Self-reflection is the fuel of change, positive or negative change.
The beauty of looking in the mirror and reviewing our behaviour is that we can shape what we see. Our biases and general approach to life will often slant things one way or another and that’s when a framework can support you and keep you as objective as possible.
We need both positive ‘at a boys’ and constructive ‘this can be done better’ self-reflection, done in the right way, at the right time with the correct support.
This article is all about helping to set yourself up for success to optimise your self-reflection so you can learn and grow from your wins and losses. These 4 steps are some tough lessons that took me a really long time to learn.
I will caveat that they took so long because I learnt them as a lone range and by trial and error. For me, guiding someone in these areas is the role of a mentor and they are fundamental to efficient and effective career growth.
Read on for the 4 lessons I learnt late and the hard way about self-reflection.
1. Simplify it with a framework
The more simple it is, the easier it will be to remain consistent, provide you with clarity and remain balanced.
I think we have all been there with pages and pages of session reflections, largely that only serves to confuse you and gives you a list of actions as long as your arm. This is no good to man nor beast as you end up simply overfilling your cup and focussing on the wrong things.
Pick your poison, in all honesty, it doesn’t matter which method you use, just pick one. Stick to it and optimise it so that you ensure you have clear actions off the back of it. Here are three options I have used and a brief explanation of each one…
3 up 3 down
This is a method I stole from NATO Special Forces HQ Mental Performance and Resilience course I was fortunate enough to attend. Essentially this is absolute gold for anyone who is rarely satisfied and always perusing more and better.
What does it involve?
It is quite simply 3 things that went well, and 3 things that you want to work on. They can be personal or professional, from a session or a day, or even a week. You can write a long list and then chop it down to pick your top 3. The big wins with this method are that you are restricted to 3 downs/work ons, it helps you to also reinforce what went well and shifts thinking towards positivity.
Take it on a level
Add actions to each of the work ons to ensure you have a clear plan as to how you can smooth them over and make steps forward.
Big wins. Small wins
This is ideal for the uber pessimists amongst us. It totally ignores the work ons and focuses on what went well, this can allow you to turn a strength into a super strength. It also tends to shift your mindset which will gradually drag up your work ons alongside.
What does it involve?
Write down a list (minimum 3 of each) of minor wins and big wins. You choose a time frame for example a session, day, week or month and stick with that for a block of time. The small wins could be anything from not pressing snooze on the alarm clock, through to speaking to every athlete in your 40+ session. A big win might be completing your day’s task list or journaling for an entire month. The choice is yours.
This is a great option for the deep and extensive reflector. Blocking your thoughts into sections helps you to focus on each section specifically and keeps your mind from wondering. It also allows you to look at each section and apply some balance between the sections. The start and continue options also tend to lean more towards positive actions and thoughts, which allow practitioners an almost 2:1 ratio.
What does it involve?
Write a list on a single sheet of paper of what you would like to begin to do, not do any longer and continue to do. Start to do represents positive changes/ideas to implement. Stop represents things that are not constructive or need changing and continuing to do involves things that had a positive impact on performance and you should continue to do.
The overarching message here is to pick your poison and stick to it.
2. Positive and negative
Dead simple area here. Your reflections need to have a balance of positive things and work ons. If you only focus on the work ons (negatives) then 2 things can happen, 1. You fail to reinforce the good actions and behaviours and they potentially drop off, 2. You end up (or stay) in a perpetual negative cycle of whatever it is you are doing not being good enough.
So, for every work on you should have at least one positive to match.
To caveat this, you do always not need to have work ons/negatives all the time. Sometimes, if the situation is right, just focus on the positives such as the big wins and small wins option above.
For me, this is the single biggest area of confusion and one of the big causes of disillusionment with long term goal setting and reflection.
Our moods change with the weather. If we reflect on an entire year when our mood is low then we are going to focus on the challenges, the hard times and the losses. Conversely, if we reflect when we are on a high then we may sugarcoat things and not be objective.
So, summarising your days, weeks and months can really help when you want to look back objectively over a block of time. Instead of thinking in December about how your year was, you get to look back at your key reflections from each month, refresh your memory and (hopefully) see a good blend of things that went well and lessons learnt.
4. To how list
This is more of a follow-on lesson. This is the ‘so what now’ part of reflection. It’s all about action, or specifically, each action that is directly attached to each work on. The key question is ‘what am I going to do about this to ensure that positive change takes place?’.
There is a hidden benefit to what I call the ‘to how list’, (I am aware this is a terrible use of English) but the purpose is clear.
Once you have set your intentions or work ons, write down exactly how you are going to achieve each one. Two really clear things will happen here:
- Once you can specifically list ‘how’ you improve each work on, you will likely bin off a lot of the work ons and focus on the ones which are most important and the pan is clear.
- You will have created an implementation/action plan which will support you in improving the work on and achieving the goal.
These are all fairly straight forward points, but we get them wrong so much. The points presented above are the foundations of The Reflective Practitioners Journal, the goal with all reflection is to make the basics as applicable and maintainable as possible. The Journal is a simple tool that will provide you with accountability clearly and concisely.
What’s coming soon?
Over the next couple of months, there will be a fantastic tool being released called ‘Career Periodisation’. This will be a collaboration with Dan Howells from Collaborate Sports and will comprise of a comprehensive manual to support you in mapping out your career.
I won’t tell you too much just yet, but this is going to change the way you assess, map out and implement your career development and professional journey.
Thank you for reading.
The Practitioner Wellness Guy