Thinking Back With Depth

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Thinking is the way we humans learn. But there are lots of different ways, and depths, to think. Reflection is the mode to extrapolate learning – and simply defined, reflection is thinking back on past experience. We all do this naturally, all the time. For example,¬†I’m not going to have that grilled cheese today, because last time I got a stomach ache. We learned by thinking about an experience, and it informed a choice.

To up the ante, to increase our learning and the depth in which we learn, we can deepen our practice in reflecting back. Here are 4 different types of reflection that can sharpen our “thinking back” (not to be confused with backwards thinking).

1) Reflection: We do this naturally. It is simply thinking about something that happened in the past. Sample questions: What did I learn? What happened? What would I do differently next time?

2) Self-reflection: Thinking about ourselves (aimed at increasing self-awareness) and behavior regarding an action or choice that took place in the past. Sample questions: What did I learn about myself? How did my actions impact others?

3) Critical reflection:¬†Critical reflection takes standard reflection to a new depth by adding context, and examining future behavior. And, importantly, they challenge and expand on assumptions. Sample questions: What happened and who was impacted by it… how did the action influence the lives of the people it intended to change? What future action could create the change we seek? What assumptions did I hold about this group, and what shifted?

4) Critical self-reflection: The hardest of them all. This type of reflection examines the actions we take and decisions we make against the backdrop of tightly held values and principles. It breaks down assumptions about ourselves and requires honest answers (which, let’s be honest, can be challenging when thinking about oneself). Sample questions: Do my actions align with my values? Am I authentic? What beliefs do I hold, and are they true?

How can you deepen your own reflective practice?

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Dave Newell

Dave Newell is director of the Chidsey Center for Leadership Development.

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