Why looking back can help you move forward
Personal reflection. Sounds a bit indulgent, doesn’t it? Like something that someone with too much time and not enough direction does. Besides, what’s the point? Especially when there are things to do. Plans to make.
But there are benefits to reflection and focusing only on the demands of everyday activities stops us from experiencing them, says Chris Skellett, clinical psychologist and author of The Power of the Second Question: finding simple truths for complex lives.
“We rush from one task to the next, but we need reflect on what we’ve done today, to help guide us through tomorrow,” Skellett says. Reflection also helps us to tap-into our “simple truths”, he adds.
“Simple truths are sayings, similar to an affirmation or mantra, that encompass our personal beliefs and values. They help us to make sense of the world, ourselves and our relationships.”
Traditionally we do this bigger-picture thinking during major changes in our lives, Skellett says. But we can actually find moments in most days to reflect, either alone or with others. The key is knowing how to move your thoughts or conversations away from the facts to a more conceptual level.
“You need to ask what I call a ‘second question’,” Skellett says. “Second questions follow on from a factual question. They are not questions that you can quickly answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to. They make you pause and think.”
A second question doesn’t have to be deep or profound, Skellett notes. But you might be surprised with the nuggets of wisdom – and simple truths – these questions prompt.
Indeed, research from the Harvard Business School suggests that learning from experience is more effective when combined with reflection.
So, when can we find moments in our daily routine to reflect? And what are some good questions to ask?
Take a bath
Soaking in a tub is a prime opportunity for reflection and shouldn’t have to be a luxury. Make it a more regular feature in your routine. “As our lives get busier we sometimes consider baths a luxury only to be enjoyed in hotels on holiday,” Skellett says.
Watch the world go by
One recent survey found that more than 88 per cent of Australians use mobile phones or devises when on public transport.
If you catch public transport, look out the window instead of at your phone. The same goes if you’re waiting for a train or bus. If you are driving, switch the radio off or stop flicking between channels to quiet your mind.
Take time during an evening to drink a cup of tea, coffee or a glass of wine without turning on the television or any other device. The Australian Bureau of Statistics reveals we spend more than a month of the year watching television, so switching off is a quick way to create extra time.
Once you’re free of distractions, set yourself up with a deliberate question to consider. Here’s some to start with.
- When do I feel happiest?
- What am I most proud of up to this point in my life?
- If I had to sum-up my life in a couple of sentences, what would they say?
Sitting down for dinner is a great time to be free from other distractions and move the conversation beyond the usual factual updates from the day. This can help reinforce what makes your family work well, or highlight ways it could work better.
“You might feel a bit out of your comfort zone asking these questions at first,” Skellett notes. “But you will come to enjoy the spark they inject into your everyday thoughts and conversations.”
- If we had a family motto, what would it be?
- What makes our family unique?
- What’s our biggest strength? Or weakness?
Most relationships have highs and lows. Some reflection will help you discover if you are still committed to a shared vision or if you need to make a change. Pick an evening to sit down and talk instead of watching the latest box set, or go for a walk or drive.
- What is our shared vision?
- What are our strengths?
- Why do we work well together?
- What simple change could we make to become closer as a couple?
Friends come and go, but it’s worth reflecting about what makes some friendships last the distance. At your next catch up, switch the conversation into another gear.
- What song title best describes our friendship?
- What part of our friendship never changes?
- If our friendship was a company or workplace, which one of us would be assigned what jobs?
We spend a big part of our lives at work, so it’s worth reflecting on what we value about work and what we want from our careers. Think about this travelling to and from work, or when grabbing a coffee or taking a quick walk on a break.
- If I could change one thing about my job, what would it be?
- What three things do I want most from my career? Out of those three, what’s the most important?
- If I lost my job tomorrow, what would I miss most about it?
“You might feel a bit out of your comfort zone asking these questions at times,” Skellett says. “But reflecting on our lives in a more structured way brings a greater sense of purpose and fulfillment to our existence. We become clearer about who we are and where we are going.”
As renowned philosopher John Dewey says: “We do not learn from experience … we learn from reflecting on experience.”
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