Why self-reflection is destroying your personal growth: A neuroscience perspective

Look, I wish I could tell you that you’ve been doing the right thing by self-reflecting. Truth be told, there’s nothing I love more than sitting with a cup of tea, pen in hand, ready to scribble whatever discursive thoughts arise onto a crisp new page.

If you’re human, from the moment you wake up, your mind starts analyzing every aspect of your life and thinking of everything you need to do to improve it. So you do your due diligence as a personal development junkie: you reflect on how you can improve, you journal your goals and your progress, and you conjure up solutions to your woeful problems. People in personal development spheres practically beat themselves in the head with journals and planners and… self-reflection.

But what if self-reflection was, due to some gnarly unforeseen paradox, the very worst thing you could be doing to further your growth?

This is the problem with self-reflecting: you are basically bathing in a sea of your own sh*t, with the goal of trying to get clean. Sorry to tell you. By and large, we all follow the same train of thought in every area of our lives. Maybe we encounter a new idea through a podcast or a book or a blog (wink wink), but then we proceed to embed that new piece of information into our own HIGHLY BIASED personal narrative, which we’ve been constructing and concocting for years upon bloody years.

Self-reflecting rarely, if ever, leads to an actual paradigm shift during which we blast apart our beliefs, shatter our structure of reality, and form new territory to surf and explore.

“The self exerts a subversive influence during any naïve internal probing attempts. No short-term, shallow attempts to willfully achieve [awareness]—however well-intentioned—suffice to cut through the extensive, deep root systems of the I-Me-Mine complex.”

– James Austin, Selfless Insight: Zen and the Meditative Transformation of Consciousness

When we self-reflect, we run the risk of burying ourselves deeper in the hole we from which we were originally trying to get out. Instead of becoming broader, our vision becomes more narrow, more deeply entrenched in our preexisting narrative and our prior expectations.

We make lateral progress, not forward progress. On the surface, we still feel movement, but it’s not out and above, it’s just slightly adjacent to what we were thinking or feeling before.

So what’s the end result of self-reflection? We aim, we shoot, and we miss the mark. This is particularly true for complex problems like depression, addiction, general apathy and overall dissatisfaction in life.

When we self-reflect, we feel like we’re engaging in proper personal development, achieving sublime heights of personal growth, and dutifully completing our self-care routine. But surprise! We’re not. We’re just sinking deeper into our own minds, where all the poppycock was created in the first place.

We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”

Albert Einstein

So how do we harness the power of self-reflection to actually change our lives? (Hint: it’s most definitely not by journalling tonight, dear reader.)

Being able to derive useful and life-altering insight from self-reflection requires OBJECTIVITY. It requires the ability to actually step aside from your adorable little monkey mind, the one that free associates words and pictures and ideas from deep, subconscious, limbic structures that have been brewing for eons. And frankly, the only tool we have that reliably separates YOU, the objective observer, from the little monkey wildly whacking a piñata inside of you, is…. you guessed it, meditation. (Don’t know how to meditate? Learn how to meditate here. )

Objectivity is a hard-earned skill. I mean, to develop it, you basically just sit on a cushion and do not move for 30+ minutes per day, so it sounds like a joke when you write it out. In fact, apart from sleeping, there is nothing seemingly less effortful than sitting on a meditation cushion for 30 minutes. But I guarantee you, if you try to meditate for 30 minutes, you will not be laughing.

Dear reader, you would do well to heed my advice: meditation is the single most difficult but rewarding practice you will ever undertake. You will transform your consciousness, and by extension, you will naturally transform your life, your success, your body, your happiness, and basically any facet of life that the media tries to target with pyramid schemes and detox teas.

“Receptive meditation allows us to cultivate our natural attribute of reflection with increasing degrees of objectivity.”

– James Austin, selfless insight: zen and the meditative transformation of consciousness

Have you spent countless hours self-reflecting? What has been your experience? Let us know in the comments below ↓

5 thoughts on “Why self-reflection is destroying your personal growth: A neuroscience perspective

  1. You’ve got me! I am one of those self help junkies who listens to podcasts about self reflection. Only I haven’t gotten far enough to start implementing it. I tried doing some morning pages a few times, but didn’t see much use in them. My guess is that for self reflection to be productive, it needs to be somewhat guided. Maybe something like journaling prompts could help us interpret some parts of ourselves that we still don’t understand. I really want to find out what lies beneath my personality and put it into words that would be easy to understand, rather than focusing on keeping a clear mind.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha, don’t we all love to learn more about ourselves!! Implementing a new technique is always the hardest but most rewarding part. I think guided journalling is definitely a step in the right direction. Let us know how it works for you!!

      Liked by 1 person

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