I’ve long been a proponent of the power and value of reflection But as valuable as it is, people don’t always do it as frequently as they could. And often, we aren’t sure exactly how to do it. If you are looking for a practical way to reflect, start by asking yourself this question: What would I tell my younger self?
It’s an interesting question – one that people sometimes think about near the end of their lives. But one I think we should ask now. Because now we have a chance to continue to apply those lessons – and keep getting better.
Where to Start
I could share some of my list, but that isn’t the point of this article. My goal is to help you find a practical way to reflect. So let me give you some suggestions on how you can use this question as a learning tool.
- Pick a time in life. Do you want to write to yourself at 15? 18? 21? The specific age doesn’t matter. But picking a time in life will help you hone in on the lessons most important to you then.
- Actually write a letter. Country music artist Brad Paisley wrote a song about his letter. Don’t worry, it doesn’t have to be that eloquent. But chances are, his last couple of lines apply to all of us.
- Think big picture. Think about the things you know now that you wish you had known then. Doing so helps remind us of those things.
- Put things in perspective. The longer lens of life shows us that some things we once worried about turn out ok. While we can’t turn back the clock, we likely need that reminder again today.
- Don’t focus on guilt or regret. While you may have those, this exercise is about seeing the lessons and remembering to keep applying them now.
Since you likely are reading this as a leader, this activity can be done for your younger leadership self as well. Pick a time, say 3 months into your leadership career, or soon after you got a big leadership promotion. Ask yourself: What would I tell me then? What have I learned that would have made me better or more confident?
Our lives (and our leadership lives) are journeys. When I think about how much more skilled and wiser I am today, I wonder how I survived. But the point is I did – and you did – survive. That is why this exercise is so powerful. It helps us recognize how much more effective we can be in the future if we continue to apply what we now know. When we look back ten years from now, we should be adding on the new things we’ve learned, not relearning the same lessons.
*I've written quite a bit about reflection over the years. Two of my favorite posts are from 2005 and 2012. Looking back on them now, I would tell my younger self to try and be a little more creative with my blog post titles, since they are both titled "The Power of Reflection."