reflective journalling for professional growth

Journalling is popular right now, gratitude journals, bullet journals, pretty journals, moleskin journals. Books and pages inviting you to write down your thoughts and feelings mostly for the purpose of increasing your well-being and clarity. I kept a journal when I was a teenager, it had a pretty cover. I filled it up with random thoughts, wishes, poems I found, dreams and things that I was confused about. It was like a friend that didn’t talk back or ask questions. It is easy to keep a journal like that, but it can quickly tend towards self focus and self indulgence. Just keeping a journal or writing regularly doesn’t always help with our growth or development. Writing our thoughts doesn’t automatically lead us to challenge our own assumptions, in fact it can if we are not careful be a way of justifying what we already know. Yet reflective journalling has a lot of potential to increase our professional growth, particularly in increasing our soft skills like self-awareness and communication that are so sought after in today’s work environments.

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To go beyond just writing down all your thoughts and worries about work to actually using reflective journalling to increase your self-awareness and growth takes effort and intentionality. It may feel a bit more difficult than ‘just’ writing.

Reflection is the skill (and it can be learned like any other skill) of standing back and carefully considering and examining what has happened, what we did or new pieces of information and knowledge.

Reflection is a way of integrating what we know with the actions that we take. Reflection can remain at surface level or it can delve into the depths of our thoughts, theories and the background to our actions. Critical reflection is a deeper level of reflection that occurs when we begin to examine our assumptions and habitual ways of thinking. Being able to engage with this deeper level critical reflection is what leads to transformation and the ability to understand and accept different perspectives.

If you haven’t tried reflective journalling before, a good place to start is to identify one area in which you wish to develop greater self awareness or to grow. You will find it easier to begin reflecting if you have one area to focus on. For example you may choose to reflect on how you present your ideas to your colleagues in staff meetings, or how you carry your mood from family life into your work. A journal is a tool to aid your reflection, but being faced with a blank page can be off-putting, so finding a layout that helps you reflect is important. Some people like to decorate their pages, use stickers, hand lettering and other creative elements, others find these distracting. Experiment a little to see what helps you the most.

A technique that prompts my reflective journalling is dividing the page into four columns. These give more focus and structure to the reflection, and help the reflection to get started (the page isn’t blank) they also help to provide some focus to assist a deeper level of engagement.

Column One: Observe

The first column is for all the observations of a situation that you have chosen for reflection. The first step in reflecting is developing your observation skills, being able to notice what is happening. We tend to be tempted to rush over this part and jump into understanding and evaluating very quickly. So try and stay with noticing, with simple observation without judgement for as long as possible. Keep asking yourself - What else is there to notice? What else do I remember about the situation?

Column Two: Make Meaning

The second column is to help you look for meaning and understanding of the situation and your own behaviour or mood. You may like to consider your emotions around the experience, how it connects to any theories that you know and use, and what assumptions there are behind the actions that you and others took. Another helpful approach is to evaluate what was good or bad about what happened. Even though you are searching for meaning try and answer what and how questions. Why questions can lead us to becoming focused on the past, and to becoming defensive or explaining away our behaviour rather than seeking ways to change.

Column Three: Identify New Actions

The third column it to encourage you to apply things that you have learned from your reflections.
This is a chance to consider what you are going to do or change. It is also a chance to begin to make connections between your knowledge, thoughts, feelings, actions and skills. It might be
a matter of identifying some skills that you need to develop or learn.

Column Four: Reflect Again

The last column is left blank until a later date (perhaps monthly). This is a chance to revisit your reflections and to reflect on whether they are prompting your growth or not. You can reflect on your application of the new actions that you identify, consider if you are learning new skills or trying new things as a result of your reflection. It can also be helpful to look for repeated patterns of thinking, struggles or repeated mistakes.

Reflective journalling is a tool that can assist you to make abstract internal processes visible so that you can learn, grow and develop your self-awareness. Like any new skill it can take a while to get used to, don’t give up if it is awkward at first. There is no right way to do it, so give different methods and questions a try. If you don’t feel so comfortable with structured writing, mind maps and pictures also work well. Keep trying until you find a rhythm and method that work well to promote your reflection and growth.

