The Art of Reflection
Mike will tell you that spending time in reflection is a key discipline of every great leader.
When I hear the word “reflection” though, my mind immediately jumps to that dramatic scene in the
Disney movie Mulan. It’s the scene where Mulan has returned home following an utterly humiliating
and failed attempt to impress her matchmaker. Essentially, she sings about how no one knows who she really is and how her reflection doesn’t match how she feels on the inside. Now, I know this isn’t the picture that pops into Mike’s head when he teaches a Leadershift lesson on reflection, but I think there are some truths from this song that correlate with Mike’s teaching and experience on the topic.
The reflection Mulan is addressing in this song is how she is perceived by others- the life she is forced to live that doesn’t align with her desires, interests, and personality. She sings, “Who is that girl staring straight back at me? Why is my reflection someone I don’t know?” The reflection Mike addresses is that of stopping and listening. He stresses the importance of listening to what you’ve learned, dwelling on what experience has taught you, and not remaining so busy that you’re unable to learn.
That’s happening in this scene though, at least to a degree, isn’t it? It was in the quiet, in the time alone where Mulan was able to address all her feelings. She was able to look at her experiences and see how she wanted to move in a different direction. She was reflecting on who she was. That was the entire nature of the scene. She longed to be seen for who she really was instead of dressing up by the rules of her parents and the expectations of her culture. Here’s my point for all those who have never seen Mulan and are about to stop reading because I’m using Disney references: whether you are assessing yourself or a situation- whether you are pleased with the way things are going or you are ready to flip some tables because you are desperate for a change- reflection is the place to begin. Through Mulan’s time in reflection, she was able to identify in herself a resolve to defend and care for her family. She disguised herself as a man, taking her father’s place in battle, knowing he was wounded and would likely suffer on the battlefield. She knew the risk of being caught was death, but she had reflected on that risk and decided it was worth it.
Don’t worry. You don’t have to sing a sappy song like Mulan as part of your reflection time, but you do need to be honest with yourself. Stop and listen. As often said in Leadershift, “Experience isn’t the best teacher. Evaluated experience is.” If you are always on the go, you will never have time to truly learn along the way. You have to stop, and you have to listen; not just to yourself- though it is critical to listen to what your body and heart are telling you- but also listen to what your experiences are trying to teach you. Hearing is what you hear being said; listening is hearing what’s not being said. One of the laws of reflection that Mike discusses is that reflection turns experience into insight. I think it is valuable to define the word “insight” here: the capacity to gain an accurate and deep intuitive understanding of a person or thing. That’s what reflection will do. It will give you a deeper and more intuitive understanding of people and situations, which will then act as a guide for you in future decisions. It’s when you take time to pause and seek to understand all angles of a situation that your thinking will expand and be enriched. You aren’t going to just stumble into insight accidently. You must pursue it. Insight must be sought.
It can be easy to say that you’re going to spend time in reflection, but unless there is time carved out in your schedule- a dedicated and set apart time of intentional reflection- there will be no consistency. I’ve often carried the belief that I process things as I go and that there is no need to spend specific time studying my experiences. That’s ironic coming from me though, because I have immensely benefited from talk therapy over the years. I’ve spent thousands upon thousands of dollars to sit down and process experiences with a trained professional. While this isn’t the same as spending individual time in reflection, there are similarities that indicate to me the great benefit that would be found in intentional reflection. And what is at the heart of reflection? Good questions. Don’t just think about things. Rather, sit down and ask yourself precise questions such as: Why did I respond that way to __________? What else could be going on behind the scenes with ________? What was the root cause of my distracted mind today? The list goes on and on.
One of the gains from reflection is that of personal awareness. John Maxwell provides 10 questions that can be asked of absolutely anyone. When answered with thoughtfulness and honesty, they provide a deeper understanding of oneself, which will aid in work, relationships, home life, etc.