Column: The power of reflection
Any moment now, your feed will blow up with posts about reflecting on 2022. That’s if it hasn’t already done so. And whilst scrolling over one of these posts, you might have any of the following thoughts: “What a great idea! I’ll definitely do that later”. You might even save it, but sadly never get around to it, because there are so many other things to do ‘later’; “That’s nice; for those who have the time,”; “What a load of navel-gazing hog wash.”
As you’re reading this, I suspect/hope that you don’t fall into the latter category. And if you’re in the minority who not only makes the time to reflect, but also does so on a regular basis, congratulations! You’re onto a winning formula.
The truth is, self-reflection can be a fun, powerful, and transformative experience. And ok, yes, sometimes uncomfortable too. Sorry about that.
Here are some of the reasons why you might want to pick up the habit yourself.
An antidote to toxic productivity
Society today is obsessed with doing and achieving. And any job in financial services will reward you on that basis. It’s all too easy to get absorbed in endless productivity and to-do lists. I’ve been there and done that. It’s an alluring yet slippery slope.
However, one of the problems with this, is that without appreciating your efforts along the way, you can get to the finish line feeling flat and empty. And then it’s on to the next thing. And then the next thing. And then the next thing.
Dr Pippa Grange, who was the psychologist supporting England at the 2018 FIFA World Cup, writes about the impact of this in elite sport. She calls it, ‘winning shallow’. An antidote therefore, is to appreciate your efforts along the way. And to celebrate them. Cue reflection practice. You can read Dr Grange’s book, Fear Less – How to Win at Life Without Losing Yourself for more.
Cultivating a growth mindset
This might be where it gets uncomfortable. Sometimes, things don’t go the way you’d hope or expect. They might even go disastrously wrong.
If you fail at something, you may want to brush it under the carpet and forget that it happened. Or it might stop you in your tracks and prevent you from moving forward.
For example, say a presentation doesn’t go well, you might not want to put yourself forward to lead the next time. But this isn’t constructive behaviour. Without addressing what went wrong, you won’t improve your performance.
Alternatively, you could acknowledge your disappointment and ask yourself what went well, what you could have done differently, and what you want to do differently as a result. This then embeds the learning, and it becomes a more constructive way of moving forward.
Carol Dweck, the Stanford University Psychologist behind the growth mindset body of work, would tell you there’s no such thing as failure to those who adopt a growth mindset. Everything becomes an opportunity to learn and grow.
When looking at positive psychology interventions, a group was asked to record three things that went well each day and their causes every night for one week. In addition, they also recorded what the causal effect was, i.e. as a result of the things going well.
Participants measured as happier and decreased depressive symptoms for six months following the week-long intervention. Personally, I think that’s pretty impressive.
Bought in yet?
If you don’t already work with a coach or have a method of sharing and reflecting with your team, then you can also go about this by yourself.
A simple way is by journaling. As with all new habits, neuroscience indicates the best way to make a new habit stick is to make it novel and fun. And while you might not be up for a unicorn journal (no judgement), getting a shiny new piece of stationery might be just the ticket to cultivate a new, novel and fun ritual.
To make it effective, you could ask yourself the same questions on a daily or weekly basis depending on what works for you.
Here are some suggestions: What went well this week? What was the cause of each thing going well? What went less well? What was the cause of each thing going less well? What will you do differently as a result?
Feel free to ask the internet for further examples and adapt them depending on what your goals are, for example, for growth, fulfilment or performance. You can also switch this up to run a quarterly or annual reflection if you like to set resolutions or goals for the year ahead.