The Self-Reflection Sandwich
Bias to action results in drama, disappointment, and crisis apart from systematic self-reflection.
The truth about self-reflection:
I erred on the side of too little reflection most of my life. I actually spent lots of time thinking, but I didn’t reflect.
I thought about things I wanted FROM others. THEY often disappointed.
I didn’t reflect on MY leadership. I wasn’t thinking about MY attitudes and behaviors. THEY needed to change.
Self-reflection is only useful when followed by thoughtful action.
The self-reflection sandwich:
Bread represents action in the reflection sandwich. Peanut butter represents reflection. There’s much more bread than peanut butter. But without peanut butter, all you have is useless navel-gazing.
ACTION → reflection → ACTION
Reflection without action:
When things are going poorly, reflection WITHOUT action produces:
When things are going well, reflection WITHOUT action produces:
- Lack of gratitude.
Action and reflection are balanced when:
- Self-knowledge leads to authentic action.
- Pattern recognition is a key result.
- Personal attitudes and behaviors are the main focus.
- Self-knowledge produces confidence and openness.
- Personal development is more important than changing others.
- Nagging irritations are motivation, not simply frustration.
- Humility is both the reason and the result of the process.
A system of ACTION-reflection-ACTION:
Take 10 minutes at the end of the day to do a personal After Action Review (AAR).
- What did I plan to accomplish?
- What actually occurred?
- What went well and why?
- What am I learning?
- What did I do that makes me proud?
- What can be improved and how?
- What do I really want?
- What’s my greatest value?
Tip: Keep a journal.
What’s the right balance between action and reflection?
What questions would you include on a personal AAR?
Reflection needs to lead to precise conclusions or actions to be taken.
I teach at a college. After each class, I take a few minutes to think about how the class went, what could I have done differently etc.
My self-discussions don’t always lead to a specific action or change I will make.
So I need to improve the quality of my reflection.
Thanks Paul. I “think about” and “judge” myself after speaking. I think reflection is less judgmental.
I know you didn’t mention being judgmental. The reason it came to mind is the frequency of reflecting after each class. I thought, if I did self-reflection that often, I’d be beating myself up all the time.
That’s when I realized that being judgmental is different from reflection. Thanks
..and reflection shouldn’t just be focused on what didn’t go well. Reflection that pinpoints what worked well is equally important.
The Zen approach to reflection is best … taking the opportunity to ABSORB your experience while suspending judgment …
Humility, yes … how did I contribute to events/this mess/The best of it? (15% at best, more if a mess)
Pattern recognition, yes … but in terms of dynamics, not personal cause and effect. (It’s NOT about you … It’s about US)
A focus on the self in reflection leads to an over-emphasis on “I” in an AAR (5 out of 8 in your list) … which actually makes it an ARR (After Re-Action Review)…
We must strive to get beyond being reactionary to lead … we must be able to see beyond our own reflection and listen carefully to the subtleties in the Echo of our own experience if we are to influence our collective future. IMHO.
Hi Rurbane, an interesting take on the topic. It reminded me a little of the balcony view concept, where you imagine yourself as an observer on the balcony and think about what occurred. This means you, and everyone else, are actors being observed in the sequence of events.
I’m not sure about the sandwich description used in today’s blog. I’d have thought a circular reference made more sense and better implied the continuous cycle of reflection, thought, action.
Thanks Rob. Like the circular approach, it’s just not as cute.
Rob, I’ve allowed myself some time to digest your thought here (reflect upon it?) …
your point that reflection, thought and action are cyclical is essential
to Dan’s point that our instincts
(no matter how powerful)
to produce effective, meaningful action
and that reflection is one component that should not be evaded (take time for it and be deliberate in it) …
Very helpful … many thanks.
I myself have always disciplined myself to process experiences in triangulation (past/present/future, I/Other/Us, etc.) to find the “true” center of gravity and the best “moment” in the momentum of events …
you point out that we necessarily process this as time “turns” …
Maybe more of a spiraling of comprehension (toward or from some epiphany), rather than strictly circular (tautological)? Hmmm… something useful there …
Thanks Rurbane. Brilliant additions and insights. In particular, the idea that thinking about yourself isn’t always helpful.
Love your thoughts on the questions. They’re intended to be about performance, not simply selfish self-reflection. A leader might reflect on how did I hinder or help other people perform at that best. I like the inward AND outward focus.
