Reflective Practice for Career and Personal Development
What is Reflective Practice? The simplest definition of Reflective practice is reflecting or thinking about your actions. It is similar to the concept of learning from one’s experience, where one reflects on what he or she did, what happened, and take a decision in future based on the learnings from the experience, as to how he or she would do things differently the next time.
It is part of basic human psychology to reflect on what has happened. However, the difference between reflective practice and casual thinking lies in the fact the reflective practice warrants a conscious effort to think and reflect about events and form insights into them. If an individual develops the habit of utilising reflective practice, it will be useful not only at home but also at work.
How can You Develop and Use Reflective Practice
What are the ways in which you can develop the constructive, critical, and creative thinking that is important for reflective practice? Neil Thompson has suggested the following six simple steps to develop and use reflective practice in his book People Skills:
- Develop the habit of reading about the topics which you are learning about or wish to learn about and develop in future.
- You should make it a habit to ask others about the way they do things and why.
- You must be observant and watch what is going in and around you.
- Learn to pay close attention to your emotions, what prompts them, and how you tend to deal with your negative emotions.
- Make it a practice to share your views and experiences with your peers or colleagues in your organisation.
- You must consciously learn to value the time that you spend thinking about your work.
You need to understand that it is not just the thinking part which is important. Apart from thinking, you need to also develop an understanding of the theory, how others practice it, and explore your ideas around it with others.
Reflective practice can be developed as a shared activity. You need not practice it all alone. In fact, social psychologists have opined that learning is most effective when thoughts are put into language either in spoken or written format. This explains the fact as to why we are motivated while announcing a particular insight out loud even when we are by ourselves!
However, there may be times when it may be challenging to find opportunities for shared reflective practice, especially in a busy working environment. While there are certainly some obvious opportunities such as appraisal discussions or reviews of any particular events, but these events do not take place on an everyday basis. So you may need to look for other means of putting your insights into words.
It is suggested by psychologists that especially at the beginning of developing reflective practice, it is quite helpful to maintain a journal of your learning experiences. It need not be in a formal documented format, but you can simply take down notes about your everyday activities and events and write them down as they happened, and then later reflect on them to consider what you have learned from these experiences and how or what could or should have been done in a different manner. Reflective practice is not just all about changing things or actions; it is a self-learning journal which can even highlight things that you have done quite well.
The Reflective Learning Process
While you are maintaining your journal, the following simple process may help you to develop your reflective practice. As you gain experience, you can always revisit this process and mould or modify it as per your requirement. However, this simple process may be good to start off with initially.
- Try to identify a situation that you may have encountered either in your work life or personal life that you believe could have been dealt with in a more effective manner.
- Describe the experience as it happened. Try to recollect and jot down the details as to when and where the situation occurred. Jot down any other thoughts that you can recollect about that particular situation.
- After you have written down all the details, spend some time on reflection. Make a mental note of how you behaved in that situation, what kind of thoughts you had, what kind of feelings did it generate, how it made you feel, any other factors that may have influence that particular situation, and what did you learn from the experience.
- Then get down to theorising the situation. For instance, did the experience match with your preconceived ideas and was the outcome expected or unexpected. Reflect did the situation enable you to relate it to any formal theories that you are aware of or what kind of behaviours could have changed the outcome.
- Last but not the least, think of different ways of experimenting. For instance, is there anything that you could do or say now to change the outcome? Are there any actions that you can take to change similar reactions in the future? You may also think of what other behaviours you can try out in future for a similar situation.
What are some of the Benefits of Reflective Practice?
Reflective practice has huge benefits:
- It helps in increasing self-awareness. Self-awareness is a primary component of emotional intelligence which helps in developing a better understanding of others.
- Reflective practice helps you to develop creative thinking skills. It also encourages an individual’s active engagement during work processes.
- If you develop the habit of maintaining a learning journal and regularly refer and use it for reflective practice for various work situations, it will support more meaningful discussions pertaining to career development, your personal development, especially at the time of appraisal discussions. It will also help to cite examples to use in competency-based interview situations.
The time that you spend on reflective practice will certainly ensure that you are able to concentrate on the things that matter, both to you and to your organisation or your family. It is, in fact, a tool for improving your learning experience in relation to your work as well as to life experiences. Although it may take some amount of time to adopt this technique of reflective practice, it will eventually help you to save you time and energy.