Chapter 10: The mirror of change

One of the most powerful tools for change I’ve ever created was my blog, Zen Habits. And I’m not the only one who has experienced this, either: I’ve helped many people start blogs as a journal for changing their habits and their lives.

I started Zen Habits in 2007 as a way to share some of the things I’d been learning about changing habits and simplifying my life … but also to hold myself accountable for other habit changes I was still making, like training for my first triathlon and continuing to get out of debt. I thought if I had some people reading my habit reports, I’d be more likely to stick to the changes. Even though I’d had a number of habit successes to this point, I knew that public accountability was one of the reasons I’d done so well, and I wanted to give myself the best chance of continuing my success. Being good at habits means not forgetting what got you to good.

And that was true — the more readers I had, the more motivating it was. But I found something even more powerful than the accountability: reflecting on what I was doing.

Self-reflection has turned out to be one of my most powerful tools in changing my life. It becomes a mirror that helps you see what’s going on in your life, that keeps you from making the same mistakes over and over again, from being on autopilot and failing to course-correct. Having a blog with readers is like having a journal on steroids — it forces you to reflect on what you’re doing in your life, because if you’re going to share what you’re learning with other people, you first have to reflect on what you’ve learned. Self-reflection is built into blogging.

Why is self-reflection so important? Imagine trying to put on clown make-up, but you have no mirror. You can’t see whether you’re applying the makeup in the right areas, or … well, you can’t tell whether you’re doing it right at all. If you’re messing up, you’ll probably just keep messing up.

Now imagine there’s a mirror in front of you. Putting the makeup on is now much easier, because as your hand goes off course, you can course-correct. You can do it better each time you make a mistake. You can see what kinds of mistakes you’re making, and make fewer of those with some practice. All because you have the feedback of the mirror helping guide your actions.

Self-reflection is this mirror. It’s absolutely necessary for making changes and not just giving up in self-disgust.

The mirror of self-reflection does a few things, in my experience:

  1. It makes you remember what you’ve done, which means you’re living more consciously instead of just on autopilot.
  2. It helps you to see when you’ve made mistakes and see what kind of adjustments might help overcome those obstacles in the future.
  3. It gives you positive feedback when you are doing things right, so you’ll keep doing those things right.

As you can see, the mirror of self-reflection is a crucial tool for feedback loops, and we’ve already seen that feedback loops are the key to sticking to (or failing at) a habit change.

So how do you set up this mirror of self-reflection? I have a few suggestions:

  1. Start a short habit journal, and just do one to two sentences each day. Perhaps commit to sharing this daily with your accountability team or partner.
  2. Do a habit review each week, reflecting on what you did, what went wrong, how you’ll overcome those in the future, and what you did right. If you do this weekly, you’ll get better each week.
  3. Start a short daily or weekly blog, and share this blog with everyone you know.
  4. Post updates to social media, but not just bragging updates — share what went wrong as well as what went right.

Mission: Start a one-sentence journal

Commit in your Habit Plan to doing a daily one-sentence journal or blog. If you don’t think you can keep up with a daily journal, commit instead to writing a weekly review of your habit, or to blogging weekly on how you’re doing with the habit. Tell your accountability partner or group that you’ll share this with them either daily or weekly — whatever works best for you and them. The feedback loops you’ll get from this self-reflection will be worth the effort.

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