A paper boat with reflection in the water symbolizing self-reflection

How self-reflection can help you find your passion (ikigai)

posted in: Ikigai | 3

So, you want to follow your passion in life, a.k.a. your ikigai, but are having a hard time finding it. Perhaps you feel unsure or somewhat lost because you’ve tried a number of things that never really panned out for you. Maybe when you look around you don’t see anything that gets you moving.

You know it is there, somewhere. You have that feeling. But yet, you draw a blank as to what it is. Your gut tells you that it is something motivating. Something that, when you to wake up in the morning, makes you want to accomplish great things. It paves the way for a happy and hopefully lengthy life filled with meaning and purpose. After all, you want to make the world a better place for yourself and those you love, right?

But, what is it? What really gets you excited? How can you hone in on it and capture it when it all seems like an elusive dream? Is it possible to define your passion when it seems downright impossible to even identify?

Well first off, don’t be too hard on yourself. Your feelings are normal and such sentiments happen to be quite common. There are countless people (this author included) that spend a great deal of time trying to break out of the rut. We are convinced that if only we could find the “one thing” that would turn the tide, then all would be revealed.

Truth be told, however, for the majority of us, such an overnight epiphany is rare. Finding your passion in life is a journey. It sometimes starts off unnoticed or in very small steps. Indeed, more likely than not, the answer is right in front of you. You just need a bit of self-reflection to get on the right path to finding it.

What exactly is self-reflection and how will it help?

Simply, self-reflection is an activity in which you focus on your own thoughts and feelings in order to understand your values. It is a healthy form of mindful meditation in which you discover not only your beliefs, but also identify the underlining reasons for why you have them.

Practicing such self-reflection is not too difficult and can be done by anyone with the determination. However, it may take some practice to get the hang of analyzing yourself in an objective manner. If can take a lifetime to perfect, but if you practice often, you will surely feel more comfortable with it each passing day.

A woman by a tree and self-reflection on what matters most
Image by silviarita

Getting started with self-reflection

To get started with self-reflection, consider the following question, “What matters most in my life?”

Now, before you dive too deep from the get-go, don’t feel like you need to answer everything all at once. Take your time with this question. In fact, this is a question you should ask yourself repeatedly. Consider keeping a journal and writing down your thoughts as they come on a regular basis.

It may also help to be specific about your question. Take a look at everything around you, your relationships, job, social media post, politics, religion, health, and so on, and ask yourself, “Does (fill in the blank) matter in my life?”

Next, take a step closer and think about why those things matter or not. Really consider what you are feeling. Ask yourself hard questions like, what if that was gone from your life and what would you do if it were different. Think about how would you feel in those cases. You don’t need to tell anyone. Just be honest with yourself. After all, this is a “self” reflection.

If you can do that, then you are one step closer to knowing where you want to exert your energy. You will be well on your way to finding your passion in life.

A woman and self-reflection on regret
Image by engin akyurt

Are you stopping yourself? Think about it.

Once you come to terms with what matters to you, next ask yourself if you are living true to your beliefs. It is one thing to reflect on yourself and analyze what you value, but if you do not take any concrete actions towards it, you will find that nothing ever changes. What could be your passion may never materialize if you don’t act on it. In other words, just start by doing what makes you happy.

You have to actually commit to doing things that are important to you. You must make an effort to get from point A to point B or else you will most certainly never reach your goals. 

Take a moment to self-reflect on what you actually do in regards to what matters to you most. Reflect on what actions you should have taken, but haven’t yet. Think about what you can do to support the things you value. Then get to work on them. Start putting those plans into action.

Be mindful of your commitment

Do you sometimes start something, usually with great intentions, then after a while, lose interest? Does it turn out to be not as interesting as it started off being?

Following through with your actions isn’t always easy. It takes effort and commitment. But know that it is far too unfortunate to let indecision and boredom dictate your search for a meaningful life.

Note, however, that commitment doesn’t mean your values and beliefs cannot change. Indeed they can. Nonetheless, living a life of passion and purpose means that you must take action on what matters to you most, always, even if they change.

Reflect on the actions you enjoy and repeat them often. Furthermore, reflect also on the actions you enjoy less and embrace them as a personal learning process. Take joy in the fact that you are searching for your passion. Have fun in the search itself. Try new things and go to new places.

Don’t wait until tomorrow to do something about it either. Everyone copes with procrastination, as you should too. It is the killer of dreams.

A woman using her free time
Image by Daniel Nebreda

Self-reflection for your spare time

Think about what you do in your spare time. That is if you have any.

Are you, like so many others, consumed with what most people call “life” and have little time for yourself? Do you use your free time wisely by engaging in something productive that you actually enjoy doing or are you constantly tied up? Perhaps you are extremely busy with work or school. Maybe you have chores and other errands that take up your time or a family to care for. In which case, you may have little time to do anything that you want to. 

