By CHONG SOOK LENG
An opportune time
When the year comes to an end and fireworks lit up the sky to usher in yet another new year. It is fascinating that no matter how many times the scene repeats, the occasion seldom fails to captivate.
A certain sense of nostalgia fills the air and the year’s events noteworthy by our memories are conjured up. As we prepare to cross over the timeline from one year to the next, it is an excellent time to recall the amazing, the good, the bad and the ugly events of the past year. A review of these events would cause us to either bask in our achievements or balk at some missteps.
An opportune action
Many individuals go through life viewing experiences as isolated, unrelated events. The past is the past, “Why do I have to think about it anymore?” However, there is much to learn from the past to guide us in future similar or new situations. Although we had the experiences, but we may have missed the meaning. The work of linking and constructing meaning from experiences requires reflection.
Reflection is the ability to examine with a critical eye what we take for granted, observe our self in action, and to learn from it. By reflecting, we gain insight, sometimes fresh perspective and new meaning.
Observing our self from a distance gives us an opportunity to face our self as if in a mirror and discover who the reflection is. The possibilities of a whole new world lie within our own minds and the experience can be quite therapeutic and restorative when assessing with a mindset of curiosity.
Sometimes, reflection takes us to places where we wish we could re-live the same experience or to events where we wish never to happen again. It is not uncommon for us to feel déjà vu when certain outcomes, whether favourable or unfavourable seem familiar although our circumstances could be very different on both the occasions.
The question is – could we have anticipated the consequence before it transpired?
An opportune study
Some of us may have heard of the term emotional hijacking where people become so overwhelmed by their feelings that they immediately react to a situation without thinking about what they are doing. The consequences could be damaging and regrettable.
The good news is that a recent research published in the book, How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain by Lisa Feldman Barrett, a psychologist and neuroscientist, found that emotion is constructed by our brains continually as a lifetime of learning. This new theory means that the more prepared we are at constructing our emotions, the better we become in reaction to event triggers when it happens.
This new theory also means that we play a much greater role in our emotional life than we ever thought. Who would have thought the capacity to imagine and create a new future is intimately connected to our memories and the experiences?
A combined review of our past successes and failures, its corresponding conditions which supported or undermined us and factors that influenced our decisions will offer us valuable awareness on how to initiate a repeat of the winning formula and avoiding the pitfalls. We build on our learnings and our brains becomes the depository of these experiential learnings.
These insights would prepare us to react accordingly in similar conditions and hopefully lead us to a ‘wiser’ decision to generate more positive déjà vu moments for us.
If there is merit in reflection, then how is it that few practice the habit of reflecting?
One of my all-time favourite classics, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the White Rabbit wearing a waistcoat, was muttering “Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be too late!” The scene mirrors present time working executives who rush through their days to meet tight deadlines, packed schedules of urgent appointments, and getting uptight when plans go awry.
There’s just too much to do and too little time to accomplish it all, let alone to add another task and set aside time for reflection to review our past!
The White Rabbit by John Tenniel – Alice in Wonderland
In 1958 a slogan which we are all familiar with was coined, ‘Have a break, Have a Kit Kat’. Because it is such a universal phrase, it is possibly quoted by almost everyone who requires a time out.
Taking a break, whether it is a power nap or a month’s vacation is critical to rejuvenate. Performing at optimum levels all the time is impossible unless we are perpetually feeling energised, motivated, and fully engaged at work and in our relationships.
There is never a good time to start anything new. If you find that reflection could bring you better understanding of yourself – just start, just do. There’s no better time than now to carve some precious time away from the madding crowd of festive shopping, feasting and traffic.
Listen to: Are You Restless Or Are You Restful?
…take a break, reflect to gain clarity, reimagine the possibilities, redirect your energy and return with assurance to shape your future self.
The good news is taking time to reflect is a habit which can be developed, and reflection is a skill which can be learnt!
How might these ‘habits of mind’ be used as a guide in your life?
Reflection has many facets and we can approach it in different ways. We could have quiet moments for ourselves to recall about certain work incidents, recollect an occasion when someone either praised or criticised us or perhaps reconnect the dots to our personal experience while reading a book.
Depending on our preference for learning, some find much revelation in solitude whereas some prefer to solicit comments from family and friends. Since reflection can be done alone or with friends, think about how best to use time during your ‘personal time alone’ or ‘chill time’ with friends.
This might interest you: 5 Self-Reflection Questions Leaders Should Ask Themselves
Once you start reminiscing with friends and seek feedback on yourself, you’ll be surprised how much you will receive. They would view you as being open and transparent. When inviting other people into your reflection process, you need to be prepared to be challenged as it may help to identify blind spots. If you are not prepared, the experience could turn unpleasant. The ability to think flexibly is an advantage.
If you are in your personal time alone, whipping out a pen and paper and penning down your thoughts would be a great start!
When was the last time you reflected on something?
There are many methods to reflect. A popular one is to re-create your personal ‘life road maps’ and highlight the events that you deem made an impact on your happiness, sorrow, success, failures or episodes that left an imprint on you. Here are some reflection steps one could use while reviewing:
- Contemplate on the different factors that had influenced the choices we made brings awareness of why we made those decisions
- Ascertain the influencing factors during those periods helps us understand what had shaped our identities
- Consider the dynamics that helped to move you forward or set you back provides realisation on what facilitated and impeded your progression
- Take time to analyse and draw causal relationships and make meaning of them
And if you are one who keeps logs and journals, selecting significant events and reviewing it is another method.
Can you envision how you could apply them to future situations?
Re-model the future
We do not have to define ourselves based on our past. We can construct our own future realities based on the understanding and knowledge, from reflecting on our experiences.
The more often we reflect, the more we learn about our self, the better we become at self-managing our emotions and reactions to the world around us. Over time, we re-model the shifts in our mindset to create better futures for ourselves.
We do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience.John Dewey
Read also: Do You Know Yourself Well?