Today is March 3 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you reflect upon the day?” German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer observed “Just as one spoils the stomach by overfeeding and thereby impairs the whole body, so can one overload and choke the mind by giving it too much nourishment. For the more one reads the fewer are the traces left of what one has read; the mind is like a tablet that has been written over and over. Hence it is impossible to reflect; and it is only by reflection that one can assimilate what one has read. If one reads straight ahead without pondering over it later, what has been read does not take root, but is for the most part lost.”
Navigating the chaos and practicing the art of living well requires one to reflect upon the day. In today’s world of hyper-consumption of an over-abundance of information, reflection is even more important than ever. How can you ‘assimilate what you have read without the necessary reflection?’ How often do you read and ignore reflection? How often do you experience a moment and fail to give it its proper place and review in your life? Are you so busy reading, learning, and doing, that you forget to reflect? Have you thought about why you are ignoring such reflection time? Are you afraid to look inward?
This entire Navigate the Chaos series offers you an opportunity to spend a few moments each day to reflect upon a specific question. Each post is designed around a question instead of the typical advice paradigm so often used. Telling you something, declaring a truth, or defining some secret to success is far less powerful than challenging you to reflect upon a question. By reflecting upon a question, you can do the necessary work to, as American theoretical physicist Fred Alan Wolf noted “ask yourself deeper questions as doing so opens up new ways of being in the world. It brings in a breath of fresh air. It makes life more joyful. The real trick to life is not to be in the know, but to be in the mystery.” How comfortable are you in the mystery? How often do you ask yourself the deeper questions? When is the last time you opened up to a new way of being in the world?
One way to ask yourself deeper questions is to reflect upon your day. Too often, however, the people that need the benefits of self-reflection often avoid it the most. In her March 2017 article "Why You Should Make Time for Self-Reflection (Even If You Hate Doing It),” executive coach Jennifer Porter wrote “The hardest leaders to coach are those who won’t reflect-particularly leaders who won’t reflect on themselves.” Reflection offers leaders “an opportunity to pause amidst the chaos, untangle and sort through observations and experiences, consider multiple possible interpretations, and create meaning. This meaning becomes learning, which can then inform future mindsets and actions. For leaders, this ‘meaning making’ is crucial to their ongoing growth and development.”
Additional research supports Porter’s observations. For example, Harvard Business School professor Francesca Gino and her colleagues asked workers to spend 15 minutes at the end of their workdays writing about what went well that day, and they found that the journaling employees had 22.8% higher performance than those who did not ponder on their workday. As the researchers indicated “taking time away from training and reallocating that time to deliberate learning efforts improved individual performance.” It is worth noting that study participants didn't simply think about what went well but wrote their responses down. "It's very easy to deceive yourself if you're just thinking about it," Gino noted, "but when you write things down on paper, it's easier to identify what's helpful."
How often do you write things down on paper, or even type them in a document? Many reflections would be unsuitable for social media for they are personal and exist for you to ponder by yourself. If you are sharing a thought or observation on social media without the proper amount of reflection, how do you think that would impact your ability to increase your self-awareness? Are you waiting for others to do the reflecting for you?
Centuries ago Benjamin Franklin relied on reflection when he began and ended each day with a question: "What good shall I do this day?" in the morning, and "What good have I done this day?" in the evening. At the end of the day how often do you reflect upon what good you did that day or what went right that day? Spending the 15 minutes to reflect can afford you an opportunity to emphasize something positive or good. Doing so sets the stage for the next day. As 18th century French philosopher Denis Diderot noted “There are three principal means of acquiring knowledge: observation of nature, reflection, and experimentation. Observation collects facts; reflection combines them; experimentation verifies the result of that combination. Our observation of nature must be diligent, our reflection profound, and our experiments exact. We rarely see these three means combined; and for this reason, creative geniuses are not common.”
How often is your observation of nature diligent?
How often is your reflection profound?
How often are your experiments exact?