The Habit of Reflection

"Without reflection, we go blindly on our way"
Margaret Wheatley (Leadership and New Science)

More than three decades ago I commenced my career in assisting others to discover their own personal leadership. At that point, I also discovered the power of reflection.

Reflection was part of reflective practices during my initial years of schooling and university reflection. But, it was not discussed formally even during the educational psychology components of my undergraduate study.

However, the practice of research is always about looking back; reviewing what others have done before you in the field and in the laboratory.

Studying and learning, growing and developing was always about “look back to see where to go next”. But it was in my first (short but successful) career as a teacher that reflection first became a personal practice.

Pausing at the end of each frantic day during my first year of teaching was scary and valuable all at once. That daily ritual of staying in the environment of the school and sitting at the staff table as the building emptied and collecting the data was powerful and at times sanity saving. That data included the facts and the feelings, finding meaning and deeper understanding of what went on and then planning out my next day and week.

I had a clear goal of where I wanted to get my students to by the end of the year. Reflection assisted me enormously in becoming a sound facilitator of people who are looking to stretch and grow into leadership.

I didn’t know the Kierkegaards quote then but I knew it.

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards”
Soren Kierkegaard

What is the habit of reflection and why is it so important.

The definition of reflection is serious thought and reflection. Serious thought requires time and brain space.

When I think of reflection I think of the chapters in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire where Dumbledore extracts his memories. The extraction of the memory was valuable as it allowed the professor to see the circumstances, the events again and with new eyes.

When I commence a period of reflection now I actually create a space, (no, not where I draw out a wand and point it to my temple), where I have stillness to allow my thoughts to come to consciousness.

The first step of reflection

The first step of reflection is finding the time.

Yep, there goes the gong – time! Where do you find the time?

There is always this tussle about time. However, what you need to consider is what is valuable time usage.

If you spend your time moving forward without looking back then you are at risk of doing the same thing over and over again. Doing the same thing over and over can be useful if what you are doing is worthwhile.


But, and it's a big but. BUT, if your endeavour is repeating the same mistake over again then this is a waste of time.

A recent example in my life was that during a time of intense work pressure I fell back into the habit of not checking the dates. The result was a time-consuming fix-up job. If I had spent ten minutes reflecting on my management and leadership practice I would have seen where I was headed. And I would have avoided the fix-up job.

Jennifer Porter states in her article that research demonstrated that employees who spent 15 minutes at the end of the day reflecting on lessons learned performed 23% better after then days than those who did not reflect.

Porter also goes onto say that you need to find a process for reflecting. We agree, which is why our tips section may assist if reflection has slipped off the agenda for you or if you never really hooked into the concept.

Claude Monet said

“It is on the strength of observation and reflection that one finds a way. So we must dig and delve…”

And we would add to Monet’s quote with

"then find new meaning and implement change in behaviours."

It is important to not just do the Albus Dumbledore pensieve process of extracting our memory. Also, consider what does this mean and what action should/could/must I take to change my ways.

Have a look at our 5D Reflection Model here.