Key Practices for Developing Emotional Intelligence: Be Self-Reflective

Shannon M. Howard and Lonnie Green

This article is part of a series on key practices that, if utilized, will empower you to express your best self in any circumstance. Even in the face of apparent mistakes and failures, when you apply these practices, you will be empowered to return to your sense of personal agency and equilibrium as quickly as possible.

Links to all the articles in this series appear at the bottom of the page.

Becoming More Self-Aware

A prerequisite for developing emotional intelligence is a commitment to being self-reflective, or self-aware. The amount of satisfaction people experience in their relationships with others is directly correlated with their ability to be self-reflective. This is even more important when there is conflict or upset present.

To be self-reflective is to be self-examining and have a commitment to self-discovery. Self-examination requires taking a somewhat neutral, detached, nondefensive attitude toward yourself. This is referred to as being in observer or witness mode. When in this state, you can find the nonattachment and flexibility necessary to widen your current frames of reference.

Being self-reflective is sometimes referred to as being awake to who you are and your underlying needs. It requires being open-minded. This means being willing to examine your thoughts, beliefs, attitudes, emotions, reactions, deeper needs, and deeper motivations in a nonjudgmental way.

Practicing Metacognition

Self-reflection requires that you slip into observer mode so that you can witness how you are operating in life. Neurobiologists refer to this state of witnessing yourself as metacognition. You become aware of having your thoughts and reactions while they are occurring, rather than automatically and unconsciously acting them out.

You are designed, as are all human beings, to be able to hold these two levels of consciousness simultaneously. Another way to say this is that this attitude of awareness objectifies your subjective experience. You now have your thoughts and feelings, rather than them having you.

The philosopher and spiritual teacher George Gurdjieff referred to this state of observing yourself as self-remembering.

When you are in observer or witness mode, you automatically shift your focus so that you are centered in your inner, conscious being.

Self-reflection is not a new concept. The ancient Greeks coined the maxim Know thyself. Although it is an innate skill we all have, not everyone is ready or willing to be self-reflective. It’s a paradox: you must have a certain degree of self-awareness before you can become truly self-aware.

Self-Reflection in Action

There are two main ways to be self-reflective. One way is to act as your own mirror by developing your ability to be in observer or witness mode. Another is to allow your relationships to function as a mirror for you.

You can discover aspects of yourself when another person reflects them back to you through their observations or reactions to you. Often, as uncomfortable as it might feel, the only way to discover our blind spots are when someone points them out to us.

There is another paradox with self-reflection: that you need to slow down in order to accelerate your growth. Sometimes it requires stepping back and calling a timeout, especially when feeling reactive or overwhelmed, to discover what is really going on.

Self-reflection requires courage, humility, and a commitment to being relentlessly honest with yourself while letting go of any self-righteousness. What it doesn’t require is being perfect or changing who you really are; rather, being self-reflective is about discovering and expressing your authentic self more fully.

About the Authors

Shannon M. Howard is Co-Founder and Managing Director of HGI as well as a spiritual teacher, personal development life coach, and parenting mentor. Lonnie Green is Co-Founder and Director of Programs of HGI as well as a counselor, workshop facilitator, public speaker, and teacher.

This article is part of a series on key practices that, if utilized, will empower you to express your best self in any circumstance. Even in the face of apparent mistakes and failures, when you apply these practices, you will be empowered to return to your sense of personal agency and equilibrium as quickly as possible.

Links to all the articles in this series appear at the bottom of the page.

Becoming More Self-Aware

A prerequisite for developing emotional intelligence is a commitment to being self-reflective, or self-aware. The amount of satisfaction people experience in their relationships with others is directly correlated with their ability to be self-reflective. This is even more important when there is conflict or upset present.

To be self-reflective is to be self-examining and have a commitment to self-discovery. Self-examination requires taking a somewhat neutral, detached, nondefensive attitude toward yourself. This is referred to as being in observer or witness mode. When in this state, you can find the nonattachment and flexibility necessary to widen your current frames of reference.

Being self-reflective is sometimes referred to as being awake to who you are and your underlying needs. It requires being open-minded. This means being willing to examine your thoughts, beliefs, attitudes, emotions, reactions, deeper needs, and deeper motivations in a nonjudgmental way.

Practicing Metacognition

Self-reflection requires that you slip into observer mode so that you can witness how you are operating in life. Neurobiologists refer to this state of witnessing yourself as metacognition. You become aware of having your thoughts and reactions while they are occurring, rather than automatically and unconsciously acting them out.

You are designed, as are all human beings, to be able to hold these two levels of consciousness simultaneously. Another way to say this is that this attitude of awareness objectifies your subjective experience. You now have your thoughts and feelings, rather than them having you.

The philosopher and spiritual teacher George Gurdjieff referred to this state of observing yourself as self-remembering.

When you are in observer or witness mode, you automatically shift your focus so that you are centered in your inner, conscious being.

Self-reflection is not a new concept. The ancient Greeks coined the maxim Know thyself. Although it is an innate skill we all have, not everyone is ready or willing to be self-reflective. It’s a paradox: you must have a certain degree of self-awareness before you can become truly self-aware.

Self-Reflection in Action

There are two main ways to be self-reflective. One way is to act as your own mirror by developing your ability to be in observer or witness mode. Another is to allow your relationships to function as a mirror for you.

You can discover aspects of yourself when another person reflects them back to you through their observations or reactions to you. Often, as uncomfortable as it might feel, the only way to discover our blind spots are when someone points them out to us.

There is another paradox with self-reflection: that you need to slow down in order to accelerate your growth. Sometimes it requires stepping back and calling a timeout, especially when feeling reactive or overwhelmed, to discover what is really going on.

Self-reflection requires courage, humility, and a commitment to being relentlessly honest with yourself while letting go of any self-righteousness. What it doesn’t require is being perfect or changing who you really are; rather, being self-reflective is about discovering and expressing your authentic self more fully.

About the Authors

Shannon M. Howard is Co-Founder and Managing Director of HGI as well as a spiritual teacher, personal development life coach, and parenting mentor. Lonnie Green is Co-Founder and Director of Programs of HGI as well as a counselor, workshop facilitator, public speaker, and teacher.