If you are keen for some help to learn how to reflect on your work, book a discovery call with me to discuss your needs further.

why is Christmas so stressful?

Christmas - Yes it is that time of year. A time when we are bombarded with advertising, with expectations from our family and colleagues, with more and more to attend and do. A time when there seems to be so much to fit in, as we finish work, celebrate achievements, prepare for holidays and hold parties. This year I have also noticed that added to the normal bombardment there has been a push in the opposite direction. Memes and Facebook posts encourage simplicity, inspire alternatives to consumerism and support ethical, natural, fair-trade and values based buying decisions. We have become caught between two warring streams of thought that want our attention and money at this time of year. It is no wonder we feel stressed as we attempt to find our way through all the competing demands that are coming towards us. Often we feel that it is not what we want that even matters. Even if we want an ethical anti-consumerist Christmas our families may not accept it. I remember one year I put an Oxfam chicken into a family secret Santa exchange - well let’s just say that only one person even understood what it was, and I was not popular that year. Negotiating family communication styles and different needs and wants at this time of year can be tricky and adds another layer to our stress, as we often feel that we are getting swept up in other’s decisions, and that our choice is being taken away from us.

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If we want to begin to navigate all these competing demands better, and in a way that reduces our stress, the first place to start is by taking a step back and asking:

What is Christmas actually for?

Why is it so important that we rush around with huge lists of what to do, what to buy and what to eat?

So often Christmas has just become something we do, because everyone around is doing it, it has become uncoupled from meaning and it can leave us feeling like it didn’t live up to our hopes or expectations. Christmas can be stressful because we have lost any sense of meaning or purpose from the celebration. Ritual, symbol, traditions, rites of passage, celebrations and festival rhythms are important to include in our lives and our current western urban life lacks opportunities for these. We are left longing for meaning and opportunities to celebrate well, but Christmas often fails to meet these needs. Traditions and festivals are part of how we express the things that are important to us that words don’t quite describe. They serve as outward demonstrations of our inner commitments. They are ways of telling the stories of our values, of re-centering ourselves in those values and expressing what it is that we value to others. They are opportunities to create and remember shared stories with our families and friends, that enhance our bonds and our sense of belonging.

However many of the traditions and expectations of Christmas lack context for us and don’t appear meaningful, so we throw them out. I stopped making a Christmas cake about 20 years ago. I don’t like Christmas cake and having the oven on for hours to cook dried fruit just when the summer berries and first juicy stone fruit are appearing seems silly. Some of these traditions have been thoughtlessly passed down and are now so disconnected from the context of our lives that it makes sense to abandon them. Yet my mum used to faithfully make my Grandma’s fruitcake recipe that had been lovingly handwritten into a recipe collection. By discarding something that is no relevant I am also discarding a chance of connection to my past and my family.

So we scrap the traditions that lack relevance to our context or lack meaning, and that makes sense. However we often don’t replace them with anything or we don’t know how to replace them with something meaningful. We may desire an informal low stress family meal but it doesn’t ‘feel’ important or any more meaningful that any other family meal we may have over the year. We may have scrapped some traditions and yet often haven’t added back any ceremonies, rituals or traditions that hold and express meaning and our values. In the past these types of festival rhythms connected people to the seasons and the land. For example events like the harvest were celebrated as part of a significant rhythm of the year. These were important connections to maintain and celebrate when life was mainly agricultural. For our mainly urban culture these days it is not so much a connection to the land and the seasons that we need (although I am sure some of you may argue that this would be helpful too). What our communities and families are lacking is a deeper connection to others that creates a sense of belonging, a connection to who they are, their story and their values, and to the value and worth of their story. It is these connections that allow us to navigate our way in the world, increase our resilience and foster our well-being. We need to re-create traditions, rituals and celebrations that give us a sense of meaning through celebrating and nurturing our connection to these things. Re-establishing a sense of purpose allows us to reclaim Christmas from the drive to consume and opens us up to expressing connection and meaning in more creative ways. Creating a new tradition of making shared art work, sharing photos and memories or stories from the year all add meaning and connection in a way that buying things may not.

