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Give Yourself Time to Reflect

Give Yourself Time to Reflect

Before I did my MA, I thought reflecting was just for pools, mirrors and hi vis jackets. I have always had a bias towards doing things, but action without proper reflection may just be a waste of energy.

In football penalty kicks, goalkeepers choose their action before they can clearly see the kick direction. An analysis of 286 penalty kicks in top leagues and championships worldwide shows that given the probability distribution of kick direction, the optimal strategy for goalkeepers is to stay in the goal’s centre. Despite this, goalkeepers almost always jump right or left. The study found that goalies who stay in the centre of the goal, instead of lunging left or right, have a 33% chance of stopping the goal, and yet goal keepers only stay in the centre 6% of the time. They just feel better when they “do something.”

Many managers are like this – we are “doers".

Reflective practice means, thinking about or reflecting on what you do. It is closely linked to the concept of learning from experience, in that you think about what you did, and what happened, and decide from that what you would do differently next time.

Thinking about what has happened is something we all tend to do naturally. However, the difference between casual ‘thinking’ and ‘reflective practice’ is that reflective practice requires a conscious effort to think about events and develop insights into them.

Reflective practice was a requirement of my MA coursework; I found it really hard – perhaps the hardest thing to grasp - but ultimately, it’s been extremely worthwhile. It has not only saved my bacon as I correct little details that might otherwise have been missed if I had taken too rapid action, it has undoubtedly improved the quality of my thinking.

Research has shown that reflection boosts productivity, yet few of us make time to do so. It gives the brain an opportunity to pause and sort through observations and experiences, consider possible interpretations, and create meaning.

You can become more reflective by practising a few simple steps.

  • Use a reflection process that matches your preferences. Many people reflect through writing in a journal. If you don’t like writing, but talking with a colleague sounds better, try 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.
  • Reading relevant material can also help your thinking processes. The material can add like a springboard for your mind.
  • Allow time for your thought processes to work themselves through. If I want to reflect on something I tend to put it into the back of my mind for a day or two and just let things mull. When I return to it, and actively consider the matter, I find relevant questions and observations emerge at the same time.
  • Plan your reflection time into your calendar and then commit to keep 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 ten minutes. The most significant driver of positive emotions and motivation at work was making progress on the tasks at hand. Set yourself up to make progress, even if it feels small.
  • Stick with it. It took me ages to learn how to reflect, but the rewards have been well worth it. Go back to your list of questions and explore them. Think. Consider multiple perspectives. Look at the opposite of what you initially believe. You don’t have to like or agree with all your thoughts — just think and to examine your thinking.
  • Ask for help if you need it. For most managers, a lack of desire, time, experience, or skill can get in the way of reflection.

Reflection can give us some useful insights. As management guru Peter Drucker said: “Follow effective action with quiet reflection. From the quiet reflection, will come even more effective action.”


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Although every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information contained in this blog, nothing herein should be construed as giving advice and no responsibility will be taken for inaccuracies or errors.

Copyright © 2020 all rights reserved. You may copy or distribute this blog as long as this copyright notice and full information about contacting the author are attached. The author is Kate Russell of Russell HR Consulting Ltd.

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