During the pandemic I’ve realized even more the power of reflection. Reflection could very well be the main reason that I’m able to accomplish the things I accomplish.
What Does Reflection Mean?
By reflecting, I mean looking back on things that happened and things that are currently happening and trying to uncover and extract lessons from them in the that will help me have a better life going forward. Plans change when they hit reality. Instead of pushing forward with a plan that isn’t so good anymore, you can reflect and adjust. Many workplaces will check in with the plan regularly but most people never check in with their personal plan/dreams/hopes/etc.
I usually do my reflection in the morning before and during my daily planning. My daily planning can often take an hour due to the reflection I’m doing but I’m confident that come out ahead because reflection has saved me countless hours that I would have spent on unnecessary or non-priority tasks.
If I’m reading a book to learn (rather than be entertained by education (#post)), then I take lots of pauses to reflect on what I’ve read, how it applies to my life and I try to internalize it.
What Reflection Doesn’t Mean
I think that when many people “reflect” on things it goes something like this: “I suck. I’m an idiot. Why did I DO that?”
This isn’t reflection. It’s just rumination and judgment disguised as reflection. Reflection, to me, means looking at things as objectively as possible and trying to take lessons from it that will help you move forward.
It’s not just when things go wrong or you have a failure. In fact, I think the best reflection is the sort that comes out of asking what you did well and identifying what has been working for you and making you feel fulfilled. Focus on your strengths. You can identify weaknesses for eternity and never get happier, smarter, or more content from it. Instead of reflecting on the dead grass in the yard and what went wrong, find the green grass and water it.
Is Meditating the Same as Reflecting?
The words reflection and mediation get thrown together a lot, but they are different things. For me meditation more of a clearing and calming of the space so that reflection can happen. Sure good ideas come up, but meditation is about
One curious sidetone: There’s lots of books and classes out there for meditating, but there’s just not much on reflecting. Try searching Amazon for books on each topic. There’s barely anything on the power of reflection. Most of the results are for books on how you can reflect on your religion. What I’m talking about is reflecting on your actions, life, and circumstances.
How to Reflect
This is how I do it. Your mileage may vary.
First, decide what you might want to reflect on. I have a list of areas I check in with regularly: family and friends, work, creative pursuits, money, health, and giving back. If you don’t know what would be on your own list just use mine to get started. You can change it in future sessions.
Next, investigate each area, one at a time. For example: health. Do a quick gut check and ask yourself “How’s things with this?” If it’s great, move on. If it’s not so great, ask why. Give yourself space to think about it. Think about what has worked for you. I recommend writing because if it’s all in your head then the answers can hide more easily.
The closer you get to what matters the more you will try to distract yourself from thinking about it. You’ll jump on the web, check your phone, decide you need another cup of coffee before you go forward. Don’t fall for it. Just sit with it and write and reflect. This is the hardest part, especially when reflecting is new and really uncomfortable.
Do not judge yourself. Don’t judge if bad things come up or if good things come up or if nothing comes up. Just sit and think and write. Make a list of things that worked and things you liked. Make a list of things that are on your mind – things that you think you might do, should do, or don’t want to do but have to do. Dump it all out onto the paper.
Once you feel you’ve shake much or all of it out, try to look at it objectively and decide what you need. Both now and to get to wherever you want to be. You might see a pattern. Or you might see one item in particular is the one that you need to address but have been avoiding it for a long time. Or you might see that some of what felt important really isn’t important after all (there’s something about getting things on paper that changes their perceived importance).
My most successful reflecting is usually journaling on the computer or on paper. But going for walks by myself (with no headphones, dogs or other things that might distract), and meditation have also allowed things to come up that I couldn’t get with writing. I don’t actively try to come up with them. I just go out and let my mind be bored and without distractions, which seems to allow things to bubble up in a way I can’t get by forcing it.