The Power of Reflection

A few years ago I was working with the CEO of a contract facilities services company on a presentation for a major client in Pittsburgh. On our way to the presentation, the CEO asked each member of the team, “How long have you been doing this kind of work?” He wanted to (and did) tell the client the number of combined years of industry experience our team represented. The client seemed impressed which pleased the CEO. I remember wondering then, “What does that really tell anyone?” Just because someone’s been doing something for a long time doesn’t mean they’re necessarily good at it. We seem to have the idea that “Experience is the best teacher.” I agree, however, with my friend and mentor John Maxwell who says, “Experience is not the best teacher. Evaluated experience is.” There’s a big difference and it’s in the power of reflection.

Review the Video

During many sporting events, coaches can ask for a review of a particular call. They believe the call was wrong so officials review the video. When a crime has been committed, police will look for any video from cellphones or security systems to see if there might be evidence available there.

Our minds are like video cameras. They capture everything. The clips are readily available to review especially shortly after the event was recorded. I recommend a regular review of our mental video. As soon after an interaction or event as possible, take some time to review the video to evaluate how it went. Pay close attention to your own activity. What words and tone did you use during the interaction/event? What did your body language convey to others?

Also, pay close attention to the responses of the others in the video whether they were direct participants or bystanders. Were they receptive or closed off? Did they interact or retreat? What other observations can you make from the video?


Once you’ve made the above observations about your mental video, it’s time to evaluate the interaction/event, to reflect. If you look up “Reflection” you will find these definitions:

  1. Your response to experiences, opinions, events or new information.
  2. Your response to thoughts and feelings.
  3. A way of exploring your learning.
  4. An opportunity to gain self-knowledge.
  5. A way to achieve clarity and better understanding of what you are learning.

That list actually came under the definition of “Reflective Writing” which I strongly recommend as a way to clarify your thinking and memorialize your learning. I find it helpful to write out answers to the following three questions when I’m reflecting.

What went well? – What positive results came from that interaction? For example, Was a plan developed? Was movement forward toward a metric made? Did the interaction show positive teamwork?

What would I do differently? – Knowing what you’ve observed, how would you approach that same situation differently in the future. To prevent something called “Hindsight Bias” this is a good place to ask, “What could/should I have known prior to this event? What was/was not predictable, and how will I change my approach in the future?

What benefit did I (others) receive? – This goes beyond the benefits you may have listed under “What went well?” This is about what you learned and how you and others grew as a result of that interaction/event.

Expand the View

Beyond reflection on a single interaction or event, the real value in reflection comes from making it a habit. Spend some time either before bed or early in the morning to reflect on the past day. Part of your weekend could be well-spent evaluating the past week. John Maxwell spends the last two weeks of each year reflecting on the entire year.

We will only be better tomorrow if we learn and grow today. Experience is only the best teacher if we learn from it. Evaluated hindsight leads to clearer foresight. That’s the power of reflection.

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