Do you know there is actually a thing called ‘reflection’? I didn’t! And I’m not talking about what you see when you look in the mirror! I’m talking about reflecting on what’s happened and why; giving a matter what the Oxford dictionary calls, ‘serious thought or consideration.’

I’m wired as an achiever. I like to conceive ideas, turn them into projects and make them happen… and then move on quickly to the next one. It’s not really in my nature to pause or even celebrate success. I’m too busy thinking about what comes next.

Over the years I’ve completed various personality and leadership profiles and tests. Two consistent themes that always emerge are; a focus on the future and a sense of urgency. A lot of senior leaders are similar. We tend to be driven types and we end up in roles where someone needs to do the driving. Often because that’s what it takes to drag our organisations to where they need to be.

And I have to say there is a great buzz from visualising a future vision and by sheer force of will turning it into a reality. But no one can sustain that lifestyle forever. The Chief Medical Officer of a multi-national oil company once told me that anyone can work at 110% of their capacity for a short time, but no one can work at 100% of their capacity all the time. It’s just a medical fact. The problem with CEO’s is that they don’t believe medical facts apply to them!

So what does it mean to ‘give serious thought or consideration’ to a matter. Quite simply its like pressing the pause button on life and reviewing and thinking through what has and is happening and how you are responding. In their book on Self-Leadership (2012) Bryant and Kazan describe Self Leadership as having a developed sense of who you are, what you can do and where you are going, coupled with the ability to influence your communication, emotions and behaviour on the way to getting there.

Self-Leadership means having your own personal feedback loop from the external world and being able to respond and positively adjust your behaviour in response to your reflection on that feedback.
We’re all usually pretty good ‘after the fact’. We know what we would have said or would have done had it occurred to us at the time. The ‘tighter’ that feedback loop is, the more self-leadership we are exercising.

But how do you start reflecting, if like me, you’re wired not to? How do you start to develop that feedback loop from your external world when you’re so used driving straight through it without taking much notice of your surroundings?

Well, you’ve got to start thinking differently. As Albert Einstein famously said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them”. So put your phone down, leave your Social Media and Apps for a while and pick up those amazingly powerful pieces of technology that have transformed and shaped our modern world – the paper and pen.

Keeping a personal handwritten journal is a simple, but powerful way to help you to start reflecting. Ironically I’ve been doing this for years as part of my spiritual life, but it never occurred to me apply it in my professional life. So how does journal writing with pen and paper help the reflection process?

  • Firstly it’s a process that requires some peace, so you end up finding yourself a quiet spot to do it. It might be the study, a favourite spot in the garden or a quiet coffee shop. But, over time it becomes your place. A place you associate with ‘serious thought or consideration’.
  • Secondly it’s not quick. There’s no copy and paste with pen and paper. You can only ‘write at the speed of life’. It’s not like staring at a screen with a continuous stream of notifications popping up and the associated mental hyper-stimulation. The point is – it’s slow.
  • Thirdly, as you describe in words on a page what you’ve been thinking and experiencing you end up reading them over again and that turns out to be a bit like looking in the mirror. We all think we remember what we look like, but it’s only we stare at our reflection that we see what we actually look like. Next time you come to journal you’ll probably find you begin by reviewing what you’ve written previously. And there you are – learning to reflect.

Journal writing has helped me take stock and consolidate the self-awareness aspect of self-leadership. I don’t think I’ll ever change the fact that I’m a person who always likes to be moving forward (usually at speed!) But I can learn the importance of pausing every now and again and slowing the pace down. How about trying it for yourself? If you already journal I’d love to hear what benefits you’ve discovered from ‘writing at the speed of life’.