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How to Implement a Practice of Regular Reflection in 2019

Jeff Miller

Chief Learning Officer and Vice President of Organizational Effectiveness, Cornerstone OnDemand

This article was originally published on, under Jeff Miller's Forbes Human Resources Council column.

In the early days of the new year we tend to fixate on goals. Maybe this is the year we get promoted or take on a new role. Once we set these goals, we move forward, we take action — but the biggest mistake most of us make is that we never look back.

It's natural. Many people have action bias: a predisposition to do in an effort to have control over a situation. And, as change expert Ann Salerno discusses in her book, The Change Cycle, action typically takes place in our mammalian brains, which is easier to engage than our complex brain, used for thinking deeply and reflecting.

While it might not be as easy, reflection has a proven, positive impact on our performance. In 2014, research by Harvard Business School students found that call center employees who reflected on what they had learned from a course for 15 minutes performed 23% better on a written test than their colleagues who took the test without time for reflection.

You might already know what you want to accomplish by the end of 2019 and will keep those goals in mind. But to get there, it's important to implement a regular practice of reflection.

Here's how to get started:

Schedule Weekly Meetings With Yourself

We often struggle to make reflection a priority unless we are reminded to do it — usually, during the end-of-the-year performance review. Instead, start scheduling weekly meetings with yourself on Mondays to set goals and then on Fridays to reflect. By approaching goal-setting on a weekly basis, you set yourself up for incremental progress toward larger goals. Moreover, the opportunity for regular points of reflection creates time to course-correct or pivot as needed.

Avoiding this reflection time can be tempting when you feel busy; even an hour of inaction can feel like too much to sacrifice. If that's the case, try adding "create more time in my schedule" to your list of goals each week. Manish Chopra, a senior partner at McKinsey, wrote that setting aside time to meditate on each week helped him identify the things he truly needed to be involved in, and those he didn't. As a result, he ended up freeing 10-20% of his time.

Set Smart Goals

Set goals that are achievable but not trivial each week. You might have heard the term "SMART goals" (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-bound) and those are generally good guidelines to follow.

Say your goal is to become a better networker. That's a very ambiguous goal, so instead, get more specific. How many people do you want to meet this month? With specific outcomes to track, you can be honest about whether you actually achieved the goal or not.

Remember that you don't need to be good at setting goals right off the bat. I've been practicing this weekly goal-setting for over a year and I still set unachievable goals. Simply keep reviewing the goals you set and be honest in your reflection. Over time, you'll be able to find a balance between goals that are challenging and push you to do better but that aren't so high-reaching and ambiguous that they're unachievable.

Ask Questions To Guide Your Reflection

When your Friday afternoon reflection meeting rolls around, focus on the goals you set for yourself on Monday and consider questions like these:

  • Did you achieve the things you set out to do on Monday?
  • What did you learn about yourself this week?
  • What did you learn about others this week?
  • What action items are still sitting in your inbox and why are they there?

The goal is to foster honesty and self-awareness so you can set better goals — and achieve more — in the future. It can be tempting to avoid this reflection when you didn't get things done because it makes you feel bad, but reflection is not about beating yourself up. It's about understanding why you achieved some things and why you didn't achieve others to continue to improve.

Enlist An Accountability Partner

If you're making commitments every Monday and not meeting them each Friday, try finding an accountability partner. Self-reflection requires a high degree of emotional intelligence, and sometimes we struggle to be honest with ourselves or see our own actions clearly. If you can find someone who will be candid with you about your progress, it will help you see where you're going wrong. Not to mention that once you've told someone else your goal, you've made a deeper commitment to achieving it.

Telling other people your goals will also give them an opportunity to support you. For example, I decided I wanted to pursue photography in 2018. But I don't have a camera, and I don't often buy things for myself, so I put the goal off. In October, my wife got me a beautiful camera as an early birthday present. I've probably taken 2,000 pictures since, and I couldn't have done it had she not supported me through that first step.

Remember that having goals and reflecting on those goals isn't about creating a scope of work you have to meet or a contract you have to fulfill. Instead, it's a mechanism for you to get into a cycle of continuous improvement. I achieved my goal in 2018 to get back into photography. In 2019, the goal is going to be more about the quality of pictures (and I'm still working on making the goal more achievable). By setting these smaller goals and reflecting on them weekly, you'll not only continue to push the needle on the loftier goals you want to accomplish by the end of the year but also set yourself up to be more efficient in doing so.

Photo: Creative Commons

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