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Overcome Challenges with Resilience: Reflective Intelligence

Purpose: Strengthening reflective intelligence may improve response flexibility by helping someone to reflect on an experience before choosing how to respond.


Reflective intelligence involves examining patterns of thinking that can derail resilience, but not getting stuck or overwhelmed by processing them. Remembering that everyone changes, grows, and evolves throughout life may decrease worry and help someone return to their baseline of equanimity as they respond and wait for a challenging time to pass. The secure inner base that was developed in previous resiliency practices can now help someone choose how to respond to life's challenges.


There are seven mindfulness practices that can help someone be aware of what is happening and choose how to respond: 

  1. Pausing and becoming present may help someone reflect on what is happening in the moment.

  2. Noticing and acknowledging an experience may provide someone with the opportunity to be aware that they are having an experience, even if they do not understand what is happening yet.

  3. Tolerating and accepting that an experience is occurring may then provide someone the space to work through what is occurring.

  4. Observing the experience and reactions to the experience may help someone get in touch with their emotions. For example, someone may observe that anger is present without considering themself to be an angry person and without responding with anger.

  5. Reflecting on thoughts, beliefs, assumptions, values, or identities that come into conscious awareness during an experience may then help someone observe mental processes without being stuck in them.

  6. Managing options of response may then help someone choose a way to respond while perceiving possible consequences of each response option.

  7. Being able to choose wisely based on values and an internal compass may then help someone respond resiliently to the challenging experience.


Reflective intelligence is the fifth subtopic within the WavyFields topic of “Overcome Challenges with Resilience” Please review the first four subtopics, “Somatic Intelligence,” “Emotional Intelligence,” “Relational Within the Self Intelligence,” and “Relational with Others Intelligence” before proceeding to the Practice section below.

Practice: These practices may help someone to strengthen reflective intelligence.

Reflecting and Shifting Mental Patterns


Conditioning: Bringing awareness to a long-held mental pattern allows for the pattern to be inspected and shifted. 

Practice: Identify a long-term mental pattern, such as a pattern of thinking, mood, belief system, or identity. For example, someone may identify as an angry parent or a shy student, and use that lens to influence how they respond to different situations. Sometimes a pattern is so ingrained in a belief system that one does not even notice how it influences day-to-day life. Next, reflect on the pattern and ponder questions such as, how long it has been present, whether there was a time when the pattern wasn’t present, and how it has changed over time. Choose another pattern to reflect on, and continue this process. 


Changing Perspectives by Changing Phrases


Reconditioning: The way that a person talks to themself may influence their perspective. Using phrases such as “I should” or “I have to” can create anxiety since there is a sense of right or wrong. Instead, using phrases such as “I could” or “I get to” can create a sense of comfort since there is now an opportunity or privilege to take action. Even though there may be an obligation, such as picking kids up from school, framing it as “I get to pick my kids up from school” can shift perspective to one of comfort.

Practice: The next time the phrase “I should” is thought or said, try changing it to “I could” and then notice any shift in perspective. The next time that the phrase “I have to” is thought or said, try changing it to “I get to” and then notice any shift in perspective.


Replacing Negative Messages with Positive Messages


Reconditioning: The messages that a person tells themself can devalue or bring value to how they feel. By noticing the negative messages and replacing them with positive messages, an improved sense of self may develop.

Practice: Write down five messages that are routinely thought or said to the self that devalue the sense of self. For each of the negative messages, write down at least one positive message that can counteract it. Routinely think or say the positive messages throughout the day. Be sure that they all feel realistic and doable. Whenever a negative message is noticed, quickly pair it with at least one of the positive messages. Over time, the positive messages may become dominant while the negative messages may occur less frequently.


Setting an Intention


Deconditioning: Setting an intention and then carrying out that intention can increase the feeling of trust that one has in themself. Research shows that using the phrase “May I” when setting an intention adds less pressure to achieving the intention than phrases such as “I will” or “I must.” The phrase “May I” creates permission without compelling an action to occur. 

Practice: Identify a situation where the outcome is beyond control, but the reactions to it can be managed. For example, if someone does not get accepted to any colleges, then their educational future may be uncertain, but their reaction can be managed. Identify intentions for coping with the situation. For example, “May I find out if I still have time to enroll in a community college and may I be aware of, accept, and manage my reaction to not being accepted into any of the colleges that I applied to.” Every morning for the next week bring awareness to the intention and then throughout the day, notice whether the intention is being carried out. If the intention is not carried out, use a phrase such as “May I have compassion for myself when I forget.” Revise the intentions as needed as the situation changes.

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