There’s a palpable energy coursing through Michigan’s campus during these first few weeks of September. We have new classes, new professors, new places to live and new friends. We’re excited about the many opportunities that the new school year has to offer. But this is also a time for reflection — most notably, Tuesday’s eleventh anniversary of 9/11.

Our moments of meaningful reflection are usually confined to just a handful of designated days every year. But we’d be much better off if we reflected on our lives and the world as a whole for 30 uninterrupted minutes every day.

In an era of constant multitasking, it’s refreshing to engage in deep thought for a few minutes every day without distractions from technology and social networks. As Massachusetts Institute of Technology Prof. Sherry Turkle wrote in The New York Times in April, “these days, social media continually asks us what’s ‘on our mind,’ but we have little motivation to say something truly self-reflective.” Thirty minutes is long enough to allow for meaningful reflection, but not so long that there isn’t enough time to finish homework or socialize with friends. Everyone can find 30 free minutes in their day if they cut out some time devoted to using Facebook or surfing the Internet. Introverts can silently reflect on their own, while extroverts can reflect aloud with their friends.

Engaging in this type of reflection has been extremely valuable for me throughout the past few days because it has helped me begin to piece together a broad conceptual framework for my own life and the world as a whole. Particularly during the school year, we get so preoccupied with due dates and socializing that we become completely consumed by the situations immediately affecting our lives. As a result, many of us don’t frequently think deeply about our greatest life ambitions, the current state of our world or the world we would like to see.

The process of reflecting on this large framework is like writing a paper for class. As I write, I frequently stop and ask myself one simple question: “What is the point of my paper?” After I’m able to mentally summarize the entire paper in one or two short sentences, the writing process becomes much easier. Everything else — body paragraphs, specific points, individual quotes — is simply supporting evidence that fits into the overarching framework of my paper.

Obviously, life is much more complicated and inherently contradictory than a paper’s thesis statement. But we can still come up with some basic framework for our lives. Do we want to bring people joy? Do we want to fight social inequalities? Do we want to push the boundaries of existing knowledge? When we reflect and come up with some kind of overarching framework for our lives — even if it’s imperfect — decisions that used to be much more difficult simply become supporting evidence: career choices, lifestyle choices, class choices and so on. As a result, the process of evaluating our own lives and the world around us becomes a little easier. And it isn’t good enough to conceptualize this framework only a handful of times every year. Like in classes, constant repetition and re-evaluation is crucial for remembering and understanding our life philosophy on a deep level.

But we shouldn’t reflect on just our own lives every day. We also need to think about how the world as a whole appears to us — and what we want the world to look like. Is there too much inequality in our society? Do we want a well-educated citizenry? Do we want vitriol or civility to dominate our political discourse?

We don’t need to come up with the answers to all of our questions in one day. But we need to be thinking about these kinds of questions every day. Reflection gives us a clarity of mind and purpose that can easily be lost in the immediacy and constant distractions of 21st-century life. If we consistently remind ourselves of our evolving, maturing perspective on our lives and the world, we’ll be able to use our limited time much more effectively and our experiences will be even more fulfilling. With a broad framework in mind, we actively steer our lives — and the world around us — in the direction we want, instead of simply being dragged along.

This school year has just begun. Let’s take some time to reflect on where we’ve been, where we are right now and where we’re going — even if we can’t figure it out in a day. Facebook can remain un-checked for a few more minutes.

Michael Spaeth can be reached at

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