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The Self-Affirming Power of Positive Reflection



The turn of the year (and in this case the start of a new decade) is a great time for positive reflection.

However, looking back is typically associated with sadness. We look back on who we’ve lost. We beat ourselves up for what we “failed” to do. We ruminate on what we’ve done wrong and who we’ve hurt. The past is often wracked with guilt, shame and sadness.

But how about looking back with a sense of pride? How about looking back at the past in a positive light?

A Great Exercise for Positive Reflection 

When I work with people on building self-esteem and confidence there is one exercise that I always encourage them to do and it’s this:

  • Think of the 3 achievements in your life of which you’re most proud and note down 3 things they say about you as a person.

I often get push-back on the word ‘proud.’ Yet there is nothing wrong in being proud of your achievements. Excessive humility is self-effacing and many of us are already too good at putting ourselves down and making ourselves feel small. We need to be far more self-affirming.

Coming back to the exercise, someone might say:

“I ran my first marathon”

and the 3 things that says about them could be:

“Disciplined, driven & persistent.”

But it doesn’t need to be such a super-human feat (well in my eyes anyway)!

When I first did this exercise, one of my proudest achievements was passing my driving test at the third attempt. I remember the enormous relief at the time and a huge sense of achievement. It was so important to me at 19, living in a small village in Norfolk, to gain that freedom and independence. It might not sound like a big deal to other people, but it was massive for me at the time.

What did it say about me?

“Determined, focussed & tenacious” 

The power of this simple exercise never ceases to amaze me.

We so rarely make time to reflect on our achievements – as human beings, as leaders and even as teams. We’re straight onto the next goal, the next target, the next item on the list. We are far more likely to focus on the negatives.

However, I have literally seen clients grow in stature in front of my eyes as they share with me the 3 things in their life of which they’re most proud.  Often considering them for the very first time, let alone saying them out loud.

What Have You Done This Decade To Make You Feel Proud? 

So, this New Year I’d encourage you to gift yourself a little time for positive reflection.

Think about what you have done in the past decade that made you feel proud. Come up with at least 3 things.

Then, most importantly, determine what each of them says about you as a person. Your personality traits if you like. Write them down somewhere – in a book or a journal. Make a record of your achievements.

Very often there’ll be a pattern in those 3 traits.  The things that make you feel proud typically reflect your values – what you value in life. Hence the exercise can be very self-affirming. It proves that you can (and do) walk your talk and honour those core values. You realise you’re not that bad after all!  If negative thoughts stray into your head and try to drown out the positive ones, then push them away. You have the power to do so. Remember this exercise is about positive reflection.


It may sound like a cliché but life IS what you focus on. Neuroscience proves that where your brain goes your energy flows. So why not focus on the positives for a change? Make time for positive reflection. Be proud of who you are and what you’ve achieved and start this new decade with a spring in your step!

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