The art of reflection

Self-reflection for others; are you socially optimized? by Sarah Belisamu

RNfinity | 18-02-2023

Self-reflection is the process of examining our lives, assessing our actions, our motivations and asking do they align with our goals. It's a time to take a breather and apply a wider perspective. Are we striving blindly? or are we stuck in a rut, do we need to break out and head in a new direction? We need this time to address if we are fulfilling our long-term goals and needs or are we just fighting fires of our own making? Socrates said that “an unexamined life was not worth living”. There is that question of what it all means and that most elusive question of all- why. Much has been written about the value and necessity of such processes as well as ways of carrying out self-reflection such as journaling and matching our achievements to our myriad of goals, but there are other aspects of self-reflection, that are not usually discussed, and that is the exposition of our self-reflection for the consumption of others and why this is really our superpower, that we probably don’t exploit.


Self-Reflection in educational settings

Self-reflection has made its way into education and leadership training, and leadership courses, as an element of the learning process. Students have to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of a topic, but more than this, also reflect on their motivations and their experience of the learning process; the challenges, rewards and methods. I am sure a lot of people find this an excruciating process, but why?

Self-refection for your own musing is one thing, but it can be uncomfortable allowing others to gain insight into the inner workings of your mind. There are aspects of ourselves which we see and others which are hidden to us and some of these aspects may be visible to others, as well as aspects that are hidden form the world (Johari Window). Our own motivations may not be clear cut and sometimes we make up reasons for our actions or justify our decisions in a way that aligns with our self-evaluation and esteem. Other times we may be working on something new, and it may seem fragile and not quite ready for public consumption, perhaps we have embarked on a new project or a fledgling relationship, but ultimately, we can only succeed with others, and we will need to roll it out and be ready for questions, as we cannot continue as an enigma and need to flesh out the details. The more extrovert you are the more prepared you are for these questions, and you may have already rehearsed these conversations in your mind, anticipated the responses and your own glee and perhaps you may be eagerly anticipating the social unveiling of some aspect of yourself.


Self-reflection for self-promotion

So, what do you say?

It’s not what you do but the way that you do it.

What you say is very important. We are constantly probed and asked why we do things?

People need as much information as possible and look beyond your actions. They want to know what makes you tick, as this can help them decide if they want to be your friend or work with you and this is your opportunity to self-promote. It’s not lying it is just aligning your goals and values with your friends, employer, social circle, and society and showing that not only do you have those goals, but you work towards them and are able to move others towards them too. There is a hierarchy of motivations. At the top are the motivations that are almost impossible for others to repudiate though if overused and unattainable may sound insincere and coached such as when Miss World candidates stated that their ambition was for world peace.

Hiding behind a mirror


You may have heard of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs which is about achieving different levels of fulfilment from the most immediate basic survival and safety needs to a greater sense of self fulfilment, which can be longer term and more elusive goals. However, your employer probably doesn’t want to know about your self-actualization.

More on Maslow's hierarchy of needs.


Maslow's hierachy


The Hierarchy of Motivation

This is a different hierarchy, which is about the needs and values of the group and how other people rate your motivation. This is a ranking from most valued, most inspirational and most acceptable to least acceptable reasons for doing things; off course this is not as fundamental as Maslow’s hierarchy and these rankings will fluctuate. There is plenty of room for debate!-


1)      Altruism/ desire to help others.

2)      Help friends to save Money or earn more money.

3)      Help your company/ group/ team succeed.

4)      Promote inclusivity, counter discrimination, promote fairness.

5)      To save the environment/ reduce wastage.

6)      Represent your country.

7)      Protect your family.

8)      To be honest

9)      Protect yourself

10)   Self-esteem, self-aggrandisement

11)   Not sure why /was asked to carry it out.

12)   Self-gratification

13)   Revenge


Let’s take an example of an interview with three people with identical CVs who are each asked the same question; why did you carry out this project in your last job?

The first person answers that their supervisor asked them to look into it.

The second person answers that they noticed a problem at work which led to inefficiency, lost earnings and risk to the company. They wanted to know how widespread the problem was and they conducted an audit to clarify the issues and developed an action plan together with their colleagues who were unaware of the problem up till then. They devised a new protocol which was implemented, that resulted in the incidence of the problem being greatly reduced, leading to fewer complaints and a substantial financial saving for the company.

The third person said that they hated their boss and was trying to get them fired by exposing their shortcomings. I am joking of course. They never said that at the interview but that was their actual motivation, but they answered like the first candidate. On a side note, a friend of mine recounted an interview they attended. They didn't like the look of the place and were about to walk out, but were advised by a candidate who was seated next to them, also recruited by the same agency, not to forego the interview, as the agency would never forward them for another vacancy again. So they went into the interview sandbagging the response to every question with the worst possible answer. "I see you live quite near- It's going to take make a long time to get to work. When can you start?- not for 6 months (candidate currently not working!). What do you bring to the job?- I don't think it relates to my previous experience." With the pressure off they could just sit back and enjoy the interviewer's perplexed expressions; a rare pleasure that most of us do not get the opportunity to experience.

Anyhow back to the hypothetical interview scenario; all three candidates carried out identical pieces of work who is going to get the job in this hypothetical interview?

To make a positive impact on others, we need to present ourselves as having initiative, being self-motivated and driven, striving for the benefit of others, having the ability to recruit others to these goals, achieving success, and feeling rewarded by these actions. Only then can you consider yourself to be socially optimised!