Often, when we are most relaxed and our mind calms from our constant to-do lists and daily obligations, only then do we have the space to formulate answers to tough questions, solutions to complex issues, and new ways to consider approaching situations. The problem is that we sometimes have these epiphany ideas in one moment and then can’t recall them when the opportunity arises to use them!
The purpose of this blog is to encourage you to capture these ideas by writing them down.
Several months ago, I shared some initial ideas on reflective practice; specifically how to start carving out time within your daily routine to reflect. If you haven’t started yet, tomorrow is the perfect day to begin. If you have started the process as an opportunity to slow down and think more thoroughly about your experiences – weaving them together into patterns to make more internally informed decisions - I hope it’s having all kinds of positive effects, both personally and professionally.
This month, with the renewed possibilities that arrive in Chicago every summer, in the many festivals, music, art, fireworks and flowers, I’m exploring a second suggestion which is to take the personal insights that you’re gathering over a cup of coffee/tea, in the shower, or on walks with your dog and to write them down. It may seem simple, but the act of writing down your reflective ideas is actually a critical part of the reflective process.
Find a journal or a dedicated notebook and capture some of your ideas. The ideas may come to you at random times, and without the tools to capture them, a potentially profound idea can simply disappear as a fleeting thought.
Life and work can seem like a series of random, disjointed events. We may feel like reacting to crises outside of our control is our daily reality. But I’m suggesting a radical idea – that carving out the time to consider the events, reflect on the causal patterns and our options for response – and then to explore the possibilities in writing, presents an opportunity to transform them. We may change a single event or our whole approach to life, really. If only we make the time to reflect and then consider the meaning of our reflections.
Here are some suggestions on how to get started: you can email ideas to yourself or enter them on your calendar for later reference. If you create a calendar category or note, label it “Ideas” or color-code it yellow, to allow for ease in finding them later. If you’re working through a complex idea, you might even develop a PowerPoint with pictures and words that you can add to over time.
Several years ago, I had been considering a job transition and needed to fully explore the practical implications (finances, health insurance, intellectual property) as well as the reputational ones (status and relationships). I needed to work through my sense of loss and explore new potential. This was a huge decision to consider and my reflective practice alerted me to many ideas, but as they swirled around in my head, I felt more overwhelmed than clear. So, I created a PowerPoint presentation for my professional strategy and labeled it “Next 10: A targeted approach to the next decade”. One of the things I wrote on a slide titled “Core Influences” was “ongoing learning by doing and then reflecting and course-correcting leads to growth, success, fulfillment, and better client outcomes”. The process was incredibly helpful and even now, on occasion, I refer back to those slides as a reminder for the break-through ideas I fostered.
Shinichi Suzuki, Japanese violinist, wanted to develop joy for children after World War II. He studied language acquisition and developed a method for music acquisition. His break-through idea, now famous as the Suzuki Method, encourages sensitivity, discipline, and endurance. He found that through constant repetition and loving encouragement, every child could incorporate music into their life, finding the connections between heart and mind.
I am arguing that reflective practice, like music acquisition, is available to everyone. That focus and discipline around carving out the time for it can lead to incredible changes that are intuitively informed. Not to mention the importance of the practice in an age where so many decisions seem to be made based on external validation factors rather than internal thoughtfulness.
In a recent learning session that I facilitated, I spoke about the differences between mindfulness meditation and reflective practice, where both are about conscious lived experience, everyday awareness, and developing curiosity, and a learner orientation. I explained that meditation is more about letting thoughts pass by in order to develop a sense of calm, more about creating empty space and allowing peace to seep into being.
Reflective practice, rather, is the idea of sitting with thoughts and allowing the big picture to emerge - forging break-through ideas – teasing ideas apart, considering long-term views, and turning ideas into strategic possibilities. Even thinking about a simple repetitive activity and bringing more meaning into it, expanding it, adding other ideas to it and developing it into something awesome.
Whether you buy a journal that inspires you, enter ideas into an online file, or jot ideas down on a legal pad, the concept is to capture your reflections in a written format that you can refer back to and further develop over time. In my journaling practice, I am often amazed to look back on where my thoughts meandered and to watch how they evolve over periods of time. Often, the process leads to a break-through that I would not have anticipated. Many of those ideas represent my best thinking, and from those thoughts, my best-informed actions.
With the long summer days, the lovely green leaves filling bushes and trees, and the symphony of flowers continuing to bloom, the beach beckons and I feel joyful and excited. Here’s hoping you find the time to channel the energy of summer into your own reflective practice, writing your thoughts and exploring strategic possibilities.