Every once in a while I wonder why I have a splitting headache; For relief I try taking a walk, reading, wine and then whine… to no avail. Finally it occurs to me to put down the hammer I have been bashing my skull in with, pick up a pen and journal. I stop, and pause to write about what I did, what I said, what I ate and sometimes even what I felt about the whole mess. I reflect. In doing so I am able to see and understand my behavior, choices, and unseen options at the time and sometimes learn. When I rush through my days, weeks and sometimes years without doing so it is like trying to drive with a burlap bag over your head, it is not only dumb as a box of rocks but very uncomfortable. Self-reflection can also be uncomfortable at times, at least if you are me. Looking at any given event, project or conversation I see where I was a perfect ass, and not in a good way. I see where I assumed something to be true because the situation or person reminded me of another place and time so I jumped ahead and bungled things. I also see what I did well, where I was kind and what I want to do more of.
Deconstructing an event, a conversation, a class, a project or failed love life always garners valuable information. You get the good, the bad, the really stupidly bad and of course the ever popular what did I just do? It is a wonderful opportunity to learn from your mistakes, leverage off your strengths and do better next time. We can see what worked, what we will keep, what needs tweaking and what to throw in ditch off route 40 at high speed wearing a wig. Taking the time to look at your day or week on a regular basis gives us the opportunity to grow and change in a self-directive way. We are choosing to be an active participant of the change in our lives. Change is constant, we evolve or devolve. Those are our options, the direction is up to us. We can choose to pull off the burlap sack of denial and look at our internal and external landscape and then go forward. One thing we will see when we pull that nasty ol’ thing off is a ton of cosmic crap folks ahead of us jettisoned out their windows that no longer fit.
Below is an exercise I have developed to help with self-reflection the only thing you have to lose is an itchy, smelly burlap bag.
*This exercise can be adapted to a solo endeavor, but to truly reap the benefits it should be done with a partner. Partnering does not have to be in person as much of it can be done by email or phone. However, the brainstorming part should, at the very least, be done over the phone as it is a highly dynamic phase of the exercise which benefits from the alchemy of a verbal interchange and what that brings to the party. I recommend reading through the exercise a few times prior to working with your partner. Most importantly, know there is no wrong way to do this exercise, it is all good and a learning process, so relax and get curious.
Self-Reflection is a powerful way to deepen our learning, not only of our world but also of who we are and how we fit into that world. As we reflect on our day, week or life we can see patterns in our behavior and the result of the choices we have made. If we take the time to look, we can see what skills, tools and traits led to accomplishments and successes. We can also see areas in which we are challenged, sometimes over and over again. In being self-reflective, hindsight has the potential to give us valuable information for the next time we are at bat again. The reality of life is that we always get another chance to choose differently, learn a new skill, shore up a weak one, or take another whack at something.
By working with a partner on this exercise we gain many things. Firstly, we have to vocalize an accomplishment and a challenge therefore bringing focus and clarity to an arena where success and challenges reside. This step creates an opportunity to stop, think, quantify and qualify an event in a thoughtful way. In doing this we start by working with something real, concrete and tangible. This is powerful because as we go and apply different behaviors to similar events going forward, success can be measured.
Next, we see that in brainstorming with a partner we step outside our ‘box’ or natural thought process and beliefs, which means we open ourselves to look at something from another person’s perspective. This enables us to gather more information as to where we might be stuck in a pattern, operating from a limited belief system, or not using a particular skill set. We can also see, on the other end of the spectrum, where we are strong and capable in our skills, tools and choices, therefore being able to leverage on those that we might not have recognized without someone pointing them out to us. It is not uncommon that when we do something exceedingly well that it feels natural so we place little importance on it. That is called a gift and by all means use it anyway you can to move through your life.
Lastly, by marrying an action to this process we not only become accountable to someone besides ourselves, but we move forward in some way. On a side note, most of us are terrible at being accountable to ourselves and the specter of an observer to our process is a great motivator! In addition to bringing in an action to go with our learning, we also attach a timeline to this concrete deliverable that not only deepens our learning, but also empowers us to be an agent for change in our own lives. Self-Reflection is a way to process our behavior in a way were we learn from it and in doing this we build skills using elements of critical thinking and self-awareness. This gives us the ability to lead self-directed lives, and what’s better than that?
Make a note of one task you did well this week, an accomplishment or outcome you were pleased with.
Make a note of one task that did not go as well as you would have liked this week.
Identify a character trait, skill or tool you used in each example. Be honest with yourself, not doing so inhibits your learning.
Choose a partner or peer to share your tools/skills that made you successful in your one task and brainstorm with your partner on how to improve tools or skills on your other task.
Identify one improvement you will try over the next week. Commit to your partner what and when you will do it; agree to call or email them when you have implemented the improvement.
What other areas of your life could benefit Self-Reflection and this process and how so?
How can you add this process to your life on a regular basis?