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  • Writer's pictureDanny Ourian

Look Back, Take Value Forward

Updated: Aug 24, 2020

“Without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and failing to achieve anything useful.”

Margaret J. Wheatley


If you’re like me, you’ve tried to use some of this additional home time during COVID-19 to grow as a person. I’ve picked up a new book, subscribed to some newsletters, and attended a sizable bundle of webinars in various fields of interest to me. All the while I’ve been wondering: how much of this new found knowledge am I really retaining? We are all told to continue our education well beyond formal academia is complete and in doing so we read, attend conferences, read research, articles, magazines, books and now again, the ubiquitous Zoom webinar. However, at the end of all of this learning, how much of the information can we cite off the top of our heads? More importantly, how much of this information have we truly sponged up such that we can call it learning as opposed to acquiring information? The answer is, it depends.

Research telling us how much people forget after an hour, a day, a week, a month, etc., is all problematic. The reality is that learning is complex and a multitude of factors go into whether or not we have actually learned something we were read, saw, or were taught. This notion that “we forget 70% of what we read” seems right to many of us but the fact is that we don’t have an exact science that can report on such data. Different people will retain information to different degrees. The medium by which we learn matters. Time of day, distractions, means of note taking – all of these factor in to our retention ability.

However, the same can be said for performance. Sure, we learn while we are performing: what works, what isn’t working, how to adjust, etc. But often times once the performance is complete we pack up our stuff, head for the exits, grab a meal, and put it behind us. In sport we have our post-game locker room chats but those are often so full of jubilation, agony, recovery or personal agendas that it’s hard to pull much information from what just occurred.

In order to “mine the value” from our performance or from what we are reading or otherwise digesting, we need to regularly adopt the mental skill known as reflective practice. Simply defined, reflective practice is a way of studying your own experiences to improve the way you work.” This can be extrapolated to reading, watching a webinar, or any other information you’re otherwise digesting, as a means to improve your ability to retain, comprehend, and then integrate that information into your existing body of knowledge.

So, how best to reflect? You know we can’t give you a blog post without a handy dandy list of bullet points, right? Well, here you go, some top formats for engaging in reflective practice:

Gibb’s reflective cycle (1988) - a cyclical process of reflection pictured here:

· Journaling – using a narrative (for example, putting yourself at the center of the story), think back on what transpired, how you felt, what you could have done differently, and what you’re learning going forward. NOTE: it helps to write this out by hand rather than on a computer.

· Mind Mapping – again by hand, start with the event at the center of the page and branch out freely from there, using free association to think through positives, challenges, opportunities for future performances, emotions, self-talk and other elements of the performance that are coming up for you. When complete, review your mind map to soak up “where your mind went” in the process.

· John’s Model of Reflection – a systematic process of formal reflection in which you ask several key questions about what you’ve learned or what transpired, including: describe the experience and significant factors, what were you trying to achieve, what factors influenced your decision making, what other choices did you have, and what will change as a result of this experience

· After action review (AAR) – this is a structured debrief developed by the US Army, used to look back at what occurred, why it occurred as it did, and how it can be done better in the future

· Audio recording – some have noted that a lack of time for formal reflection is the greatest obstacle to hurdle in order to do so. Using the voice memo app on your phone is a simple, portable way to get you thinking back on what transpired, even if it is while you’re in transit, driving, or otherwise unable to take too much time out for formal written reflection

· Group or team reflection – processing a performance with others is a great way to reflect as you will generate thinking and feedback by those that have other viewpoints, perspectives, or were a part of the performance with you.

· Lastly, “reflexive reflection” – is a practice where by the individual who performed reflects on how they are contextually situated within the action, considering their potential biases, personal agendas, and the ‘story they are telling themselves.’ Engaging in this sort of reflection allows you to come to a deeper self-awareness, know yourself better, and recognize and hone in the values by which you operate.

These are just a few of the ways you can formally and informally engage in reflection. A key, if nothing else, is to simply engage in thinking back on your performance in some manner, even if only in your mind. Performing, or reading, or attending the latest Zoom webinar without doing so opens you up to forgetting much of what took place. Again, reading or thinking is NOT the same as learning! We all need growth opportunities and want to improve. We all have the ability to learn and in order to be our best we are summoned to be accountable for our own development. With that comes the call to pull the value from what you’ve learned or how you performed by thinking critically about it after its completion. Be the best you can be by engaging the core mental skill of reflective practice on a regular basis.

Good luck on your journey!


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