Reflection is the key to finding the next right step in your life.
In today’s fast-paced world, most of us don’t pause long enough to reflect on anything. But at what cost? As for me, I’m often so consumed with looking forward that I often don’t take time to reflect backward. As the old saying goes, it’s hard to know where you’re going unless you know where you’ve been.
“We had the experience but missed the meaning,” said T.S. Eliot in his famous poem Four Quartets. He was of course pointing to our propensity to miss the deeper meaning of things without reflection.
In the last post, I shared how a weekly “holiday” or day of rest (some call it a Sabbath) saved my life.
In this post, I unpack how a regular rhythm of reflection can help you stay focused on the things that matter most and lead a life of fulfillment and purpose. In the end, I hope to convince you to start a regular rhythm of reflection of your own!
The Lost Art of Reflection
What is reflection?
Reflection – serious thought or consideration
Socrates once stated, “An unexamined life is not worth living.” But in doing so, we must also be careful not to over examine as it can lead to inaction.
Reflection is a lost art that requires margin, focus, and intentionality.
The Direct Benefits of Reflection
While the main goal of this post is to convey the benefit of a quarterly rhythm of reflection, it also has other applications.
On a daily basis, it is helpful to end your workday with reflection. There is strong evidence that employees who spend 15 minutes reflecting at the end of their work day before walking out the door boost their productivity by 20%. But productivity isn’t all there is to life. There is a different type of reflection I suggest using before bed; a technique developed by St. Ignatius of Loyola called Examen. Feel free to adjust it as needed if you’re not a religious person. Examen helps you discern where God was at work during your day, practice thanksgiving, acknowledge your shortcomings, and look ahead to the next day with anticipation.
I used a practice developed by Michael Hyatt and Team called “The Weekly Review” to reflect and evaluate how I’m doing with the goals I’ve set for the quarter and the week. Your weekly reflection doesn’t just include work related goals but personal goals as well. I pull these weekly priorities from a list of 3-4 quarterly goals I’ve set.
It’s helpful to dive a little deeper once per quarter. This is where I reflect on the season I just came through and look forward to the season ahead of you. Twenty-four hours is ideal, but if you can’t do that, a half day can be quite effective. Why quarterly? Generally, things change every 3-4 months. Think about it:
- September-December is the back-to-school time and the best time for starting new initiatives. Even if you don’t have children, it feels like the start of something new. On the Jewish calendar, Rosh Hashanah, or the “Head of the Year” happens in September and coincides with the harvest season and fall often feels more like the New Year than January does. Things ramp up quickly once September hits. Schedules and rhythms change. It’s the start of something new and it crackles with energy. The holidays can be their own beast and should be included in the previous quarterly reflection!
- January-April is the New Year and wintertime. Where I live, the weather is harsh. People go inside. We tend to hunker down here in the Northeast United States. I usually try to plan a few things I look forward to in order to break things up a bit: daily workouts at the gym, a possible trip with my family somewhere warm, and 3-4 times of skiing. It’s also a good time to start new initiatives as it carries the natural momentum of a New Year.
- May-August is spring and summer, and the world comes alive. With the change of weather comes the hope of new life and a new season. People in New England suddenly start to come out of their houses. The birds sing, the flowers begin to bloom, and new life pops up all around. It’s a great time to reflect on how the New Year is going so far. It’s also time to start thinking about how things might shift in the summertime. Summer is an awkward time for me professionally. My kids are off school and I don’t really feel like working as much (though working from home probably has something to do with that). I try to be very clear about my priorities for the summer. Because it’s not a good time to start any major initiatives, I take time to work on some important projects that I may not get to work on during the rest of the year such as updating or finishing some of my writing projects or business offerings. I also take time to plan and think through new initiatives for the fall whether it relates to the church or my business. On a personal level, we take some time off for family vacation, and we usually eat too much ice cream! I need to think through my rhythms, tone down my productivity a bit, and reevaluate some things. If I plan too much, summer can be frustrating. But if I accept the natural flow and slow down a bit, it is enjoyable.
Crafting Your Quarterly Reflection
Here are some tips to craft your quarterly time of reflection:
- Put it in your calendar. We both know, without planning, it will never happen.
- Change the scenery. Go somewhere different to do your reflection. “Change of pace + change of place = change of perspective,” Mark Batterson says. I’ve found this to be true. Get out of your old routine. Try something different, even if it’s just a library or a coffee shop. I’ve written more about that here.
- Focus on the things that matter most: your relationship with God, your closest human relationships, your job, your physical health, and your emotional health.
- Do a rewind. Ask some questions to flesh out the previous quarter. What am I grateful for from last quarter? What was the most challenging part? What were the highlights? What is something I accomplished that I am proud of?
- Fast forward. Ask yourself some questions like what will be changing? What do I need to plan for? What am I looking forward to? What are my big projects for the upcoming quarter?
- Triage your schedule. Rhythms change in different seasons. Are the kids in school or off for the summer? What do you want to start and more importantly what do you want to stop?
- Review your journal (provided you write in it). Journaling is a powerful way to find common themes in your life and reflect deeper on their meaning. If you don’t journal, maybe choose a time to start doing it each day and write in it regardless of whether you feel you have something important to say or not.
- Take action! Knowledge without action is useless. Or as I like to say, One small step is better than a thousand big dreams never acted upon. After you’ve reflected and evaluated, decide on a list of key action steps, be very specific, and put them in your calendar.
A consistent quarterly review/reflection will help you stay on top of your most important priorities and catch things before they become major problems. In doing so, you will be at rest because you know you are working toward the things that matter most.
Pick a date for your next quarterly reflection, put it on your calendar, and talk to your partner and boss about it as soon as possible.
Check out the other posts in the series:
- Rhythms of Rest Intro: My Bout with Burnout
- Rhythms of Rest 1: “You Are What You Do Daily”
- Rhythms of Rest 2: Why You Need a Weekly Holiday
- Rhythms of Rest 4: “I Need A Vacation!”