I have always disliked reflecting on what I do and how I act. The implied criticism was tough on my ego. My tendency has been to avoid confrontation, even with myself. So, I avoided reflecting, and even if I was put in a position where I needed to do it, would avoid committing to any actions.
Now it is something that I value but find uncomfortable. It only took me fifty years to get here...
So, what changed? There were a couple of reasons. First, I did not like the way that I was reacting in certain situations. It didn't reflect my values. So how could I handle those in a way that represented what was important to me? Second, I concluded that I only really knew something when it had become part of the way I did things. Otherwise, it was just sitting in my head.
I have hit upon a couple of ways of reflecting that work for me - there are lots out there - but I have also found that adopting certain attitudes have helped as well. I'd welcome others to share their experiences in the comments section at the end of this post.
What has worked for me?
Setting aside a consistent time and a place to do reflective work. I book a private meeting in my diary daily that protects the time from other intrusions. I like it to be first thing in the morning, and as I tend to start earlier than most, I find it easy to protect the time.
Stationary. I like notebooks and pens. So, I have a notebook just for my reflections, and I bought a fountain pen. It makes the process feel special, and that is motivating.
I also find the act of writing with a pen more satisfying than typing. It is a personal preference but gives me the feeling that I am creating something of value.
Taking the attitude of wanting to be both clear sighted about the subject I am reflecting on, but also kind. I find that using a structure like Gibbs Reflective Cycle¹ stops me from avoiding the difficult questions, and I have taken to pressing into the discomfort that brings. However, I also make a point of forgiving myself readily for mistakes. I know that I am a work in progress, so I just want to progress. I am not striving for perfection.
I also zoom out as well as zoom in. I like to write freestyle journal entries. I find that the more that I do this, the more I recognise patterns and topics emerge that I want to go deep on. That leads to reading and more deliberate reflection.
My final habit is to share some of the headlines from that reflection with trusted friends and colleagues. That helps bring further clarity to my learning and strengthen the accountability. The latter is especially helpful when I want to develop behaviours in certain settings.
- What has worked for you? Please share in the comments what you do or what helps your reflection process
- Is this something new? There is a wealth of advice and material out there to support and inspire you. As a start you might want to search "reflection" in the Development Toolkit
Ed Webster, Deputy Director of Workforce Development, Department of Human Resources.
¹ More information on Gibbs Reflective Cycle and reflection can be found in the Managers' Handbook