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Lifelong learning through skillful self-reflection

June 24, 2021

The dictionary definition of learning is “the acquisition of knowledge or skills through experience, study, or by being taught.” For leaders, the most crucial and common way of learning happens through experience, and as we often say, leadership is flying the plane while building it. Moreover, the onus of making the process of learning an active one is on the leader, and self-reflection is the key to it.

So, what’s self-reflection? Simply put, reflection is a conscious consideration and analysis of our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors for the sole purpose of learning. Experiences can be messy, but reflection gives us an opportunity to unravel and sort through our feelings and thoughts, and the ability to gauze new perspectives. Self-reflection helps us see the bigger picture, see ourselves in a richer multidimensional way, and create meaning.

Here are seven power tips to nudge you to the practice of self-reflection to augment your journey of lifelong learning, which eventually can be a route to both your professional growth and personal joy.

1. Set realistic goals. An hour of self-reflection might be overwhelming, start small. Do not frame it in yet another box you “have to” check off as a leader. Rather think of it as a cool thing you “get to” experience and execute.

2. Commit to self-reflection by blocking time. If it is not your calendar, it is not going to happen. It could be the last 10 minutes before you wrap up the day or the first 10 minutes of your commute to work or both.

3. Figure out your process for self-reflection. It might be a quiet reflection while driving or running or during yoga practice. It might be blogging in a journal or talking to a trusted friend or a coach. It might take trials and errors to figure out what works best for you. Be patient with your learning.

4. Approach your experience with curiosity. Look at your experience as a third person and take a backseat merely as an observer. Simply notice what you are thinking, what you are feeling, and how you act/ react. You cannot change what you do not notice, but noticing can be a powerful tool for shifting our perspective from defending our value to creating value.

5. Ask the right questions. Ask what went well, what did not, and what can I learn from both? Show gratitude for good moments, grace for bad ones, and create space for learning. Avoid asking questions with “why”: “Why do I feel this way?” “Why does this keep happening to me?” Instead, ask open-ended questions, “What is going on?” “What am I feeling?” This will help you move from victimhood to a growth mindset.

6. Cultivate compassion for self and others. Having a kind and forgiving attitude towards yourself is crucial for learning. If you are spinning or ruminating about a bad experience, be kind to yourself. Take a break, use a distraction, or talk to a trusted friend. Keep trying, keep failing, and fail better next time.

7. Define success by your efforts and not the outcomes.  If you are committed to learning, there are no bad outcomes; only the experiences that are helping you grow.

Finally, yet importantly, follow effective action with reflection. From the reflection will come even more effective action.

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