Yesterday was Remembrance Day in Canada. It’s specifically designed for people to reflect on conflict, specifically the First World War, and make meaning of the events of 1914-1918 in the context of our lives today. While somber, I love Remembrance Day because, at its core, it encourages communities of people from different generations, cultures and classes to reflect on an experience and talk about it together. This article focuses on how to maximize the art of reflection.

The Art of Reflection

The art of reflection is an easy enough concept to grasp. Things happen to us all the time. We think about these things. We make meaning from our thoughts. And we change what we do next (sometimes). In their article “Learning by Thinking: How Reflection Improves Performance”, authors Giada Di Stefano, Francesca Gino, Gary Pisano, and Bradley Staats  reveal reflection to be a powerful mechanism of learning:

  • Learning from direct experience can be more effective if coupled with reflection that is, the intentional attempt to synthesize, abstract, and articulate the key lessons taught by experience.
  • Reflecting on what has been learned makes experience more productive.
  • Reflection builds one’s confidence in the ability to achieve a goal (i.e., self-efficacy), which in turn translates into higher rates of learning.

In my opinion, the great thinkers, leaders, craftspeople, and change-makers in our communities are exceptional at what they do because they take reflection very seriously. Here is a five-step strategy that will help you maximize the art of reflection:

Have a Purpose

“Learning happens everywhere and always,” says one of the great thinkers in higher education, Richard Keeling. This is true; however, I think that learning actually happens when you reflect on your experiences. Possessing purposeful reflection is fairly straightforward: do something – anything – with intention and then ask yourself how the experience made you feel and what it made you think about. After all, according to Forbes’s Paul Klein, purposeful lives are full of reflection.

Be Mindful

Kurt wrote a great article about mindfulness a few weeks ago, which outlines everything you need to know about this important practice. For me, not talking and/or not being stimulated by television, music, things on a screen, or everything all at once is challenging to endure. I do not thrive in stillness. You needn’t take long to mindfully reflect on daily successes, failures or frustrations, but you should take some quiet time to yourself to focus on your experiences.

Journal Your Thoughts

Stream of consciousness. Poetry. Mind-mapping. Cartoons. Free-writing. “Captain’s Log” narration. Blogging. Every leader, according to HBR’s Teresa Amabile and Steve Kramer, should keep a work diary. However you best put pen-to-paper or finger-to-keyboard/touchscreen, take time each week to capture your most important reflections in a journal. Re-visit your writings frequently to learn how your reflections have – or haven’t – transformed into awesome solutions, ideas and accomplishments.

Think Differently

The folks at IDEO are masters at blending reflection with creativity. For example, positively prefacing your thoughts about a challenging work situation with “how might we…?” puts a solution-focused lens on your reflection. Another way to reframe your challenge is to spend time in nature to enlighten your perspective. The David Suzuki Foundation’s 30×30 Nature Challenge found that spending time outdoors contributed to enhanced well-being and increased productivity.

Talk it Out

Conversations around the dinner table, over tasty beverages or while strolling through a forest allow you to bring others into your reflective process. According to community-building guru Keith Ferrazzi, everyone has value to bring into our lives, and there is no better way for this to happen than over food. Perhaps the simplest act of reflection that we can undertake is to sit at a table with our spouse, partner or family and ask each other two simple questions: “What happened today?” and “What did you learn from it?”

I’ll leave you to reflect on this experience.

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