Blog Post

Reflection Should Be a Habit — Not Just a Tradition

Jeff Miller

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

It's nearing the end of the year, which for many of us marks a time for reflection and resolution. Where did we succeed in the past year? Where did we fail? What can we do better next year?

But as steadfast as the tradition of New Years' Resolutions may be — the practice of making changes in the New Year is thought to have started among the ancient Babylonians —the resolutions themselves are often short-lived. We pledge to finally read those books on our bedside table, propose more ideas during team meetings, actually use our gym membership or take a real vacation. Three months later, the books are collecting dust, Phil is still the loudmouth at the table and we convince ourselves we just don't have time to exercise or take a week off.

The Impact of Habit

Why do we wait until January 1 to reflect on our lives and make these changes, only to fade back into our old routine months, or even weeks, later? In some ways, the popularity of the tradition belittles its impact —we make a resolution simply because that's what we're supposed to do at this time of year. So, last year, I vowed to buck the trend. My resolution? To stop making New Years' Resolutions altogether.

It wasn't a statement of pride — I certainly have changes I want to make in my life — but an attempt to move from an annual tradition of reflection and resolution to a habit of such. Instead of thinking up and struggling to achieve a few one-off New Years' Resolutions, I wanted to establish a consistent, ongoing behavior and practice of reflecting and improving.

In fact, I think everyone would benefit from creating a habit of reflection — especially during the weeks before the holidays (the busiest weeks of the year for many people). It's time to make a commitment to be our best selves now — not in a few weeks when the clocks strikes midnight, not next year, but now.

Think Bigger

In the midst of rushing to meet Q4 and end of year goals and deadlines, we tend to put our heads down until we can come up for air. We work to speed through to-do lists, rather than taking a step back and prioritizing our tasks. We put blinders on, but what we really need to do is broaden our perspectives.

I found myself in this exact routine the other day. I was simply milling through my list of tasks to complete before the end of the year, instead of looking at my work holistically. It was overwhelming to gaze at the sheer volume of work. To be honest, there are several things I can probably push to next year in order to hone in on the tasks that truly matter to my current goals. By taking time to stop and reflect on my workload — not after it's completed, but while I'm in the thick of it — I can heighten the quality of my work and my level of engagement on the job.

My year without a New Years’ Resolution has taught me that we should always be reflecting, we should always have resolutions. But power emerges when reflection becomes a practice.

Maybe it is on the treadmill or maybe it is in your car with the radio off on your drive home. When I was a public school teacher, every commute home I would turn the radio off and think about the day; what went well, what didn’t go so well, what I could learn today that would make me better tomorrow. The practice, I believe, made me more in tune with work and my students. It’s the difference between a good leader — someone who gets the work done — and a great leader — someone who goes above and beyond. Instead of pondering your upcoming resolution for 2016, why not try to start something new today: put down the to-do list, reflect and think bigger.

Photo: Creative Commons

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