There’s a problem.
Modern-day life is a rush from one moment to the next.
One project gets done, and the next has to get started right away. You reach one milestone and already starting the next. These timelines often get blurred together, ramping up for the next project while one project is still being finished.
This applies to far more than just the work environment.
It applies to goal in any scenario. This includes your relationships and your everyday to-do lists.
This rush is a habit, it is easy to get lost in. You are going through the motions and one day realize how much time has gone by. You may even feel you didn’t get much done, despite it all.
I will address two big ideas that can help alleviate this problem.
Perspective is about realizing the limits of your perception. How, while in one mental state, the world seems drastically different.
Reflection is about integrating the lessons learned into your sense of being. You develop understanding when connecting the dots, not placing them.
Big Idea: Everything seems bigger up close.
Basically: Take a step back to realize the insignificance of your worries.
There is a very subtle difference between the mental state you are in during moments of irritation and moments of joy.
I’ve found it to feel like a shift in awareness. In one mental state my focus feels locked in to one thing, while in the other, my focus is locked into something else.
Through conscious effort and a higher level of awareness, I can shift my focus from one spot to another. This changes my mental state. A feeling of lightness often accompanies it, like a weight being immediately lifted.
This is the feeling that I associate with reframing.
Reframing is the act of taking a scenario and choosing to view it from a different perspective. You may feel late to the airport until you turn the corner and see a line. The moment you see the line, your worries vanish. This is a form of reframing. The story you’ve created in your head while you thought you were late immediately gets rewritten when you realize the flight is still boarding.
This is a big idea that often gets overlooked. It has the potential to reshape every aspect of your life. Reframing is a muscle that can be trained.
The first few times may feel forceful, but after repeated and consistent application it will become natural.
There are a few steps to develop this:
- Realizing the opportunity to reframe.
- The options you have in reframing.
- The actual reframing.
You can’t change something that you are oblivious to.
To reframe something you have to recognize the opportunity before the irritation gains momentum. The development of this skill comes in stages, I’ve dived deep into these in The Ultimate Guide to Awareness.
When you first begin, you may not recognize the opportunity to reframe until a while after the fact. It could even be days.
After repeated application, this timeframe will shrink. Awareness will arise earlier and earlier.
So, to begin, find a trigger of yours. It is best for this to be something consistent that happens often. For example, the irritating sound of your coworker chewing gum in the morning.
Your only job at this point is to recognize yourself becoming irritated. Explore those feelings and try to do so without judgement. No labeling of good or bad, no labeling of should or shouldn’t.
The next step is to then associate the idea of reframing to this awareness. This means when you realize yourself becoming irritated, you also bring up the thought of reframing. The idea isn’t to actually reframe at this point, only to associate the concept of reframing with the opportunity to do so.
I’ve found particular difficulty in reframing when I didn’t have a plan.
Just like running a marathon and not planning for the obstacle of fatigue. You are setting yourself up for failure.
The emphasis with clarity is planning not for when everything goes right, but when everything goes wrong. I go into great depth on clarity in The Ultimate Guide to Clarity.
A proper plan involves having a few well rehearsed positive replacements available. For example, you may have a five different things you like about your coworker. They may be quick to help you when you have a question. They may laugh at your jokes when there would be an awkward silence otherwise.
Set time aside to come up with these traits. Write them down in a quiet location and visualize these moments. The idea to get very clear on these positive traits. This can serve as gratitude journaling.
You want to cement this positive reframing in your mind, so it is easy to recall when you’re in a different mental state.
Then work to associate these positive reframing thoughts to the moments of irritation. This is similar to how you associated the concept of reframing with the irritation during the Awareness stage.
At this point you’ll have a list of positive things to shift your awareness to during moments of irritation.
Now, the application of reframing is simple. Sooner, the better. When the irritation occurs, shift your awareness to some positive trait.
The power of reframing with positive is that the mind is quick to drop positive thoughts. But the mind holds on to negative thoughts. This is the simple motivation of survival to the brain. Negative thoughts linger longer and are more likely to loop around in your head.
It is important to acquire instances that reinforce this next point. We can view every situation from multiple perspectives. Your perspective is limited. Your perspective even has a bias depending on your current mental state. Realizing this is a powerful ally in reframing.
Pay special attention to these moments. For example, when you are quick to judge a driver for being on the phone and driving but yet you do the same thing at a later time.
Be careful how you rationalize these moments. It is tempting to brush up you doing it as a “special occasional”.
Everything seems bigger up close. When you are in the weeds of the moment, it is easy to miss the relative insignificance of it all. Take a step back to gain perspective. This is in line with the Principle of Relativity as discussed in our series on Effective Living.
Big Idea: The quality of your experiences increases when you reflect on them.
