How to Make Reflection Part of Your Daily Habit
The best leaders know themselves well. And that means taking time to reflect.
Echo and Narcissus by John William Waterhouse, 1903 (Wikipedia - public domain)
“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 outdo each other with memories of the past year (or worse — the past decade!)
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 tapping the little colored blocks or jewels that are part of that game you like.
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.
Do you sleep with your phone next to your bed? You should stop that right now. And when you do get up in the morning, don't make your phone the first thing you reach for.
Begin your day with 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.
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. Spending time with paper objects can help with reflection.
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 when you can spend it 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?
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 parse out what matters and what will make you a better leader.