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The Value of Reflection: When Was the Last Time You Stopped and Did Nothing?

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The Value of Reflection: When Was the Last Time You Stopped and Did Nothing?

Every month I have a standing meeting with a group of coaches I know where we challenge each other to regularly improve what we are doing and get feedback. In a recent meeting, one of the coaches ended by asking us what we’ve learned over the past 12-18 months; what changed both personally and in our businesses, and to reflect on what we would not have been able to do 18 months ago that we are able to do now. In our next meeting we would share our reflections.

It was one of the most impactful exercises I’ve undertaken. It took me out of my daily business grind focused on growth and clients and it reminded me of why I became a coach in the first place. Within fifteen minutes, I realized I was going to pivot and work differently for the next six months. And, now, I’ve put myself back on the path that I want to be on.

Reflection has value

I was so excited about it that I took it to my clients and asked them how often they reflect. Just like me – they didn’t. Many of us don’t like to spend the time reflecting because it isn’t “accomplishing” something. It’s not checking an item off the list. When we have a list that is getting longer, with resources getting shorter – spending an hour/morning/afternoon/day just thinking sounds like madness. But it’s vital and has incredible value.

It’s vital because it makes us pause, and think outside of our current viewpoint. It’s vital because it changes perspective and aligns our daily activities with the bigger picture. It’s valuable because it helps sharpen focus on to items that are most important, and lets the distractions fall by the wayside.

Reflection changes perspective, enhances focus, and re-engages

Our daily perspective gets clouded. Difficult clients, unreasonable deadlines and frustrating coworkers can put us into a mindset not helpful to what we want to accomplish. This daily noise takes away from what we are looking to do over a longer period of time. Sometimes we need to stop, climb a tree and take a look over the horizon. Trying to cross a river at a waterfall doesn’t make sense when there is a bridge around the bend.

This elevation of perspective allows your mind to wander and then focus on “why” you are doing something and what else is possible. It brings attention to the important stuff and helps you align your tactics with an overall strategy. What purpose do your current activities serve? Almost magically, you will find yourself getting more engaged and motivated. Motivation increases because you have thought of your longer-term goal, and it helps outline the specific steps you need to get there.

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Here’s an exercise

There are countless exercises coaches employ to help their clients get into a reflective state. Simple web searches can find one that’s right for you. One of the best and most simple I have found is the letter exercise. Here’s how it works:

Sit and write yourself a letter from your future self. Writing a full letter, and not just bullet points, helps you fully formulate your ideas and think through more complete details. This “future self” can be you in six months, a year, five years or a decade. Think of where you want to be at that time. Write yourself advice, based on what you “learned” over this time. What does your “future self” know and wish that it had known sooner? What vision have you realized? What were your big successes? What pitfalls did you wish you had avoided? Include both personal and professional items. Then, compare that to where you are today.

The exercise provides clarity. It allows you to filter out current distractions and focus on the items that are most important to longer-term goals. It may seem awkward at first (it did for me). However, like my grandmother would always say – you get out of it what you put into it.

Many of you will read this and move on – and that’s fine. I can promise, though, that this exercise is beneficial. It gives you an opportunity to be fully honest with yourself, and this honest assessment is the first step towards targeted, long-term focus and success.

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