Learning To Reflect

At this time of year we all tend to be a little more reflective as we think back over the year that has gone and ponder what is to come. I know I have certainly found myself reflecting on the experiences, challenges and opportunities that 2018 has presented and am looking forward to hopefully securing a new role as a Learning and Development Manager early in the New Year.

Sometimes when we reflect we can focus on the negatives and that can be worthwhile if we look at the learning from those experiences. However, we also need to ensure that we reflect on the positives as well and again take the learning from them into the year ahead. But how do you become more self-reflective or if this is a new idea for you how do you start?

Being self-reflective simply means that you look inside yourself to find out what you could do differently. When you are more self-reflective, you tend to have strong emotional intelligence, act with integrity always, and be a lot more confident due to that. To become more self-reflective, you may want to do some self-reflective exercises.

  1. Positive Affirmations – It may help to write down as many positive affirmations as you can on strips of paper. Put them in a jar. Whenever you need to think positively about yourself, just pull out one of them and focus on what it says. You don’t really have to write them down, though; you can tell yourself positive affirmations about any situation that is currently happening in order to relax and look inward.
  2. Meditate – The practice of meditation where you sit and empty your mind for a period will help you become more mindful. The act of clearing your mind will bring things to your mind that you need to attend to later. But, for now, when you meditate, take a few minutes to think of nothing and to totally clear your mind of everything but your breathing method.
  3. Create a Vision Board – One way to reflect is to create a vision board about your hopes and dreams. You can even create one after the fact of something that happened, as a way to process the event and work through any issues that occurred.
  4. Ask Yourself Questions – “What could I do better next time?” It doesn’t matter what the situation is, but if you can ask and answer this question, you’re going to give yourself great insight – especially if you remember this when you’re in a similar situation.
  5. Keep a Bullet Journal – A bullet journal is where you write down just words to remember what happened instead of sentences. When you need to reflect on something, you can look back at past entries. When you need to reflect on the future, you can project positive entries.

These exercises can help you look into yourself in a different way. You’ll feel more competent, useful, and grateful in life when you do these self-reflective exercises designed to look inside your mind in a gentle and positive way.

Discovering Those Learning Moments

Ever since my friend Ady Howes asked a question on Twitter under the hashtag #LoveCPD the role of reflection as part of our learning process has been very much at the forefront of my mind. It’s for that reason that I have interrupted my planned series of posts and want to reflect on reflective practice or discovering our learning moments.

Nowadays there is a great deal of emphasis placed on being our best self. Some of the techniques for accomplishing this are thousands of years old; they just have a new name. Reflective practice is the new term for the ancient process of trying to “know yourself” in order to transform your life through positive change.

The word reflective refers to reflection, or thinking about, certain areas of your life or events in your life and how they turned out. As the event is reflected upon, you are able to explore it in greater depth in order to learn lessons from your experience. As a result of what you learn, you can develop goals to improve your skills in that particular area and follow through with action steps to achieve your goals.

If you’ve been feeling “stuck” in your career or personal life, reflective practice could just be what you’re looking for to transform your life. Let’s look at how to get started.

Starting Reflective Practice

A good starting point is to keep a diary or journal. A small notebook that can be carried with you and/or a folder on your computer with various files you create can all help.

Next, it is important to understand the process of reflection in reflective practice. Reflection is an active process of observing your own experiences in order to evaluate how you were able to handle certain events or occurrences in your life. It is not intended to make you feel bad or beat yourself up over what did or didn’t happen. For each event you wish to explore, simply evaluate the situation in a calm manner to learn from it.

Some events will not require a great deal of analysis. Others might be worth digging deeper because you might spot a pattern or problem you weren’t aware of before.

Learning from Past Actions

A lot of us can be negative and pessimistic. Our negative self-talk tells us we are a “loser” or failure. Reflective practice can help transform you into a winner by cutting the cord of negativity and setting you on a path to personal transformation.

The secret of successful reflective practice is to learn how to look at your actions and experiences without being quick to judge them. It also means taking the time to examine them – rather than just rush to the next thing on your to-do list without learning any lessons from what you’ve said, accomplished, or tried to do.

