Life moves astonishingly fast, especially in this day and age.
Thanks to Moore’s law, technology is advancing at an exponential rate, which means that our lives and pace of life moves just as rapidly as a secondary consequence.
Because of this, more often than not we pass our days without spending the time to “process” our experiences.
What I’m referencing, in a nutshell, is reflection.
By three methods we may learn wisdom:
First, by reflection, which is noblest;
Second, by imitation, which is easiest;
and Third, by experience, which is the bitterest.
As a follow up from my Quarterly Review post, aside from tracking my goals, another facet that’s helped me maintain progress has been an emphasis on reflection.
Reflection is intentional thought — a conscious consideration and analysis of our past experiences.
It allows us to pause amidst the relentless pace of life, to question what we do and why we are doing it. It gives our brain a moment to help better understand things in the context of our values and beliefs, to give meaning to our experiences.
We learn by doing this much is true, but we can accelerate this learning if we synthesize, abstract, and articulate the key lessons taught through our experiences.
Reflection fuels personal growth — we cannot grow from our experiences, both bad and good, if we do not make an effort to understand them and adjust as we learn.
In startup lingo, this refers to iteration: constantly assessing and refining what we do to help us achieve better results.
How does reflection benefit me?
Reflection is useful, however, it’s not easy. But once we understand how to reflect, we realize there are many benefits:
- Enhances productivity
- Improves happiness
- Deepens learning
We already intuitively iterate on our work. It’s the nature of a feedback system; we continue to do what works and discard that which doesn’t. By reflecting more consciously, we become more aware of the small nuances in the work we do and can continue to tweak and refine work flows.
This is a pattern of working smarter, not harder which translates directly into productivity.
In research conducted by Harvard Business School, Francesca Gino and Gary Pisano discovered that there were significant benefits in reflecting: their research revealed that employees who spent 15 minutes at the end of the day reflecting about their work day and lessons learned were 23% more productive over a 10 day period on average than their peers who did not reflect.
Now more than ever we seem to be living lives where we’re busy and overworked, and our research shows that if we’d take some time out for reflection, we might be better off.
Reflecting has the additional benefit of reducing anxiety in the event things go wrong. By reflecting and thinking about what can go better in the future, you are helping yourself prepare better for future setbacks.
Even a modest scenario analysis can help you mentally assess how to react in the event of an emergency, which is another way to boost productivity when things take a wrong turn.
Part of what defines happiness in our life is our quest for control. It’s been shown that reflection helps us our happiness because it helps with our own self-awareness. By reflecting, we build a better understanding of ourselves, and how we fit into the world alongside our values and beliefs.
This is not theoretical; research backed data shows proven results that reflecting increases happiness, heightens productivity and reduces feelings of burnout in a study of UK commuters that reflected on their way to work.
Reflection helps change your mindset and improve self-esteem. By thinking back on your experiences, it helps you process your thoughts and feelings.
Self-analysis promotes an active sense of self — instead of looking at things from a victim mentality and how your surroundings and circumstances affected the outcome, you are focusing on the things you can control. That is, the behaviors and actions you can take to help you improve the next time around. This prevents the feeling of helplessness and being bulldozed by life.
For me personally, self-reflection helps me understand why I may have reacted in certain situations, recognize my own biases, and helps me tackle problems by focusing on what I can do better next time instead of feeling like there’s nothing I could have done.
This feedback helps us feel more in control, more confident and essentially translates into belief and understanding your ability to execute on achieving certain goals.
Understanding that we have the power ourselves to improve results also gives us something to look forward to, something we can do better on in the future, particularly if we were reflecting on a negative experience.
Cognitively, reflection helps us better understand the work we’re doing. By reflecting on how we performed, what went well and what didn’t go well, wecan refine our understanding of how we accomplished something.
A study of students in STEM fields showed that self-reflection lead to a 22% increase in improvements to academic performance.
This is because by reflecting, you are relearning and deepening the neural circuits of the task at hand to make it become more automatic. As you reflect, you are actively revisiting the earlier experience, which further develops the neural pathways and helps make the task easier over time.
By following this process, you are able to improve your critical thinking skills to help you problem solve future roadblocks in similar instances.
How to Reflect?
When it comes to reflection, there are many ways to conduct an exercise in self-reflection. It can be in the form of a project post-mort or retro, or even something as simple as jotting down notes in a journal or text document for personal experiences.
The key thing however, is to ask yourself questions. If you don’t know where to start, two questions I always like to ask myself, in any situation, are the following:
- What went well?
- What could have gone better?
Asking these two questions allows me to
- Assess what I did that worked, reminding my brain to continue doing things that worked, and
- Asking myself to think critically about what I could have done to improve, or iterate, the next time around.
Another format I like to employ when I have the time, is a more detailed flow that asks you a few key questions as well:
Taking the time to ask yourself these questions and actively thinking on the experience is one of the most effective ways to helps minimize mistakes going forward that need to be repeatedly taught through experience.
Use reflection to help yourself
Reflection is a crucial to our human experience — it’s one of the cognitive functions that separates us from other living beings.
This understanding of self fuels our personal growth and development; it’s what helps us be more productive by assessing what we can improve on, improves our well-being by giving us a sense of control, and improve our understanding through critical thinking.
We build up understanding through our experience in the world. But until we actively reflect — to understand and explain not just what we do, but why we did it, this understanding remains only an assumption, an “intuitive” feeling that cannot be replicated for future iterations.
It serves as one more tool in your productivity toolbox to help you live a better and more meaningful life. Hope you wield it well.
We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience.
- Reflection helps us give meaning to our experiences and provides many benefits:
- Enhanced productivity
- Improved happiness
- Deepened learning
- Reflect by asking yourself questions
- What went well?
- What could have gone better?
INTJ. Startups. Infinitely Curious