December – the perfect time for a reflective learning exercise
What is a reflective learning exercise and how do you use one to shape your experience, gain insights and look ahead?
There are several well written up models for how to constructively reflect on your past experiences. Kolb published his experiential learning theory in 1984 and inspired Gibbs to publish his reflective cycle in 1988, one of the most widely used models for drawing insights from lived experience.
You may ask what the purpose of this kind of reflection is, or what makes the year end a good time to do a reflective exercise? Not only is it the end of a year, it’s also the end of a decade, which may have added significance for some.
The purpose of reflecting, especially from a coaching point of view, is less for therapy and more to generate insights and evidence that enable you to set a better goal for the next year. I don’t mean just setting a new year’s resolution because there is scant evidence supporting the success of new year’s resolutions.
No, I mean a proper goal. A dream with a date on it. Something that speaks to your core values, that you’re passionate about, that challenges you and enables you to make a difference in your life. Practicing reflective learning can help find that better version of you that you’re looking for.
The end of the year is often a good time to do this kind of thinking because it’s a natural end point. We often find down time to reconnect with friends and family during the festivities. The emotional connection with these people is a good natural link to our core values and leads to a natural pause and re-evaluation.
In addition, those post-Christmas lunch or Boxing Day walks provide a vital connection back to nature which can often be missing from our daily lives. There’s a growing bank of evidence on the wellbeing benefits of maintaining a strong connection with nature. Check out articles on eco-psychology for further information on this.
Here’s how to undertake a reflective learning exercise, based upon the six steps of Gibbs reflective cycle. I’ve included some of the coaching questions I might use, were we working together.
Finding space for reflective learning
Firstly, find a quiet space and allow your mind to find that reflective zone. Try these ideas to find that headspace:
- Grab a cuppa, turn your phone off and put some chilled tunes on,
- Wrap up warm, sit under a tree or somewhere with a view. Let your gaze go long – like a thousand-yard stare – and cast your mind back over the year,
- Use a notebook, or large sheet of paper – scribble and doodle as you need to help loosen those thoughts,
- May be even go for a walk with a close friend or relative and ask each other the questions below.
Start by asking a question
What did I do in 2019? What were the significant events and experiences of the year?
Describe the experiences
- What happened? What was the outcome?
- What did I do, when and where did it happen?
- Who was present?
- What did I want to happen instead?
Feelings – explore the thoughts and feelings associated with the experience or event
- What was I feeling when it happened? What about before and afterwards?
- What do I think other people felt about what happened? What do they think now?
Evaluate the experience
- What went well?
- What could have gone better?
- What was good and bad about the experience? What makes you say that?
Analysis of the experience
- Why did the situation turn out like it did?
- What insights can I draw from the experience?
- What sense can I make of the situation?
- What can I do now, or knowledge can I apply to learn from the situation?
Conclusions – summarising the reflective learning
- What did I learn from the situation?
- How could this experience have turned out better/even better?
- What skills do I need to handle experiences like this better?
Action plan – looking ahead
- If this happened again, what would I do differently next time?
- How do I develop the skills needed for future events?
- How will I make sure I act differently next time?
And there it is; Gibbs reflective cycle. It’s a powerful tool, generating insights, locking in learning and providing evidence of experience. It takes a little discipline to do it frequently, but once you know how to use it, this reflective cycle can work in any scenario at work, at home or at play.
Crucially, it also provides a great starting point for goal setting in the future. Your action plan needs a timeline, some specific actions and a commitment to making the changes you’ve identified whilst reflecting. That’s the jumping off point for working with a coach, just in case you hadn’t spotted that coming!
If you’d like to work on solving a challenge in your life, making a difference, or even just to stop making the same mistake again and again, please give me a call. Also check out last month’s blog about creating a future vision. Linking your reflection to your vision creation for 2020 is something we’ll cover next month.
I’d love to talk and might even have a reflective cycle tool for you to use.
Have a very Merry Christmas and a fabulous New Year