Whenever you want to reflect on a decision you made, remember that action and reason matrix—it’ll help you analyze your choices. The goal is not to develop a paranoia around whether or not you did the right thing, but to use our successes and failures as guides for the future. Ray Dalio says in his book Principles that “Pain + Reflection = Progress,” and I couldn’t agree more. Remove the pain, and never truly reflect. Remove the reflection, and you continue to experience the pain.
Make a habit of sitting down every single day for as little as five minutes and reflecting on the day before. One of the best ways to check your work as an individual is to keep a journal of these reflections and consistently review it as you make more decisions. This is such a big opportunity for growth that nearly all successful people are taking advantage in some way or another, whether it be through prayer, meditation, simple relaxation, a journal, a diary, or a conversation—you will inevitably grow by reflecting on your past actions. To start, get out a piece of paper and choose two or three big or small decisions or actions that you have had to make in the past week, and answer the following questions.
Did it get me any closer to fulfilling my goals or purpose in life?
Essentially, figure out if your action or decision was effective. This may be a complex answer, so think about all of the consequences of your decision, not just the first order or short term results.
Why did I do it?
It’s much easier to identify a right or wrong decision in hindsight than it is in the heat of the moment. Whatever it is that you’re reflecting on, now you get to look back and objectively analyze your decision making. The key is answering this question honestly. You could lie and say that you meant the best, but only you know whether or not that’s true. There’s no reason to lie to yourself: write it out, and explain yourself, even when you know you were wrong.
How has my action affected others?
Though similar to the first question, focus less on whether your decision was effective for your purposes, and more on the consequences that directly pertain to others. Remember, we don’t live for ourselves, but for the meaningful and positive changes that affect those around us. Never forget to consider others in your decision making process. In the end, we’re only as good as the positive effects we had on everyone else, not the other way around.
If I had to make the decision again, what would I do differently?
This is the ultimate test of our learning. We will encounter similar if not nearly identical situations throughout a lifetime, and we might as well not make the same mistakes twice. As you think through this question, use your imagination to put yourself in the exact same moment with the exact same circumstances as you had, but this time, do the right thing. Yes, this may seem like a gimmicky visualization exercise, but it’s solidifying your learning, and providing you with a reference that you can use to make better decisions in the future
A great way to practice being reflective is by journaling or spending some allotted time daily in meditation or prayer, or mindfulness. Actively think about what you learn from each person and situation you encounter. Journaling is excellent because it also allows you to look back on your writing and continue to reflect for a long time to come. No matter how you do it, be reflective, and you’ll become more self-aware for next time.