Through examination, we learn more about ourselves, and in that process of learning, we open ourselves up to a range of new possibilities. Through learning from experience, we can become even more successful in our personal and professional lives.

Learning Moments

We’ve all done it. Repeated the same mistake at least twice. Had a “disaster” in terms of our work life or personal life, such as the loss of a job or the (bad) breakup of a relationship. When this happens, have you:

  1. Stuck your head in the sand and just ignored what was happening?
  2. Blamed others for what happened?
  3. Or did you sit down to reflect on what happened to see what lessons you could learn from it?

Chances are that like many others, you’ve done 1 and 2 most of the time up until this point in your life. With reflective practice, it is time to begin doing #3 regularly.

You can start small and then work your way up to the bigger issues as and when you need to. You can start your journal with something that happened today in your work or personal life, and reflect on how it went.

For example, did you have to give a PowerPoint presentation at a meeting today? How did it go? Were you prepared? Were there any technical or other issues that cropped up? If so, how did you handle them?

Maybe you talked to a family member on the phone and things got a little out of hand. What happened? Were there any things you could have done or said differently?

We hate it when things don’t go well at work or we argue with the people we care about. Often, though, these are some of the best “learning moments” that can highlight areas of our life we need to work on in order to be our best self. Once you have evaluated the event, think about what lessons you’ve learned and how you can do better next time.

In relation to the presentation, it might be:

  • Get to the room earlier to set up better
  • Conduct a practice run using the equipment to avoid technical glitches
  • Make the lettering on the slides bigger so everyone at the back could also see clearly

In relation to the phone call with the family member:

  • Don’t mention topic X
  • Avoid the blame game
  • Change the subject if they start going on at you about Y or Z
  • Remind them you are an adult and while you appreciate their input and caring, you’ve already discussed the issue at least once and don’t need to again.

These are just a few examples. You should be able to come up with many of your own, relevant to your personal circumstances, once you start on the path of reflective practice.

In subsequent posts I will delve a little deeper into this.

Does Personal Branding Matter for L & D Professionals?

Do we as Learning & Development professionals need to concern ourselves with the idea of Personal Branding. When we look in the mirror do we see what others see in terms of our personal brand and should we care?

I am sure like me you have read a lot about how it’s important to take your personal brand seriously if you want others to take you seriously. As professionals, whether employed or working for ourselves, we are creating a brand identity for ourselves simply by interacting with others so doesn’t it make sense to give that “brand” some thought and to exercise some control over it?

You might therefore want to consider these tips for understanding the importance of personal branding, defining your own personal brand, and marketing your brand.

Understanding the Importance of Personal Branding

Your personal brand helps you to:

1. Focus on building your reputation as an Learning & Development Professional. Your personal brand is your reputation. It’s the way others see you. If you’re like most people, you may be switching jobs and employers from time to time. Your personal brand is an asset you can take with you wherever you go.

2. Chart your own direction. Being clear about your personal brand you will find it easier to establish meaningful goals, priorities and action plans. Even while taking care of daily obligations, you’ll have a bigger picture in mind.

3. Serve others. Self promotion can go too far, so it’s easy to think that branding is somehow vain or self-absorbed. In reality, your personal brand shows the positive impact you can have on other people and the world around you.

Defining Your Own Personal Brand

These tips will help you create an outstanding personal brand as an L&D Professional:

1. Take an inventory. This should be an easy one for any L&D Professional! Take a good look at yourself. Write out your strengths and weaknesses. Identify your passions. Think about what you’re good at and what you like to do.

2. Distinguish yourself from your colleagues. There are plenty of talented and dependable people in our field. Pinpoint your unique selling point. Maybe you’re a trainer who always gets the very best out of even the most reluctant learner?

3. Talk about benefits. Let your target audience know what you can do for them. Explain how you can boost profits by increasing sales or saving money.

4. Summarise your “mission” or what you do that’s different in 10 seconds or less. Be prepared to capture people’s attention quickly. Let them know what you do in 15 words or less. You can tell you’re on the right track when they ask for more details.

