Chelsea: Do you ever pause and reflect on your day or your week? Maybe that feels like a complete luxury to just take time and reflect, but maybe you only do it once a year. It could be hard to commit to. The truth is, sitting down with your favorite journal and truly reflecting on the current state of things is a bit of a luxury but it’s one that’s more than worth your time because the return is both powerful and verified time and time again in psychological research. Reflection is essential for learning. That said, reflection is similar to journaling or meditation where we might hear about it and think, “Wow, that sounds helpful! I should try it,” but then we get stuck in the how or it’s hard to make that habit stick. So, that’s what I want to talk about today. The why, the how, and the when of a personal reflection.
Hi, it’s Dr. Chelsea. This is the Passion for Dance podcast where we talk about the mental aspects of being a dance educator, focusing on areas of mindset, resilience, motivation, and building our community. Today, we’re gonna dig into the mindset strategy of engaging in personal reflection, and if you're listening when this episode goes live, we’re reaching the end of 2022. New Year’s planning and goals are the common theme this time of year, but I don't believe in planning or goal setting at all until you can get through the reflection part first. So, by the end of this episode, you’ll understand why it’s worth your precious time, how often to do it, and where to get started.
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Welcome to the Passion for Dance podcast. I’m Dr. Chelsea, a former professional dancer and a dance team coach turned sports psychologist. This podcast focuses on four main pillars: motivation, resilience, mindset, and community. Each week, you’ll learn actionable strategies, mindsets, and tips to teach your dancers more than good technique. This is a podcast where we can all make a lasting impact and share our passion for dance. Let’s do this!
I’ve shared on the show before that one of my personal values in life is learning. I’m never at the top of the mountain. I’ve never achieved all I want to achieve, and if you're anything like me, you have a desire for continued personal growth. I encourage you to take time and really think about last year before you jump into this new year. Consider your accomplishments, the setbacks, the happy moments, and the challenges.
Reflection Defined – 2:23
First, let me simply define reflection. It’s the process of examining our own perspective, our own experiences, and even our interactions with other people. Reflection gives us a greater sense of perspective, and that is my favorite part. When you regularly examine your own perspective and how you're spending your time, you notice if you're living your day-to-day life in alignment with your values, and (what I usually need the help with) it allows for a faster course correction if you've gotten off track.
The process of reflection is all about learning. So, while sitting with your own thoughts can be uncomfortable at times, if you view it through the lens of learning, that can make it feel less threatening or confusing. There’s no right way to go about this. The goal is to learn more about you. So, whatever process feels best to you will be the best way to get in touch with yourself.
Why Reflection Matters – 3:16
So, let’s talk a little about why reflection matters. Engaging in regular reflection is a powerful tool for personal growth, and there’s a lot of science to back it up. This is where the academic nerd in me comes out a little bit because I love to read up on the most current psychological research, so let me summarize and share a little bit with you.
There have been multiple scientific studies that found positive outcomes when people take the time to engage in self-reflection. Research studies at Harvard Business School by Di Stefano, Gino, and Pisano have found a boost in productivity. One study looked at employees at a call center and found that employees who spent 15 minutes at the end of the day reflecting about lessons learned performed 23% better after just 10 days, compared to those who didn't reflect. I would imagine maybe some of those people are truly passionate about their work, but in a call center, maybe not, and if you can see that boost in productivity around that kind of work, imagine what would happen for us as dance educators who are trying to improve at something we actually really love doing.
Another study in 2014 by the same research group at Harvard Business School also confirmed that reflecting on your work improves job performance. You actually get better at your work. Taking the time to pause and reflect on what we’ve learned improves our performance and that includes us as teachers and coaches.
Personally, this is the most powerful for me when I’m at a conference or a convention. When you are somewhere where a lot of information is coming at you fast, taking the time to pause and reflect and summarize on what you've learned will help you take action on the new knowledge once you return to that day-to-day grind. So, whenever I’m at a big conference, I always pause (especially if I have a flight home or a long travel day) to use that time to write down all my summary and take home and the next steps I want to take when I get home. But reflection isn't just for those big learning events. It’s actually best done on more regular, small increments just about your average daily experiences.
Another study showed how taking the time to engage in personal reflection can actually make you happier. The founder of the field of Positive Psychology is Dr. Martin Seligman, and he recommends that you write down three positive thoughts at the end of the day or three good things that happened. Research shows writing down those positive thoughts will noticeably improve your feelings of happiness and other positive emotions. I will say, now that I have some of those written down, it is really amazing to go back and look at those.
I started some of this journaling process many, many years ago, but a lot of it overlapped with my pregnancies. Looking back at some of those brings so much joy, and I also have these reflections around some of my best coaching moments, and I have them around my new job and when these big things were happening and when the little, daily, small things were going on, and I’m so grateful that I have those now to look back on. So, not only does it help you in the moment, I think being able to have those as keepsakes is another powerful reason to do it.
