Why reflection is so important
We do not learn from experience, we learn from reflecting on experience. - John Dewey
Have you ever consciously reflected, questioned your actions and decisions? If yes, do you reflect regularly?
I reflect on different temporal levels. Doing this consistently for some amount of time now, it affected my life considerably positively.
This week I want to tell you something about my opinion on this topic: why reflection is so important for me, why most people don't do it, how do I reflect (my weekly & monthly reflection routine), and what are tips to get started.
Why reflection is so important for me
To put it in a nutshell, this habit has had an impressive impact on my life:
1. It makes me happier
2. It gives me great ideas and perspective
3. It provides a more conscious and more empowered decision-making process
4. It helps me to learn a) more and b) faster from mistakes
Challenging my decisions and actions as well as the underlying values has totally changed the way I look at life. I decide more deliberately, have more freedom of mind, and measure myself by my own standards, not those of others. For instance, I don't care what people think about me as long as I act in accordance with my fundamental values. Whether I wear washed-out T-shirts with holes in the gym, don't drink alcohol at a party, don't want to talk about people negatively (gossiping), or work my ass off to make my dreams come true.
Reflection produces great ideas and provides new perspectives. Without this conscious thought process, I wouldn't have started to upload videos on my YouTube channel, write blog articles, change my eating habits, do endurance sports, etc.
Additionally, I have accelerated my learning process since I questioned my actions and challenged me more and more. One very good example is how I deal with pressure in stressful situations. When I was in high school, I poorly performed in presentations as I couldn't deal with time restrictions (e. g. max. 5 min. for a presentation). Through thinking regularly about this obstacle, I found ways working for me very well (good preparation and self-confidence are vital).
Why people don't do it? (summary of main drivers)
don’t understand how to reflect (although it's very easy)
don’t like the process (it is not the most enjoyable activity)
don’t like the results (e. g. I drink too much, that's bad for my health)
have a bias towards action (have an urgent need to do something instead of taking a break to evaluate interim outcomes)
can’t see a good ROI (return on investment; they think it is a waste of time)
How does it work?
After giving you a (hopefully) reasonable understanding of why a frequent reflection is a great tool, we are going to find out how it actually works.
Basically, reflection is examining and comparing thoughts about oneself or one's own behavior. It involves the conscious consideration and analysis of beliefs and actions for the purpose of learning. As you may already know, successful reflection requires experience. Exposing yourself and taking action is are key premises. I found this great illustration depicting an experience-reflection-learning loop:
Reflection gives the brain an opportunity to pause amidst the chaos, untangle and sort through observations and experiences, consider multiple possible interpretations, and create meaning. This meaning becomes learning, which can then inform future mindsets and actions.
In order to reflect, you have to think about past situations or beliefs. Reflection is an individual endeavor, there is no right or wrong as long as you take an objective stance. This means that you have to think from a bird's eye perspective, independent of external factors biasing your considerations. When you ask yourself "am I happy right now?", you have to be frank with yourself. What is bothering you and why? Why do you believe you are happy? Are people telling you that you should be happy? Do friends or family have expectations of you leading to your unhappiness? What makes you happy?
You aim at freeing your mind from external influences, beliefs, and values that don't comply with your very own core values. (As a first step I would highly recommend you to think about them first, as they are very important to come to consistent conclusions.
In order to illustrate a practical approach to reflection, I want to give you a list of steps on how to get started.
Tips to get started
Identify some important (to you!) questions (see my reflection routines at the end of this post to obtain some inspiration)
Select a reflection process that matches your preferences. Many people reflect through writing in a journal. If that sounds terrible but talking with a colleague sounds better, consider that. As long as you’re reflecting and not just chatting about the latest sporting event or complaining about a colleague, your approach is up to you. You can sit, walk, bike, or stand, alone or with a partner, writing, talking, or thinking.
Schedule time. Most leaders are driven by their calendars. So, schedule your reflection time and then commit to keeping it. And if you find yourself trying to skip it or avoid it, reflect on that!
Start small. If an hour of reflection seems like too much, try 10 minutes. If once a day of reflection seems like too much, try once a week.
Do it. Go back to your list of questions and explore them. Be still. Think. Consider multiple perspectives. Look at the opposite of what you initially believe. Brainstorm. You don’t have to like or agree with all of your thoughts — just think and to examine your thinking.
My weekly reflection routine
What was a highlight moment of the week?
Did I achieve my goals? Why, or why Not?
What’s a life lesson that I learned this week?
What are my 3 main goals for next week? How will I achieve them?
Who deserves a big 'thank you'?
How can I help someone else this coming week?
My monthly reflection routine
What did I achieve this month?
What did I fail this month?
How happy do I feel, why?
Who am I grateful for, why?
Who/what does harm to me?
Am I still consistent with my core values and mission statement?
What was I doing this time last year? Do I progress? Why/why not?
This was this week's blog post. Thank you so much for reading it! I hope you liked it!
Illustration 1: https://www.linfield.edu/assets/files/community/WHY%20REFLECTION%20IS%20IMPORTANT.pdf
See also: https://hbr.org/2017/03/why-you-should-make-time-for-self-reflection-even-if-you-hate-doing-it