This blog post has been adapted from Dr. John Maxwell’s personal productivity resource, How Successful People Think. John Maxwell has been one of the world’s foremost leadership and personal growth experts for more than 40 years, and this guidebook for success strategies contains invaluable insights. You can pick up a copy here.
When you were just starting out in your career, did it seem that few people were willing to give someone without experience an opportunity? At the same time, could you see people who had been on their jobs twenty years who, in spite of that, did their work poorly? If so, that probably frustrated you. Playwright William Shakespeare wrote, “Experience is a jewel, and it had need be so, for it is often purchased at an infinite rate.” Yet, experience alone does not add value to a life. It’s not necessarily experience that is valuable; it’s the insight people gain because of their experience. Reflective thinking turns experience into insight.
Mark Twain said, “We should be careful to get out of an experience all the wisdom that is in it—not like the cat that sits down on a hot stove lid. She will never sit down on a hot stove lid again—and that is well; but also she will never sit down on a cold one anymore.” An experience becomes valuable when it informs or equips us to meet new experiences. Reflective thinking helps to do that.
Embrace the Lessons of Reflective Thinking
If you are like most people in our culture today, you probably do very little reflective thinking. If that’s the case, it may be holding you back more than you think. Take to heart the following suggestions to increase your ability to think reflectively:
1. SET ASIDE TIME FOR REFLECTION.
Greek philosopher Socrates observed, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” For most people, however, reflection and self-examination don’t come naturally. It can be a fairly uncomfortable activity for a variety of reasons: they have a hard time staying focused; they find the process dull; or they don’t like spending a lot of time thinking about emotionally difficult issues. But if you don’t carve out the time for it, you are unlikely to do any reflective thinking.
2. REMOVE YOURSELF FROM DISTRACTIONS.
As much as any other kind of thinking, reflection requires solitude. Distraction and reflection simply don’t mix. It’s not the kind of thing you can do well near a television, in a cubicle, while the phone is ringing, or with children in the same room. The place doesn’t matter—as long as you remove yourself from distractions and interruptions.
3. REGULARLY REVIEW YOUR CALENDAR OR JOURNAL.
Most people use their calendar as a planning tool, which it is. But few people use it as a reflective thinking tool. What could be better, however, for helping you to review where you have been and what you have done – except maybe a journal?
Calendars and journals remind you of how you’ve spent your time, show you whether or not your activities match your priorities, and help you see whether or not you are making progress. They also offer you an opportunity to recall activities that you might not have had the time to reflect on previously. Some of the most valuable thoughts you’ve ever had may have been lost because you didn’t give yourself the reflection time you needed.
4. ASK THE RIGHT QUESTIONS.
The value you receive from reflecting will depend on the kinds of questions you ask yourself. The better the questions, the more gold you will mine from your thinking. Here are some sample questions:
- Personal growth: What have I learned today that will help me grow? How can I apply it to my life? When should I apply it?
- Adding value: To whom did I add value today? How do I know I added value to that person? Can I follow up and compound the positive benefit he or she received?
- Leadership: Did I lead by example today? Did I lift my people and organization to a higher level? What did I do and how did I do it?
- Personal faith: Did I represent God well today? Did I practice the Golden Rule? Have I “walked the second mile” with someone?
- Marriage and family: Did I communicate love to my family today? How did I show that love? Did they feel it? Did they return it?
- Inner circle: Have I spent enough time with my key players? What can I do to help them be more successful? In what areas can I mentor them?
- Discoveries: What did I encounter today to which I need to give more thinking time? Are there lessons to be learned? Are there things to be done?
5. CEMENT YOUR LEARNING THROUGH ACTION.
Writing down the good thoughts that come out of your reflective thinking has value, but nothing helps you to grow like putting your thoughts into action. To do that, you must be intentional.
When most people go to a conference or seminar, they enjoy the experience, listen to the speakers, and sometimes even take notes. But nothing happens after they go home. They like many of the concepts they hear, but when they close their notebooks, they don’t think about them again. When that happens, they receive little more than a temporary surge of motivation. When you go to a conference, revisit what you heard, reflect on it, and then put it into action; it can change your life.
Ready to accelerate your personal growth in just one day of learning?
Maxwell Leadership is proud to present Day to Grow… a one-day conference in Orlando, Florida, on August 14th, featuring incredible speakers like John C. Maxwell, Atomic Habits author James Clear, Juliet Funt, and Ryan Leak (and more speakers will be announced very soon!). Ready to reserve your seat at Day to Grow? Click here to register.