Winter can be a contemplative time. January and February can be difficult months sometimes. We can start the year in a blazing determination to fulfil fresh goals and break bad habits. All too often by February it’s not so easy to uphold them.
Making any kind of change in ourselves requires something more long-term though and something we can undertake each day easily. In short we need to make reflection part of our life day-to-day.
Reflection is an everyday process anyway. We reflect on a range of everyday problems and situations all the time: What went well? What didn’t? Why? How do I feel about it?
We don’t usually follow a formula for this, it just happens as feelings, thoughts and emotions about something gradually ‘surface’. We might choose to do something differently, or not, as a result of reflecting, but reflection is essentially a kind of loose processing of thoughts and feelings about an incident, a meeting, a day – any event or experience at all. We probably do it without even thinking about it.
But what if we did consciously build in reflection time each day? What if we book-ended our days by setting intentions in the morning and reflecting on the day each evening?
1. Reflection helps us to learn from something that perhaps did not go well that day. If we don’t reflect on what might not have gone well we may just repeat negative behaviour or continue to be in reactive mode. Reflection helps us to figure out what went wrong, why that happened, what part we played in that and what we can do different next time.
2. Reflection helps create great ideas. The process of being disciplined enough to reflect moves obstacles out of the way and can make space for emerging ideas and taking action in a different way. If we’re constantly rushing from one thing to another there is very little space for anything creative to emerge. Being still makes space for more ideas.
3. Reflection makes us happier. If we are building in reflection time each day we will also be looking back on things that have gone well and all the things that were right with the day! Reflecting on what went right allows for celebration for every little success. It allows us to realise how much we have in fact done right, the good things you’ve done in your life. Without reflection, it’s too easy to forget these things, and focus instead on our failures.
4. Reflection gives us perspective. Often we are caught up in the troubles or busy-ness of our daily lives. A mistake or a high-pressure project or something like that can seem like it means all the world. It can overwhelm us sometimes. But if we take a minute to step back, and reflect on these problems, and how in the grand scheme of things they don’t mean all that much, it can calm us down and lower our stress levels. We gain perspective, and that’s a good thing.
How to Make Reflection a Daily Habit
If reflection isn’t something you feel you do enough, consider making it a habit. Here are some suggestions for doing that:
1. Start a one-sentence journal. There is a popular 5-year diary you can buy which invites you to write one sentence each day. Why not write one sentence each day in a notebook or in your year planner? It will be great to look back on at the end of the year.
2. Focus on doing it at the same time, every day. No exceptions. It is actually much easier to build a habit if you do it every single day! Even if you don’t start a one-sentence journal, get into the reflection habit by taking just a few minutes at the end of every day to reflect on your day. Journaling helps crystalize those reflections. Either way, whether you write it down or not, make reflection a daily habit. Decide when you will do it, where and for how long. Set a reminder with your phone.
3. Exercise. People who run say that often the best ideas come during their run. If you don’t run or have some other form of daily exercise, consider just taking a walk and using that time for reflection. Make a daily appointment and don’t miss it!
4. Think about your day, your work, your life. In that order. Look back on your day, to think about how various things went and what could be improved. Then take a look at your work, to see how things are going there. Then step even further back and take a look at your life as a whole. It’s a three-step system that leads to a lot of improvement over time.