Lastly, the process of reflection is shown to improve metacognition which is just a fancy word for thinking about your own thinking. When you are better able to understand and manipulate your own thoughts, you will see improvements in skills like organization and planning. When people use reflection journals to think about things they have learned and write it down, the self-reflection enhances productivity, as I said, and professional work because you are more involved in the process of learning. You're able to gain a deeper understanding. Simply put, that means reflection makes you both happier and a better learner, and when you're a better learner, you will see a more positive change in personal growth.
So, if all that research doesn't convince you, here’s the bottom line. Taking the time to really think about your year, either as a person more generally or specifically as a dance educator or maybe you're listening to this as a dancer, this is a free exercise that will give you more return for your time than just about any other learning tool out there. Hopefully that inspires you to give this a try and commit some time to it.
The How of Reflection – 7:31
So, if you want to give it a shot, let’s dive into the how part of this. How often do you reflect? Do you write it all down? Do you have to write it all down? Do you answer specific prompts every time? Well, here’s a little about my thoughts on those questions and some insights into my own process.
Let’s start with how often. Most research studies that find larger effect sizes use small daily reflection practices. So, if you want to give that a try, start small. Ten minutes at the end of your day is a great place to start. If that feels like too much, maybe just Sundays feels good or even one longer monthly reflection. My view on this is that you choose what you will stick to. If doing it daily in small little chunks feels good, try that. If daily feels overwhelming and you’ll quit after a week, then it won't help you. For me, as much as I want to tell you I do it every night, I’m gonna be real. I don't. What I have found that works for me is smaller Sunday reflections that help me set up my week and then a deeper dive once a month. What matters, in my opinion, is that you do whatever you're gonna stick to, whatever fits your routine.
One piece of advice I have that worked really well for me comes from a great book, Atomic Habits by James Clear. If you haven't read it yet, check it out. In the book, James shares that if you want to create a new habit, add it into something you're already doing. If you want to reflect every night, put your journal next to your nightstand with the book you normally read at night, so you write your reflections first and then start reading. If you want to create an easy consistent habit, we’re trying to add it to something you're already doing. We’re not trying to create this really big hard change in your life that you won't stick to.
So, again, for me, daily proved to be too hard. I didn't stick with it. But when I went to Sundays and tied it to my regular calendar planning, it worked great! I already have a habit of spending about 15 minutes on a Sunday reviewing the upcoming week, assessing for balance, moving things around if I need to, delegating, or just mentally wrapping my head around what’s coming up for the week. Now, I do that for about 15 minutes then reflect for about another 10-15 minutes. Joining them together works well for me. I do the same thing with my bigger monthly reflections. It’s tied to when I review monthly finances and monthly planning going into the next month. I go through the numbers, I go through my calendar, and I go through my personal reflection prompts in the same session.
Now, reflection itself is a strong habit for me, but I started by tying it to something I was already doing consistently, starting small and being patient as I got used to it, and like any new habit, reflection takes some discipline. You have to approach it like another goal that’s important to your life, so, let’s talk about how.
Schedule Time to Reflect – 10:21
Many people like to write it down, and there are research studies to back up the value of writing it down because it allows for further review later, but that’s not the only option. If you don't like journaling or you don't want to sit down and write it out or just don't feel like it will happen if you do it that way, then try something else. You can go on a walk or a bike ride and think it through. Let your mind go through those reflections without writing it down. You can talk it out with a partner or a friend or just thinking it through in a time that works for you.
I have one friend who walks her kids to school every day and then takes a little bit of a longer route home and purposely doesn't bring her AirPods so she can be in her own thoughts and reflect on the day before she gets home.
The idea is to schedule time just like you schedule the rest of the important aspects of your life. If it matters, we have to set aside a specific time to get it done. Whatever that time is for you, schedule it. My monthly reflections are always blocked in my calendar as a recurring task, and I don't move them if I can help it. I don't want to compromise my own learning and growth for someone else’s meeting.
Prompts for Reflection – 11:27
The other common question I get is if you just write down whatever comes to mind or do you use specific prompts. My opinion is I think stream of consciousness writing where you just write whatever’s on your mind is more of a journaling practice rather than a specific targeted reflection. So, what I’m talking about here has a clear goal of learning. So, I take a more scripted approach, and I originally got these ideas from the Passion Planner which was my favorite physical planner for a long time. I’ll link it in the show notes if you like physical planners. I have moved my calendar and to-do list to a digital format, and I can’t go back. It has saved me in so many ways, but I still use the similar monthly reflection prompts that I got from Passion Planner.
