The uses and perils of self-reflection
Self-reflection is supremely important because without it, we can’t improve. If you never spend time reflecting on who you are, how you behave and what effects you have on the world and other people around you, you’ll never know what you’re doing right, what you’re doing wrong, and how to increase the first category at the expense of the second.
But taken too far, self-reflection can also be dangerous because it can make you unduly self-centred. I should know. I’m guilty of doing just that.
I have an amazing ability to feel everything inside my body. I notice slight changes of temperature in my fingers. I know exactly which part of what muscle I strained in my fitness class. I can tell when I ovulate. It’s great, right? Sometimes, yes. But sometimes, not so much.
If I don’t check myself - for instance by forcing myself to pay attention to things that are outside my body, like the colour of the sky or the body language of those around me - I get terribly focused on me and forget that I am but a tiny insignificant speck in the grand scheme of things. Next thing you know the people you care about stop wanting to see you, opportunities to do good fade away, and your world gets smaller and smaller until it becomes no wider than the extent of your corporeal presence.
How to reach a happy balance between lack of self-reflection and so much of it I become egotistical?
I mean, I have a few theories. But I don’t know for sure what the best way might be for me, let alone anyone else.
For now, I use an internal timer. When I catch myself focusing on my inner bits, I let it go for a few minutes. But then, before I start going in circles, I force myself to look at the sky. It helps when I’m outside. I observe its colour. Whether there are clouds. Wind? Yes, definitely some wind. How are the shadows playing on the bits of snow that are still stubbornly refusing to melt even though it’s past mid-March I digress?
Another trick is to think of someone else — preferably someone not close to me, but someone I know a little bit. An acquaintance. A Facebook friend. I try to imagine what they’re doing at that very moment. What they’re wearing. Are they shouting at their kids? Fighting over the remote? Having sex? Would they look good naked? (Don’t go too far down that road, lest you catch yourself being self-reflective about the need not be become a pervert.) What did they have for dinner? Why?
As an immense benefit, this sort of forced focus on other things and people helps me develop a sense of observation and description that’s mighty useful in my life as a writer. One of the things I haven’t been doing well in my fiction so far is scene setting. I don’t describe things or people enough. In part that’s because I hate long descriptions. I don’t like reading them, and I don’t enjoy writing them. I prefer dialogue and inner monologues. That’s probably because I’m unduly self-centred. And I’m guessing my fiction is self-centred, too. Which might or might not explain why I’m having trouble getting anything for it except polite rejection letters.
Is self-reflection important? Yes. Without it I wouldn’t be able to pick out what I need to work on to be a better writer, a better person, or even a better driver. But too much of it isn’t good either, because it separates me from the world and the other bipeds who live in it, depriving me of pleasant connections and the ability to empathize with others in ways that might even help me be a better writer.