At this time of year, many people embark on a process of reflection, pondering the year that was and looking forward to the year ahead. Often this is tinged with feelings of discontent at what was, or wasn’t, and feeling like the magic pill of a date change will suddenly make all that be behind them.
But the reality is that whilst one moment of reflection is better than none, it isn’t going to change what lies ahead, or how you feel about what you are leaving behind. It is a behaviour change that is needed to truly make reflection worthwhile.
In thinking about how I use reflection, it comes down to three facets: Why? When? And how?
The first one is actually the easiest for me. I use reflection in two ways: to remind myself of the things that I have been able to achieve and to assess what still needs work. It is easy to get in the habit of using reflection to critique oneself but without the countermeasure of what worked well, only have the story is being told. My reflective practice started about 10 years ago when I felt that everything was going wrong at once. It was hard to see how anything I was doing, no matter how insignificant, was actually working. This was across all areas of my life – career, family, health etc.
I was fortunate to be studying resilience with a guru in the field and had a profound moment of self awareness during a study session. My resilience map showed some glaring issues that needed my urgent attention, yet these were the things I had assumed were going ok. It wasn’t until I learnt the steps of reflective practice that I could see the metaphorical forest for the trees.
As a major factor in emotional intelligence, self awareness has the added benefit of improving awareness of others. It is a skill that can be developed like any other with the right process and practice.
There are some who suggest using a journal to work through the process, however for me the moments of reflection are sometimes when I am unable to write, like when I am riding my bike, or swimming and I have an abundance of quiet time.
As an athlete, I am constantly reflecting upon my performances, both in training and racing situations. It is an important part of the progression process to ensure that the next session, or race, takes into account what I learned and how it can be better.
In my career, it is about assessing both skills and outcomes. I do this in 90 day increments as a formal process but also at milestones during projects.
As a business owner, it forms part of our monthly business reviews and our annual strategic planning process to look at what worked and where we need to be in the coming period.
- Neil Thompson, in his book People Skills, suggests that there are six steps to reflective practice:
- Read – around the topics you are learning about or want to learn about and develop
- Ask – others about the way they do things and why
- Watch – what is going on around you
- Feel – pay attention to your emotions, what prompts them, and how you deal with negative ones
- Talk – share your views and experiences with others in your network
- Think – learn to value time spent thinking about your situation
Whatever method you use, here are some simple steps to get you started:
What were my wins? Where was I strong?
I always start here. No matter how bad the race was, or if the proposal failed to get up, or my day just totally sucked, at least one thing had to have gone well. Even if that win is that it is over! I never move on until I have at least one thing in this bucket and I have given it the time it deserves. Most of the time I can find more than one, and once I start the list keeps growing.
What do I need to concede defeat on? What went wrong?
It is pretty rare for something to go perfectly to plan so this list is not hard to get rolling on. For everything that I can find here, I match it with how I handled it, the good, bad and the ugly. My reaction to the disappointments provides the most vital learning and growth opportunities.
If I wrote the story now, knowing what I know, what would it say?
The way we re-tell the story of the events in our lives holds a powerful connection to the emotions they evoke in our memories. As I listen routinely to athletes dissect their race performances or speakers find every “um” or stammer in their presentation, it is telling how they view the outcome. Over the coming days, the story changes, evolves and some elements drop away, while others amplify. This is their way of reflecting in real time, learning the lessons and creating the story of that journey.
Who was in my support crew that helped me and needs recognition?
I have written often about the value of a support crew. As quickly as possible after my reflection, I take the opportunity to thank those who were part of the activity. I use a similar process to that of my own to find what they did well and save the rest, if applicable, for a time when emotions are not as heightened. Whether it is a quiet thank you face to face, a quick call or text or a public declaration on social media, it is a necessary step in the process. Nothing is ever done alone, even if it is just me crossing the finishing line or standing on the stage.
What’s my “one thing”?
At the end of my reflection, I pick one thing as my take away. Sometimes it is something I am proud of and sometimes it is what I am going to work on. But it is just one thing. One thing that can sum up the activity. One thing that can set the path for the next stage. One thing that I can use as a mantra.
Reflection can be a painfully difficult thing to do when times are tough, but when practiced enough, becomes second nature. Like any skill, if you don’t use it, you lose it. And certainly when under pressure it is the first thing to go. That’s the time when you need it most.
Start your reflection today and make it a part of your routine.
– By Michelle Cooper – Pushys sponsored athlete