6 Tips For Starting A Self-Reflection Practice to Improve Performance and Productivity
You are busy taking action all week long, leading in ways you never dreamed.
You have a clear set of goals and intentions, even if it’s imperfectly executed.
You may even count your wins and celebrate the successes you experienced.
But, are you taking time to truly reflect on your actions, your behavior and your mindset?
Self-Reflection can be one of the highest forms of self-care for founders and leaders at any level.
And, it also is one of the best ways to become braver and more confident in your leadership.
As a business strategist and courage coach for founders and their teams, I naturally build in a lot of self-reflection with my clients both during private coaching sessions and during my Brave YES Leadership Team Retreats.
In fact, sometimes the first 20 minutes of a private coaching session is the reflection piece, which is so powerful because this is often where ah-ahs pop up and the real areas of coaching work can begin.
>>>> In my upcoming Brave YES Power Squad — a 12-week group coaching program — weekly reflection is built in so that we are making sure to honor progress made while trying to push ourselves to take brave action. In fact, each week there are lessons to bring your focus and awareness on key areas of taking risks, being authentic and leading more courageously.
Reflection is the foundation for building on what’s working. No foundation, no growth.
Taking time for self-reflection isn’t something that we’re taught and because our society is always focused on new and more and different we tend to just keep moving ahead and taking action, even if that action isn’t working anymore.
When you take time to reflect on your actions, your wins, your struggles, your obstacles, you are not just venting or becoming more aware of what’s working and what’s not, you are also creating new pathways in your brain to start to make much more powerful decisions.
I’m often amazed at how people operate without doing any self-reflection but it is a thing for some — my husband is one of them. While he may do a little hindsight 20–20 while driving or working out, he’s not someone who will sit and journal and reflect on his day or his week.
That’s my territory, for sure.
Self-reflection can cover a lot of things but the one thing it is not covering is more doing, more learning, more striving.
No, self-reflection is about …
- honoring what has happened
- noting how you are feeling and what you need now
- noticing patterns
- recognizing limiting beliefs
- making space to think bigger by building on what’s working
Here are 6 tips to start your own self-reflection practice:
1. Choose Core Self-Reflection Themes
More often than not, we all have a lot of areas of growth or improvement we want to focus on in our lives and work. That isn’t advised when starting out a self-reflection practice.
Instead, choose a few core areas — themes — to focus on.
Themes can relate to anything that is important to you such as …
- Personal or Family Life
- Sales or Marketing
- A certain Project
It’s up to you to personalize and decide on themes that are meaningful to you so that you are truly reflecting on what matters most.
MY PRACTICE: I call them themes in my life and I usually focus on no more than 6 themes in my own life and work. My themes vary from week to week or month to month. I always make sure my own self-care and family life is a priority in my self-reflection as well as key areas of my business and my creativity/writing.
2. Decide on Self-Reflection Recurrence and Timing
Self-reflection works best when it’s done consistently and over a long period of time. The more you notice, the more you’ll start to notice and pick up on patterns and limiting beliefs that may be holding you back.
But, it’s not necessary to do this practice daily, especially as you get started. But, it is important to establish a ritual that keeps it meaningful and relevant for you.
Consider your own life and schedule and decide how much time you want to spend and how often you can commit to your self-reflection practice.
Some options include:
MY PRACTICE: For me, I do some reflection daily usually in morning pages or evening pages in my journal but I also do a more formal practice every Friday that is a weekly review and reflection.
3. Settle on One Container for Your Self-Reflection Practice
It should be noted that I am a passionate journaler. My home office closet is filled with little else but a mini-mountain of filled up journals.
That said, the container you choose for your self-reflection practice needs to feel good for you so that you’re willing to do it when you want to be doing it.
By choosing one container — and not being scattered and all over the place — you are able to look back and past reflections and see evidence of growth, progress or ah-has.
There is no wrong container except one you won’t use.
Here are a few of the possible containers for your self-reflection practice:
Let your own practice container be something that energizes you and keeps you reflecting!
MY PRACTICE: I use three containers. I use a catch-all journal ( this one, in fact) for my informal, daily reflections or I use an online platform for writing my morning pages. Then, I have a Weekly Review & Reset Notion Dashboard that I fill out weekly. Clearly reflection is a big part of my process — both creatively and as a coach — so I spend a lot of time in reflection.
4. Identify the Most Important Questions To Ask Yourself
You want your self-reflection practice to get to the heart of what you need to discover so you’ll want your questions to be powerful enough to get yourself thinking more deeply than surface level.
It’s essential that you ask yourself hard questions and be honest with the answers.
While simple questions may get you through your practice more quickly, true self-reflection requires quiet space to think and get below the surface of where the obvious lives.
Become a powerful question asker and collector.
If you run across a favorite question you’ve heard from someone else — say, in a meeting — write it down and add it to your practice.
Questions to Consider:
- What was my biggest win?
- What gave me energy?
- What zapped my energy?
- Where did I struggle?
- What went well?
- What needs improvement?
MY PRACTICE: I have a set of standard questions that I ask myself each week but my informal daily practice focuses on a three-prong approach: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow. I also have reflection prompts I use to mix things up and get me thinking differently. I keep a long list of these in a Notion page just for reflection journaling.
5. Keep Digging for the Lessons
Self-reflection is no use to you if you don’t find areas of growth to make in any theme you are curious about or passionate about right now.
So your practice needs to be messy and imperfect. Keep digging until the real lesson — the real area of progress — shows up and makes itself clear to you.
For example, let’s say one of your core areas for self-reflection is productivity. Lately you’ve been getting distracted and not taking enough action on your goals. Writing each week about what’s distracting you — and why — should lead to some real answers and solutions. If you are only venting about being distracted, you’re not asking the right questions.
By asking clarifying questions you’ll get closer to the lessons you need to pay attention to.
A few clarifying questions to consider …
MY PRACTICE: I follow a much customized journaling practice I learned a while back from a colleague that I call YES, NOPE, SPARK. When I find an area where I am struggling, I write a list of what the YESES are — what’s working, what makes me happy, what feels good. Then, I wrote down all the NOPES, what’s not working, what doesn’t feel good, etc. Then, I write a list of SPARKS, which are the actions I need to keep moving forward, maintain, or remember. The SPARK list is the medicine from my reflection.
Process and Take Actions on Your Lessons Learned
The whole point of self-reflection is to become more self-aware of what is working for you and what isn’t in any given area of your life, business or leadership.
To make the most of this practice, you’ll want to make sure you take what you’ve learned and implement it in some way going forward. It’s useless to reflect and not put what you learn into action. Otherwise you’ll be repeating the same mistakes over and over.
Take time to put some actionable tasks or reminders in places you’ll see them through your week. Dig a little deeper if you don’t have any actions to take.
Ways to Process and Grow Through the Lessons
- Journal on each lesson you discover
- Take a walk to process the lesson
- Meditate with the lesson in mind
- Reach up for support to verbally process
MY PRACTICE: As a coach, I hold space for a lot of people trying to make sense of their obstacles and self-sabotage. And so, naturally, I am in a lot of conversations each day that help me process and cope with many struggles. That said, I also do all four of these practices to process and grow through my lessons. I spend a lot of time reflecting and processing so that I take right action going forward.