As a coach, I often encourage clients to self-reflect, not just in a workshop or in a coaching session, but as part of their everyday lives, encouraging them to schedule in some regular formal time to reflect. I truly believe in the benefits of this for learning. It can help people to: raise self-awareness, make sense of events, gain deeper insights, find new ways of moving forward and manage stress. It is essential for supporting people in trying new things out. It is also crucial during challenging times when we might keep busy but perhaps lack focus due to stress and therefore do not actually get anywhere – like the treadmill metaphor of constantly running but getting nowhere. We need time to make sense of experiences, learn from them, grow stronger, and adapt to the situation we are in.
Why then hadn’t I, myself, undertaken self-reflection as regularly as I encourage others to do? Reflecting on my personal barriers and recent reading (notably Nancy Kline’s ‘Time to Think’), I came up with the following reasons:
- Similar to the way I used to approach my exercise routine i.e. without any recovery time, I am a do-er and reflection to me means I need to stop and take time out which I find a challenge. I need to become more comfortable with this and acknowledge it will make me stronger.
- These days, I also find it harder to concentrate – there is either too much self-distraction or external distraction occurring, steering me off track.
- In the past, I have not used the right questions or approach on myself to gain the benefits from my reflections. Was I approaching it as a tick box exercise?
- Any actions I decided to take as a result of the reflection felt ‘too big’ and therefore not feasible.
- I am a coach and facilitator – part of me believed it was my role to ensure my clients reflect, rather than do it myself!
- I had not been honest with myself in terms of answering some of the questions I posed myself. Perhaps I had asked myself the wrong questions or the ‘easy’ ones. Perhaps I had asked myself just one kind of question that did not push me to see new perspectives.
- I did not gain other ‘evidence’ or perceptions from other people to give me a more rounded picture.
Determined to enhance my reflective practice, I came up with ways to make it work for me and possibly some tips for others:
- Schedule in regular and protected reflection time. I have renamed it focus time as this, to me, sounds more active and forward looking.
- Continue with my 10-minute daily mindfulness while ‘punctuating’ my day with shorter 1-minute mindfulness blasts. I set reminders to ensure I do this. I didn’t think this was making any difference but, having recently started reading a new book, I have found my concentration levels have grown again and read more than I have done in years – there is definitely less self-distraction going on. I pause once I have finished reading to enjoy my new concentration level – it feels like a reward to me. The reward propels me to keep going.
- Use a reflective model. There are many excellent ones out there; I have personally found Gibbs’ Reflective Cycle relevant (published in his 1988 book ‘Learning by Doing’). It is broken down into 6 stages (Description, Feelings, Evaluation, Analysis, Conclusion and Action Plan) and challenges me to acknowledge my feelings and how they impact my behaviour.
- Use coaching questions to coach myself especially the more challenging questions I have posed to my clients!
- Set small, feasible steps as part of my action plan and ensure I allow time to practice and repeat them, so that they become a habit. I can track progress on my CPD (continuous professional development) log – I already regularly update this, so this is easy to do. By having something visible to track, it gives me a sense of progress and moving forward. I am starting to tell myself that ‘I am a reflector’, making this part of my identity so that it becomes a habit.
- Ask others for feedback on events they have observed to obtain more evidence, test my perceptions and deepen my insights. I ask colleagues, stakeholders and friends specific questions so that they are given a steer and provide specific responses. I make it easy for them to be honest by listening, not interrupting or justifying, and by thanking them. I don’t ask the same people too much as I want to get a more rounded picture. Plus, I don’t want to get on their nerves!
- Write a blog on reflection to further organise my thoughts and ideas…
I hope my journey with reflection (which is ongoing) is of help for you if it is something you wish to do but struggle with. I would love to hear and share your challenges and tips to add to this list.