Basically: It is a trap to think: “When I have this, then it’ll be enough.”
When deep in the rush of modern life, you don’t have the time to reflect. But this is a terrible mistake.
Consider the moments in your life that have given you the most meaning. They are that way because of the time you’ve spent reflecting on them. You may have spoken with friends in great depth about the experience. You may have found that moment leading to a lot of important insights. This is what reflection does.
Reflection provides meaning.
Reflection provides understanding.
A bucket list often delivers the vibe of serving as a checklist. One item after another. But this misses the point. I’ve harped on the importance of exploration many times through the Effective Living series, but most notably in the Ultimate Guides for Challenge, Connection, and Meaning.
Exploration is the most effective way to bypass the tendency to label things as good or bad. I’ve found it to be the single mindset that leads to the most profound change. Struggling well has the idea at its heart, as I’ve discussed in the Ultimate Guide to Challenge.
An experience from your bucket list is useless if you don’t integrate it into your sense of being. You do this integration through reflection.
The struggles we face daily are overwhelming only when we don’t have a purpose. Suffering ceases to be suffering when you apply meaning. Just as the concentration camp survivor Viktor Franki suggests in his book Man’s Search for Menaing.
There are many tools to help with reflection. I have found journaling to be the most effective since it helps maintain my attention.
Understanding is more vital than knowledge. You can easily gain knowledge nowadays. Simply search online and you get an answer. Remembering or knowing has very little value.
Knowing what the elements of the periodic table are is not useful if you don’t understand how to apply them. The meaning is far more useful than the words. The meaning suggests ways to apply and provides connections between bigger ideas.
But such understanding requires higher level thinking.
Low level thinking is about details, the big picture isn’t involved. There is use for low level thinking during times of specific application, such as solving a particular problem.
But for understanding and reflection, it is all about high level thinking.
Understanding requires experience and lots of time spent thinking (i.e. reflection). Wisdom is knowledge paired with a hefty amount of experience.
Here is an equation that represents the value of an experience:
- Value of Experience = Engagement * Reflection * Context
- Engagement is how deliberately and focused you are during the experience.
- Reflection is how much you consider what you’ve learned and integrate.
- Context involves your past experiences and considers your current position in life. I.e. were you ready for such an experience?
People most often leave out reflection, but you have full control over this factor.
So what do you do?
Be deliberate in setting aside time to reflect.
For every milestone you hit, ensure there are at least 10 minutes set aside devoted ONLY to reflecting. Some topics to reflect on are what went well, what didn’t go well, and how can we improve. Spend most of your time on what went wrong and how you can improve.
When learning something new, balance consumption of new information with integration. Relate new information to old, such as through analogies. The more deliberate you are with this, the quicker you will learn and the longer you’ll retain the information. You’ll be able to do more with the information as well since you would have developed an understanding.
As you go through life, you gain experiences. These experiences are just dots in space. They only gain meaning when you connect them to other dots. This connecting has to be deliberate. While placing the dots, trust that they will connect later on. Then deliberately find the underlying meaning by considering the bigger picture.
Avoid adding complexity on top of complexity. You can manage complexity by having an adequate understanding. Take the time up front to develop this understanding. Build a firm foundation. Then you can add more complexity.
Engage in cycles of reflection to ensure you clean up any mess created from adding more complexity. Look for gaps in understanding and integrate the lessons learned.
Big Idea: Rushing from one thing to the next leads to an empty life and disappointment.
Basically: Slow down and take deliberate steps.
Going from one moment to the next can feel like a tug. This tug can become a habit of motion. Before you know it you find yourself a decade along in life with a feeling of emptiness.
An experience has an associated quality to it that has several factors. One of the most impactful factors is that of meaning. But you can only gain this meaning through deliberate reflection.
You address this issue by applying perspective and reflection.
Develop an appreciation for how much perspective influences your view of the world. Do this by experimenting with reframing and paying attention to times when you do exactly what you were quick to judge someone else for.
Devote time to reflect on what you’ve accomplished. Focus on how the recent experiences fit into the bigger picture of your life. Find meaning behind the struggle by looking for insights on how to improve.
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Tell me what you think about reflection. What were the most impactful moments in your life and how might reflection played a role in that? Share in the comments section below!
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Don’t put off contemplating what the insights from this article mean, find a quiet location and think deeply about what it might mean for you. Just 10 deliberate minutes can make a large difference, set a timer, do it regularly and you will notice the changes within a few weeks. You improve your ability to think and therefore make effective decisions by spending more time deliberately thinking about the relevant subject. Consider applying journaling and meditation to see more profound changes, these are just more deliberate and concentrated forms of quiet and focused thinking. Slow down, find stillness.
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