Take a moment to remember a time, at work or home, where someone reacted to something you said or did in a manner you did not expect. Is this an event you have replayed, one where you think of all the things you “should have said” or how you “could have done” it differently?
As you thought through what you should or could have done, did you take time to ask yourself why you said / did what you did or ponder a different perspective? Have you considered how you might do it differently next time?
Most people act and react, and on receiving feedback may blame something external like the other person, or may go to another extreme and shame themselves. Rarely do people pause to reflect, taking a step back from the situation and review without judgement so to learn from the experience.
The practice of critical reflection provides a strategic tool to evaluate your behaviour, distancing yourself so to review with objectivity, learn from the experience and plan how to apply what you have learned to your future.
It may sound limited to just learning from something negative or bad, but this is not the case! Reflective practice is foundational to my life, as a learner, as a manager, as partner and colleague. Each night, I follow the reflection model outlined below to thoughtfully consider my day. This allows me to cultivate clearer thinking about what behaviour led to actions and outcomes, and helps me seek out opportunities to act more effectively next time.
Reflection in practice
Multiple models - formats, or templates if you prefer - that help you write your reflection exist. The Gibbs Reflective Cycle model is commonly taught in Business, Nursing and Education degrees and provides a comprehensive framework for your reflection.
Early in my MBA, I learned the DIEP method for reflective writing and continue to favour this for its simplicity, efficiency and clearly defined prompts. This method involves four questions - describing something you learned, interpreting your realisation, evaluating and making connections between what you learned, what you have observed elsewhere and any literature, and then outlining a plan (ideally, in SMART format) for applying your learning in practice.
As an outline, the prompts are:
- Describe objectively what you learned.
- Interpret the insight
- Evaluate your learning
- Plan how you will apply the learning in practice
Describe objectively what you learned
In this first step, consider something you learned recently that is important.
In writing weekly about my Simple & Sinister kettlebell practice, I may reflect that “The most interesting thing I learned this week was mind-muscle connection…” and I would continue on describing when and where the learning took place.
Interpret the insight.
Interpretation is about ascribing personal meaning to your new insight, making connections, asking questions and considering implications.
For instance, learning about mind-muscle connection was like a penny dropping for me and while contradictions exist about the theory, it cemented a realisation that I can use my mind to engage my muscles. I know, kind of daft that I had not realised that, but rather than blindly following my trainers words, I can challenge my assumptions (or non-thoughts) and create a new insight!
Evaluate your learning.
Through evaluation, you make a value judgement about your insight and by connecting back to theory, or other learning materials, you can understand how your thinking has changed.
Continuing the example of mind-muscle connection, the ‘penny drop’ came to me when I connected this learning with past learning, particularly insights around the mind-body connection e.g. fostering a particular mindset and naturally standing tall as you begin to believe that. Not the same thing, but to me it’s a similar principle and it makes sense in my mental map.
Plan how you will apply the learning in practice.
Crafting your plan as a SMART goal will help you create a concrete action that places the plan in future tense.
For instance, better understanding the mind-muscle connection will help me consciously engage my muscles, particularly my lats when performing the TGU, so I am aware of the difference and confirm I’m strong in each move, which will be foundational to lifting heavier weights.
Learn more about reflective practice from the fantastic BusinessBalls.com website: Reflective Practice: Models and Process – BusinessBalls.com
I draw on this DIEP Strategy outline (PDF) from RMIT University to walk through the process. This resource is particularly useful, providing prompts and starting sentences to get your writing into flow.
How will you begin your reflective practice?