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With 2023 more than half way over, now is a good time for us to look back and assess how we have been doing this year so far. Why not pause for a moment of reflective thinking so we can see how far along we are to meeting the goals we have set in the beginning of the year.

In this article:

  1. What is Reflective Thinking?

    • Learning from Experience

    • Reflective Thinking is Conscious Thinking

  2. How Can Reflective Practice Benefit You?

    • Reflective Practice is a Cycle

  3. Things to Think About…

Reflective Practice | Reflective Thinking: How to Stick to Long-term Plans
Reflective Practice | Reflective Thinking: How to Stick to Long-term Plans | image © Freepik

What is Reflective Thinking?

“Reflection” in the everyday sense refers to a serious time for thinking or deliberation. It appears when we familiarly catch ourselves in moments of deep thought, or nostalgia from time to time. But, did you know that “reflection” or “reflective thinking” is a specific critical thinking skill that is related to learning?

Learning from Experience

We know about the age-old adage, “Experience is the best teacher”. However, we can confirm how this is not always true by simply looking at our own negative behaviors or unhealthy habits we cannot seem to break.
At the start of a new year, we usually find ourselves setting new goals after thinking about how the past year went. Some of the most popular new year’s resolutions are to exercise more, to eat heathier, to drink less, to spend more time with family, and to achieve work-life balance. These resolutions do not surface unprompted. In truth, we make these grand plans as a knee-jerk reaction after personal failures and bad life experiences. But, despite having been burned by these unhealthy habits in the past, most resolutions are quickly forgotten.

Reflective Thinking is Conscious Thinking

“Reflective thinking” requires an awareness of your own knowledge, assumptions, and past experiences. It is consciously thinking about and analyzing:
  • what you are currently doing;
  • what you have previously done;
  • what you have experienced, and;
  • what and how you have learned (OpenLearn, n.d.).
Reflective thinking is not simply looking back to past experiences. It is a process of interpreting and evaluating experiences. It prompts us to check our assumptions, create new meanings, identify the reasons for our past actions, solve our current problems, and plan for our future (ibid.).

How can Reflective Thinking Benefit You?

In reflective practice, we gain a better understanding of what has happened by looking at it through a variety of perspectives. Not only are we made to intentionally consider the points of view of other people, but we are also lead to explore different reasons for why certain events unfolded the way they did, and consider the potential implications of what have occurred.
In addition, it gives us the opportunity to look into our principles and decision-making process, and relate it to what we do in reality. The insight that we gain from this process can inform us to make more effective and meaningful plans to achieve the goals we set for ourselves.

Practicing Reflective Thinking is a Cycle

Reflective thinking is not linear; it is cyclical. It does not stop after one rotation either. You continuously apply what you learn, reflect, and develop further.
Plan
Think carefully on what you know or what you have experienced so far. Refer to other people’s experiences as well. Use this information to create an action plan for a situation you are expecting to encounter, or a problem you want to solve.
Act
Put in action what you have planned. Maintain self-awareness throughout. However, be prepared to creatively adapt and change your goals as you go along. But, always keep your plan in mind
Observe
Review your observations of what happened as soon as possible. Notice how the event affected other people and yourself. Be accurate and objective as much as possible when recalling the event.
Reflect
Evaluate the event and your actions. Identify your plan’s strengths and weaknesses once in action. Examine the problems you encountered during the event. Explore how you felt and how other’s felt. Was your plan achieved? Did your goals change? Some things may be difficult to interpret, but try to develop your insight anyway
After this, we go back to planning. But now, we make use of the lessons we gained during our reflection. Then, we act again (University of Reading, 2023).

Things to Think About…

In some instances, we may not be aware that we do not, in fact, ‘walk’ our ‘talk’. This causes a mismatch in our practice and goal which can negatively impact our progress toward that goal.
Recalling our new year’s resolution example from earlier, people often cannot stick to their resolutions, and fall back into their unhealthy routines. This happens because of unrealistic expectations, vagueness, and a lack of accountability, planning, and tracking (IANS, The Economic Times, 2022). By applying reflective thinking when deciding on a resolution, you can make informed, feasible, and measurable routine adjustments in order to achieve a lasting lifestyle change.
Practicing reflective thinking whenever we make our plans empowers us to make use of our learnings from our past experiences without losing sight of our concerns in the present, and our goals for the future. This is an extremely valuable skill we can apply not only in our personal lives, but also in our professional careers too.

References:

IANS, The Economic Times. “Why is It So Difficult to Stick to Resolutions? Six Reasons Why You Fail to Follow.” The Economic Times. December 28, 2022. https://www.economictimes.com/news/how-to/six-reasons-why-your-new-year-resolutions-dont-work/articleshow/88658576.cms
The Open University. n.d. “Succeeding in Postgraduate Study: Session 2.” OpenLearn. Accessed July 22, 2023. https://www.open.edu/openlearn/mod/oucontent/view.php?id=51386&section=1
University of Reading. 2023. “Reflective Thinking.” University of Reading. Accessed July 22, 2023. https://libguides.reading.ac.uk/reflective/thinking

 

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