Saturday, September 21, 2019

The importance of reflection

In the education world today, the word reflection is often used. It's become, it seems, one of the latest buzzwords, one of the latest stylish fads, in education. There appears to be a lot of those, as I suggest in a recent post on the concept of individualized learning. But make no mistake about it - reflection is critical for success in life and career. There's a lot of substance and power behind that word. Let's explore further.

When you truly reflect on something (an event, an experience, a situation, something you read or listened to, a movie you've seen, etc.), you're thinking about it on a deeper level. You're thinking about what happened, and/or maybe what could have happened. You're thinking about any lessons you can take away from what had occurred. Essentially, we're adding, or applying, meaning to what had taken place. And it's through this process of reflection that we truly learn and better ourselves.

Now, the event, experience, situation, words on paper, movie, etc., alone, don't necessarily mean much of anything at all. They're simply happenings that occurred in time and space. They're impartial, meaning they have no particular feelings toward you either way.

Here's a concrete, and a bit of an extreme example, and I hope this never happens to you. Well, I should say that I hope the outcome happens to you, but not the circumstances that caused it. Let's say you're involved in a car accident. Thankfully, you survived. You got a little banged up. Maybe a broken arm and some big bruises. Mentally and psychologically, you're a little shaken up, and that's certainly understandable. Now, the accident, alone, itself, was just an occurrence in time and space. Unfortunately, you were at the wrong place at the wrong time. The stars just happened to align, and all the conditions just happened to be right. The accident, itself, doesn't hate you or want to harm you. The other driver, or the tree, or the slick road, doesn't hate you or want to harm you. It just is what it is. It happened.

Now, after a little time goes by, after you've taken care of your immediate physical health needs and had a chance to calm down a little following the accident, you begin to reflect on it. And during that reflection process, you realize how grateful you are just to be alive. You realize it could have been a lot worse. And that realization has given you a new perspective - a new lease - on life. Before the accident, maybe you always worried about the little things that you have no real control over. You let daily life stress you out. Now, though, you focus on the more important things in life - family, meaningful work that you truly enjoy, meaningful relationships of all kinds, etc. That reflection on that accident has dramatically changed your life for the better.

Let's discuss one more example, out of literally countless examples that we could go on and on with, both dramatic and extreme and not so much.

Let's say you suddenly find yourself in a very difficult financial situation. Maybe you lost your job or had your hours at work significantly cut. As a result, you're having trouble paying your bills, and maybe you start seeing your friends a little less because you don't have any money to go out and have a fun time with. Maybe you start seeking help from charitable organizations - the local food pantry, church groups, and so on. In short, you're going through a pretty tough time.

Through reflecting on the situation you find yourself in, perhaps you become a more caring, empathetic person because you can now relate to and understand what others are similarly going through. And when you overcome your situation and get back on your feet, you know how to better pay it forward. And through it all, maybe you also learn more about your own finances so that you're better prepared should this ever happen again. Perhaps you realize you haven't saved enough money. Maybe you discover that you've been spending too much money on things that you don't necessarily need. In short, through all the bad, you learned some valuable lessons about yourself - and about others.

Key questions you can ask yourself while reflecting on something:

What did I learn from what had occurred (the event, experience, situation, etc.)?

How can these newfound insights better prepare me for the future?

Can I utilize these newfound insights for the benefit of others in any way?

Have I become a better person by what I have learned here? 

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