For years, I have had a love-hate relationship with journaling and meditation. I knew it was good for me (and sometimes I would even enjoy it!), but I still didn’t do it consistently. I guess we could all say that about something in our lives.

However, over the last year, I have been ‘forced’ into doing things differently because my physical body kept showing me that the way I was approaching life wasn’t optimal for me, so I have spent a lot of time experimenting with different approaches.

People in the personal development world talk about doing ‘the work,’ but they need to explain how you do it or what that work actually is. And when you ask, you tend to get some woolly answer back that feels completely inaccessible. They are talking about how we create results from the inside out – challenging and upgrading our identity, shedding old patterns of thinking and behaving and finding a way to be in a world that feels authentic. For somebody who is task-focused and loves to chase a result or an outcome, this can sometimes feel counterintuitive and, if I am brutally honest, very frustrating.

I have been fortunate to work with some great people in different areas of my life, and through the collective experience, I have been able to find ways to do ‘the work’ that have helped me grow from the inside out. I have finally found my journaling rhythm that has (and continues to) help me stay committed to becoming a better version of myself, one milestone at a time. 

If you want to embark on the journey of improving from the inside out and don’t know where to start, here is a short guide to reflective practice;

What is reflective practice?

The ability to reflect on one’s actions to engage in continuous learning. It developed in teaching, medicine, and social work to learn from real-life experiences. Individuals reflect on their interactions with their students, patients, etc, and evaluate the lessons they could take away.

Is it the same as reflection?

Reflection is helpful in its own right as it is when we give something some focused thought and consideration; reflective practice, on the other hand, is when we Recognise – Capture – and Articulate our learning. Journaling is one tool we can use to capture and convey the learning and set an intention of taking a different course of action based on the insights.

How long will it take?

How much time you spend on it depends on what you try to achieve and how quickly you want to get there. Based on personal experience, I always advise clients to start building the habit slightly, feel the benefits, and then expand from there. The amount of reflective practice I do now was not accessible to me a year ago, but I have built the habit over time.

What are the benefits?

The benefits are far and wide, and for some, it will be an individual experience; here are some of the benefits that I have experienced myself and that I see with my clients: 

  • Create Space – by having regular practice and through the therapeutic benefits of writing down your thoughts, feelings and reflections, you can respond vs react, which promotes a more intentional approach to leadership.
  • Emotional Intelligence – knowing yourself helps to reduce stress, build relationships and increase success in achieving your goals. 
  • Creativity and Innovation – journaling as part of your reflective practice slows down the brain, creating the mental space for new ideas and perspectives to come through into your awareness. 
  • Self Talk and Imposter Syndrome – we all have a little voice in our head and, most of the time, are being influenced by it in unhelpful ways. Using RP can help you get clarity on whose voice it is and discern whether it is valid – most of the time it is a voice from our younger selves that we no longer need to pay attention to. On the flip side, we can become aware of the voice supporting our higher self and choose to pay attention to that instead. 
  • Assumptions – it is a great way to come face to face with the assumptions that you are making that could be hindering a better way. 
  • Patterns – over time, you will notice patterns of thinking are driving your behaviours and influencing your results. This epitomises ‘doing the work’ from the inside out.
  • Development – if your outcome is to become a better version of yourself (in whatever context) then you can be confident that reflective practice will provide you with critical areas for development over time. This is why it is frequently used in academic settings, and more and more organisations are using it as an integral part of their employees’ learning journey. 
  • Improves Performance – this comes with a caveat! It will help you (and your teams) improve performance, but only if you decide to act on the output!
  • Ownership – when used as an approach throughout an organisation, it brings all the benefits above for each individual and fosters a culture where people own and act on their own development.

There is no right or wrong way to engage in reflective practice, and as someone who likes to be more relaxed by a formula, I chop and change how I do it occasionally!

If you want to start and don’t know where to begin, here are some ideas:

  1. Short and succinct with room to manoeuvre: WWW/EBI – look back on a particular event or series and note ‘what went well’ and how it could be ‘even better if…’ 
  2. If you need a bit more structure or specificity, then use questions such as:
  • What did I learn about [insert your chosen topic]
  • What did I learn about myself?
  • What was easy?
  • What do I feel really proud of or want to congratulate in myself?
  • What felt (or did I find) difficult?
  • How could I improve?
  • What support and/or resources do I need to start that improvement?
  • I wonder what would happen if…. [use this question to get creative about how you might experiment with a different approach next time]

3. For those that like to wander with wonder, try a free-flowing approach – set the timer for a minimum of twenty minutes with your ‘learning experiences in mind’ and just let the pen flow across the paper. Read it back and notice what you notice. 

There really is no right or wrong, and what you discover about yourself and experiment with is a valuable insight in its own right. Reflective practice is a discipline that can be a powerful approach to building self-awareness and personal growth that relies on nothing more than showing up for yourself with a pen and paper and an intention to learn from the process. 

Let me know how you get on,

Jo x

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