What Is Reflective Practice (And How To Get Started)

Do you ever feel like that, at times, your life is being driven on autopilot? Somehow, you keep repeating the same mistakes, you engage in the same behaviors, and attract the same inefficiencies from all sorts of situations in your personal or work life?

Your life may be going great, but deep down you know you can be doing things better or improve in certain areas. Yet, for some reason, you just can’t understand why you keep doing some of the things that you are doing, which may at times be holding you back from achieving what you really want.

Wouldn’t it be great to learn to master your internal thought processes and make more intentional decisions within and around you Rather than react robotically to the circumstances in your life? Well, reflective practice is the tool to get you there.

In this article, I will break down all the valuable knowledge, benefits, and methods needed to start taking your potential in life to the next level.

What Is Reflective Practice?

Reflective practice may be an unfamiliar term to you, but it is far from a new phenomenon. In fact, you just unknowingly know it as something else.

Reflective practice is the process of looking back on your past thoughts, actions, and experiences to help you learn and continuously improve throughout your lifetime.

Now, human nature has us all automatically reflect and judge the past regularly. It’s a part of who we are. The problem is that many people do so emotionally and as a result, react to the circumstances of their life, rather unconsciously, unaware of the underlying “whys” behind their actions.

Unlike casual reflection on the past, reflective practice requires you to use a set of questions to better understand and challenge your thoughts, beliefs, and assumptions floating in your inner world. Your train of interrogative thoughts will then give you insight and understanding into what led you to experience a situation and the resulting outcome in your life the way you did.

See it as a form of critical thinking, if you will, where you do not get emotionally involved with what you are questioning and looking back on.[1]

“Reflection is an important human activity in which people recapture their experience, think about it, mull it over and evaluate it. It is this working with experience that is important in learning.”—David Boud

There are many terms for the practice, all of which are derived from the writings of early philosophers, among the likes of the Chinese philosopher Confucius and Greek philosopher Socrates.

You see, early philosophers discovered their ability to become self-aware of the mind’s thinking processes, and thanks to them, you too are going to discover your own hidden abilities.

Finding Your Super-Self

Now, this self-awareness—or metacognition—is the primary tool of emotional intelligence you’re going to need to build to engage in proper reflection.

You can look at metacognition as your ability to think about what you’re thinking about. Imagine stepping into a helicopter and flying high above all the commotion going on in your head. That would be a breath of fresh air wouldn’t it? Well, that “outsider’” viewpoint from high above is exactly where you want to be during a reflective review of yourself.

Now, don’t think that you need to become a guru or sit in endless hours of meditation and mindfulness practice before you can become self-aware. They will definitely serve as a good tool for you in the long run. For now, however, it’s enough to get yourself started through a simple act of will by placing your focus and awareness on observing the entire picture going on in your head.

You may think you’re new to self-awareness but actually, if you’ve ever landed yourself an office job in your career, your performance appraisals are a form of reflective-practice within themselves.

As your boss makes you look back on your performance throughout the year, you’re consciously looking for areas of improvement you can both agree on for the coming year. This is the self-awareness and improvement you want to cultivate and look for across all other areas of your life. Self-appraisals, critical thinking, self-criticism are all other forms of reflective practice that all contribute towards building emotional intelligence.

Now, there’s more than just a salary increase or a promotion at work to look forward to if you’re wondering how your life could change.

3 Amazing Benefits Of Reflective Practice

Engaging in a regular reflective practice can also give you additional benefits, such as the following:

1. Continuous Professional Development

Performance appraisals are a form of CPD, but you don’t have to wait a year to take charge of your professional development in the workplace. Nor do you have to rely exclusively on any learning seminars or activities organized by your work.

By regularly reflecting and learning from your experiences at work, you’ll be able to develop and enhance your abilities to apply and make better decisions. This will increase your productivity and contribution to the cause you are working for.

Today, most people tend to point the blame at everyone except themselves when things go wrong. I’m sure at some point in your life you’ve had a fracas with a colleague or co-worker, which only resulted in wasted time and no solution to any given issue.

Reflecting on the bigger picture objectively regularly will not only help you think outside the box, but it will also help you assume responsibility for all your actions and become aware of solutions you were oblivious to when reacting from an emotional state.

Reflective practice is by no means limited to office jobs. It applies—and should be considered—across all professions, especially by people holding influential roles in society.

In fact, politicians, healthcare workers, and teachers are a few examples of influential roles in society who continue to adopt and benefit from regular reflective practice habits.

2. Higher Self-Awareness and Emotional Intelligence

The more you use reflective practice to look back on experiences in your personal or work life, the more your consciousness will expand.

Self-awareness is a conscious state of being—a form of meditation in itself by reflecting most of the time from a non-judgmental point of view. The more conscious you become of your thoughts, actions, and surroundings, the more resilient you will become in handling all the stressors in life that come your way.

As your awareness grows, you’ll also get to know your true limits and capabilities as a human being that you would otherwise overestimate or underestimate beforehand.

Knowing you can objectively look back on any situation in your life and take corrective action will give you the increased confidence and emotional intelligence to take more positive risks and steps in any area of your life!

3. Healthier Relationships

Your relationships also stand to benefit from reflective practice, be it with yourself or others.

The problem with relationships nowadays is the lack of efficient communication and our over-reliance on assumptions. Most people tend to assume what others are thinking or feeling and in return, expect others to know what they expect out of others and life.

Sorry to say, relying on assumptions and expectations will almost always lead to feelings of disappointment as assumptions are often wrong and expectations are often broken.

But fret not! If you snap at people easily, take things personally all the time, or notice a drift in any of your close relationships—be it your marriage or with other close family or friends—take a second to reflect on what’s going on.

