Self-reflection, and How to Master It

Wednesday 22 January 2020
Looking at your achievements critically is crucial to your development. Here’s how to get it right

Self-reflection is a crucial cog in the self-development machine. It helps you identify what skills you need to develop, what goals you want to meet, and what you’re doing well. Even during your studies, self-reflection can be really useful in helping you develop better approaches to learning.

So what is self-reflection? Putting it broadly, it’s taking the time to review your activities, objectively evaluate them, and determine what you’ve done well and what you could do better. You might think you already do that – but are you really giving it the time that it deserves?

Self-reflection works best when it’s structured – you should write down your activities, thoughts and actions in a very organised and ordered way. Your self-reflection exercises should look the same so that it’s easier for you to compare and monitor progress over a long period of time.

You should self-reflect regularly – for example, at the end of every week – with milestones set in your diary at which you look at your progress over that longer period and see how you’ve developed (and if there’s anything you’ve dropped the ball on). You need to be honest and constructive when looking at things you haven’t done so well.

So how should you structure your self-reflection? Chartered Manager and advocate for structured reflection Andrew Stephenson recommends that you follow the following pattern:

What Tasks Have I Completed This Week?

Pretty straightforward: write down all the things you’ve done that week. It doesn’t all have to be tasks that relate to your work or studies. It could be a relevant book that you’ve read or a conversation with someone who has more experience than you. As long as it counts towards furthering your work and your development, write it down.

How Were They Completed?

What skills or actions did you take to achieve these tasks? Did you learn a new skill, overcome a challenge, or utilise your personal network?

What Did I Achieve?

What were you trying to achieve this week? Any personal or organisational objectives? How did the tasks you completed contribute towards those?

Could I Have Achieved a Better Outcome? And for Whom?

This is about separating the organisational and personal objectives and reviewing your activities objectively in the context of those goals. Be honest with yourself – if something didn’t quite go to plan, record it.

Why Didn’t I Achieve the Best Outcome?

If you have written down things that could have gone better, really think about why it didn’t go as well as you hoped. Go over the steps you took towards achieving a goal. Where did it start to go wrong? Identify the scenarios in which things fell down.

What Would I Do Differently in This Scenario/with This Person?

Having worked out what moments didn’t go as well, think about how you might approach the task or problem in a better way. It could be as simple as ‘I forgot to get the card of that manager I was talking to, and I didn’t hand her one of my own’. In that case, you can say that the next time you’re in a networking situation, you’ll bring cards and make sure you exchange them.

Any Skills I Should Be Developing?

As you progress with your self-reflection, you will identify skills that you need to develop and improve on. This is a good time to list the skills you want or need to develop, and monitor your progress in developing them.

Actions to Take

Go through everything you’ve written down and summarise it in an actionable list. This gives you a set of goals to build on over the coming weeks. This is what makes self-reflection worthwhile – you can make iterative improvements, week by week, which will help you progress faster and with more self-awareness than your peers.

For CMI members with access to ManagementDirect, we recommend Checklist 280 on ‘reflective practice skills’. This contains ten stages that you should go through to progress in your reflective journey. It also walks you through the tried-and-tested ‘What; So What; Now What’ model and has links to many other resources.

If you’re ready to make 2020 your year of development, learn how to create a personal development plan.