So, here are a few prompts that you can use for yourself if you want to take a kind of deeper monthly reflection approach:
1. What is the most memorable part of the last month?
I love sitting down at the end of the month and thinking about what were the big highlights? Then, a lot of times, I’ll actually go through my calendar and be like, “Oh yeah! That happened. Oh, yeah! We went there!” It helps me think through those big, most memorable moments.
2. What were three big lessons you learned in the past month?
This is the same idea. I’ll look back through the calendar or I’ll think about days that felt particularly hard, and kind of think, “What did I learn this month?”
3. Review your calendar or planner and assess your priorities. Are you happy with how you spent your time? If not, what steps can you take to adjust for next month?
This one has really helped me. This is where my very type-A color coordination comes in. I can look at my calendar and see. I have green as personal fun, and I can look at my calendar and say, “There was no green this month. That’s a problem.” I can just start to feel it in my body and how tired I am or starting to feel burnt out that I don't have enough white space, or I don't have enough me time. So, taking a minute every month to look back at the calendar and sit with my own thoughts and my feelings and say, “How were my priorities this month? Did I not have enough family time? Did I not have enough me time? Did my work get unbalanced?” For me, that one has made a huge shift in how I spend my time.
4. How are you different between the past month and the month before?
Just really think about how you have grown and what’s different. That one was hard for me at first. I was like, “Nothing. It’s the same old grind,” but I don't think that’s true. I think we really do grow every month and thinking about it intentionally like that has helped.
5. Who or what are you especially grateful for?
I’ve talked about gratitude on the show before and having that moment to think about who or what has really made a difference for me that month.
6. Name three things you can improve on for the coming month? What are concrete actions you can take to move towards those improvements?
Again, the goal is learning (focusing on what you can improve on), and then what are those clear action steps you're gonna take?
Again, these are all from the Passion Planner. It is my favorite physical planner that I will link in the show notes. It’s my favorite, largely, because of this reflection section. So, even though I’ve taken my calendar and task list digital, I still do this similar reflection every month.
Reflecting on Life Categories – 14:45
If you don't want to use specific questions, the other method that works well is reflecting on categories in your life. So, you can choose key areas that you want to think about and use those headings every time. It could be mind, body, soul, work, play, love, dance, school, family, the list goes on. Pick a few key areas that you want to reflect on your thoughts and experiences for the day or the week and use that as a starting place.
Maybe you have a bullet journal and every night you just do mind, body, soul, and leave it at that. Or maybe you, weekly, want to think about mind, dance, work. Or if you're looking at this just as a teacher, kind of focusing on those dance aspects. But pick a few key areas and use those bullets to really help focus: “I want to think about these key aspects of my day.”
The Power of Regular Reflection – 15:37
I’m sharing all of this today because I see the power that regular reflection has given me and the teachers and athletes I’ve worked with over the years. It encourages a level of self-awareness that allows you to recognize what’s working and what’s not, to identify key areas for improvement and also areas where you are already really strong, but you have to consciously give it attention. It only works if given clear time and intentional, thoughtful time. It doesn't work if you do it while you're watching TV or, haphazardly, when the feeling strikes. It takes discipline just like any aspect of growth, and I get that it’s hard because you crazy-busy people have to slow down. We have to know that it’s okay that we don't know everything, tolerate those uncomfortable feelings that might happen during a reflection, and take responsibility for what comes up and decide what you're going to do about it. To be real, you may not like what comes up during a reflection, and that’s part of the challenge. I usually love it, but there are times when stuff bubbles up and I’m like, “Oh, I don't want to deal with that. I don't want to face that feeling,” but, again, the goal and the intention is growth, not judgment.
So, remember, reflection can lead to more productivity, happiness, and achievement, but you have to take action. You can't stop at reflection and then go about the same thing tomorrow. You have to use the reflection to increase self-awareness and take specific targeted action tomorrow. That’s where you see the personal growth and positive benefits.
I hope this is inspiring, and especially if you're listening in December when this comes out, that you take the time at the end of the year to do a deep dive. Actually, this is the only time of year when I take a small break from the show. So, there will be no episodes for the next two weeks during the holiday season, and I go dark on social media. A large part of why I do that is for this deep dive reflection and the growth and taking the time for that personal reset. But that reset starts with reflection. So, while I’ll be gone for a couple of weeks, I hope you take the time for your own reflection and see what kind of growth you experience with it.
Before you leave, though, and go deep into your own thoughts, I ask one small favor: that you leave a rating and review of the podcast. You can do it on whatever platform you're listening on by going to www.ratethispodcast.com/passionfordance. Link is in the show notes as well wherever you're listening. It truly helps the show keep going, and I love connecting with all of you.
Thank you for listening in, and until I’m back in 2023, keep sharing your passion for dance with the world.
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