When I was little, my dad had a poster of an adorable chimpanzee next to his desk. This was long before the days of memes, but you may have seen an updated version. The chimpanzee held a thinking pose above the caption, “I think, therefore I am… confused.” My dad explained to me about the concept of philosophy and a man called Descartes. I felt incredibly grown up to be in on what I considered to be such a sophisticated joke. I loved that poster as a child, but adulthood continuously teaches me how correct both Descartes and the chimpanzee were. I now suspect that my dad enjoyed more about the poster than simply the cheesy joke.
I freely admit that for me, thinking and confusion go hand in hand. Nothing worth thinking about is simple, straightforward, or without struggle. This especially applies to thinking about “self” or self-evaluation. While discerning things about my own heart, mind, and soul, I have experienced various degrees of success. I am always self-critiquing. It is that kind of thinking that makes me who I am.
I may not be perfect, but during the evaluation process, I have learned three important things not to do: Don’t lie to yourself about your self-appraisal, don’t ignore the voices of reflection, but also don’t let those voices shut you down.
Our brains’ preservation instincts are probably too strong to ever let us be completely accurate while self-evaluating. The mind has an amazing and slightly terrifying ability to make excuses for itself and block out things that it doesn’t want to deal with. This skill is best used as a short-term tool, a triage for all of the things that we think about each day. It is not supposed to last forever. Playing mind tricks on yourself can be useful in the moment, but damaging in the long run.
Figuring out the underlying reasons why you snapped at someone, took an unnecessary risk, or ate fifteen cookies in one sitting is an important thing to do. Understanding yourself is the first step to being able to grow as a human being.
When our self-reflection is able to make it past the protective barriers our brain puts up, it is important to listen. Too many people resist and ignore thinking about unpleasant things. It is not fun or easy to view yourself honestly. It is often downright exhausting, but it is crucial. Lack of self-reflection not only leads to a lack of personal growth, but also to a lack of compassion and empathy.
If you don’t think about how you can improve into a better worker, parent, friend, or partner, then you won’t realize how hard it is for everyone else to be the best of those things that they can be. If you are perfectly fine with the way you are and don’t acknowledge how you can improve, then it can easily seem like everyone else just doesn’t care enough to do things correctly. As hard as it can sometimes be, refusing to self-evaluate is not the answer.
The opposite of not reflecting on your thoughts and actions is to reflect on them too much. I once spent a stressful two weeks trying to fill out a self-evaluation form because there was too much information to put down. It seemed like an impossible task. At the time, the pressure of sitting still, picking out the most important sections of my unrelenting self-talk, and then having to also see those thoughts in print truly felt like a larger burden than I could bear. It was bad enough that I had to live with the self-evaluations floating around in my brain. I spent a lot of effort trying to get a break from my thoughts, and now someone wanted me to write them down.
This path is not any emotionally healthier than those who refuse to reflect in the first place. Growing and improving should be something that we never stop doing. There is no failure or condemnation in needing to evaluate and then improve. It is simply a part of life. As human beings, made in God’s image, we have the awesome abilities of thought, decision making, and growth. Yes, thinking often inevitably leads to moments of confusion along the way, but that’s okay. It’s all a part of the process.
Descartes also famously said, “It is not enough to have a good mind; the main thing is to use it well.” Using our brains well and in an emotionally healthy way is a lifelong journey. If we listen and evaluate ourselves honestly, with a dose of kindness, we will be truly present and able to make an impact on the world around us.
This post reflects the views and experiences of the author, and is intended to start a conversation. Please share your thoughts in the comments below!
Or, if you’d like to hear some overall thoughts on mental health from Christians at THRED, you can find those over here.