Act. Pause. Reflect. Then, change how you act. A famous quote from Peter Drucker reads “follow effective action with quiet reflection. From the quiet reflection will come even more effective action.”
In “Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention”, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi also says that this constant shifting from action to reflection is a common thing among highly creative people. He emphasizes “their creativity unfolded organically from idea to action, then through the evaluation of the outcomes of action back to ideas.”
Learning in such cycles of actions and reflections is a crucial habit to nurture for a lifetime because it is through times of reflection that you gain insight into your actions. You can redefine your goals and purpose after reflection, define new actions accordingly and finally put them into practice.
To integrate a similar alternating path between reflection and action, you can use Gibbs’ Reflective Cycle as a framework.
In this cycle, there are six steps: description, feelings, evaluation, analysis, conclusion, action.
Let’s marry the steps of this process with the tools for self-reflection.
Before rushing into analyzing your actions, first describe the situation by writing a journal. Record the steps you took, summarize the process and describe what happened.
In this step, it’s important to defer judgment – just notice things without criticizing yourself. Think about the process and list all observations and facts you can think of in a journal or record yourself speaking. Summarize different aspects of your experience. Consider also that adding drawings can enhance clear thinking during the description step.
Before starting, you can prepare a set of reflection questions to guide your thinking. You can stay on track without getting trapped in self-criticism by asking yourself questions that start with how much and how many. An important aspect of self-reflection is to ask yourself questions that will encourage you to think deeply about your actions and their effects.
After describing the solid facts of the situation, expand your journal with an emotional aspect. Reflect on your feelings on the process and the results. What were the feelings you encountered during the process? If other people were involved, think also about their points of view and emotions.
Why did you feel that way?
What was your perspective at the beginning? Did it change? How?
To do this, you can also try free association. In free association you use a journal again, but this time you write nonstop. Write whatever comes to your mind, whether it’s relevant to your problem or not. Put your thoughts down on paper without any filters. Don’t stop to think if it’s relevant to your problem at the moment. Don’t pause to correct yourself in any way, including grammar, word choice or spelling. For the same purpose, you can also use mindmaps.
As a final thing, add the feedback you received from the environment during and after your actions. Now write down how you felt about it.
Smoothly transition to the evaluation step by thinking about your assumptions using the process explained here. Can you connect your feelings to your core beliefs, values or assumptions?
If you do this kind of description and feeling reflection exercise by writing journals, you will start seeing the thought patterns that are preventing you from achieving your desired outcomes.
After steps 1 and 2, you’ll have gathered many points so you can now start the evaluation. To allow yourself to understand better, ask why questions. Try to answer why you behaved and felt that way. This will allow deeper understanding.
In addition, summarize the positive aspects of the experience and then the negative aspects of it. Give some thought to drawbacks and advantages, before going into the analysis step.
A prerequisite for planning new actions in the future is understanding what aspects of your previous actions you should change.
The tool to use for this purpose is force field analysis, suggested by Kurt Lewin.
Listing the positive and negative aspects of your experience, as you did in the evaluation step, was preparation for this. In the force field analysis, you analyze the forces that affect your current situation. You try to understand which are to your advantage and which are not. For your future plans, you eliminate the negative components. When carrying out a force field analysis, think about both internal and external forces. Ask more why and what if questions to direct your thinking.
Summarize what you have observed from steps 1 to 4. What are the factors that are blocking you and what is driving you? Think about ways to strengthen the drivers while minimizing the blockers.
Did you discover thought patterns that are blocking you? Do you lack any knowledge? What skills do you need to develop in order to achieve better results? Do you need to gain new habits and perhaps unlearn old ones?
What is the lesson? What needs to change?
When you think about the desirable outcomes that you don’t have yet, what attributes and skills do you have to possess? Find out and list them.
Think about why you want these and how they will help you achieve the desired results.
After all this, you’ll have a good overview of what needs to change.
Based on the conclusions you drew, develop a new action plan around the skills and the mindsets you found to be important for the desired results.
What is the plan to change how you act in similar situations to your advantage in the future?