I’m not looking at self-reflection as a know yourself or find yourself thing in this post. However, even there, action and reflection must go together. It seems silly to reflect on nothing. Some might call that meditation.
Pattern recognition is about our tendency to repeat behaviors that don’t really work or our tendency to be confused about the reason things ARE working.
Your idea that we should rise above being reactionary is the whole point.
Reflect on Everything (experienced), not (meditate on) nothing –
just don’t judge (read: edit your thinking or assigning a cliche to it as a shortcut for actual thought)
unless and until the actual, real pattern (dynamic) emerges (the relationship between what worked and what didn’t).
Too much of an applied worldview (read: bias) while reflecting can blind us to our arrogance, in terms of our personal contribution (positive OR negative).
After personal reflection should be “authentic” (two-way) dialogue
(and consensus – ideally – this is why we consider it “reflection”),
only then action (if it is to be collectively effective).
This is why power corrupts (trusts and commitments); we stop checking ourselves off with others and act unilaterally (because we can doesn’t mean we should).
Thanks for sharing your insights.
I love your blog. I am wondering if reflection-action-reflection for me is a better way to go. If I am too impulsive my first action/reaction gets me into trouble.
Thanks Chris. Very interesting. You might consider the beginning as planning – action – reflection etc. I’m probably using the term reflection too narrowly. I don’t want it to be meditation or planning. In today’s post I’m limiting my thoughts to leadership reflection.
In any case, I’m really glad you brought up your insight. It expanded my thinking.
This stands out for me, “I thought about things I wanted FROM others. THEY often disappointed.” I’ve found that most others do disappoint me and I just for the most part have to accept and readjust (or even help) resolve the situation because of that. Maybe I just expect too much but that is how it is. In terms of Action and Reflection are Balanced this really jumps out, “Pattern recognition is a key result.” I see so many patterns now the older I get and the more I do, the more I see, the more I read, the more I dialogue with others, the more action I take, the more results I deliver. What I have to step back and be patient on is others just do not see the patterns I see, they ask me how I see it, I explain and then try to ramp them up with work that will build a pattern seeing mind. I’m not sure I have been successful on building “others” up other than my 24 year old son and 25 year old daughter but they’ve been around me a while. I see patterns so clearly I dream them, they come to me in such odd times and for the most part I am correct. I use the patterns I see to help others and to conduct and make business efforts move forward, again always being questioned “how did you know that”. I look at this way, the more information I digest and almost inhale, my brain (like any computer) can start piecing together the information and noting the “patterns” that emerge. The key what do I do with the results of my pattern recognition, strangely enough that too seems easier to put together the older and more grizzled and tougher I get. I just know what to do and do it and it almost always is the right thing to do.
Thanks Roger. Loved that you gave us a peek into your journey. Thank you.
For me, the idea of reflection comes back to expect more of myself than I do of others. When I see things I “don’t like” in others, I wonder how I contributed to it. Frankly, more than I would like to admit.
Dan: It really is about the “journey” is one engaged in ones journey, does one enjoy the journey, does one learn from the journey, does one think ahead about the future in the journey, can one scope out a direction in the journey and as you note in this post, does one become self reflective (in what ever format) within and beyond the journey. Maybe you can investigate some details and dialogue on how the “journey” and our response affects how we lead or follow? Just a thought that might provoke significant discussion.
Good one today (Well, more accurately, today’s post particularly impacted me). To the AAR I would add something (for me) like “who’s life have I impacted in a positive way today?”
Hey Glen. Great seeing you and Wow!! what a great question!! Thank you
Great article, this resonates for me both professionally and personally. Until reading this blog I didn’t realize how my lack of thoughtful action could impact my relationships. I do self reflect, but putting that thoughtful action in place is where I need to improve. Doing this will really help me to start taking ownership and responsibility for my both my actions and responses. I can see how self reflecting isn’t enough and how if I would have taken a few more minutes to put a thoughtful action into place things may have turned out a little differently. Very empowering. Thank you
At least monthly, make sure your AAR includes this question: “How do I know how well I’m doing and what I’m learning and how can I improve the process of finding out?” I’d suggest that too often, we settle for “I just know …”.
You spoke directly to me with this one, Dan!
I love your list, the only question I might add is what do I need to stop doing in order to be more efficient and effective at the action I have planned? Every yes is a no to something else.