We all have them – those days when things don’t go according to plan. It can be a presentation that didn’t land well. A missed meeting. A conversation that went off the rails. A session where you know you are not on your game.

When you confront these situations you have two choices – reflect or ruminate.

Whilst both practices require you to look back, the emphasis and focus is different.

It’s easy to ruminate. We run the scenario in our head again and again, and try to rewrite how the event unfolded. It becomes like a broken record, which keeps spinning and there is no off switch.

When we ruminate we aren’t being productive with our thoughts because our thinking process doesn’t reach a conclusion. The research shows that rumination can lead to a range of negative outcomes: depression, anxiety, and over-eating and drinking, for example.

As the brilliant psychologist Daniel Kahneman (author of Thinking Fast and Slow) said, “Nothing in life is as important as you think it is, while you are thinking about it”.

While ruminating stops you from moving forward, reflecting helps because it is focused on learning.

When you reflect you think about the situation, focus on uncovering what you have learned, how you were feeling and identifying what you would do differently next time. It requires a growth mindset so you can generate insights as to the cause of the situation and is outcome focused.

Researchers Giada Di Stefano, Francesca Gino, Gary Pisano and Bradley Staats have examined how reflecting improves learning. Their research was conducted in a large business process outsourcing company, and whilst it focused on examining how reflective learning practices improves how people learn, it provides useful insight in this context.

They found that performance differed when a person’s learning is coupled with reflection.

They wrote: “Articulating and codifying prior experience does entail the high opportunity cost of one’s time, yet… thinking after completing tasks is no idle pursuit: It can powerfully enhance the learning process, and it does so more than the accumulation of additional experience on the same task”.

Next time you face a situation where you want to ruminate, flip it and reflect instead.

To help, here’s a handy list of questions that you may want to use to guide your reflection:

  • How prepared were you (for the situation)?
  • What did you do?
  • What happened?
  • What was going on for you at the time?
  • What do you think was going on for the other person/people involved?
  • What was the outcome? Did you achieve what you set out to achieve?
  • How did you feel at the beginning, during and end of the event?
  • What drove those feelings?
  • How did those feelings impact what you said and did?
  • What would you do differently next time?

As a teacher of mine once said – Warning, reflection causes learning!

Get ready for tomorrow, today.

Michelle Gibbings is a change leadership and career expert and founder of Change Meridian. Michelle works with global leaders and teams to help them get fit for the future of work. She is the Author of ‘Step Up: How to Build Your Influence at Work’ and ‘Career Leap: How to Reinvent and Liberate your Career’. For more information: www.michellegibbings.com or contact [email protected].


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