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Self-reflecting in Isolation

Living in isolation during COVID-19 has allowed us time away from the daily grind and living in autopilot to get through our days. It presents an opportunity for time to reflect on how we are currently living and working to achieve what’s important to you. It’s a chance to reflect on how energised, engaged and passionate you feel, how satisfied you are with how you spend your time and ultimately how fulfilled you are at the end of your week. Thinking about what’s important to you means taking the time to reflect on your personal values and whether your current way of living is helping you fulfil or compromise these values. 

For example, if your health is important to you and you currently feel like you aren’t living in a way that serves your health, now is the perfect opportunity to start some healthy habits to incorporate into your normal life. Whether this is a new sleep routine, exercise class or program or trying to cook more; set yourself small, achievable goals to work towards throughout your time in isolation. 

If your family and friends are important to you but you know you are often too tired to engage with them or contact them then use this time to reconnect. Establish some new routines and activities that you can take forward to normal life. Many people are connecting with their families and friends over video conferencing platforms and if you are geographically separated, why not continue these catch-ups when normal life resumes. 

Many of us have experienced changes to our work tasks and environment and it’s important to appreciate that future change is also inevitable. However, this presents an opportunity for reflection and innovation to ensure you are working in the most effective and fulfilling way for you and your organisation. 

What is Reflection versus Rumination?

If you don’t normally make time to self-reflect and have been operating on auto-pilot for many years you may find that taking the time to reflect can lead to rumination or overthinking.  Rumination is described as repeated thoughts about something that occurred or of a problem that we are trying to solve.  This could be positive or negative and ruminating over good things can be helpful as it allows us to find a solution. 

However around 80 percent of our memory is of negative things which, evolutionary, was designed to keep us safe from danger. Therefore, typically we ruminate by replaying a negative event in our heads that leads to an increase in stress, or feelings of guilt, anger, sadness, regret or even depression. 

The number one way to avoid rumination, regardless of whether it is positive or negative, is to talk with someone about it.  Why?  Because the longer we keep 'thinking' about something without some form of control the higher the chance that it will end in negative rumination as our brain goes into our memory to find the solution from past experience. 

Tips to make self-reflection a habit:

  • Pick the right time for you where you feel the most alert and focused and allocate at least 10-15 minutes for reflection, 2-3 times a week.  If you have bigger life decisions to reflect on obviously you will need more time.
  • Take yourself outside or to a place you and enjoy that could spark creative thinking. 
  • You may find taking a walk or undertaking a form of movement you enjoy first could help you feel more alert and creative. 
  • Limit distractions including noise, others and your phone.
  • Use a notebook or journal to write down your reflections so these are clear and you can refer back to them. 
  • The effectiveness of your time to self-reflect will be determined by how brutally honest, self-aware and critical you are of yourself. 
  • Self-awareness is your ability to stop and pay attention to your thoughts and feelings and question these so you become aware of how your thoughts impact your emotions and consequent actions.
  • Critical analysis is your ability to challenge your habitual thoughts, feelings and consequent actions. It may help to ask yourself the following questions about a situation:
    • - What did I see and what was I thinking at the time. 
    • - How did I feel about the situation? 
    • - What was outside of my control? 
    • - What would others have said about the way I acted in that situation?
    • - What would I do differently next time?
    • - What is a more positive thought that could evoke the feeling and desired action I want?
    • - What have I learnt from this situation?

Reflecting with others

If you find yourself ruminating over a situation that involved others, it may help to all reflect on the situation as a pair or a group. Firstly decide on a topic you want to reflect on, for example, a past event, upcoming project, reviewing a report, an important decision, etc. Assign someone as a listener (the listener will also be the timekeeper). The listener’s role is to listen for 10 minutes to the speaker’s reflections on the given topic. If there are silences, that’s fine too. The roles then swap.

After everyone has had a chance to reflect aloud, go into another round of reflecting about what you’ve heard. Five minutes each is often enough. You can continue until the process comes naturally to an end. Note-taking is useful to ideas and new insights.