Wednesday, October 24, 2018

3 types of reflections and 3 leading questions

“Hi, How are you?” This common greeting is potentially an invitation to reflect. However, we mostly respond with a mechanical “I am fine, thank you” and move on. What would it mean to actually reflect? This is what we explore in this article. Let’s look at 3 leading questions that result in 3 types of reflections.

How did it go? This is perhaps the most common type of reflection. It is like rewind and replay of a chain of events with a critical lens. The time span could be past few days, weeks, months or years of our life.  Or it could be a start to the end of a project we just completed. The primary objective of this reflection is to learn from the past and incorporate the learning in future actions. Three common sub-questions during this reflection are: What went well? What went wrong? And how do we do it better? In my case, I write a note after every workshop where these points are captured.

What next? When we ask, “How to do it better?” we assume, we will continue to do the same or similar thing in future, hopefully, more effectively. “What next?” question suggests that you don’t have to do the same thing as you did in the past. If you have been working in a particular area, “What next?” may prompt you to consider doing something else. In contrast, for someone who is not working, “What next?” may prompt him to consider working. It may involve looking within and asking, “What do I really enjoy?” and then checking how more of it can be done. It may also come from feedback from the environment where a good opportunity is spotted. In my case, I tend to do this reflection every few months. Sometimes there is a course-correction, sometimes not.

What’s going on here? The previous two types of reflections involve looking at the past and into the future. The third type of reflection involves paying attention to what’s going on in the present moment. In that sense, it is a run-time reflection. Present moment may be pleasurable or painful or perhaps neither. The idea is to watch whatever sensation arises and passes. Perhaps there is a story running in the head of how I or someone else did something and that caused something else etc. The reflection involves watching the train of thought. If there is alertness one may even witness hurts and pride getting registered in memory. For me, this is going on almost all the time. It is intensified when the situation is challenging.

For people who are busy in their job, it is considered a luxury to do even the first type (How did it go?) of reflection. However, the most powerful reflection is the third type of reflection (What’s going on here?) The first and second type reflection may happen when you are unwinding say over a weekend or while on a vacation. In contrast, the third type of reflection may catch the unnecessary winding itself, thus eliminating the need for unwinding.

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