On reflection…

Posted by: Sam Daley - Posted on:

Hello again!

Since my last blog, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, or, more specifically… reflecting.

Reflection was something of a leadership buzzword for me before joining the scheme, and I was pretty sceptical about its supposed usefulness. I was one of those people that think they’re just naturally very reflective, because I ‘thought about things’. I now know that doesn’t quite cut it as reflective thinking. What I was doing was ruminating, which basically means to think about something deeply. That sounds pretty good, but it’s actually quite closely linked to anxiety, depression and many other mental health issues. This is because it’s an un-ending thought process without solution or resolve; think of a time you were really embarrassed, you can replay that moment over and over again, analyse it in intricate detail, imagine it from other people’s perspectives over, and over again. That’s rumination.

Where reflection differs is that it creates meaning out of that experience and provides some sort of conclusion that you can take forward. For example, I was recently reflecting on some complicated issues that I’ve been avoiding at work. I won’t go into the details, but through this process, I ended up on completely different topics to where I had started (at one point I even started to wonder about how we can manipulate our perception of time…). Although this was interesting in itself, what it allowed me to do was notice the complexity and detail of my own thinking, which often masks itself as ‘going off on a tangent’. This created a positive meaning i.e. “I can think in a complex, detailed way” from what could easily have been a negative experience i.e. “I avoid tricky issues”. This positive meaning gave me a renewed sense of motivation to tackle those complicated issues, and acknowledging how I think allowed me to navigate them in a different way.

This may be personal preference, but for me, I easily switch into a more ruminative style if I don’t write things down. Writing things down helps me identify when I’m being subjective because I can go over what I’ve written and notice my own thinking. For example, I once noted that I ‘was not thriving’, which at the moment of writing, probably sounded perfectly objective in my head. But when I went back over it and analysed it, I was able to think about how I had defined ‘thriving’, which, as it turns out, is in comparison to some imaginary, perfect, ‘heroic leader’ (see The King’s Fund report, titled ‘No More Heroes’ for some interesting insights into this concept). What I ended up with was a slightly more objective analyses of what I had achieved and what specific areas I wanted to work on. Apart from giving me a much needed ego-boost, this also left me with a list of objectives that was much easier to deal with and focus on at work.

Reflecting takes some practice. There are loads of models out there to get you started, but for me, I had to be in a certain mind-set to want to reflect in the first place, and found that forcing myself to do it and using a pre-defined model didn’t really work. I’m still not sure I’ve got it ‘right’ in the textbook definition, but I’ve found something that works for me, and that’s ok! For those of who you will be starting the scheme this year, you’ll hear the word ‘reflection’ a lot – my advice to you is to find some sort of reflective practice that works for you, whether it’s talking things through with your friend, writing a blog or a diary, or just scribbling on napkins, because sooner or later, you’ll need it!

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