According to research conducted at Harvard Business School, “taking time to reflect on our work improves job performance in the long run”.
In their paper “Learning by Thinking: How Reflection Aids Performance”, authors Giada Di Stefano, Francesca Gino, Gary Pisano, and Bradley Staats argue that
“learning from direct experience can be more effective if coupled with reflection”.
In other words, the act of reflecting on our experiences can be a powerful mechanism, making learning more effective and even longer-lasting.
The Power of Reflection
‘Reflective Practice’ is a way of studying your own experiences to improve the way you work. In her paper “Reflecting on ‘Reflective Practice’” for the Open University, Linda Finlay writes:
In general, reflective practice is understood as the process of learning through and from experience towards gaining new insights of self and/or practice. This often involves examining assumptions of everyday practice. It also tends to involve the individual practitioner in being self-aware and critically evaluating their own responses to practice situations. The point is to recapture practice experiences and mull them over critically in order to gain new understandings and improve future practice.
Many psychologists, social workers, and health professionals are already educated in and engage in reflective practice. In fact, in Social Work Education, The International Journal, Harry Ferguson notes that “Reflective practice is a core concept in social work and probably the most well-known theoretical perspective across the entire applied professions of teaching, health and social care.”
Why should organisations make reflection a priority?
The practice of reflecting and sharing can lead to a stronger sense of self-efficacy, which can, in turn, lead to future success. “When we stop, reflect, and think about learning, we feel a greater sense of self-efficacy,” Gino notes. “We’re more motivated and we perform better afterwards.”
Reflection in Practice
How can you make reflection a practice at your organisation? Coaching can provide a critical space for employees to reflect.
Not only can coachees self-reflect and look at things they’re struggling with, what tools they regularly employ to solve problems, and where they want to improve, they can then communicate those things out loud and get verbal feedback from a coach or mentor acting as a sounding board and/or advisor.
The study found that the act of not only reflecting, but sharing those reflective thoughts out loud helped workers perform even better. In fact, while the reflection group increased its performance on the final training test by 22.8% than did the control group, the sharing group performed 25% better.
Need some help getting started?
Here are a few questions that might help your reflective process:
Taking note of your proudest moments of the past year can help you better understand how you derive a sense of fulfilment and purpose. How did your accomplishments help move you along the path to where you want to be?
We are all born with certain strengths. Identifying what they are and how they serve you can better help you harness them in the future. What are some strengths you have that you like about yourself? How have they helped you move forward?
Much like strengths, we all have natural weaknesses as well. Being mindful of our blind spots can help us better prepare for them. Which of yours have been hindering you? How can you pivot to either improve them or make them work for, not against you?
Most often, moving forward is a team effort—it takes a lot more time and effort to try and get there by yourself. Who do you have to thank for your forward progress this year? Who helped you get over a setback or gave you the kind words or advice you needed to persevere?
Obstacles will always pop up in our paths, but how we overcome them can truly speak to our fortitude and dedication. What were the biggest challenges you faced this year and what did you learn from them—both about your career and yourself?
Identifying our values is important, as it can give us insight into what we’re ultimately working for. What would you say are your top three values in life? How are these informing your career?
Feeling like the work we do matters can give our work—and by extension our lives—meaning and purpose. If you truly care about the work you do, you’ll enjoy an overall sense of well-being that will spill into other areas of your life.
Looking back, when did you feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude over the past year? This can be derived from a person, a specific experience, or acknowledgement of something you accomplished.
“When we fall behind even though we’re working hard, our response is often just to work harder. But in terms of working smarter, our research suggests that we should take time for reflection.” Francesca Gino