Imagine your next performance review – it’s the first time you’ve really been excited about it because you have been kicking some serious goals over the past six months. You have a feeling that this might be the right time to put yourself forward for the new Head of Department role. You practice your power pose, stride into your Manager’s office and are ready to make your mark … Fast forward forty minutes and you are shattered.  Shortly into the discussion, it becomes apparent that there’s a big disconnect between how you perceive your performance and the perceptions of your Manager. You manage to hold your head high, but your self-belief has taken a hit and Imposter Syndrome sinks in. You had enough courage to ask for time to think about the feedback you received, and to request another meeting in a few days. You really need to regroup and think about your next course of action. Time for some reflective practice….

Reflective practice is about taking time to look back on specific behaviours or traits – with a particular goal in mind.

It’s a great way to engage in some “self-coaching” and combines three key areas:

  • Self-awareness
  • Optimism
  • Mindfulness

It may seem a bit “woo woo” to be linking mindfulness in particular to something like reflective practice in leadership or performance development.  So, let me be clear, I’m not talking about grabbing a sage smudging stick and then magically manifesting a solution to your problems – I’m talking about becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable when it comes to your skill gaps and your strengths.

So, if we go back to the example of the performance discussion, how do you use reflective practices to get you out of the spiral you’re no doubt now in?

The first step is self-awareness – you need to be comfortable being honest and accepting of areas you need to develop.   As humans, we’re usually pretty bad at this! Our brains are wired to protect us, and we have a negative bias built in – the amygdala (the emotional brain) is responsible for this and it’s why it’s so hard to change habits and behaviours.  So, understand that even when you identify areas you want to develop, your brain will automatically default back to familiar patterns or behaviours. 

You’re going to need to be comfortable with being uncomfortable as you move through this exercise!

Imagine that you are currently a marketing executive, and you’d like to become head of marketing. A specific goal could be, “I want to gain the skills and experience necessary to become head of marketing within my organisation, so that I can build my career and lead a successful team.”

As with any practice, start with a framework – I recommend the SMART goal framework. By using this framework, you can easily link to our 3 key areas, whilst ensuring you can easily track your progress. 

Next step is to build a SMART goal about each of these – if you miss this step, you run the risk of heading straight into “woo woo” territory by just wishing for things to improve! This is a process in itself, so download the template I’ve provided and work through the example in there.  It takes you step by step through building the SMART goal for each of these development areas. Just COMPLETE THE FORM AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PAGE to have it sent to your email address – this means you can access it again if you lose the original document!

The second step Optimism is linked to ensuring the goal you are setting is realistic and that you have the tools in place to achieve it.  You need to have self-belief that you can improve and work on your goals with intent. Crafting your goals clearly is key to achieving this!

The final step Mindfulness is linked to intent or purpose.  Too often there may be areas we want to improve, or skills we want to develop, and the approach used is vague – the “one day or someday” approach.  Being mindful and having a clear intent about your focus is the secret sauce which ensures your reflective practice delivers results. Mindfulness doesn’t need to take long but spending around 10 – 15 minutes actively doing this and writing it down so you can reflect on it over time, is a great way to identify ways you can do things differently. You’ll likely start to see some things in common, like maybe where you were working, the time of the day you feel better about certain work etc. But first, set yourself up with a journal – make it something special, not just an exercise book! Block out time in your calendar to write your reflections by hand and make it a regular, non-negotiable appointment with yourself. The journal then becomes a tool where you can regularly reflect, celebrate achievements and remember how far you have come.

I realise there is a lot to take in here – so I’ve developed a resource which takes you through this in a practical way. COMPLETE THE FORM AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PAGE to have it emailed to you.  You’ll first see my example of a SMART goal based around the scenarios I described, some sample journal entries and a suggested approach.  Then, I’ve included some blank pages where you can build your own SMART goals – print as many as you need over time.  Finally, purchase a unique and special journal, to start your own reflective practice. 

Reflective practice is a valuable tool, however, like anything new, it will feel strange and uncomfortable to begin with.  Persist – the insights you gain and the focus you achieve will be worth it!

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