Why Self-Improvement Begins with Self-Reflection

By: Influencer ~ Author of: What Makes a Leader: Why Emotional Intelligence Matters.

When people feel a need to transition into a new phase in their lives, they often think the shift needs to be external: new job, new house, new relationship. While those changes are often warranted, I recommend taking stock of your inner world to help guide your decisions. You may discover that you don’t need to change jobs; you just want to move to a different division. Or you would prefer downsizing into an apartment versus owning a two-family unit.

But finding clarity takes some effort. It requires asking the right questions that invite us to consider what really matters to us. And our answers encourage us to pursue new possibilities that are more aligned with our true values and goals.

Based on my Leadership: A Master Class video series, HRD Press and More Than Sound developed a solid personal inventory in one of the modules for coaches, trainers and HR professionals to guide their teams through a self-exploration exercise. Below is an excerpt from the survey* to give you a sense of the types of clarifying questions to ask yourself, or work on with a coach or mentor.

There are 10 descriptions of major life purposes or primary motives covered in the sample worksheet.

  1. For each category, read the description and place a capital “P” at the scale position that best describes your present estimate of self.
  2. Then place a lowercase “p” at the scale position that best describes your past, where you stood five years ago.
  3. Finally, mark “F” on the scale to indicate your goal aspirations for the future, where you want to be in the next five years.

Click on the image below (or here) to open a .pdf of the survey. Print it out or grab a sheet of paper to tally your responses.

After you have completed each scale, review the entire set of dimensions to evaluate where you have been, where you are now, and where you want to be in the future.

For further reflection, identify some areas from the list in which you would like to change and enumerate some strategies for achieving personal change.

  • Areas that need improvement
  • Obstacles to overcome
  • Strategies to achieve goals

Positive Planning

Now that you have a better sense of your primary motives, brainstorm some methods for achieving your new goals.

“Talking about your positive goals activates brain centers that open you up to new possibilities. But if you change the conversation to what you should do to fix yourself, it closes you down,” says Richard Boyatzis, a psychologist at the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve.

Boyatzis argues that focusing on our strengths positions us to be open to new opportunities. On the other hand, concentrating only on our flaws only results in feelings of negativity and guilt, which ultimately stifle growth.

“You need the negative focus to survive, but a positive one to thrive,” says Boyatzis. A positive outlook can sustain the pleasure of learning and growth at work. This is often why many professional athletes and performers still actually have fun when they practice.

This willing attitude also applies to coaching, Boyatzis notes. Spotlighting a person’s hopes—whether you’re a parent, teacher, or boss—offers a very enjoyable knowledge exchange. This type of exchange may also extract actionable goals, help determine how to achieve such goals, and then distinguish which capacities should be developed to arrive there.

Take the complete self-inventory and other useful surveys in the new Leadership: A Master Class Training Guide.

Additional Resources:


What Makes a Leader: Why Emotional Intelligence Matters presents Daniel Goleman’s ground-breaking, highly sought articles from the Harvard Business Review and other business journals in one volume. This often-cited, proven-effective material has become essential reading for leaders, coaches and educators committed to fostering stellar management, increasing performance, and driving innovation. This collection reflects the evolution of Dr. Goleman’s thinking about emotional intelligence, tracking the latest neuroscientific research on the dynamics of relationships, and the latest data on the impact emotional intelligence has on an organization’s bottom-line.