If I could give you a tool or resource that would change your life in positive ways, change your results, create more happiness in your life, and help you get better at anything you desired . . .  And if I could promise you that this tool would cost you nothing, require only yourself, and could be used at any time . . .

Would you be interested?

I’ll bet you would.

Now, at the risk of sounding a little bit like a carnival barker or used car salesperson, what I just told you isn’t hype – there is such a tool.  And you already possess it.

reflection and learningThe tool is reflection.

I’m sure that you know people that have been on a job for 10 years and have continued to get better and better at their work, and you probably also know people who have been on a job for 10 years, but it is like they have one year of experience, ten times. In other words, they have never really reflected on their work and results, so nothing seems to get better.  They don’t seem to learn from their past experiences.

Which of these people would you hire?  Which of these people do you want on your team?

But I’m Too Busy

When I mention this idea to people, they often shake their head, saying they are too busy.  They are too busy moving from task to task, from project to project, and event to event. They share this challenge with me and ask, “When would I have time to reflect?”

Our lives are much different than were the lives our grandparents.  75 or 100 years ago, people would gather around a table or sit on the front porch in the evening, and sip iced tea, and visit about their day.  What they were doing was relaxing and, while not in a very structured way, they were reflecting on their day.

We all know that this type of reflection works, because one of the things we ask our children when they come home from school is “How was your day?” or “What did you learn today?”

We say we are too busy – that the reason we don’t reflect is that we don’t have porch time.  Somehow, we do find television time – and while there is nothing wrong with television, it doesn’t allow us the space, time, or opportunity to reflect as we sit watching it.

Other Reasons

Time is typically our excuse, but it isn’t the only reason we don’t reflect.  We also don’t reflect because:

  • We don’t think about it.
  • We don’t realize the importance of it.
  • We don’t value it.
  • We don’t think we know how to do it.

Hopefully, reading this helps you get past the first reasons.  Let me deal now with the last one – the issue of skill.


The truth is, we all know how to reflect, and, in some circumstances, we do it naturally.  Consider . . .

Playing a game of cards.  Between hands, people are talking about what they could have done, should have done, might have done – all of this conversation is simple reflection.  And while some people playing the game don’t like to “ over-analyze it,” spending that time in conversation about what just happened will make us better card players in the future.

Golfers quickly analyze their swing as they watch the trajectory of their shots, thinking about what worked and what they might adjust.

And we do it at work, thinking about how the meeting or presentation went as we leave and move to the next item on our calendar.

So we know how, and we even do it sometimes, but how can we use this skill more successfully more often?

How to Reflect More Effectively

Make time.  Reflection requires effort, thought, and time.  We all have the time, regardless of how busy our schedules are. Reflect in the shower. Reflect on the drive to work (turn off your radio or your iPod and think).  Reflect in the moments before you go to sleep. Reflect with your family as you eat a meal. Turn off the television.  There is time – we just have to carve it out.

Ask questions.  Reflection is about thinking, and questions help our brains think.  Consider using this list of questions as your “starter set” of reflective questions – the questions to help you think about what happened and what you can learn.

  • What worked?  Why?
  • What didn’t work? Why?
  • What does this situation remind you of?
  • How can I use this experience?
  • How does this experience relate to other situations I’ve been in?  What can I learn from that situation?
  • Knowing what I know now, what would I do differently next time?

Think more broadly.  Don’t just apply your thinking to how you would do this exact same task or respond in this exact same situation the next time.  Our lives are too complex for that!  Think about what you can take from this experience and apply to other related, or perhaps even unrelated situations.  Look for generalizations, patterns, tendencies, and underlying principles.  When we think more broadly, we make our reflection time infinitely more beneficial to our lives.

As a leader, we need all the learning we can get – and reflection is the most powerful opportunity we have. Applying these ideas will make you more effective, productive, and successful in all areas of your life.

So, what have you learned today?

photo credit: davidyuweb via photopin cc

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Kevin Eikenberry is a recognized world expert on leadership development and learning and is the Chief Potential Officer of The Kevin Eikenberry Group (http://KevinEikenberry.com). He has spent nearly 30 years helping organizations across North America, and leaders from around the world, on leadership, learning, teams and teamwork, communication and more.
Twice he has been named by Inc.com as one of the top 100 Leadership and Management Experts in the World and has been included in many other similar lists.

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  1. Reflection tends to be a particularly useful tool when I’m “stuck” (needing a resolution to a particular issue). Especially useful is the question of “have we seen this issue before or maybe something like it?” Powerful stuff. Thanks for giving us something to think about -and reflect upon! -R

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