If you want greater awareness of who you are and what’s important to you, reflect on each day’s behaviors for it’s in reflection that you gain awareness. The good news is: it takes less time than you think.
I have repeatedly heard others comment on how critical I am of my own thinking…in a tone that expresses both surprise and interest. I’m not sure how I developed this tendency, but it has served me well over the years as I’m certain it will for you.
Earliest reflection awareness
My earliest recollection of employing reflection is of a time shortly after having started my part-time CFO business. I had no prior sales experience, so after each sales call I’d reflect on the call paying particular attention to when I lost prospects’ interest and when I gained their interest.
With each reflection I gained greater awareness of what was interesting to potential customers and what wasn’t. It also helped me understand which language created confusion and which enhanced clarity. Few things kill a sale more quickly than confusion. These reflections helped me become more precise in my language and close sales more quickly than I had previously.
As I began to extend reflection to other aspects of my life, I came to realize how I contributed to the problems I face, how often I fail to see others’ perspectives and how often I misinterpret others’ motivations.
Reflecting on my contribution to the problem
Once I realized that I contributed to every problem I’ve ever faced, my initial response to a problem is to reflect on my contribution to that problem. As I become aware of how I contribute to the problem, it is easy to see the solution…which entails admitting to the other parties that I’d made a mistake.
Interestingly, this approach affords many benefits. I gain credibility with the other parties and, often, they admit that they could have handled the situation better as well. The mutual trust and respect that comes from these exchanges makes reaching a solution easier and quicker than would otherwise have been possible.
One of the natural tendencies we all possess by virtue of our humanity is failing to explore others’ perceptions in order to gain new insights and also discover common ground on which we both can build.
As I became aware of this tendency, I found it easier to recognize when I was falling victim to this tendency and reverse course…exploring what I previously resisted. The reversal depends heavily on my willingness to reflect on how adamant I was that I was right and how quickly, and inappropriately, I’d dismissed others’ perspectives. Something I do much less frequently than before my reflections made me aware of this tendency.
Reflecting on misinterpretations
One of the greatest insights I’ve gained came from a book, Playing Ball On Running Water (opens in a new link), by David Reynolds. Dr. Reynolds says that the biggest difference between the East and the West, in the practice of psychotherapy, is that in the West we try to figure out why people do what they do. In the East they don’t explore why, they simply help people develop new behaviors.
As I read that, I reflected on how often I had ascribed motivations to others’ behavior only to find out later that I was wrong. By reflecting on my failures in ascribing motivations, I am able to avoid wasting time searching for why and focus my attention on helping others develop behaviors that will serve them better.
These are a few examples of how reflection has increased my awareness of my own behaviors and how that awareness has helped me change behaviors when they don’t serve me well. The benefits have been huge while the time investment is small.
One of the fortunate aspects of our humanity is that we can replay earlier conversations, and events, in a matter of seconds. Plus, we need only reflect on those instances in which we didn’t get the desired outcome or are seeking a better result.
The only question remaining is: “How do you develop the habit of reflecting?”
Set aside a quiet time, less than 15 minutes, at the end of the day to reflect on what went well. This not only helps you become more confident, it makes it easier for you to be more objective in the analysis of things that didn’t go as well as you’d hoped.
Then reflect on the things that you’d wished had gone better. Ask yourself questions like:
- How did I contribute to this problem?
- What could I have done better?
- What will I do when I face a situation like this in the future?
- What amends do I need to make with the other parties involved?
The answers to these simple questions will create greater awareness of the natural tendencies you possess and how well, or poorly, they serve you. With this increased awareness, you’ll find that you:
- Create fewer problems for yourself.
- Find solutions to problems more quickly.
- Find that solutions are simpler than you expected.
- Develop strong, mutually-beneficial relationships much more quickly than you had previously.
For our kids
You can help the kids in your life develop the habit of reflection by reflecting verbally, in their presence, on situations that you’ve encountered that have created an opportunity for you to learn more about yourself and the impact that your behaviors are having on your life.
I’m not suggesting that every reflection needs to be shared. You may determine that some reflections might cause fear and anxiety on the part of the child, in which case you wouldn’t want to share your reflections.
Certainly, in those instances when they can learn the power of reflection without fear and anxiety, share the questions and your methodology of reflection. They’ll be forever grateful to you for having shown them the value of reflection.
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