The Power of Reflective Practice

There’s a myth I’d like to dispel, and that is we don’t automatically learn from our mistakes.  Wow, right?

Simply making a mistake doesn’t suddenly impart a new set of knowledge or skill that will serve us in the future.  If that were the case, I’d undoubtedly be ski jumping in the Olympics, not waiting for that “agony of defeat” moment.  

Learning from mistakes, and indeed growing and evolving as thoughtful, caring and compassionate humans requires reflection.  According to John Dewey, “We do not learn from experience, we learn from reflecting on the experience.” 

Reflection isn’t about perseverating on what’s wrong.  It also doesn’t have to be at a certain time or done a certain way. It is deliberately thinking about your emotions, your response to situations, your actions, and identifying opportunities for change. The key is to engage in reflection regularly, until it becomes a habit, and to be open to viewing things from multiple perspectives. The best part is that reflection is free–the only cost is the time spent. 

We’ve all heard the phrase, “sleep on it.” Well I am here to tell you that I’ve had some unbelievable solutions come to me simply by virtue of the fact I reflected on a situation while laying down for bed.  There were periods of my life when I didn’t open myself to reflection, however, and the disappointment and stress from not resolving things in my head was miserable.  I suspect we’ve all had that experience.

In our 24-7 fast-paced lives, it is no wonder some of us avoid reflection.  Reflecting on things that don’t go as planned, failures, and why we feel the way we do is difficult and sometimes painful.  However, research has shown that people who engage in reflective practices are better able to understand and manage their emotions, are more productive, experience less stress, are more motivated, and more resilient than those who do not. 

Whether you already engage in reflective practices, want to do more, or not sure where to start, here are a few strategies that I’ve found helpful:

  1. Be curious.  When you see, hear or feel something that catches your attention, do some research. Read. Google it.  Start up a conversation with someone.
  2. Be observant.  Practice reading people and situations. Ask yourself why you feel the way you do in situations, even when you’re the only one in the room.
  3. Be solutions-focused.  When things don’t go as planned, or you have negative feelings, think about what you can do rather than obsess on the problem. 

I’m certainly no expert. But I have made a lot of mistakes.  Being reflective has helped me personally and professionally, and I’m sure it would help others.  

What is your experience?  How has reflection helped in your personal or professional life?

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