As the year draws to a close, and we embark upon a new decade, staying focused at work can be a real challenge. Most of us are too excited about having time off to concentrate. And those who don't have the luxury of resting over the Christmas break? They have the task of staying motivated while everyone else is enjoying themselves.
Regardless of how much work you have to do over the next month, December can be a great opportunity to look inwards. Self-reflection at this time of year can also form an excellent foundation for goal setting in the new year.
Reflection is also fundamental to personal growth, and an important part of the experiential learning cycle. After living through an experience, the next step is to reflect on what happened and any new knowledge gained in the process.
Research on the reflective process
Monash University defines reflection as a metacognitive process, which involves thinking about thinking. For example, we might reflect on a task, process, or practice, focusing on our thinking, behavior, and actions.
Their guidance adds that "reflecting on a practice may involve consideration of what happened, why, how you felt, or how it impacted you, and how you may respond or adapt in the future." Fundamentally, reflection involves describing the event, interpreting it, and reviewing how the outcome may help you to make changes.
Our cognitive biases can also limit our ability to think critically, but awareness of them can enhance the reflective process. For example, confirmation bias involves favoring information that conforms to your existing beliefs and discounting evidence that does not. If you have a fixed opinion of yourself, you will look for information to support this claim rather than remaining open to the possibility of change and development.
A guide to reflection at work
While everybody’s reflective process is personal, there are strategies you can use as a guide to get started. We outline some of these below, although there are many different ways to tackle it.
Think about your personality
Everyone has personality traits that help them to shine, and others that are less than perfect! A useful place to begin with reflection is to know your personality better and to use this understanding as a foundation for growth. While there is always room to improve, there are certain parts of our characters that remain more or less fixed throughout life.
Understand where your strengths and weaknesses lie
To make the most of your personality type, and any fixed traits you may be stuck with, it is helpful to get to know yourself better. Where does the potential in your personality lie? If you aren't sure, one of these tests can give you a summary. This self-knowledge test from The School of Life also uses an intriguing approach.
Think about whether you have played to your strengths
You may already have a good understanding of what your strengths are, or need to do a little more work to uncover them. When you reflect, think of three ways you have made the most of your talents in the past year. What conditions were present to enable you to do this? Did you behave any differently? Is there any way you could make more of your strengths in the coming year?
Think about when you have mitigated your weaknesses
It isn't easy to accept what our weaknesses are or to know where our blind spots lie. It can make us defensive and irritable to think that we are imperfect, but we all are and there is comfort in that. Understanding our weaknesses is key to making real progress, both in our personal and professional lives.
For example, if you are terrible at time management, what did you do to ensure this flaw didn't get the better of you? Maybe you timed yourself doing activities, or set alarms to remind yourself when you needed to move on to the next task.
Whatever you did, congratulate yourself on the times you were able to minimize the effects of your weaknesses and reflect on the times when this didn't go so well. How could you improve this next year?
What is the purpose of all this?
At this time of year, it can be helpful to remind yourself of why you are doing your work. If your job isn't right for you, it will be apparent that your goal next year is to find a new one! Perhaps you like your job but would benefit from more of a challenge?
You might also want to think about your higher purpose. What is it that you are doing in your role? How are you contributing to your organization, community, or society as a whole? What is most important to you? If you have a clear purpose in your mind and feel connected to it, your best work and motivation will follow.