On Reflective Practice, or, Why I write.

Using writing as reflective practice not only develops your communication skills but can also help you with those big (and little) life decisions.

Reflective practice. Means nothing to you? No, it probably wouldn’t unless you’d trained as a teacher or a nurse or a psych or a management consultant. It’s a shame it’s not more well-known because I find it the most helpful technique/ approach to improving not only my professional practice but also my life.

What is reflective practice?

In a nutshell, reflective practice is about looking at an incident or situation – usually one which has gone totally pear-shaped but it works equally well with peak events – and asks “What the heck was going on there?”

You describe what was said or done (the action or behaviour), the feelings that you were experiencing as this was happening, and the thoughts behind the feelings or the behaviour. Then you take it back to first principles, or your ‘truth’ or belief underlying the behaviour, and it can reveal whether your values-in-action are matching your espoused-values.  (ie are your actions aligned with what you say?)

Once you have a little insight into the situation then reflective practice asks that you explore different ways to approach the situation in the future (ie How could I have done this differently?).  You add the possible new behaviour to your kitbag that you can test next time you’re in the same (or even similar) situation.  Then you reflect on it again. It’s a cyclical thing. Much like coaching, except you do it yourself.

It all sounds a bit cognitive when I put it that way, but it really is a quite gentle process. It comes from the assumption that we all have good reasons to do or say the things we do. Sometimes we misjudge the consequences, sometimes we forget about the consequences, but at some level there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for us doing daft things.

It’s all about learning

If you see change from a learning perspective (such as with Lewin or Kolb’s cycle of experiencing, reflecting, thinking and acting), reflective practice addresses (and makes explicit) the reflecting and thinking phases of the learning cycle that we may take for granted as we rush through life.

As mentioned earlier, reflective practice was developed in professions where it is important (often critical) to learn from your mistakes. What I like best about it is the simple act of sitting down and writing out the experience means that I have to stop and look at the consequences of my actions. It requires me to consider options I may not have previously rather than just blindly continue doing what I always do. In doing so, patterns of behaviour or thinking are revealed, different perspectives can be explored and it opens up a world of possibility.

Revive yourself for conscious living

It also brings a lot of my unconscious actions or beliefs into consciousness so that I know I have a whole swag of skills or options at my disposal when a similar situation arises again. Knowing I have this repertoire of responses does wonders for my self-efficacy (the belief that I can do something), which is one of the key players in goal achievement.

Reflective practice can be used in many situations such as post-training implementation, action research and learning at work – and even getting on better with your partner. And after you do it for a while, you’ll find it occurs naturally when you’re in the situation so that you get what they call reflection-in-action as well.

I use reflective practice as part of my daily journaling and I find it helps me get to the bottom of things that are bugging me. And you’ll see plenty of it here at westonculture as it’s my preferred writing style: I write for understanding and ultimately to find better ways of living and working.

If you’re interested in using reflective practice in your own work and life, then checkout my Reflective Practice worksheet. It was written for coaches but I think it’s still applicable across work and life situations.