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Using Self-Reflection to Change Systems

Systems are created over time by groups of people. However, they can be changed here and now by you. What a paradox!

Systems don’t change unless individual people change. The only person you can change is yourself. Therefore, the key to changing unhealthy systems patterns is self-reflection. It only takes one person to start the process—you.

This principle doesn’t mean you are the cause of problems at home, church, synagogue or work; only that each person plays a role. If you stop adding your contribution to a counterproductive pattern, something has to change. For the rest of the group, it’s easiest to try to force you to change back to the way you were, then no one else needs to change.

If however, you resist changing back, and don’t leave, then the group will need to adjust in some way. Of course in real life, things often get messy and unpredictable during this process, and that poses many challenges. Self-reflection is again the key to facing those challenges.

Intentional change can take place in healthy systems as well. A common example occurs when holiday traditions are affected after a family member begins a committed relationship or gets married.

It is usually not possible for a couple to spend holidays together, and still maintain the family gatherings and traditions of each partner exactly as before. Decisions need to be made. Sometimes family members resist.

If each partner thinks through what matters most to him or her, and reflects on how he or she is likely to respond to different possibilities, the couple can make a good decision together.

Self-reflection can be done while you are interacting with others, or when you are alone thinking back on a situation, or planning for the future. Either way, study yourself carefully, and observe all kinds of details.

How and when do you act on your values, and when do you set them aside? How do you respond in conflict situations? What are your external responses? What are your internal responses?  What feelings do you have in various situations? What feelings are easy to identify and which ones take a little more reflection to name? What do you do with your feelings?

Next reflect on why you respond the way you do. Is this response expected, or is it out of proportion to what is actually happening? Is this the way you always act in these situations? If not, what’s different and when did the pattern change? Did anyone in your family respond this way in a similar situation when you were growing up? When in the past have you felt, acted or reacted in a similar way? Are there similarities between these situations?

Congogram systems work fosters self-reflection. Whether a church decides to engage in the full six step counseling process, leaders participate in a two hour workshop, an individual takes an on-line course or reads a blog article, or a clergyperson engages in one-on-one counseling, the key is self-reflection.

The newsletter version of these blog articles include journal prompts because though reading an article helps to increase knowledge and understanding, the real work begins with self-reflection. Self-reflection leads to self-awareness.

Individuals change systems by doing three things:

1)      Consciously noticing the part you play in a system.

2)      Intentionally changing your functioning in the system.

3)      Sustaining your new mode of functioning in the system over time. One person cannot change a system unless he/she is able to sustain new modes of functioning.

If any of this is hard, reflect on what makes it difficult for you. Often it helps to talk to a therapist, a clergyperson, or a close friend or colleague.

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