Self-Reflection: The Simple Antidote to Negative Thinking

The last few months have given us all reason to pause. Tragedy after tragedy seems to befall us, so many that they are too numerous to list. But our reactions to these devastating events are essentially the same.


We find ourselves asking how could this happen? Why do people willingly hurt others? Who will be the next victim? What will create change? When will things get better?


These conversations happen inside each of us every day. And our inner dialogue is about far more than current events. We think about important discussions we need to have, tasks we want to complete, and feelings about ourselves and others.


For many of us, contemplation like this has happened more than ever over the past two years. We had more free time than ever, and one of the ways we passed the time was by spending it in our own heads.


Negative thoughts, negative perspective


So often, our minds are focused on the most damaging aspects of life. Human beings have thousands of thoughts a day, and many experts agree that an overwhelming majority of those thoughts are negative.


This amount of negativity isn’t good for us. Negative thoughts turn into negative words, which turn into negative actions—an entire perspective built upon everything wrong in the world and life.


Living this way robs us of empathy for others, making it difficult to make authentic connections or create transformative change. Can you imagine how different the world would be if the ratio were flipped? If most of our thoughts were positive?


So what conversations are happening within you? Are they causing you to stew on all the negativity in the world? Or are you using your internal narrative to process with intention?


The conversation inside

Our inner dialogue is really a form of self-reflection—thinking about the things that matter most to us and digesting them in a healthy way. This time of intentional thinking allows you to check in with yourself, take a moment for your mental and emotional well-being, and form your opinions about the things around you, whether positive or negative.


When you self-reflect, you clear out the cobwebs, so to speak, to contemplate the things that matter most to you. And as I already mentioned, the amount of time we’ve had to self-reflect has dramatically increased in the last two years.


When the COVID-19 lockdowns first occurred, many of us were in a position where all we could do was go inward (and watch Netflix, of course). And even though daily life may have felt suffocating at the time, gaining more time to contemplate life was one of the most favorable outcomes of the pandemic.


The pandemic gave us the privilege of time, but it didn’t change how the world works. Bad things still happen. And bad things will continue to happen as long as Earth spins. But you can choose to carve out the space to self-reflect and process the way you feel about the world constructively.


The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts. -- Marcus Aurelius


A regimen of reflection

One of the wonderful aspects of contemplation is that you can reflect on anything. There are no rules for what you can and cannot mentally digest. The subject simply depends on what your head and heart need most.


So many things happen on any given day. There’s no way you can scrutinize every moment. Start by asking yourself, “what’s worth your energy today?” For some, it may be accomplishments and wins. For others, mistakes and regrets.


To do this well, you have to differentiate between big and small problems. Think about what’s worth your time. And avoid spinning your wheels over what’s not worth your thought energy.


The opportunity to self-reflect

These moments are rich in opportunity if you allow them to be.


The opportunity to remind us of what’s important. The opportunity to solve a problem. The opportunity to learn something new about ourselves and others. The opportunity to empower you to take action. The opportunity to become more self-aware and present in your life.


But self-reflection, while meant to be constructive, can also be painful and difficult. This exercise can bring up difficult emotions, like guilt and hurt. These feelings are unavoidable, especially if you allow yourself the time and space to take a deep dive. But your response to them is what allows you to move forward and learn from them or get stuck, leading to anxiety and depression.


At its core, the goal of intentional thinking is to learn something. You might learn something extraordinary, like acknowledging you’re a great friend. But the reality is, you’re going to uncover things that hurt, too.


Most of what happens throughout your life is entirely out of your control. Pain and disappointment are a certainty, not a possibility. The power of self-reflection lies in processing what happens with intention and grace.