I’m often asked what leaders can do to improve their leadership, confidence and teamwork. And for me, I would always recommend a habit that many leaders love to hate! Not many of us, in the fast paced, increasingly noisy, anxiety driven world that we live in can handle sitting quietly for 5, 10 or 15 minutes a day with the aim of thinking about our own thoughts and behaviours. Self reflection is something we all have access to. You can get started with just a notepad and pen.
Self reflection can help you understand your emotions, strengths and weaknesses and can help you identify your values and goals. By reflecting on your behaviour and experiences you can learn what drives you and what kind of impact you are having on the people you lead.
Your integrity and confidence will also develop and grow with consistent self reflection practices. Reviewing your past decisions and actions can lead to better decision making in the future with a lot less self doubt.
The results of ongoing self reflection are impressive. It’s definitely worth taking note! But do you have the discipline?
Why self reflection is important for leaders
Self reflection gives you time and space to consider your actions and beliefs for the benefit of learning. It’s a way of documenting what’s happening around you and using this understanding to create meaning for the purpose of learning.
It’s a stop. A pause. A breath. Amongst all the busyness, action and noise. Observe yourself and others to create understanding, plans and meaning for the future.
It’s an opportunity to stand back for a moment and observe yourself. Self reflection is a brilliant quality in successful leaders – their ability to observe their own behaviour – almost as if observing another person. Most people will do it after a meeting, event or interaction. Super-practiced leaders learn to self-observe in each moment.
But it’s simple enough to begin after a meeting, event or an interaction. Consider questions such as:
“How would other people perceive my actions?”
“How did I participate in that team meeting?”
“How did I show up?”
“How did I react and answer questions from others?”
“Was I open to the ideas and discussion or did I shut the conversation down?”
Reflect actively, selectively, constantly, and don’t be afraid to do it in front of the people you lead. Just as important – take time to help others reflect on what they are doing well, and help them identify how they can increase their skill sets to work more effectively towards their goals.
Self reflection is a skill like anything else, so it does take practice.
Good journaling develops from asking good questions
Many people are almost scared to sit in front of a blank piece of paper and wonder what to write about. It is a common barrier to journaling.
“You review the past to assess the present and then determine what actions are necessary to change your future. You take what you know and apply it to how you want to grow. Thus, the power of journaling.” ~ Melissa Steginus
A simple way to start is to brainstorm questions to ask yourself. They could be the same questions that you use every day, week or month to consider. You can also include exploratory questions to get you thinking and being creative.
A great daily question, which was highlighted in the book, Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being by Dr Martin Seligman, can be as simple as:
“What went well today and why?”
Other daily questions could be:
“Did I accomplish what I set out to do today?”
“What did I learn from today?”
“What are my priorities?”
Ask questions to inspire possibilities, creativity and insights
In Think Like Da Vinci by Michael Gelb, he shares that Leonardo Da Vinci used notebooks to record everything! From ideas, impressions, observations and thoughts from scholars he admired, jokes and fables, philosophical musings and prophecies, pens for inventions, painting and doodling to personal finance records and letters. Seven thousand pages of Da Vinci’s notebooks existed. Michael Gelb shares that we can develop our sense of curiosity through journaling.
He suggests the 100 questions exercise. Create a list of 100 questions that you could muse on. It could be about anything. How to have more fun? How to love more? What is the meaning of life?
Create this list in one sitting and quickly. When you’ve finished your list, he suggests you review your list for themes and then find the top ten questions that intrigue you and pique the most interest. Use this as the basis of your journaling practice.
Here are the top ten questions Michael Gelb suggests as a catalyst for personal growth and fulfilment:
“When am I most naturally myself? What people, places, and activities allow me to feel most fully myself?”
“What’s one thing I could stop doing, start doing, or do differently, starting today that would most improve the quality of my life?”
“How can I get paid for doing what I love?”
“Who are my most inspiring role models?”
“How can I best be of service to others?”
“What is my heart’s deepest desire?”
“How am I perceived by: my closed friend, my worst enemy, my boss, my children, my co-workers, etc?”
“What are the blessings of my life?”
“What legacy would l like to leave?”
Many strategies for journaling
Asking questions of yourself is an easy way to start but there are other options too. Many highly productive people have also used a technique from Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way called Morning Pages.
Morning Pages is simply three pages of long hand, stream-of-consciousness writing first thing in the morning. The idea is to pick up the pen and not to put it down until you have done your three pages. You write whatever is in your head, even if you start off with writing…I don’t know what to write!
The purpose of morning pages, Julia says, is “once we get those muddy, maddening, confusing thoughts [nebulous worries, jitters, and preoccupations] on the page, we face our day with clearer eyes.”
There are plenty of methods and suggestions, but there are no real rules for journaling. Find what sparks your interest and run with it. You might want to go out and buy yourself a fancy, leather bound notebook and make a real ritual of your journaling. Maybe you want to just pop a notebook and pen by your bed to record those last minute thoughts before sleeping. Or maybe you’re a voice memo, index card or word doc. kind of journaler. It doesn’t matter how you journal, just that you do!
Writing online vs writing by hand
A common question when it comes to journaling is:
“Should I hand write it or can I just type away on the computer?”
Some people might find it easier to journal on the computer – Google docs, WordPress, Medium or even Microsoft Word give you easy ways to type away your thoughts and reflections. Not to mention an easy way to store your thoughts and reflections!
But there are potential downsides of digital journaling. It may just be too easy to click over to Facebook or your latest email that pops into your inbox. We spend so much time in front of screens these days that any opportunity to take habits offline might be worth considering.
There are also many benefits to writing by hand. Loads of studies have shown the diverse benefits of handwriting in relation to memory, creativity, learning and expressing ideas.
Many studies have found that you connect more with words written by hand and that your brain can focus, understand and learn more from words that are written rather than typed.
There is something satisfying about opening up and using a nicely bound journal. It’s personal, it’s therapeutic, and it may make you feel like a writer in the 1920’s in Paris!
I’m going to let you decide which one works for you. I want you to think about which one you will actually do. Ultimately, the important thing is not how you do it, just that you DO IT! Will typing make it easier for you? Or are you keen to explore the benefits of handwriting?
Making it a Habit
So how do you make it a habit that you stick to? It’s all about the routines you use! Here are a couple of ideas for you to mix and match to find what might work best for you.
Last 10 minutes of your work day
Before you go to bed
Every Sunday night
A day once a quarter
Here are a few more tips to get you journaling:
- Start small and keep your expectations realistic
- Schedule journaling time into your day or week
- Use different methods till you find one that resonates with you
- Don’t stress about writing every single day
- Where possible, always carry your journal with you
- Keep it simple – just write!
When can you schedule it in? Is there another habit you can pair up with journaling? Self awareness is such a foundational skill for any leader. Self reflection and journaling will help your self awareness soar!