How often do you take the time to reflect back on your day, on your work, or on a particular experience?
Open-minded reflection is a valuable habit. One of Albert Einstein’s gifts was to think so clearly and precisely that it allowed him to make discoveries in his mind. He called these “thought experiments.” Einstein’s insights from thinking led to his theory of relativity. Taking time to think deeply and carefully—which can be called “reflection,” “mindful inquiry,” or as the Dalai Lama calls it, “analytical meditation”—can change your understanding in ways that are truly profound. With each new understanding, you have different options and actions from which to choose. In this way, deep reflection in the present can shape your future.
Reflection holds up a mirror and lets your see yourself, who you really are, and what really
matters to you. You’re able to hear your inner struggles, and if you can maintain perspective, you can see the thought patterns for what they are: choices about where to focus, different interpretations of an event, and ideas for what to do next—some of which are truly useful, and some of which are not. Looking in on your thinking gives you a chance to pause the action, and explore more options.
Allowing yourself some space and structure to contemplate supports your mind’s ability to further processes what happened with a fresh perspective. I find that self-reflection is the Miracle-Gro® of professional development.
With reflection, you are also be able to:
- Unlock a new sense of understanding by looking at issues from multiple perspectives
- Increase your awareness of things that are meaningful and important to you
- Make shifts in yourself to be more in line with your values and vision
- Create new insights that allow you to make work better
Self-reflection looks different for everyone, so choose a method that works with your life and preferences.
The first step of beginning a reflection practice is finding a space that allows you to turn inward. A reflective space can be almost anywhere… taking a walk in nature, watching the clouds pass, writing in your journal, or sitting in front of a warm fire. The only requirement is that it has to allow you the time and space to integrate what you’ve learned. And you do this by asking yourself questions.
When you reflect, you can play out thought experiments for bolder approaches, courageous shifts, and do so with no risk. You can consider possibilities and allow your mental models to be stretched and expanded beyond your current comfort zone. The transformative power of imagination is well-documented, but you don’t have to wait for someone to ask you good
questions; you can ask yourself during reflection time.
I included reflection exercises at the end of every chapter of The Conscious Professional, but here are three simple questions to help get your mind in reflection mode. The following questions will focus your thoughts around these three subjects: Gratitude, Focus, and Intention.
Gratitude – What three things am I grateful for?
Even when things don’t seem to be going right, you can always find something to be grateful for. The simplest thing that you can go back to is your breathe. Allow yourself to be thankful for the fact that, with each inhale and exhale, your body is still alive.
Focus – What matters most to me today?
Take a moment to identify what is really on your mind. What are you most interested in, or caring about? What is most important? What do you feel motivated to spend time on?
Intention – How can I move forward?
What do you want to see happen? Ideally, how will you address what you care about? What do you want to cultivate? What small, specific steps can you take today?
Try out a reflection practice for yourself. You may find yourself more centered during your workday, or able to better maintain a peace of mind. It would be great to hear about your experience. Comment on this blog post and let us know how it is going. For additional support, download the first chapter of The Conscious Professional for free, at consciousprofessional.com.
Jessica Hartung is a partner, coach, and guide for those leveling-up their personal professional leadership, their teams, and their communities to a better future.
Jessica has a passion for inspiring and preparing people to grow from their work to improve their lives. In 1998, she founded Integrated Work, a consulting firm that brings top-notch professional development to mission-driven leaders, while being a learning laboratory for innovative work practices.
Jessica provides self-directed professional development tools to leaders at all levels striving to create positive impact.