San Francisco, CA
I was chatting with a minister-friend of mine the other day about one of the universal truths of self-reflection: Self-reflection has a short shelf-life.
I’ve noticed this phenomenon in self-development workshops that I’ve both attended and run myself. You spend a few hours navel-gazing or journaling or in a coaching conversation and come up with the most brilliant insights. “Who knew that my fear of spiders was what’s holding me back from volunteering in the Amazon!” or “Wow, fear and love are opposites! I never thought of it that way!” The insights are always that: insightful. You see things you didn’t previously see. You feel a burst of energy for attacking the world with your new understanding. And, with a bit of accountability, you use the power of your insight to push forward into a new way of being or acting. It’s the core of self-reflection, and it’s all pretty fulfilling.
But the problem is that yesterday’s insight is today’s yawn-worthy platitude. Insights are so quickly absorbed into our current state of thinking that they’re frankly no longer insightful.
I notice this same phenomenon when I share my personal insights with others. As others rarely have the same obstacles obscuring their sight, sharing a powerful realization is often met with “Yeah, you just realized that now?” It’s not that the insight is silly or simple, but instead that it doesn’t have the same resonance for someone else.
While insights seem quite generic or obvious, what makes them powerful is their situational relevance. Insights are exactly what you need to realize – at this point in time, in this situation, for you and you alone. They’re hard to share. Sometimes they’re hard to remember. And even if you did remember them, there is something else you’re going to have to realize in just another day or week or month.
All this leads to my conclusion: Self-reflection has a short shelf-life.
The famous line from Plato’s Apology claims that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” To some, that’s an easy statement to agree with. But putting this together, the real annoyance is not the need to examine your life – it’s the frequency with which you need to do it.