In the words of American philosopher, psychologist and educational reformer, John Dewey: "We do not learn from experience ... we learn from reflecting on experience." A 2014 study done by Harvard Business School supports this statement in their findings that those who reflected on their performance on a pre-test performed significantly better than those who did not. While the benefits of reflection are clear, determining how to self-reflect in a meaningful and beneficial way is a bit more difficult. However, when done properly it can provide insight into your past actions and foster future growth.
As a busy, driven person it is understandable if you are always looking ahead. But in order to improve in the future it is important to stop and reflect on your past actions. Furthermore, it is important to link the lessons learned from previous experiences to current ones. The main steps in the process of self-reflection are as follows:
- Ask yourself the right questions
Asking yourself the right question helps to focus your thought process. For example, if you get a test back as yourself: "Am I happy with my grade?", "Does this grade reflect the amount of work I put into studying?", "What should I do differently when studying for the next test?"
- Be honest with yourself
You cannot improve if you aren't truthful about your performance. It can be scary to face the truth, especially if it means you have to admit that you were wrong, however the power to improve lies within the ability to be honest with yourself.
- Analyze and come to a conclusion
In order to analyze a situation or fully answer a question it can be useful to journal, or even discuss with another person. Come to a conclusion about the lessons learned and how the lessons you learned will affect your actions in the future.
Although an example of a test was used, reflection doesn't always have to be (and in fact shouldn't be) focused on academia. Constantly ask yourself how you can improve your personal happiness, if you are using your time meaningfully, if you are treating others with respect and you will evolve into a better person. Self-reflection is a powerful tool that will allow you to gain something from any situation.
Last but not least, remember that there is no point in reflection if it will not change your actions. While you can't control the future, reflecting on your work or experiences gives you the ability to choose how you will act when faced with a similar situation.
Keep track of the lessons you've learned and experiences you can reflect and learn from by building a digital portfolio.