3 Powerful Steps to Reflect on Your Life and
Navigate Toward Your Next Steps
No matter our age, reflecting on our lives can help us create new possibilities and may keep us healthier. This personal journey is often led by a desire for growth and an interest in exploring our uniqueness and capacities. As we navigate toward our potential or what psychologist Abraham Maslow describes as self-actualization, we can take steps to expand toward the best version of ourselves (Maslow, 1987).
Research indicates that writing your story can stimulate biological changes in your body and may keep you healthier longer (Pennebaker, 2016). Psychologist James Pennebaker, a researcher on writing and health, offers some pragmatic suggestions for expressive writing, including trying to write for 15 minutes per day for 3 to 4 days in a row. There are many ways to write – experimenting with what works best for you is a sound approach. First, find a quiet place where you’re not likely to be disturbed. Then, whether you write by hand, type on a computer, or dictate into a recorder, it’s often easiest to write just for yourself. Don’t worry about spelling or grammar for this process – you can choose to either throw away or keep what you write.
Perhaps these uncertain times are a good point for reflecting on your life, empowering you to navigate with greater intention toward your next steps. Amid life’s challenges, there is always the option to pause, listen to your own voice and the voices of others, reflect, discern, and make choices about what you have influence over.
What are the stories of your life thus far?
The insights you can gain as your stand back, take stock, and review the flow of your own story can help you steer toward greater awareness, clarity, inspiration, and satisfaction (Cowan & Thal, 2015; Stewart & Vandewater, 1999).
3 powerful strategies to help you discover your stories as you navigate toward a future of greater possibilities:
1. Consider your story. How do you view your life? Acknowledging and interpreting your past can help you learn from mistakes, navigate transitions and changes, open to the future, and build bridges toward greater meaning in your life. While you can’t change your past, you can reframe your understandings in ways that offer greater acceptance and clarity.
2. Make an appointment with yourself. Wherever you find yourself amid your daily routines and the flowing stream of your life, give yourself brief windows of time to reflect, perhaps 15 minutes per day for a few days. This can be an opportunity to consider, interpret, and learn from your journey and experiences. While your life may seem like a random collection of events, it’s really all one story – your story – the narrative of your life.
3. Just write for yourself. Sit quietly in the present moment. When you’re ready, gently bring your attention to the stream of your life. If you find that you’d like to be more systematic, writing your thoughts in a journal or trying some of the strategies described above can be useful approaches. Here are a few questions to consider as you create the map of where you’ve been and where you are steering toward.
- What are some of the significant stories of my life?
- What important lessons have I learned? What do I wish I’d learned sooner?
- What do I value most? As I look back, what have been my callings in life thus far?
- What do I wish I’d done that I haven’t done (yet)?
- What do I want to learn more about?
- What are my hopes – for my life? for my love ones? for my country? for the world?
- How do I want to share my reflections and wisdom with others?
- What’s my next right step?
- Cowan, R. & Thal, L. (2015). Wise aging: Living with joy, resilience, & spirit. Springfield, NJ: Behrman House.
- Pennebaker, J.W. & Smyth, J.M. (2016). Opening up by writing it down: How expressive writing improves health and eases emotional pain. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.
- Stewart A.J. & Vendewater, E.A. (1999). “If I had it to do over again …”: Midlife review, midcourse corrections, and women’s well-being in midlife. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 76(2), 270-283.
- Staudinger, U.M. (2001). Life reflection: A social-cognitive analysis of life review. Review of General Psychology 5(2), 148-160.
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