Reflection: A Necessity for Recognizing Personal Growth

Change is inevitable, whether we like it or not. Though change can be hard and not always fun, it can lead to important personal growth. Has anyone ever told you they’re surprised at how much you’ve grown, but to you, you look the exact same?  Why is it that those who are close to us can recognize our growth but we are sometimes unaware of it? Maybe we’re oblivious to changes that revolve around our mental health, familial relations, or personal goals because we’ve been taught to ignore our change and growth. To be able to see those changes, we need to salvage the time we give away to others and allow ourselves to sit back and think about the changes we've made in ourselves- conscious or unconscious - and honor those little changes that have ultimately led us to milestones.

I’ve been active in recovery for an eating disorder, and I recently just ended a three-month-long relationship from college. Severing ties from someone you used to be around almost every day wasn’t a walk in the park, but it led me to a greater realization about myself and even my eating disorder.  When I was talking to my dietitian about the event, she reminded me how hard my situation was. “Look at how well you coped with this,” she said to me. “You haven’t made yourself throw up since January- and you still haven't!” That's when it clicked. I had made so many seemingly insignificant changes on how I coped with my problems, which eventually amounted to something huge. What struck me the most is that I didn’t see my progress until an outside source told me. How did I not see how well I was doing? Was it because I was so busy with college or my personal life that I shoved my recognition of progress under the rug? Maybe, but we cannot always rely on the excuse of ‘being busy’ to discount the action of recognizing our smaller bouts of success. No matter how hectic our schedule is, if we want to personally see our progress come alive it is a necessity to reserve time for ourselves and fit the act of reflection in there. While it may feel like reflection doesn’t necessarily coincide with alone time, it seems to be the key to recognizing the positive, significant changes in our lives.

Though things like work and school are important, it seems that they have become prioritized over ourselves. We need to check up on how we’re doing ourselves, recognizing that we deserve to decompress a bit to really be in tune with ourself. Dr. Noam Dishon, a psychologist from Australia, wrote that “individuals high in trait self-awareness are more likely to reflect on their choices and more likely to find them [their choices] meaningful than individuals low in trait self-awareness” (Dishon et. al 2). Dishon explains that if we self-reflect on situations we are placed in and believe our actions in that situation were purposeful, we can garner the confidence eventually accept how that situation turned out-  whether it be a good or a bad outcome. To be aware of our choices and decide how they have impacted ourselves requires us to slow down, take a break, and acknowledge where we are in life. Taking that time to reflect on our actions can also help us learn to be more appreciative and compassionate to ourselves. The same reasoning applies to being in tune with our mental health; we need to accept that taking a break or having alone time won’t necessarily detract us from reaching our personal goals. In fact, if you’re aware that you need to decompress, you’re not lazy but rather smart for realizing that taking a break is the best plan of attack to become more aware of your needs. That choice of acknowledging self-care may seem inconvenient when it seems like there are multiple things to get done, but the choice to claim time for ourselves can actually propel our goals forward since we’re able to sit back, become more self-aware, and take a much-deserved break. This is a crucial component because if we take time for ourselves and contemplate where we are in life, we see that our choices, no matter how small, have been quite significant in our outlook on life. 

Here’s the reason making time for “self-care” is so difficult; we’ve been told since we were young to work hard, be involved in different organizations, and keep busy. Those phrases have been reiterated to us thousands of times which, just like walking, have been hardwired into our neural circuits. It takes time to rewire our brains into thinking that taking breaks is acceptable. Due to the nature of society and how fast-paced every facet of life seems, it can feel strange to declare that you need a break from working while everyone around you seems to be multitasking the sh*t out of every item on the agenda. The task of taking time for yourself may feel like a seemingly impossible challenge because of what society has taught us over the course of our lives, but being honest with what you need and when you need it will pay off in the greater scheme of mental health, recovery, and recognizing progress.

Dishon, Noam et al. “The Effect of Trait Self-Awareness, Self-Reflection, and Perceptions of Choice Meaningfulness on Indicators of Social Identity within a Decision-Making Context.” Frontiers in psychology vol. 8 2034. 30 Nov. 2017, doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2017.02034