5. Ask for feedback. Ask your family, friends, learners and colleagues to find out what they think of you and your abilities. Show your appreciation for constructive criticism so they’ll keep sharing it with you.

6. Stay updated. Review your personal mission statement every six months. Make new action plans so you’re always getting closer to your goals.

Marketing Your Personal Brand

No-one gets noticed who keeps their light hidden under the bushel do they! Think about using some of these strategies to expand your reach:

1. Increase your visibility. Post fresh content on your website or blog regularly. Stay active in social media. Look for opportunities to help others learn, give presentations, or write articles for professional organisations in our field like the Learning and Performance Insititute or the CIPD.

2. Build A “Fan” Base. Collect samples of positive feedback you get in the workplace. Assemble testimonials from happy learners or organisations and encourage them to make referrals. Word of mouth is often more effective and certainly cheaper than paid advertising.

3. Tell your success stories. Craft brief anecdotes about your accomplishments that showcase your skills and make you proud. Rehearse telling them so you sound natural.

4. Gather Statistics. Numbers sound convincing. Try to quantify the value you can deliver. For example, if you have saved your organisation money by implementing a new learning initiative – get the facts and figures as you would do in your CV

5. Be aware that you have your own dream team. By “dream team” I mean of course your Personal Learning Network. It’s difficult to go it alone. Cultivate your network. Help others to market their brand and they’re more likely to do the same for you.

Years ago when we talked about branding we tended to think about cattle or big corporations, but now everyone is in on the act. Take charge of your personal brand as a Learning & Development Professional and keep learning!

Do You Use A Reflective Journal?

I have written about the need to reflect on our learning a number of times of late. It’s something which I have found invaluable and try to build into my activity on a regular basis. Indeed, I commented recently when I started this blog that in many ways it was a form of reflective writing for me as much as a way of helping others.

However, I am aware that keeping a reflective journal and writing in it on a daily or even weekly basis can be a challenge if you are not familiar with the approach. Reflecting on that reminded me of The Reflective Journal, which was written by Barbara Bassot.

It is designed to help readers critically assess their academic or professional progress and is as suitable for working professionals in any fieled as it is for students studying a variety of disciplines.

Have you completed Peter Honey and Alan Mumford’s learning styles questionnaire or indeed any questionnaire that looks at learning styles? If you have and you have identified that you have any reflector traits, then Bassot’s reflective journal can help you reflect on your career progress or on the information you’ve learned as part of a formal training course. If you have completed any type of learning styles inventory and have identified that you need to develop more skills around reflection then I would suggest that it’s ideal.

As well as giving you ample free space to record new information and observations, The Reflective Journal also contains a variety of useful techniques to help you become a critical reflective writer. If you haven’t had any prior experience writing in a reflective journal, then The Reflective Journal, is an ideal first reflective journal, as the process of writing in a reflective journal differs from writing in a traditional journal. To get the best out of the whole exercise, which will be an ongoing one, then learning how to properly utilise a relfective journal, in order to get the most out of your reflective exercises is very worthwhile.

The key to writing in a reflective journal, is to write in such a way that you can pin point the areas in which your knowledge is sufficient and the areas of your study or career, in which you need to invest a little more time. If you’re unsure of how to write journal entries which will give you an indication of your strengths, your weaknesses and potential opportunities to further your successes, The Reflective Journal, will guide you through each step of the reflective writing process.

One of the advantages of The Reflective Journal, is that is an easy read and isn’t too wordy or verbose (which with my passion for plain language gives it a big tick!) Unlike some of the other reflective journals being sold which contain lengthy text and few practical activities, The Reflective Journal has been carefully written so that readers spend more time practising reflective writing and less time reading. Each chapter, teaches readers how to build upon their reflective writing skills and offers a few practical exercises, for readers to put their new knowledge to the test. After all, the best way to retain knowledge and to improve your writing skills is to practice writing.

Whether you’re looking to get an A on your next university exam, start your own business or get a new role or a promotion, The Reflective Journal will help you get the most out of your reflecting writing, so that you’ll be able to reach your academic or professional goals. If it is something that interests you then I can highly recommend Barbara Bassot’s The Reflective Journal