You may want to be your own counselor. Sit down either alone or as a couple and understand the underlying reasons (assumptions and expectations) that each of you holds behind any breakdown of communication.

You can apply the same process to yourself to understand the limiting thoughts and beliefs that have been holding you back from experiencing breakthroughs in your personal life. You will not only mend your rocky internal or external relationships by doing so, but you’ll cultivate stronger emotions of joy and love as your self-awareness and confidence grow.

If you want all of these benefits in your life, read on to find out how exactly you can get started and transform your life.

What You’ll Need to Unlock Your Potential

Over the years various philosophers, mental health professionals, and educational theorists brought theories forward as to how reflective practice should be applied.

However, I’m going to present to you the two most popular and valuable methods most people use and make reference to today when engaging in a reflective review.

1. Terry Borton’s Model of Reflective Practice

The most basic Reflective Practice Model is that of Terry Borton (1970).[2] Borton’s model is the easiest and most straight forward model you’ll be able to understand and apply.

As you’re ready to reflect, you should start your chain of questions to yourself with:

(Source: Rolfe 2001)

a) What?

The most important questions to start with are the “whats.” They will help you describe the experience you are looking back on by providing you with the facts of a situation.

For example, ask yourself: What happened? What was the outcome of my experience? What did I or other people do in that situation? What is the reason I’m looking back on this particular moment in time?

b) So What?

Next comes your critical analysis of the situation. What lessons can you gather and understand from what happened and what corrective measures can you become aware of that will help you approach the situation differently going forward?

Start your chain of questions with a “So what?” question stance and work your way into detail as you go along trying to analyze.

For example, you may want to proceed along these lines:

  • So, what was my emotional state at the moment I’m looking back to? What were my thoughts and feelings at the time and how did I feel afterward? Did I feel the same or differently?
  • Next, so what consequences came out of my actions or as a result of not taking action at the moment? Did I hurt anyone with what I did or said? Could I have prevented something from happening if I intervened or spoke up? What did others understand or conclude from my words or actions?
  • Go on, so what positive lessons can I pick up from this moment? What can I notice from my attitudes and actions and from the reactions of others that will help me change my perspective going forward?

The list of “So what?” questions are infinite, though the above trio will almost certainly help you tackle a chunk of your rational, critical analysis.

c) Now What?

Finally comes the stage where you identify action steps to address what you took out from the lessons learned and consequences identified. Taking new action in any given situation in your life will almost always result in new consequences, and this is what you want to look out for.

For example, keep asking yourself: Now, what would most likely happen if I did this one thing over the other? What would happen if I choose to do something or hold back? Which action steps should I prioritize? Go on along these lines.

2. Gibbs Reflective Cycle

Another valuable tool for you to refer to is the Graham Gibbs model. Most other reflective practice models today are built on the work of Terry Borton.

Graham Gibbs’ model (1988) is among the most popular models used today to reflect on and understand work situations.[3]

Having said that, the model can also be applied to your personal life.

Here are the necessary steps to apply the Gibbs Reflective Cycle:

  1. Description – Describe what happened?
  2. Feelings – What were you thinking and feeling?
  3. Evaluation – What was good and bad about the situation?
  4. Analysis – What sense can you make of the situation?
  5. Conclusion – What else could you have done?
  6. Action Plan – If it arose again, what would you do?

The same train of thought and questions as the Borton Model can be applied here. Gibbs just breaks the categories down for you into further detail.

The Flexible Solution to Most of Your Problems

You’re now equipped with how to apply reflective practice in your life, though I’m sure you’re asking yourself when would be best to hold a reflective review. And I’ve got you covered on that.

Ideally, reflective practice is carried out when you have cooled off from any given situation, be it hours, days, or weeks after an event. Only from a non-emotional state can you best carry out an objective non-bias review of any experience or situation in your life.

Having said that, subjective reviews also exist. Subjective reviews take place when your emotions are still pumping and running high after an experience. As your mind naturally distorts reality towards your biased views, you can still assess how you are really feeling and what unconscious beliefs arise during an experience or event.

Nonetheless, a subjective review is not a must and they only complement an objective review to give you a better overall picture and understanding of things. Once your emotions cool off, you must then carry out an objective reflection.

It’s Easier to Apply Than You Think

Now for the great news! You can literally conduct a reflective review anytime and anywhere—at home or work and even while exercising and traveling. You name it!

In work settings, you can consider joining or forming a reflection group within your organization.

Today, reflection groups are gaining popularity as they allow you to discuss work situations objectively with colleagues to gather constructive feedback from discussions held. If you’re at home, it’s probably best to find and dedicate some quiet time to yourself. You can even opt to write in your own reflective journal. The best time may even come out of your mindless activities!

Therefore, if you ever find yourself at home daydreaming when you’re browsing through social media or binging on Netflix, why not use that time more wisely instead and spare yourself a couple of minutes of reflection? Besides contributing to your personal development, you’ll also feel much better about yourself for being a sloth.

Conclusion

The need for growth and development is a fundamental human need, and you should now have all the information you need to tick that checkbox with reflective practice.

Reflecting on your life will not only satisfy your spiritual needs, but as you keep learning, uncovering, and influencing your underlying thought processes, you are also always one step closer to unlocking your fullest potential as a human being.

So, what are you waiting for? Are you ready to become a reflective practitioner?

More Articles About Self-Reflection

Featured photo credit: Marcos Paulo Prado via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Wikipedia: Reflective Practice
[2] EssaywritingserviceUK: Borton’s Model of Reflection
[3] University of Edinburgh: Gibbs’ Reflective Cycle

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