Traditions are important, but to help us avoid stress they need to be contextually relevant, express our values, add meaning and create connections.

Rituals and celebrations don’t have to be solemn and serious we can all do with a little more fun and magic in our lives. Christmas is almost here but if you do have some spare moments for reflection this week, reflect on your Christmas celebrations and what purpose they serve for you. I have prepared a worksheet, with some questions to prompt your thinking around Christmas and creating meaning for yourself.

Taking the time to add purpose, value and connection back into your Christmas will help you to reduce some of the stress and overwhelm of this season. You can then begin to head towards a fun and relaxing festival.

I’d love to hear what new traditions or rituals you come up with so do share your ideas in the comments.

professional supervision is for everyone

External (or professional) supervision is of great benefit to everyone who works in a people helping role. For many of us it is mandatory for our professional registration, for others it is highly recommended. I believe that regular supervision can help many people who may not be familiar with it, or required to attend as part of their work role. In fact everyone that works with people should consider attending supervision. Professional supervision is described by Lane and Corrie (2006) as “A formal independent process of reflection and review which enables practitioners to increase individual self-awareness, develop their competence and critique their work.”

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Professional supervision is for you - even if you have not thought about it before:

Supervision is perhaps an unhelpful naming for professional supervision. There is a tendency to associate ‘supervision’ with line management and someone prioritising or evaluating our tasks. But that is not what professional supervision is. Rather professional supervision is a safe space outside of the regular work environment, to experience facilitated reflection on your work, your self and the interaction between the two.

Professional Supervision is for you because the world is a busy, ambiguous, ever-changing place: It is a world of inputs: podcasts, blog posts and e-books. Information comes to you from so many different directions. Your mind is a hard-working receptacle collecting experiences, client work, what you read, what you hear, what you experience and see. It is easy to just keep filling your mind with more and more input. The result is that your mind begins to feel like an overflowing washing basket, all jumbled and crumpled and muddled. It then becomes easy to start to lose your sense of self, to drift from your values, to feel overwhelmed and to lose your self-confidence. Professional supervision is a powerful pause amongst the input. It is a safe reflective space outside all the demands that you are facing. It is a chance for you to get help sorting and folding all the jumbled piles in your mind, and to consider the changing world and the changing needs of your clients. Facilitated reflection with a skilled supervisor will leave you feeling neat and orderly with the increased clarity and insight that you need for sustainable, flexible and excellent work.

Professional Supervision is for you if you work with others:

Caring for or helping others requires a lot from you, professional supervision is part of how you can care for yourself as you face all those needs. Professional Supervision began in the social work profession in the late 1800’s but quickly spread throughout other professions that are centred on people helping, such as counselling, psychotherapy and psychology. Now it is common in a range of professions, from spiritual direction, and clergy to youth work and nursing, and social workers call it their gift to the helping professions. Support is an essential foundation of professional supervision, it is a safe place for you to take and process all the emotions that your work with others creates in you. A supervisor will provide support and guidance to help you work with and be curious about your emotions, and how you can use them in your work, and care for yourself in your experiences of strong emotions.

Professional Supervision is for you - if you use your ‘self’ in your work:

You - your own self is the source of and resource for your work. If you use your own presence and self, your own story and your own emotional engagement with clients then supervision is an essential support for you in this work. A supervisor can help you explore how you are being your real self in your work or whether there are areas in which you are holding back. They can help you craft your role so that you can be more authentic and have ownership of the way you work. Professional supervision is also a safe space to explore the vulnerability involved in your use of self and how you can ensure you are doing so in a sustainable way.

Professional Supervision is for you - if you want to grow:

A key outcome of attending supervision is growth. If you want to grow in your professional identity, your confidence, or in the quality and extent of your work, then a supervisor can nurture and encourage your to stretch in those areas. A supervisor can help you unpack your attitudes to feedback so that you can use it more effectively and will be there to talk through cases and client work with you. Professional supervision is an ideal space in which to explore and experiment with your own authority as a professional and to process your growth or struggles in this area.

