The power of self-reflection at work

We often hear advice about how self-reflection can help us learn more about our true inner selves and can help resolve interpersonal conflicts. However, self-reflection should not be reserved for our personal lives only; it can also be richly rewarding for our professional careers.

Self-reflection can be defined as the process of replaying recent experiences in our minds to discover insights about ourselves. Researchers describe it as “a personal process that can deepen one’s understanding of self and can lead to significant discoveries or insights.”

These insights can include clues to our values, clarity about our behaviors, and the sources of our knowledge. Self-reflection is also a tool that helps us understand where we come from and how we define successes and failures for ourselves. It is an opportunity to test our assumptions about the world around us and uncover where we can grow and improve. Essentially, time spent on self-reflection creates a chance to learn more about ourselves and what we need to grow personally and professionally.

Self-reflection for job performance

When it comes to job performance, people tend to believe that practice always makes perfect. The more often we practice learning a new skill, the more likely we will be to master relevant tasks. However, a study suggests that reflection is a much more powerful learning tool when it comes to job performance.

In the study, 101 employees at a large company were assigned to two groups: reflection or practice. The practice group spent the last 15 minutes of their day participating in regular job training, while the reflection group spent their last 15 minutes journaling about their experiences that day and the lessons learned from their training. All participants completed a skills test at the end of their training.

Researchers found that those in the reflection group scored an average of 15 more points on the assessment than the practice group. The study shows the value of allocating time for reflection to increase new employees’ skills and knowledge.

Engaging in self-reflection may also improve your job performance by protecting your mental health, and more specifically by helping you avoid burnout. In a study of English teachers in Iran, researchers found that teachers who spent more time reflecting on the day’s activities were less likely to experience burnout. In addition, the researchers suggested that those who engaged in self-reflection had a stronger emotional attachment and dedication to their job

It may feel counter-intuitive, but self-reflection doesn’t have to be a solo process. ​​Having a colleague willing to help you can strengthen your reflection process. It can also allow you to form closer bonds with trusted colleagues and give you the chance to hear insights from others that you may not have seen yourself. 

Dr. Rebecca Finley from Thomas Jefferson University suggests that mentors and colleagues can assist you by asking prompting questions such as: what happened, why does it matter, and what do you want to do now? Or: where are you right now, and where do you want to be?

Reflecting on your professional experiences and learning from them can influence your career choices. Perhaps reflecting on a presentation you gave makes you discover you may need to take some public speaking classes, or perhaps you decide to hire an executive coach after you struggle to handle a conversation with your manager. You may also find a mismatch between what you value and the career path you have chosen, and you must make decisions about what you will do next. Reflection prompts action, so you can use the lessons you learned about yourself to take the next step forward in your professional life.

How to practice self-reflection at work

Researchers created a multi-step process for individuals who wish to reflect on their experiences. Based on their approach, here are some tips that can help you reflect on your work experiences.

  1. Find a quiet place: A quiet location with no interruptions is crucial for reflection. If the office is too loud during the day, consider waiting until the evening to sit down and review what went well, what didn’t go so well, and what you plan to do next.
  2. Record your thoughts. Journaling is a powerful reflection tool. Whether you decide to use an app or a good old notebook, make sure to write down your thoughts so your self-reflection practice becomes an actionable thinking tool.
  3. Examine everything. As you are replaying what you experienced at work in your mind, think about each decision you made along the way. What was the context when you made the decision? What did you accomplish or not accomplish by making this decision? What knowledge did you have that contributed to your choice?
  4. Imagine the alternatives. Ask “what if” questions. What would have happened if you made different decisions during the process or project? Would you have gotten closer to your goals or not?
  5. Organize your insights. Do you see any trends or patterns in your discoveries? Group them to analyze them more easily and decide which ones are the most relevant to your work.
  6. Turn your reflection into action. Decide if there are any actions that you need to take as a result of this process. Some situations may call for immediate next steps, while others can be integrated into your professional life over time.

Self-reflection is a great tool that can help us learn more about ourselves on our career journey. The process can help us better understand our beliefs and behaviors, and inform the next steps of our professional growth. Self-reflection is also helpful if you are questioning some of your recent decisions, are experiencing a disconnect between your values and your actions, or are in the middle of a high-stress situation.

Remember, whether you decide to reflect on your own or with a colleague, it is essential to find a quiet space without distractions. While we all have competing priorities, carving out time to learn more about ourselves is crucial for guiding ourselves towards our career dreams.

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