lives, when I’d say we have been many beings.
Sure, we have the same soul, but the stuff that makes up our soul – our heart and mind, has been molded and shaped by our experiences. Our passions may have been different – our desires may have been different. What we knew, the knowledge in our heads, was different.
If you’re a scanner like me, then this is especially true, which is why it’s important to self-reflect on your past from time to time.
Why Self-Reflecting is Important
When you actually take a moment to comb through who you have been in the past, and what made you that person, it’s pretty enlightening.
Reflecting on your past and doing some serious introspection does the soul good. It helps you be present, and comprehend the changes within yourself that have occurred. And it gives you a clear, focused idea of who you are today, and who you want to be tomorrow. It even helps you take responsibility and ownership of yourself and your actions, according to this article.
So, how did I come up with all this philosophical stuff? I know you’re just dying to know, right? 🙂
It’s simple: I skimmed through my old journals and started to self-reflect. I’ve written about the power of journaling to improve your life before, and I’ve kept a journal since I was young.
So today, as I pulled out my old journals – each with a unifying theme of my life – my eyes quickly darted through and discovered parts of myself that I didn’t recognize, or that I had “forgotten” about. And others, that were all too familiar.
And as I progressed through these old journal entries, I found myself deeply self-reflecting. At first, I almost didn’t want to open up the old tattered journal from ten years ago because I didn’t want to be reminded of the mistakes I made. I didn’t want to be brought back to the moments I “regret.”
Needless to say, reflecting on the past can be hard.
But when I was done introspecting, I felt…different. I felt more cognizant about myself and the many different versions of “me” that I have been. And suprisingly, I felt almost at peace with my experiences, and mindful of the person I am today because of that acceptance.
Now maybe you aren’t like me and haven’t kept a journal since you were young, and that’s okay. There are other ways to become mindful of how you’ve changed, and to learn about the previous versions of yourself and who you used to be. I’ll explain how you can self-reflect on your own in a bit.
But first, I want to quickly explain why you should care. Self-reflection brings about a world of introspection for self-improvement and clarity. Here are just some of the reasons why periodically reflecting on yourself and your life is beneficial:
When you self-reflect on your past, it…
Gives you an appreciation for your present self
After realizing where you’ve been, and where you are now, you’ll appreciate how far you’ve come, and you’ll be thankful for the person you are today.
Makes you grateful for change
We fear change, but change can be good. We often focus on the negative changes, but when you are mindful of the small changes that make a positive difference, you are more grateful that those situations haven’t stayed the same, and you welcome the changes.
Helps you rediscover or connect with certain parts of yourself
For me, I realized qualities about myself that were more apparent in a younger, more naive me. Some of those qualities weren’t necessarily bad. For example, reading my journal from when I was a 16-year old exchange student in Spain, helped me realize how carefree I used to be. I decided that I’d like to reconnect with that carefree side of myself as an adult.
When you self-reflect on your past, do you remember stupid things you did in your youth? Yeah, we’ve all been there. These memories make us cringe and we wish we could forget them. But reflecting on poor choices made in the past will show your self-growth. Your mindset has changed and the fact that you now think those choices were in fact, poor choices, proves that you no longer think it’s acceptable to think or act that way. It also lets you cut yourself some slack and be a little more forgiving of yourself.
Improves your self-esteem
You feel better about yourself when you can appreciate your whole journey. When you remember not just the big turning points of your life, but little snippets of the small moments from your past, you feel better about who you are today, and how far you’ve come. This will help you steer your focus away from the little things you dislike about yourself…the ones that really don’t matter, but that make you feel worthless. Hopefully, you’ll see that you’re not that bad of a human after all, and you are doing the best you can. When you judge yourself less for past mistakes, you feel better about yourself as a whole.
Provides clarity on how you came to be the person you are today
Being able to connect the dots between our past experiences and the qualities we hold today gives us a clear vision of why we are the way we are. We can use this to re-enforce the qualities we want to keep, and help dispose of the qualities we don’t want anymore.
Helps you release emotions and feelings you didn’t realize you still held on to
As I skimmed through my old journals, I read about experiences I hadn’t thought of in years. But reading about it made me relive it, and feel those emotions all over again. Because I was able to summon those feelings by simply recalling the past experience, I knew that I still held on to those emotions and feelings – they just lived deep down. Being able to self-reflect on the past in this way will help you pull out those buried emotions and start to let go.
Gives insight on who you’d like to be tomorrow
Reflecting on previous versions of yourself inevitably makes you reflect on who you are today. In turn, this will help you develop insight into the best version of you for the future. Maybe you want to reconnect with qualities you used to have, or maybe you realized you still hold on to the same negativity from years before and want to change that. Either way, introspecting helps you learn about yourself and envision the person you want to be tomorrow.
So, how do you start to self-reflect on your past? Try this exercise.
Well, this blog is all about literacy and how to use it to develop yourself. So here’s a little hint – it has to do with writing!
It’s simple really: You take some time to privately self-reflect on your past by asking yourself some questions.
Set time aside to sit down and write your responses. Grab some coffee or tea, get yourself cozy, and take 45 minutes to privately self-reflect. If you have a journal, great, you can start there. If not, grab a piece of paper, or open up a document on your laptop, and start answering some questions.
If you’re on a mission and want to start making self-reflection part of your routine, start a self-reflection journal like this one or.
Not a writer? Go ahead and ask yourself the questions and answer them aloud. Create a little audio recording on your phone, and play it back once you’re done answering. Don’t worry, you don’t have to keep the recording unless you want to.
Here’s the exercise: First, think of 5 things you’ve learned throughout your life and write them down. For example, it can be titled “5 lessons I’ve learned about life so far.” Just write your 5 lessons down in 1-3 sentences; there’s no need to go into depth unless you want to. Then, under each lesson you’ve written down, ask yourself when/how/why you learned that lesson and describe it in a paragraph or more.
Here’s an example:
One lesson I learned about life is to….
I first started to learn this lesson when I was 18 years old and…
Want to make it super easy to self-reflect on your past with this excercise? Sign up for my newsletter and download your free guided PDF here. You can print it out and glue it to a notebook or journal.
You can also complete these 10 Journal Prompts to Self-Reflect On Your Past.
Happy reflecting! 🙂