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Chaos to clarity: how reflection can transform your life and career

Hello all! I recently took a trip to NYC, after many years, and this podcast I listened to got me thinking about the trajectory of my life and the power of reflection. Below, I discuss the benefits of reflection and offer some easy ways to incorporate it into your life for a positive impact.

Last week I was listening to Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s podcast Wiser Than Me with Jane Fonda and Jane mention the concept of a Life Review.

A Life Review is a technique encouraged by psychologists, psychiatrists and gerontologists in order to reflect upon and analyze past life experiences. It can even alleviate depression.

Jane used the technique to approach the “third act” of her life, from year 60 on, but the beauty is you can do it anytime.

As I was listening to the podcast, I was packing for my first solo trip in four years, to NYC, a city where I'd lived for seven very formative years.

Since living NYC in 2011, my life has changed significantly - with a spouse, child and home. I anticipated that memories would surface and I’d want time to reflect. I even set three "intention" words for the weekend, which helped me navigate how to spend my time. They were: restore, inspire, connect.

Just choosing these words helped my mindset and allowed me to take intentional action. It got me thinking, why is it so hard to carve out time to reflect?

Maybe it’s because we’re intimidated by the exercise, feel strapped for time or are afraid we’re not going to like what we see.  

That all makes sense, but let's consider the benefits. In a world where everyone is constantly ‘busy’, those who plan their lives and make moves with intention outperform and are more content than those who don’t. In a survey conducted by the Center for Creative Leadership, 70% of leaders who responded said they significantly benefited from taking time for reflection before action.

In the end, reflection will help you understand what matters most, and that will help you make the right choices for you moving forward.

"You can’t really know where you are going until you know where you have been."
~Maya Angelou

Looking at the Data

Whether for personal or career, reflection provides a moment to zoom out and make sense of the chaos, giving us an opportunity to assign meaning to what we experienced and take those lessons forward.

Research in a Harvard Business Review article demonstrated that employees who spent 15 minutes at the end of the day reflecting about lessons learned performed 23% better after 10 days than those who did not reflect.

In that same article, a study of UK commuters found a similar result when those who were prompted to use their commute to think about and plan for their day were happier, more productive, and less burned out than people who didn’t.

So why not give it a try?

How to Incorporate Reflection into Your Life

  1. End of year/at your birthday:
  • Jot down all your proud achievements, whether it's reviewing photos on your phone, skimming through your calendar, or perusing your journal.
  • Ask yourself thought-provoking questions like "What risks did you take and what were the rewards?" or "Where did you overspend time or resources?"
  • Categorize your life into areas such as health, work, play, and love. Rate each on a 1-10 scale, brainstorming ways that each is going well and how they can be improved if necessary. If you've read "Designing Your Life" by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, this approach should be familiar (highly recommended, by the way).
  1. After a big life moment:

Take quiet time alone with your thoughts and journal or voice record any ideas that come to mind. Use the techniques listed above.
Reflection can transform your perception of a situation, leading to a happier and more fulfilling experience by either finding gratitude in the experience or reframing it as a learning opportunity.

  1. At the end of the day:

"The Five Minute Journal" techniques can be helpful, or simply reflecting on the highlights of the day, expressing gratitude, and learning can be powerful. To prepare for the next day, ask yourself, "What is the most important thing I can do tomorrow to move the needle on X?"

I’d love to hear from you: How do you approach reflection into your life? Alternatively, what’s one new technique you’re going to try?

Curious to read more?

The Original Book

In their book, Stanford professors Bill Burnett and Dave Evans teach you how to use design thinking to create a fulfilling life. By engaging with the frameworks and self-reflection exercises, you can gain clarity and create a roadmap towards a meaningful life.

The Five Minute Journal - Original Linen
Structured and guided gratitude journal is the simplest way to start your day happy. Cultivate gratitude. Become positive. Change the way you think and feel.

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