For people new to written reflection, the first question they often ask is, ‘What should I write?’ My answer is always the same: ‘It doesn’t matter. There’s no right or wrong. You can write whatever you like. To begin with it’s not important what you write. What’s important is that you write.’ This blog post aims to provide a little more texture to that response, as well as a few ideas for where to begin.
The main purposes of written reflection are to:
- Make clearer the day-to-day situations and interactions we have.
- Become more conscious of what is happening within us and around us all the time.
- See the patterns in our lives which we are often too busy (or reluctant) to notice.
- Create a record of your progress. (Especially useful when the mind tries to convince us of things which simply aren’t true.)
- Process events and experiences (positive or negative) in order to be able to move on.
- Extract the learning and insights held within every experience.
Reflection is all about looking back over what happens. In order to do that we need to become more observant. Helpfully, these two elements reinforce each other. The more you reflect, the more you observe. The more you observe, the more you reflect. A natural consequence of this symbiosis is an increased awareness of self and others; of communication and interaction; and of how everything fits together. After only a few days of written reflection you will begin to notice more about your world.
The reasons I advocate written reflection are explained in the post, ‘Write Stuff Down’. Briefly, it’s the most effective way of slowing our reflection down to a level at which the subtlety and nuance of life can be more easily seen. Simultaneously, it allows us to focus on more fully and process more effectively the events of the day. Ultimately, in doing so, we allow the treasures which lie beneath the surface of our experiences to be revealed.
Before embarking on regular reflections, it can seem an arduous task. It’s made even more difficult because we don’t know what it will bring us. It’s also confrontational at times. But if you just do it for three days in a row, you’ll notice a difference. A small one perhaps, but big enough to give you insight into what’s possible.
If you’re short of time, then just do five minutes per day. Set a timer and write constantly for five minutes. When the time’s up, stop. Or keep going if you wish. The important thing is that you make a start. It doesn’t matter if you think you have nothing to write. Start writing about anything and see where it takes you.
Sometimes the act of writing anything sets a process in motion whereby the mind says to itself, ‘Okay, we’re writing… here’s something to write about:’ It then pushes something to the forefront of your memory and all of a sudden you find yourself writing things you’d forgotten about, or didn’t even know were there.
Ask yourself one of these questions to prompt you to write:
- What was the most significant event (or conversation, thought, feeling) of today?
- What one thing would I change about my day?
- How did I feel at the start of the day?
- How did I feel at the end of the day?
- Who supported me today and how?
- Who did I help today and how?
- What can I do to help myself tomorrow?
If none of those questions help, then relax and think of nothing. (That’s not easy, either.) Focus on your breathing: in… out… in… out… Within three breaths, a thought will come to you. Write about it for five minutes. That’s as good a place as any to start your written reflection. You may even be surprised by what you write.