“We do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience.” ― John Dewey
Reflection is an essential skill. It’s the basis of our learning, our self-development, and our growth as individuals. In order to learn from our experiences, we have to actively reflect on them. So why don’t we all reflect more?
The fact is that it can be difficult. Here are three reasons that reflection is tough and how to address them.
1.Reflection can feel so wishy-washy.
Reflection can seem like a great idea, but do you know what to do when you’re alone with your thoughts? Reflection isn’t something that our culture encourages or that many people grow up learning how to do. We are rarely taught or encouraged to do anything that doesn’t lead to a tangible outcome, like a grade or a paycheck, and so many of us feel uncertain about how to even approach reflection.
2.Our brains are efficiency machines.
Brains take up a massive amount of our body’s energy. To reduce its needs, brains automate as many processes as they possibly can. Often, this is a good thing. Imagine that every time you wanted to get out of bed in the morning, you had to decide if you should do it hands-first or feet-first. It would be extremely inefficient. But our brains can take efficiency a little too far if we let them. We can end up living on auto-pilot, without stopping to reflect on where we are going or if our course makes sense.
3.Our bodies think we’re under attack.
Evolution has yet to equip the human body with the ability to clearly distinguish between a physical and an emotional attack. When you’re angry, your heart races, your breathing gets shallow, and functions like digestion slow down to divert energy towards the flight-or-fight response. That’s because your body can’t entirely tell the difference between thinking about an insult that you received or an attack from a wild animal. When you reflect on negative experiences, your body tells you “No. Bad. Whatever you’re doing, stop now.” It’s the same process that tells you “That bear could eat you. Stay away from it.”
How to make it easier
At the most basic level, the goal of reflection is simply to interpret your experiences. The ideal outcome of this, however, is to help you refine your conceptual models of the world — including your understanding of yourself, the world and how you fit into it.
Ask good questions.
If you’re not sure how to begin processing an experience, having a list of questions to ask yourself is a great place to start. What did I need in this experience? How did I feel? How did I behave? What can I learn from this experience?
The more frequently you reflect, the more of a habit it will become. Your mind will grow accustomed to the process, making it feel less threatening.
The kinder you are to yourself, the easier it will be to reflect. Reflection is about learning lessons and moving on, not berating yourself for mistakes or incessantly wishing you had done something different.
Keep track of your answers.
Keep a journal of your reflections. If you make a habit of asking similar questions each time you reflect, you can keep track of your answers over time. This will give you a treasure trove of data that will help you understand who you are and how to react in different situations.
A tool like Inome will make reflection even easier. Inome reminds you to reflect regularly with self-compassion. It will guide you through reflection, asking you helpful questions, and keep track of your answers so that you can visualize them across time.