(Not To Be Confused With Introspection)

The famous Irish poet Oscar Wilde once said, “The final mystery is oneself.” But how do you unravel the mystery that is you? For one thing you need to be self-aware. Yet this won’t happen without reflection.

Now we talk about reflection, disproportionately, at this time of the year. Tis’ the season to reflect. Since that is the case, it is important to know what it really means.

Reflection is different from introspection. Introspection is simply looking in. Stopping there not only limits your perspective, but it can even diffuse it. In fact it can lead some to pessimism, or even depression.

The word, reflect in Latin means to refold. Take the example of your reflection in the mirror. When you look in the mirror the image goes in, refolds, and reflects. In the same way, taking the time to reflect on circumstances or events in your life will bring you new insights. There is no real learning process, sense of discovery, or insight without reflection.

Reflection is looking in so you can look out with a broader, bigger, and more accurate perspective. Without reflection your life becomes happenstance—activity without insight. Our experiences will not become insights without evaluating where I am, and why am I here? This in turn will help us to get to where we want to go. In other words we become more authentic. Authenticity gets us closer to our true identity.

As kids we loved going to the carnival. The fun house was particularly exciting. We’d run through the maze of mirrors, totally confused as to which way we should go. We would leave with knots on our heads and bruises on our knees from running down what we thought was a hallway into an immovable glass wall. On the way out the tiny lobby was lined with wildly curved mirrors with distorted images of the real us. Those mirrors made us look tall and skinny or short and fat. Our faces were totally warped: big ears, bulging eyes, large nose, and fat cheeks. Sometimes our heads were shaped like an hourglass. Now we laughed until we cried because we knew what we saw was distorted. It was not the real us—the authentic us.

The point? We all have an internal mirror that reflects how we see ourselves. What you see determines your behavior—often subconsciously. But these distortions are not funny! It actually minimizes who you really are and what you really want. Without honest self-reflection, you can spend a lot of energy trying to find the right image to project to others. It’s not about being perfect. It’s about being honest with who and where you are. That honesty leads to authenticity. It leads to a more accurate picture, and accuracy leads to authenticity.

Warren Bennis reminds us that the word authentic comes from the word author. The more authentic we become the more we are authoring our lives, and not simply living someone else’s script. The more authentic you become, the greater your sense of well being. It results in a more accurate picture of yourself and sets you up for what you really want.

So as you approach this New Year—this new beginning—take some time to reflect. Don’t just start doing. Before doing, knowing, and going, you need to settle the question of Who Am I? This won’t happen without reflection. We are quick to answer What I Do questions. But my identity is not what I do, or who I know, but who I am. What are my values? What do I believe in? What do I hold onto? That truly makes me the person I am.

The greatest discovery is not out there. The greatest discovery is inside you. When you identify who you are, then you can identify where you want to go, who you want to know, and what you want to do.

Whatever occurred this last year is history, and yes there is life after failure. The game is not over. Coach Dabo Swinney of Clemson has a sign on his wall—There is nothing less important than the score at halftime. Time for the next quarter, and it starts by unraveling the mystery that is you.

So as you reflect (with pen and paper in hand), here are a few questions to help get you started.

*What are five nonnegotiable values in my life?

*What would I do if I were guaranteed success?

*What are the experiences I would like to have?

*What’s on my schedule that doesn’t need to be there? What things can be abandoned or at least cut back? What obligations am I creating for six months from now that I will regret then?

*What am I doing that I don’t enjoy doing? What am I doing that I love to do? What are the things that other people want me to do? What are the things that I want to do?

Most people use their schedules to let other people set their agenda. Reflect on the answers to the preceding questions. Your most powerful insights will be generated through reflection without any need for additional information. Your brain already has more information than you can imagine, and reflecting will bring your best ideas to the surface.

The mystery that is you will start becoming demystified.

Share with us your comments and insights.

(Mick Ukleja is the co-author of the book Who Are You? What Do You Want?: Four Questions That Will Change Your Life)

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