3 Reasons Learning the Value of Reflection Can Improve Performance

In Reflection by Joe SweeneyLeave a Comment

Over the years, technology has changed much of how we live, work, and play. Advancements in sports technology are no exception, and with football season upon us, there’s a good chance you’ve recently heard the phrase, “After Further Review…”

When an NFL coach throws a red flag onto the field, referees are signaled to review a play. This happens after some of the biggest plays of the game like possible touchdowns, turnovers, or fourth-down conversions – plays that can swing the momentum of the game, or even determine the eventual winner.

When a coach throws the red flag, the stadium gets quiet as everybody takes a break from the action. The players step off the field, head to the sideline, get a drink of water, and huddle around their coaches. The TV broadcasts cut to a commercial or bring in their replay analysts. The fans head to the concession stands and the bathrooms. But most importantly, the referees come together to quietly review the play.

With the help of his assistant referees, both on the field and in the booth upstairs, the lead official reviews the play from every possible angle. Collectively, they analyze the play to determine if they made the correct decision on the field: Did the receiver catch the ball cleanly, or did it hit the ground first? Did the running back step out of bounds before he crossed the end line, or did he manage to stay on the field? Was the quarterback’s arm moving forward when the ball came loose, or was he still winding up to throw? In this moment of silence that descends on the stadium, the referee gets clarity.

If NFL referees can reflect and find clarity at key moments of a football game, why can’t we do this after critical plays in our lives? Not only in sports, but also in business and life, reflection is undoubtedly the driver behind learning and productivity. American philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer John Dewey stated, “We do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience.”

Unfortunately, given ever-increasing work demands and competitive pressure, few companies allow time for employee reflection. However, a Harvard Business School study finds that “analyzing the play” and reflecting on what you’ve done teaches you to do it better next time. In fact, performance may be improved by focusing on a few key concepts:

  1. Learning from experiences can be more effective if paired with reflection – that is, being intentional about pausing and reviewing the key lessons taught by experience.
  1. Reflecting on what has been learned makes experience more productive.
  1. Reflection builds confidence in an individual’s ability to achieve goals, which in turn translates into higher learning and productivity.

Great leaders know that reflection goes above and beyond simply talking through or complaining about a project outcome or experience. Where we can be most successful is when we get the clarity we need by taking time to understand how those outcomes or experiences have influenced the way we see the world, our business, our teams, and others around us.

I agree with the sentiments of Col. Eric Kail who shared a feature on leadership character and the role of reflection in The Washington Post. Col. Kail stated that the concept of “reflection” may sound self-involved, but it’s actually just the opposite. If we don’t reflect, “we engage in a narcissistic rationalization that makes us feel better about the events in our lives yet keeps us from learning from them.”

How do you incorporate reflection into your daily work or practice? Col. Kail recommends leaning on the help of a mentor who will ask the hard questions that require you to look internally such as, “What could you have done better, and why?” Or, “Did you do anything wrong?”

In my book, Moving the Needle, I talk about the importance of getting quiet, and I share exercises on how to practice reflection each day. The practice not only helps individuals internalize their role in a particular project or event in their life, it also helps in attaining the clarity to identify opportunities for performance growth.

Is reflection a part of your daily routine? If so, what successful practices have you put into place?