Reflection time

What happens when we don’t have any time to think?  It seems that I periodically rush from one thing to another without a pause – not a moment to reflect on how I am or why I’m rushing.  And I know that I am not alone. I hear this from my clients as well.  What’s the virtue of knowing “how we are” in any given moment? Some people might call this “contemplating one’s navel,” meaning that it’s self-indulgent. Maybe it comes down to personality type. When I learned about the Myers Briggs Personality Type Indicator, I really liked the explanation given of the difference between extravert and introvert: extraverts think that the “unlived life is not worth examining” and introverts (that would be me) think that an “unexamined life is not worth living.”

This has turned out to be true of me and I have seen this with my clients, even with those who are extraverted.  Self-indulgent or not, people lose their anchor, sense of purpose and  work/personal life balance when they don’t have enough time to think.  Judgments and decisions can become skewed because:

  • A first take on something is not necessarily the best one;
  • The information needed to make the best decision is not immediately at hand;
  • A progressively uneasy feeling that something is just not right needs to be investigated;
  • How else to know if the correct approach was used in implementing a project or solving a problem if, after it’s completed, there is no assessment: “How did that go? What should be done differently? What was the underlying issue?”

There are different kinds of reflection time possible in the course of an ordinary day:

  • The 5 or 10 minutes it takes to look at an overall list, making sure that the day’s priorities are still the right ones;
  • Taking 5 or 10 minutes to reflect and breathe – no big deal – sitting, eyes closed or open, focusing on the breath; a colleague calls this,  “clearing the cache”;
  • Taking a walk or getting other regular exercise to help clear the mind, restore perspective and bring left and right brain wisdom together.

Then there are the times that are preciously and carefully set aside and protected for individual reflection or with a business partner to ask questions like:  “Where am I /are we headed?  Is this the right approach? Something doesn’t feel right here – why not?”  For me, those times are critical to ensure that I am operating my business in ways that are congruent with my values, in tune with the needs in the market, with a direction and purpose that make sense.  Important and interesting insights and creativity often result from that kind of reflection time.

An example of just such a reflection time and its results:  A while ago, I was working hard to market the movement/dance aspect of my business, called “Authentic Movement.”   I was not getting the results I’d hoped for, compared to the enormous effort I was expending.  I was getting very frustrated.  In a period of planned reflection, I  realized that I was marketing in a very rigid, structured way – incongruent with the essence and spirit of “Authentic Movement,” which develops at its own pace, results emerging over time.  I changed my marketing tactics to reflect the form and instantly felt more congruent. That part of my business has grown in a different way than I had imagined, but is now more realistic and aligned.

Some tips for successful reflection times, whether solo or with another person. (Reflection time in a group requires different structures to be most successful):

  • Don’t be afraid of the hard questions:  What am I doing? And why am I doing it?
  • Be rigorous: set some parameters, such as determining that a particular time is to think about x but not y.
  • Use time boundaries – 15 minutes or 30 minutes for an ordinary day, 2-3 hours if it is dedicated time during a week, 1-2 days if it’s once a quarter – not overwhelming, but enough to focus.
  • Leave the reflection time with a resolve, intention, a next step.
  • Use other modalities like poetry to set the stage or close the time.
  • Leave with a time for the next reflection.
  • Do it regularly.

Why do it? What are the benefits?  In Nancy Kline’s book, Time to Think, Listening to Ignite the Human Mind (1999), she offers compelling, passionate reasons:  “Because our days and nights are tightening. Change engorges our organizations; fear constricts our vision. Because in this out-of-control world, it’s time for people to think … in fact, to take time to think is to gain time to live. We should create a thinking environment because it works. Because everything depends on it. And because if you get good at it, you have a tool for life (page 21).”

Martha Lask’s Blog

Occasional musings about books, articles or tools that might be of interest; I welcome your comments.

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