Do you ever feel like you are making the same mistakes over and over?

Or that you’ve stagnated in life?

You just can’t keep up with what is happening?

What is reflection?

Reflection can be an amazing contributor to your personal development, creativity, motivation and innovation!

As long ago as 1933, American philosopher John Dewey described reflection as a ‘dynamic and intentional process that profoundly influences one’s experiences’. Reflection is a purposeful activity rather than day dreaming or reminiscing and a great tool to help you fulfil your potential.

We do not learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience.

John Dewey (1933)

It can be a very empowering process whether at the end of the day to help you make sense of what happened, to help you step away from habits or improve self-awareness and self-development.

A working paper from 2014 (Gino et al)  included a series of studies, and all showed that reflection boosts performance.  The essence is that reflecting on what you’ve done helps you to do it better next time.

Part of the research team, Harvard Business School Professor Francesca Gino told Working Knowledge “Now more than ever we seem to be living lives where we’re busy and overworked, and our research shows that if we’d take some time out for reflection, we might be better off”. 

The full study can be found on the SSRN website. 

Innocent Smoothies Not a Penguin Tweet - an example of Participation in Social Media

When & how to reflect

Taking a few minutes every day for some gentle reflection – at the start or end of the day – can work really well. Just a few minutes alone to think or journal your ideas – either using a pen and paper or maybe one of the popular journaling apps available.

There is no need for fancy tools and I have students who prefer to leave voice notes, although for me I definetly prefer to write. 

In the study I mentioned above, employees who spent time 15 minutes reflecting at the end of the day performed 23% better than those who spent the last 15 minutes working.  One reason is the increase in confidence in performing tasks when reflecting on it.

The 6-minute journal may be a good way to start and is available in both hardcopy and digital form.

Longer reflections – on a monthly or annual basis – can also be an effective way to review where you are, where you thought you would be and where you want to be this time next month or year. Then think about what you need to keep doing or change to get there.  This is often best done in writing form as the very act of writing it down can help the thoughts and ideas flow.

Writing by the window

What to reflect on?

It can help to think about what has gone well – this is a good way to recognise your strengths and help you feel good about yourself. But it is important to understand the why too, so you make it happen again.

Also, what isn’t going well and how can you learn from that. Mistakes are some of the best learning opportunities, so it makes sense to grab them and ensure the time isn’t wasted.

Another key area to consider is your feelings. How have you been feeling lately, do you need to be listening to your body telling your something?  What triggered the feeling and how can or could you deal with that?

Why is reflection so powerful?

There are many reasons why reflection is effective for personal growth.

  • It improves your understanding and awareness of yourself and your emotions which leads to better self-management

  • Reflection increases your productivity as it helps you focus on the 20% of action that gives 80% of the results

  • It can help to reduce your stress levels by releasing negative emotions, clearing your mind and improving your focus

  • Reflection can boost your confidence as you take time to recognise your achievements

  • This in turn can help you to stay motivated and focused

  • It can also enhance your relationships as you think about how you could have handled situations differently to get a different, more constructive outcome

Getting started with reflection

Keeping your reflections in one place can be handy as you can look back on previous reflections.

Many people choose to write so you may want to invest in a nice notebook and pen. But there are other methods, score sheets, little card, emotional chekcins and the majority are also available on different apps.

For my students I have developed bullet, art, mood and learning journals templates alongside the more typical written journal template.


Set aside time to do the reflection when it suits you so you can build it into a habit. Maybe at the end of the working day with a warm drink or as a way to close the day before you go to bed.

Don’t be over ambitious, any new habit takes time to build so just 5 minutes a day to start will help you keep it up.  Consistency is the key to success.

Share the experience

Consider a team reflection at work where you look at:

  • Highlights from the week

  • Challenges and how you overcame them

  • Improvements to processes, communication or other areas based on experiences this week
  • Motivation levels and what impacts that

  • Your focus for next week

These need to short and open discussions to be effective. Often smaller groups rather than big open forums.

Good reflective questions you can use to look back on a specific event or experience include:

  • How did I act and feel during the event?
  • What did I learn from the experience?
  • If I take a step back to observe by behaviour, does it change my perspective?
  • Would I do things differently if in the same situation again?  Why? What?
  • How can I grow from this experience?
reflection at sunset

We are constanly learning as individuals and this is what makes us better people. 

Our ability to adapt, learn and grow is key to our success.  Personal learning is most meaningful when it comes from within.  This empowers us to take ownership of our personal development, by being self- aware and focused. 

Regular reflection is a way to help you get insights into your thoughts, feelings and behaviour so you work out how to imporve in future. 

Whatever method you choose, be consistent, compassionate and crative. 

Good luck!