Professional Supervision is for you - if you want accountability:

Unlike coaching or counselling, professional supervision contains a focus on the end user of the service. The clients or people that that you work with with ideally should receive a better service because of your attendance at professional supervision. This means there are many layers or relationships and systems to work with in a supervision session. Accountability is a central component of supervision, of course this is influenced by the professional standards within which you and your supervisor work. Through reflecting on your work with your supervisor you have an opportunity to consider your decision making processes and to work on increasing your ethical maturity. It is a safe space to consider complex relationships and the ethical implications of these.

If you are unsure what benefit you would gain from attending supervision - supervision is still for you.

There is a lot to be gained from attending supervision. In my own experience supervision has been transformational. It facilitated my growth as a telephone counsellor by providing safe challenges that took me out of my comfort zone, it provided emotional support and mindset shifts when I struggled with the organisations I was part of. As someone who now works by myself it ensures someone is checking on my well-being and resilience practices and it has enabled me to grow in confidence in the services that I provide. I consider supervision an essential component of ensuring that my practice is both competent and ethical.

Supervision is for everyone:

Supervision is indeed a gift, a useful and empowering practice for anyone who works in some sort of caring role with people. Working with people requires extra care and support to do well over the long term. In the not for profit sector within it can seem that each year requires more empathy, more client support, more professionalism, more learning of new skills and knowledge and more pressure to do more with less. In the face of these increasing demands working sustainably and with attention to self-care, spirituality or values, work-life balance and resilience is hard work. Therefore professional supervision is an almost essential layer of support to ensure you are working sustainably.

I LOVE to talk about supervision, so if you have any questions about professional supervision and whether it is right for you I am most happy to answer them

take control of your Christmas

Christmas - do your eyes sparkle, your mouth grin, and your heart leap when you hear that word?
Or are you like me, and part of you dreads the Christmas season. I try and live in denial that it is coming as long as possible - but this year I attended my first Christmas event in mid-November.   So I had to start thinking about it earlier than I wanted to.  I always want Christmas to be a relaxed happy time of year with some room for spiritual input and reflection.  But instead it seems to sweep me away in a struggle through preparing for events, attending event after event, the year's end, the end of the school term, winding up all those unfinished work tasks and all the other pressures that come at this time of year.  

What about you? How do you feel about Christmas? Do you enjoy it? All of it? Some of it?

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In my coaching work this year, I have spent some time exploring discontent. We often overlook our discontent, it makes us uncomfortable.  Discontent can be challenging and confronts us with our own inadequacy and unmet expectations. It can be easier to suppress our discontent than to examine it.

I have found discontent and dissatisfaction are interesting and helpful things to explore.
 

Discontent is something that we should listen to, it is something that can guide us into new activities and focuses.  Discontent is a  sign that it is time for you to grow, time for you to move, time for you to step up and challenge the status quo.

I have identified three main sources of dissatisfaction, stress or discontent in the lead up to Christmas:

Time Pressures

At this time of year we try to fit more into an already busy schedule, we need to fit in parties, end of year displays, shopping and baking. Our workplaces are often busy and people are stressed and short-tempered.  This creates added stress on our time and adds to the feelings of overwhelm.   

Value Conflicts

If we don’t know our values we may get swept away doing things that others value, that we don’t and we may not realise why we are discontented.  We can also experience conflicts between our own values.  For example, we may value spending time with our extended family, and value creating a relaxed child-friendly experience for our children.  These two values may end up in tension if your extended family want to have a white tablecloth sit down dinner.   Our values may also be in tension with others values, for example, we may value or need simplicity and this may not be in line with our families value of lavish presents.  

Expectations 

Have you ever thought about what your expectations are for this time of year?  Are you expecting yourself to do everything by yourself? Are you expecting a perfect tree and house like you see in a magazine?  Are your expectations realistic? Expectations come from ourselves, from our families and others and from society.  It is good to reflect on what your expectations are and how you may be unconsciously influenced by the expectations created by society or even by our advertising exposure.   

 

To have a more contented Christmas and to feel more in control of all that is happening at this time of year we can take actions to reduce these three sources of discontent:      

Values       

A good first step to take is to identify and articulate your values.  Values are the big abstract statements of things that are important to you, they are the overarching guiding reference points and principles that you live by.  You may find it helpful to spend time reflecting on what you value most at this time of year.  For some people it is spending time with family, for some, it may be getting alone time to recover from workplace stress.  What is it for you?

