Leaders: How are your resolutions going? Drive Performance with a Reflection Habit
Every year many of us create resolutions and personal and professional goals for the coming year. My experience in both coaching executives as well as my own shortcomings is that we don’t reflect enough on the past wins and misses to inform our goals for the future. Research time and time again has shown how important reflection about lessons learned is key to performance1. However, many of us find excuses as to why not to do it (i.e., why reflect when I can immediately take action on something?) or feel uncomfortable doing it and so avoid it (i.e., why rehash what I did wrong today?). Likewise, the current pandemic where many of us are working from home, no longer traveling either through a regular commute or even the simple walk between buildings for meetings, has created a situation where we don’t have as many opportunities to just pause and reflect. In fact, one Founder CEO shared with me the other day how much he was missing his regular business travel flights where he would do his reflection time about his business and where he needed to drive changes, and how that miss had an impact on his own and his company’s performance.
In order to be successful with our goals for the year, we must be purposeful in reflecting on our lessons learned and progress throughout. By incorporating some simple habits, we can make reflection a muscle that we strengthen regularly and reap the benefits of daily, monthly and yearly.
Identify questions that help you reflect.
The first step is to pinpoint a handful of questions that work and are meaningful for you that you can easily remember and ask yourself at times of reflection. To help get you started, here are some simple questions to ask yourself at your times of reflection:
- How am I feeling at this moment and what is my goal of the way I want to feel?
- What do I need to do or think to achieve this goal?
- What new thing did I try today? What worked well? What didn’t? What did I learn? What can I do differently tomorrow?
- What might I be avoiding right now? Why?
- How am I helping my colleagues and team achieve their goals? How might I be hindering their progress?
Additionally, at the beginning of each year and perhaps even quarterly, here are some bigger questions you can ask yourself to keep a pulse on the lessons learned:
- What were my Highlights/Accomplishments and Lowlights/Misses for [past year/quarter]. What were the learnings?
- What are my 2021 (current year) goals? How or where will I need to lead differently than last year?
- If you had to write a summary news story on yourself on the past year, what would it say? What do you hope the 2021 (current year) story will say?
Schedule the time.
In order to be as effective as we can with reflection, we have to build the habit of reflection in our everyday lives. One study demonstrated how employees who spent 15 minutes a day reflecting out lessons learned performed 23% better after just 10 days than those who did not reflect2. However, as I recently coached a C-suite client of mine whose busy schedule made 15 minutes seem like a big commitment, even 2 minutes can make an impact. The importance is to set up the habit and build it up in time from there. Further “Habit Stacking” or combining a new habit with a habit that you already have in place, such as brushing your teeth or walking the dog, can be an effective way to introduce and create a pattern for a new habit. The point is – whether it’s scheduling the time in your calendar, using your smartwatch, or habit stacking, set up a reflection process that works for you.
Write it down.
If you are like most executives, you feel a need not to just be in your head dreaming and fantasizing about what was, but to take action. Rather than just thinking about what you learned, spend a few minutes writing down or journaling your thoughts about your reflections. By taking this simple action, you will feel like you have actually done something and the great thing about it, is that you can then have a repository to reflect on your past reflections and learnings later.
These simple yet meaningful exercises of reflection can help you not only gain lessons learned, which research has shown time and time again how it lends itself to greater self-awareness and performance, but also help you focus on what is important for the year ahead and what might get in the way of achieving it.
- Lanaj, K., Foulk, T. A., & Erez, A. (2019). Energizing leaders via self-reflection: A within-person field experiment. Journal of Applied Psychology, 104(1), 1–18.
- Di Stefano, G., Gino, F., Pisano, G., & Staats, B. R. (2016). Making experience count: The role of reflection in individual learning. Harvard Business School NOM Unit Working Paper No. 14-093, Harvard Business School Technology & Operations Mgt. Unit Working Paper No. 14-093.