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Why You Should Learn How to Reflect (Even If You Hate It)

If you thought that reflection is strictly for mirrors, you’re missing a very useful trick. When I did my MA some years ago, I found to my dismay that I had to employ reflective practice in my coursework and write reflective conclusions. Applying the reflective process to my final dissertation almost killed me. I would stomp crossly along by the river trying hard to reflect and mentally grumbling. For an operations person reflecting is HARD but it taught me a valuable lesson.

By the end of my MA I had incorporated reflective processes into my daily life and has saved my bacon more times than I care to remember.

The Process of Reflection Can Be a Business Lifesaver

The kind of reflection that is really valuable to leaders involves the conscious consideration and analysis of beliefs and actions for the purpose of learning. 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 mind-sets and actions. For leaders, this “meaning making” is crucial to their ongoing growth and development.

Research indicates that employees who spend 15 minutes at the end of the day reflecting about lessons learned from the day perform 23% better than those who did not reflect. A study of UK commuters found a similar result when those who were prompted to use their commute to think about and plan for their day were happier, more productive, and less burned out than people who didn’t.

If you’re not a natural reflector, try the following processes to get started.

  • Find a reflection process that matches your preferences. Many people reflect on what’s happened by writing in a journal. If that sounds terrible but talking with a colleague sounds better, try having a conversation instead. As long as you’re reflecting and not just chatting it doesn’t matter. You can sit, walk, bike, or stand, alone or with a partner, writing, talking, or thinking.
  • Set thinking time aside. Most leaders are driven by their calendars. So, diarise your reflection time and then commit to keep it. And if you find yourself trying to skip it or avoid it, reflect on that!
  • Start small. For busy operational types an hour of reflection will seem to be too much. Try ten minutes to start with and increase over time.
  • Just 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.
  • Ask for help. For most leaders, a lack of desire, time, experience, or skill can get in the way of reflection. Consider working with a colleague or coach to help you make the time, listen carefully, be a thought partner, and hold you accountable.

Despite the challenges to reflection, the impact is clear. As 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 © 2017 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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