“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” — Søren Kierkegaard
With the new year upon us, it seems like everyone is trying to put 2020 in the rear-view mirror, never to be mentioned again. But healthy reflection doesn’t avoid the unpleasant reality; it acknowledges it and uses it to grow.
Reflection isn’t something that needs our attention once a year. It’s a habit and should be developed like any other habit.
If done well, it can result in clarity of mind, a less volatile knee-jerk reaction to things, and deeper relationships.
Why is it that we find reflection so difficult?
For one, there are so many distractions to occupy us. Opening the phone and going on an infinite scroll down the screen is a soothing but mindless activity. As is swiping left or right. Or getting sucked into doomscrolling over politics, the pandemic, or anything in the news.
When we have frictionless distractions, those provide a welcome and easy escape from the hard work that reflection requires.
Self-improvement is difficult. It requires work. It takes commitment over time to take hold. And whether it's work-related or personal, taking a good hard look at yourself is part of emotional intelligence that makes us desirable to be around.
The best leaders, friends, and partners are those who know themselves well. And the only way to know yourself is to spend quiet time alone.
And still, we fall for the annual “let’s look back as we prepare to look ahead” posts and exercises — as if these are enough to fill the gap from throughout the year.
Anyone who’s received an annual performance review that seems like it comes from out of left field should be familiar with that feeling.
You sit down, either completely clueless about what's about to be said, or firmly believing it's going one way, when — WHAM! — you're hit with an assessment that you didn’t see coming.
Good leaders are always communicating with their peers and direct reports. There should be no surprises.
And good communication requires constant reflection.
There’s no single best way to reflect and be introspective. You’ll need to find what works best for you. But here are a few ideas to get you started.
Quiet mornings (or evenings)
Do you sleep with your phone next to your bed? You should stop that right now. When you do get up in the morning, don’t make your phone the first thing you reach for; as you prepare for bed, get off the screen an hour before you retire.
If you’re making this a morning routine, begin your day with five to 15 minutes of meditation or exercise. Or maybe making coffee is a ritual for you. Use that time to turn inward. Don't get sucked into emails, Facebook updates, tweets, or anything electronic until you’ve had time to spend time with yourself.
If this is an end-of-day routine, consider jotting down meaningful moments of your day and why they stood out to you. You’ll find that doing so over time will make you more attentive to little things that happen in your life.
Perhaps there's a favorite book or devotional you like to read. Or maybe you like to express your thoughts by writing in a journal. I received a 1937 typewriter for Christmas that I’m looking forward to using.
Spending time with paper objects can help with reflection. It slows us down and causes us to be more deliberate and thoughtful about what we choose to commit to writing. Bonus: if you’re writing thank you notes or personal correspondence, people will love a physical message over an electronic one.
Block Your Calendar
If it’s not written down, it’s not a priority. And if it’s not in your daily schedule, it gets neglected. Block time on your calendar for yourself, when you can spend time by yourself, working on yourself.
What You Need
As you consider what you’ll be reflecting on, consider the questions you might want to answer:
What’s holding me back?
How can I be more helpful to my colleagues?
What perspective(s) am I missing?
What do I tend to neglect or shy away from?
What’s working well right now? How can I do more of that?
What am I most grateful for today?
I hope you’ll commit to joining me for a slower, more deliberate approach amidst the knee-jerk reactionaries of the online world.
Together, we’ll focus on what matters most and what will help make you a better leader, a better communicator, and a better person.
Are you with me?
Thanks, and I’ll see you on the internet.