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Improve decisions, experiences with 4 reflection methods

All crises -- even pandemics -- have starting and ending points. This summer, we've been awaiting the end of this crisis, resuming some elements of pre-pandemic life while also incorporating new, safer practices.

To determine what stays and what gets modified, we need to reflect on our experiences. True reflection requires us to do some things that often don’t get incorporated in more “meh” reflection. “Meh” reflection is what happens when we think back on something, draw quick conclusions, and then move on. 

That isn’t real reflection. 

Truly reflecting requires us to not just consider what happened and why, but what could happen, what couldn’t, why or why not, and what others think about what we believe took place. Here are four tips to reflect more, well, reflectively.

 

Take your time

One of the most important components of reflecting well is that it can’t be done in a minute. Reflecting requires us to actually think, and we can’t think well without taking the time to deeply consider ideas. Optimal reflection time varies for each of us; some can sit and think for hours, while others are ready to move on in 15 minutes. To understand the time we need, we can benefit from a decision audit. 

The next time you plan to make a decision, review the time that goes into getting from problem identification to the ultimate decision. Consider both the full timeline as well as the times when you are actively considering the steps you need to take. The ratio of those two figures can help you develop a baseline for future decision-making time frames. 

Recognize, too, that taking time can take different forms. Sometimes it might make sense to sit at your desk and think, while at other times walking and considering will be more valuable. 

 

Ask three then me

Before assuming your reflection is accurate and on point, you can strengthen your effort by checking in with three other people who were involved in the situation, decision, etc. Do their takeaways match yours? What did they experience differently? What might influence your reflection that may not factor into theirs? 

Reflecting should never be a solitary activity. We become better at the process through the inclusion of additional perspectives and ideas!

 

Write and record

I’ve learned over the last few years that I reflect more fully when I include my thinking with another activity -- such as writing, note-taking or doodling while I think. The action of moving my pen on paper seems to force me to think more deeply, clearly and critically. 

For others, recording audio might be a way to strengthen reflection. Talking to someone else could also be that reflective multiplier. The key is that reflection, as an action by itself, might not be the best way to strengthen our processes of review and consideration.

 

Conduct a pre-mortem

It’s common to conduct a post-mortem, or after-action review, to evaluate decision-making. We typically want to identify what went wrong (because we usually don’t conduct one of these when things go well!). But the problem with a post-mortem is that actions have already been taken; nothing can change the outcome. 

A pre-mortem, on the other hand, requires us to wait to make ultimate decisions until we have worked through all of the possible outcomes. While this adds time to the process at the start, it ideally saves time on the end -- thus making this one of the best types of reflecting possible.

When I am conscious of my practices and embed these reflective tactics in my work, I often feel I am serving myself and others better. Reflection is something we can choose to do. If we choose to ignore it, our learning will never be as rich as if we would have truly reflected on our experiences.

 

Fred Ende is the director of curriculum and instructional Services for Putnam/Northern Westchester Board of Cooperative Educational Services in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. Fred currently blogs for SmartBrief Education, and his two books, Professional Development That Sticks, and Forces of Influence, are available from ASCD. Connect with Fred on his website or on Twitter.

 

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