If that is true, then you should really consider taking a small step towards changing your routine. You need a little time out each day for yourself. Even if it is 30 minutes after work, before dinner, early in the morning, or before hitting the bed, you owe it to yourself to spend time on yourself. 

Of course, there are many things you can do with your time. Here are three important ones to start with.


First, give yourself a bit of downtime. Take a breather if you are insanely busy and have little time for yourself. Relax with a good book or take in a bit of TV. Listen to your favorite music or take a soothing hot bath if you want. Check out your Facebook or Twitter timeline and chat with friends. Don’t be ashamed to be a bit selfish. Downtime is a great way for you to calm yourself. Just do it in moderation.

Make an action plan

Second, use your spare time to do some self-reflection. Be mindful of the areas we covered above, your feelings, actions, commitments, etc. Ask yourself what you can do in your day that supports those values.

Think objectivity about the type of people you want to meet, programs you want to attend, places you go to, and so on. Then drill down into why you find those things interesting. What is it about you and your personality that draws you to such interests? Ultimately, how would you feel if you could engage in more of that every day.

The point is, use your extra time to align your values and make some plans. Do not waste your precious time with indifference. If you only have a few minutes a day, consider how to make those few minutes count the most.

Get busy doing

Quite logically, the next step is to start implementing those plans during your free time. Study new things, enroll in an online course, volunteer at your favorite charity, or focus more time on your hobbies. After all, it is your life and you should be doing what you enjoy.


Self-reflection, not other-reflection 

You have heard it before, but it is worth repeating. Don’t compare yourself to others.

Not surprisingly, most people, whether they are aware or not, always have their eye on what others have. They look at the neighbor’s big house and green grass and feel the need to have something of equal or greater value.

This is of course not limited to material things but also perceived success. Usually, it comes in the form of a career, but that still is not the entire picture. People tend to look at the luxurious lifestyles and adventurous activities of others which, these days, are often amplified by selfies and other braggart posts.

Keeping up with the Joneses in such a way can lead to regret and a number of other undesirable feelings including perpetual dissatisfaction. In other words, you end up with a life that is superficial and not aligned with what matters to you most.

Know that searching for what is right for you is found inside of you, not through the passions of others. Self-reflection will help you to get off such a destructive path.

You can start by first identifying who you are not. There is no need to follow anyone down a road that is not yours. Free yourself from having to pursue other people’s passions. Give yourself permission to say, “That is not who I am.”

Once you release yourself from who you are not, it will become much easier to focus on who you are. Then try to be appreciative and grateful for what you already have.

a child running through a field as a metaphor for self-reflection on your childhood
Image by Jill Wellington

Reflect on your childhood

Another way to identify what you are passionate about is to reflect on your past, or better yet, your childhood.

For most people, childhood was a time of exploration and discovery with little or no concern about the pressures of adults and all that comes with being one. It was a time of curiosity and engagement.

Aside from homework and coming home when the streetlights turned on, it was like having complete free range over what you did when you had your own time. It was the period of your life that formed out of an innate desire to be and do anything. Your life was full of passion.

Incidentally, as an adult, one of the ways to build your ikigai is to indeed experiment and try things anew as if through the lenses of a child’s eyes. Often this type of behavior leads to natural self-discovery and excitement for the here and now. It is often referred to as, keeping a child’s mind.

So, what was it in your childhood that really excited you the most? What type of games did you play? Did you engage in any sports or play a musical instrument? Were there any classes at school that really intrigued you and motivated you to learn more? Above all, are any of your childhood passions relevant today? 

Be reflective and think about what made you happy then. Consider whether or not you can revisit some of those activities now. It may indeed prompt you to relive those passions or even lead you down a new path.

Seek advice when you can

As the term implies, self-reflection is something you do by yourself. However, it is important to note that discovery is not a process that you must do alone. Indeed it may very well be worthwhile that you confide in someone like family, friends, a mentor or coach for advice. There is professional support as well.

Let them know what you are going through. Share your thoughts and feelings. Often times, those in your inner circle can provide you with insight into your self. Heed such advice not as approval or objection, but rather as opportunity and challenge.

Relaxing with feet our the car window as a metaphor to taking time
Image by lisa runnels

Take a little time for self-reflection

You deserve your passions and owe it to yourself to find what they are. If you are unsure of what really interests you, then begin a journey of self-reflection and realization. Identify the things that really matter to you and align your actions with them. If you can recognize your values, you should be able to live accordingly.

And don’t worry if it doesn’t happen overnight. It is perfectly fine to take some time to realize just who you are. There are no rules or timelines that you need to follow nor should there be any pressure to force yourself into something that doesn’t align with your values. You can explore new activities and try new things at your own pace until you find the one or “ones” that excite you.

Your involvement can be as little or as much as you and your resources allow. It may include something as simple as taking some time to read that book that you heard was interesting or revisiting a passion from long ago. The point is that your search should never end. Begin now.

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