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.

Techniques to Use as Part of Your Reflection

There are a techniques to use as a part of your reflective practice, but the best choices to start with will be the easiest, so you can get started quickly and make it a part of your daily life. As you get into the habit of reflective practice, you can then spot patterns and use the techniques to start to dig deeper if you need to.

The three main steps in reflective practice are:

  1. Reflection
  2. Understanding
  3. Action

…so the techniques you use should help support these goals. In addition, your choice will be determined by whether the reflective practice is to be conducted individually or in a group, such as within your business team or a social group who want to learn how to work better together in order to improve their skills and results.


A written journal, notes or a diary can all keep you focused on the process of reflective practice. For each event you wish to examine, answer the following questions:

  1. What happened? (Be factual)
  2. What you were thinking and feeling? (Explore your emotions)
  3. What was good and bad about the experience? (Evaluate)
  4. What sense can you make of the experience? (Analyse)
  5. What else could you have done? (Draw conclusions)
  6. If a similar situation arose again what would you do? (Set goals and create an action plan)

This can be done individually or as a team, depending on the event and your group’s willingness to try this method to improve their results.


If you don’t have time for a lot of writing, try brainstorming and creative imagery, such as mind-mapping, sketches, pictures and diagrams that show cause, effect, and outcomes – including possible different outcomes your and/or your group might wish to work towards.

Reflective Dialogue and Discussion

This can also work well for groups. If you feel “stuck” in your life, you might also discuss what happened with your partner, a trusted colleague, or with a mentor, coach or professional – either face-to-face or by phone or email.

Social Media

You might have a private blog or closed group at a site like Facebook. You might also decide to have broader discussions with your Personal Learning Network (#PLN) on Twitter, at chat boards, online communities, the Intranet at work, and so on.

Now that we’ve covered a range of techniques to use as a part of your reflective practice, choose the ones that will work best for each situation you and/or your team want to reflect upon, and see what a difference they can make.

Working Out Loud – Reflective Practice In Action

Reflecting on activities, events and projects in your can help you progress from complete beginner to a more skilled person who has learned from their experiences. It is also a useful tool for project teams and indeed whole organisations to adopt in order to improve their performance. It can very much be as Andy Lancaster recently mentioned in a Tweet something akin to “working out loud” as we reflect on our learning throughout a project or piece of work.

Here are some methods that you might want to consider.

Reflect Actively

Active reflection during an activity/project creates the opportunity for improving your performance as you start to spot gaps in your knowledge or things you tend to struggle with. “What should I do now?” is a common question when we are first starting on something. “What could I have done better?” is an example of the kind of question reflective practice raises. The answers you come up with can lead to a greater level of skill and confidence. They can also aid in problem solving and decision making to take a project forward.

Take Action

Taking action about what you find will lead to personal and professional growth and development. If you find any gaps in your knowledge, more studying, a course or webinar, or finding a good coach or mentor can all take your skills to the next level. Adjusting priorities and determining new lines of action within a project can lead to success in the delivery of the project.

Set Goals

Reflective practice can also help you set goals. In terms of your professional development/career will no longer feel like it is not within your control and that things just happen to you at work. Instead, you will be feel more in charge because you know what you want and don’t want. The goals you set with the help of your reflective practice will be like a road map to the destination of your choosing. Otherwise you might end up driving around with no clear direction or with a project going off target and not being delivered.

Achieving your Goals

Once you have defined your goals, it will be time to take the practical action needed to achieve them. For each action that is a stepping stone toward your goal, you can apply reflective practice to make sure you are on the right track.

The Best Ways to Reflect

how can you get started? Here’s an easy formula. You might find it helpful to create a worksheet on your computer and print out several copies. Fill them in and analyse your answers. Again these can be adapted for an individual or a group working together

  • What happened?
  • What was my role in the event?
  • How do I feel about what happened?
  • Who owns what happened?
  • What was the outcome of the event?
  • How was the outcome different or the same from what I expected to happen?
  • What could I have done better in this situation?
  • What actions can I take to help ensure a better outcome next time a similar situation crops up?

Answering these questions requires honesty, and the willingness to learn and grow. No one is expecting you to be perfect. However, most people will want to be the best they can be in their profession, so apply reflective practice and see what a difference it can make to you.