The value of reflection

My two favorite words are initiate and reflect. People who take initiative are leaders; they get things done and get ahead in life. People who reflect are good learners. I’ve written a post on initiative. This one’s on reflection. 

The meaning of reflection is obvious. It means to think deeply and carefully about something. To mull over. To marinate in. To slow soak. To meditate about. To consider again what you have experienced and  learn from it.

I believe it’s the key to learning, discovering, creativity, excellence, and insight. It’s among the most neglected disciplines of 21st century society.

Let’s apply it to two areas of life.

We don’t learn by reading. We learn by reflecting on what we have read.

While speaking to a group of executives, I asked the question, “How many of you have read Jim Collins’ book Good to Great? 

A majority of hands shot up.

I then asked, “Can anyone recall just one of the many basic principles presented in this great book?


I gave some hints – “Remember the Hedge-Hog affect, Level 5 Leaders, ‘Get the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus…’” 

A few people nodded.

I have no doubt that most of the group had, indeed,  read the book. But to no advantage because they had not taken the time to reflect on what they had read.

We don’t learn by experiencing life, we learn by reflecting on life – by taking the time to make sense of life’s experiences.

I had lunch with a friend who had recently been fired from his job. His dismissal was preceded by months of stress and strain. He felt bludgeoned. 

I empathized with him and offered my heart-felt condolences. Then I asked, “What have you learned from this painful chapter of your life? 


He hadn’t learned anything. 

What a waste. Instead of emerging from the train wreck having learned valuable life-lessons, he just escaped hurt and slightly bitter.

Every day, take time to reflect on what you’ve read, heard, and experienced. It will be time well spent.

6 Replies to “The value of reflection”

  1. Bravo! (x3) Your insights on all your subjects and approaches are so clear, practical, useable, and very much appreciated. I take time and think about each post – as well as go back and review some that are especially poignant for me. Never too old to learn. Thank you.

  2. Perhaps, Don, this is why people turn to counsellors and therapists. They can ask questions to unlock the rigid mind. In the case of your friend, I suspect his emotions are so raw that he is unable to think logically. He may need a period of “mourning” for his job before he is in the right place to reflect. Sadly, loss of any kind can result in depression and I hope you will be able to “check-in” with him in a few weeks to see how he is coping.
    With regard to the businessmen, it may be that no-one wanted to look stupid in front of the rest of the group. What if they gave you the wrong answer? I like books that give you a few questions to consider at the end of each chapter. I suspect that we sometimes read factual books like fiction and just want to get to the end hoping that everything will be summarised like the conclusion in an Agatha Christie murder.
    Your article was useful and did hit a raw nerve in me when I consider books I have read recently. The exception was Created to Dream by Rick Warren. I have written copious notes which are all aimed at action.

    1. Thanks, Angela, for seasoned, thoughtful responses. You help me see “the other side of a story.” I should have given an example of how reflecting on a life experience gave me deeper understanding.
      Keep your thoughts coming…
      PS – I’m going to be in your area next week. September 15-29 I’m leading a group of 48 friends on a cruise of the British Isles. Yipee…

  3. If the weather continues, you should have a great time visiting the British Isles. Our schoolchildren have gone back to school so nowhere will be too crowded. I would love to hear what your friends think of our “green and pleasant land”. It always worries me the one day excursions from cruise ships don’t always give visitors the true British experience. Make sure you get to taste a piece of real Cheddar cheese and enjoy a cream tea.

    1. Thanks, Angela, for the tips. We’ll visit London, Portland (Stonehenge and Salisbury) and then on to Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Belgium, and France. The tour guide I’ve hired for London just told me the weather has turned warm. Rats, in Texas we’ve just had 50 days of 100+F temperature. I’ll look for Cheddar cheese and cream tea.
      BTW – you’ll appreciate this: when in London we’re going to an Evensong service at St. Paul’s and a Bach and Handel concert at St. Martin’s in the Field.

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