Learn to reflect, reflect to learn.
Things that happen or almost happen; actions that worked well or less well; ideas we have or discover; feelings past and present about something or someone. Whether in life or at work, these experiences are opportunities to learn and grow if we reflect upon them. Reflection is about more understanding, managing emotions, choosing different behaviours, being better prepared.
Reflective practice is when we do something with our reflections, when we capture them and use the insight to change the things we do. Good organisations and teams place reflective practice front and centre. They seek to embed it in their culture, values and everyday work. They understand that it is a seedbed for innovation and a driver of insight, strategy and better-informed decisions.
This is the work of a leader. Good leaders learn, love and look ahead when they reflect. They are curious about the events, actions, ideas and feelings they experience. They seek out opportunities to understand and develop behaviours.
Reflective learning brings the practice to study. It is a productive and rewarding way to bring meaning to things and get more from your effort.
The secret to reflection is to make it easy, make it normal, make it personal. Be positive about the value of the thinking time and when you reflect:
Be purposeful. Seek out the learning. Make a link to your goals and aspirations.
Be critical. Consider all sides of the experience. Challenge assumptions and judgements.
Be open and realistic. Welcome new perspectives. Keep your thinking rational.
Make space and time to reflect.
Little and often usually works best. Try different times, places and routines to see what suits you. Reflect on how you reflect best! This might be over a coffee away from work or on your commute at the end of your day. Or when you take a walk or exercise.
Why not book the time in your diary every day or week as a routine? Don’t feel guilty, this is making time to think after all, it will be productive and valuable.
Use a simple structure.
Experiences are often a complex mix of events, actions, ideas and feelings and it can be difficult to make sense of things. The ’What’ reflection technique developed by Terry Borton complements our learn, love, look ahead approach. As you reflect, look back and forwards. Organise your thoughts around three questions:
WHAT? Pick out the important aspects of the experience. Outline and give it context.
SO WHAT? Explore and analyse the underlying factors, meaning, impact and consequences of the experience?
NOW WHAT? Identify the change and actions that emerge from your reasoning and conclusions. What will you do, do differently, or not do again?
Start your reflection anywhere with these questions. Learning is a continual process and you can always come back to the work again.
Make reflection connections.
Although reflection is an individual activity, sharing will add insight, generate more solutions and offer different perspectives. Saying our ideas out loud to others can help us organise the story and keep us open and realistic.
Build a network of people with whom you can explore and discuss things. These ‘reflection connections’ might be friends, colleagues, peers, your manager or mentors. Or all of the above. As you share, they will share in turn and introduce you to another world of experiences.
Keep a journal.
What we take from an experience can evolve and change. Sometimes by looking at experiences over time we see patterns and get a better understanding. Keeping a journal can help.
You may choose to type you notes on a computer or tablet. Or use a voice recorder if it is more convenient. Even better to write in a notebook. There is research evidence that the brain activity when we write can help with processing and memory.
Your thoughts and writing should be free flowing and there are no rules on style or where you start. Bullets, diagrams, scribbles or prose: use one or all of them, whatever feels natural. Remember, the notes are just for you.
Make reflective learning another of your good habits, something you do naturally and as a routine. The time you invest will feel productive and rewarding. It will help you relate what you learn to you and your world. This is the work of a leader.