Self-reflection for wellbeing
Self-reflection is a way of understanding ourselves better, which allows us to appreciate our own unique perspective better.
University is a transformational experience, as one encounters many new people, situations, and ways of doing things. This can be overwhelming, but it can also be an opportunity to get to know ourselves better. When we know ourselves, it allows us to make choices that are in line with what we truly value. Self-reflection is a way of understanding ourselves better, which allows us to appreciate our own unique perspective better. Therefore, by dedicating time to reflect on who we are, what is important to us, and by celebrating our successes, we can identify actions that help us safeguard and support our wellbeing.
Theoretical perspectives Reflecting on our strengths, weaknesses, passions, ideas, and way of doing things, allows us to build self-awareness which is key in emotional intelligence (Mayer et al., 2008). Furthermore, self-awareness is linked to more balance, confidence and a higher sense of achievement (Eurich, 2017). Self-awareness can work in multiple ways as we can be internally self-aware (aware of emotions and thoughts), externally self-aware (aware of other people and how they see us), and aware of our character and disposition (knowing our values, strengths, weaknesses, etc). Being aware of our character gives us a guiding compass. By knowing what really matters to us, we spend time on things that are truly important to us. Furthermore, by understanding ourselves better, we can also recognise the ways in which we are similar and different to other people. By knowing the skills, strengths, and weaknesses we bring to a team activity, for instance, we can see how other people may bring strengths that complement ours. This allows us to appreciate diversity more deeply. One way we can gain more self-awareness is through self-reflection, or the act of consciously learning about oneself. By using reflection (see The Reflection Toolkit), a person can be aware of their motivations and goals, and learn about why they do things, so that they can act more in line with their values in the future. For instance, there might have been moments when we felt embarrassed in a social situation, and left with the thought ‘Why did I do that? People must think I’m stupid?’. By being self-aware, we can pick up that thought and reframe it in a reflective manner, asking ourselves ‘what happened?’ and ‘why did that happen?’. This allows us to start understanding the situation and why we acted the way we did. When we have a stronger sense of self gained through self-understanding and self-awareness, we can more easily be open to challenges and people. When we know our boundaries and our worth, it is easier to share our thoughts and open ourselves up for trust and mutual affection. Being open and vulnerable puts you in a position of a knower, that is you have knowledge and experiences that are unique and valuable, which you are choosing to share, thereby building trust and connection with another person (Baiasu, 2020).
Mayer, J.D., Salovey, P, & Caruso, D.R. Emotional intelligence. New ability or eclectic traits? American Psychologist, September 2008, Vol 63, No 6, pp503-517.
Li Jiayu, Ma Weizhi, Zhang Min, Wang Pengyu, Liu Yiqun, Ma Shaoping (2021). Know Yourself: Physical and Psychological Self-Awareness With Lifelog. Frontiers in Digital Health, 3
Eurich, T. (2017) Insight. How to succeed by seeing yourself clearly. London: Pan Macmillan.
Baiasu, R (2020). The openness of vulnerability and resilience. Angelaki, 25(1), 254-264
Context for scholars
Moving to a new country is a transformational experience. In dealing with the challenges associated with moving and starting education in a new country, we have a chance to know ourselves better and to see the ways in which we bring new and unique perspectives. As African international students, scholars have different experiences and perspectives compared to other students. This can become a strength, as it can provide a new perspective on things that are often taken for granted in educational and social settings. Furthermore, given the many changes most scholars are likely to face (different foods, different culture, different educational system), it is important to check-in with yourself to see how you are doing, and ensure that you are making choices that are good for your wellbeing.
Knowing yourself can support your wellbeing, help you identify your passions, see the value in diversity, and connect with other people by being open and authentic. It can be hard work, but it is a process that is worth it. One way of knowing yourself is to develop self-awareness. You can develop self-awareness by reflecting alone or with others. When doing self-reflection there are some key things you can focus on for your wellbeing.
- Get to know yourself better. Spend time reflecting on your values, your strengths, your weaknesses, and your goals.
- Practice reflecting on experiences. When we have experiences that do not go as intended, we can use reflection to identify things we can do differently in the future. This can empower us to make positive changes and give us control over our personal development.
- Identify your unique perspective. Spend time seeing how your perspective is valuable and can help create more diverse and meaningful interactions.
- Celebrate successes. It can be easy to only focus on things that are difficult. By using reflection, we can also identify what has gone well and celebrate those successes.
- Start writing. Using a journal can be a great practice for slowing down our thinking and learning about ourselves.
- Be careful not to ruminate. Reflection is about spending time examining our past; however, we should ensure that it does not become a tool for us to punish ourselves about things we did not do well. Focusing on problem-solving, and practicing self-compassion are great ways to remain productive in your reflection.
- See vulnerability and openness as a strength. When engaging with others, sharing our perspective and experiences with them means that we are sharing the knowledge we have.
Mastercard Foundation scholars Experiences
Again, for me, I think what I used to think about is the self-awareness of every moment that we're in, the self-awareness that this is the stage I was in before, this is the stage I am currently in and being realistic about yourself, being realistic about who you are, being realistic about what you can do and what you cannot do and then, I would say, being truthful to you and to others, and whether in some cases you cannot meet certain expectations.
I'm okay. I'm still figuring things out. Just living in the moment and being present and being truthful and then just hoping that things will come as time progresses.