Take Time to Reflect

Take Time to Reflect

by David Oeschger, Ph.D. Clinical Psychologist

Have you ever stopped to consider how unique you are? No one else in the world is exactly like you. Your DNA, face, fingerprints, and even your personal history are unlike anyone else's. Of these, your unique personal history not only sets you apart, it can also prepare you for the road ahead. As the saying goes, you can understand better where you're going when you look back on where you've been.

All of life is preparation for the future. Just as education prepares you for a career, your personal history influences the choices you make and shapes your vision for the future.

In your personal history, you can probably identify what I call your "critical life experiences." Usually, these experiences were charged with emotion and have impacted you strongly. They have additional significance if they occurred during critical developmental periods in your life cycle. This is true whether you're talking about personal history or world history. Consider, for example, what motivated William Faulkner to write As I Lay Dying, Erich Fromm to write Escape from Freedom, or John Hersey to write Bell for Adano. Each of these men drew from his own critical life experiences, his internal frame of reference.

Or, to use a different analogy, in much the same way that the repetitive chorus of a song identifies its central theme, your critical life experiences often serve as themes for understanding how you think and act. That's why it can be beneficial to chronicle your life - to reflect on your experiences and look for any patterns that appear. The following exercise will help you do just that.

  • Construct a life chart. Try to identify the one or two most significant experiences that occurred during each year of your life. For those years below the age of five, you may have to consult a parent, if possible.
  • Explore each experience. How did they affect you, both emotionally and cognitively? Identify the strongest emotions associated with the experience. Were they positive or negative?
  • Observe any unfolding patterns that emerge. Consider whether your reactions to events are consistent with your reactions to prior events. If your life were a road map, would you be heading toward a predictable destination?
  • Identify any "developmental lesions" on your chart. These are experiences that involve hurt or trauma that likely encumbered your development in some way.

Whether it will be remembered by millions of people or only a few, your life is worth reviewing. If you take time to reflect on your life, a personal paradigm will begin to emerge and you'll gain an increased awareness of factors like your levels of confidence, optimism, and willingness to take risks. You will better understand how you view yourself, which will help you plan the incredible future you desire and deserve.