by Simon Middlemas, Sport Psychologist
Reflection, to many, is synonymous with self-reflection. We hold a mirror up to ourselves and our actions and try to look back for insight. But in a mirror, reflection presents an exact replica of what is in front of it. In truth, reflection shows you not what is, but what might be, a improvement on the original experience. It is not about looking back per say, but about improvement and to transformation. More than just looking back or thinking about an activity, reflection is emotional and physical, and is linked with our values and social identity.
So, how do we do it effectively? To attempt to answer to this, I would like to share a story.
Writing this article, I recalled a funny story told to me by my first mentor, a man called Jim. We worked together at a professional football club together, and he was a great educator and gentle leader of people. Some few years back, facing a mountain of stress and problems, Jim read about this new-fangled concept in a leadership book, called Reflective Practice. It blew his mind. The book said that to become a great leader he needed to find time to reflect every day. Walk your dog. Sit in a forest. Swim a mile. Bike to work.
Jim hated walking (too slow) and swimming (too cold) and like many leaders, he found the thought of sitting still for any amount of time quite appalling. So, he left his car on the road and took his bike. Without his car, he reasoned, his 15-minute journey to the office was now 60 minutes; a whole hour of uninterrupted alone time in which to think and reflect. Perfect for finding the answer to his problems. So, he biked through the park every day with his phone on silent and reflected on his ungrateful coaches, his spoilt athletes, his unsupportive boss and his unmotivated colleagues. How do I solve these problems? At the end of his bike rides, he would write down his thoughts and actions, as instructed. But by the end of the first week, Jim felt angry thinking about these problems and the people who caused them.
Too frustrated to reflect, he downloaded gardeners question time onto his iPod. It always calmed him. The next day, lost in a discussion on bark composting and worms, the brake cable snapped on his bike. Jim freewheeled down a steep hill with a sense of impending doom and ploughed into a duck pond. And it was there, waist deep amongst the duck poo and litter, thoroughly wet and embarrassed, that he had the moment of clarity he was searching for. What if I am the problem? he thought. He sat for a minute or so and then laughed at the situation he was in. Twenty minutes later, he squelched into work, and quit, telling all who would listen he was off to become a landscape gardener.
I will never know how much of this story is true, as my friend passed away last year, but I thought about this a lot recently, and what I took from it is this. While reflection is important, you simply can’t force it.