Simplify

Once you know your values you can start to overcome some of the time pressures you face by simplifying.  It’s difficult to acknowledge, but we can’t actually do everything!  Knowing your values helps you know what is most important and makes it easier to put down those things that are not in line with your values, and yes that will require creating boundaries (eeek!).  But I believe that you will find it easier to introduce and articulate those boundaries if they are value based.   For me, this means that I need to simplify and reduce doing things (cooking, presents, shopping) as I value having time to be really present with people and I can’t do that if I am focused on creating more things.  

Expectations

 It will help you feel more in control if you can create realistic expectations of what you can and will do.  Ask why you do things - why make a Christmas cake? Is it the wrong time of year for dried fruit and the oven on for 4 hours?  So where did this expectation to make a Christmas cake come from? Do you really need one?   Even our strengths can lead us astray here.   My strengths of creativity and curiosity lead me to create expectations of doing new crafts, baking and cooking every year.  But I have learnt that this is not the time of year to be adding complexity to my life, so I try and reduce my crafting and baking - there are plenty of other times of the year where there is plenty of space for experimenting but 11 pm on the 24th December is not the time!

Click here for a pdf of questions to help you reflect on your Christmas season.

I wish you all a great year's end, a lovely celebration and some rest and re-creation time.  
 

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4 thoughts about leadership

Here in New Zealand we are in the middle of a general election campaign.  I know that my thoughts have turned to the country, policies and the behaviour of the media and of politicians.  My usual pondering on resilience, well-being and creativity have taken a bit of a back seat.  If you are like me the time you used to spend catching up on blogs is now spent following politicians and the news.  Therefore I won’t add to your information flow with a long post until after the election now.  But all the election coverage and leadership churn has got me thinking about leadership so here are four brief thoughts about leadership, in particular how we are seeing leadership change.

 

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 1)  We no longer have a shared idea of what leadership is and what it should look like.

As I say often, the world has changed and is changing (fast), there are distinct differences in thinking between younger people and older people (or more traditional people) and added to this mix we also have contributions from other cultures.  There are contrasting threads and ideas about what leadership is. Command and control still seems to be a dominant expectation of leaders from older or more traditional thinkers.  This definition of leadership is not so common among younger people who place more importance on the ability of leaders to collaborate, network, be diplomatic and to encourage and support a team towards a shared vision.  

 
2)    We no longer need leaders who know things. 


In previous eras (industrial era for example) a leader used to be the person who knew things.  They may even have been the only one who knew things or had access to information.  Information was scarce and prized.  We expected leaders to know lots and to know more than their followers.  It seems that although the world has moved on dramatically from the industrial era it has taken a while for the public to grasp how this affects our ideas of leadership.  We are now moving well beyond the knowledge era. We have access to information like it is water flowing from a tap.  A leader can no longer and needs no longer to know everything.  Instead, we need leaders with discernment.  Leaders who know where to get good advice, good credible information and make good sound decisions.  We need leaders who can point to which information is important and to make the implications understandable for us.          

3)    We no longer need solo leaders. 
 

Previously leadership was seen as a solo task. One lone person where the buck stopped.  There is a slow movement away from this model, an awareness that leadership as a solo task is not good for business or countries or individuals.  Letting one person shoulder the responsibility and vision is too much work, too much weight for one set of shoulders.  We are ready to see the growth of leadership teams, where responsibility and vision creation are shared. This allows for more synergy, creativity and a more healthy work life balance.  

4) We no longer need perfection. 

We say that we want our leaders to be authentic.  We want to know that they are like us - fallible, human.  Yet, on the other hand, we are not quite ready for them to make mistakes, we still want to hold leaders to a higher standard than we hold ourselves.  Now I am not sure whether this has come from the media or the public, or perhaps one section of society.  There is a resistance to the idea that people can grow, develop change, become better at things - there has been a pressure to be perfect, to have all the experience you need right now.  In this rapidly changing world no-one can have everything they need now for the unknown tomorrow - instead, we need leaders who can show they are learners, that can show they can develop and grow and adapt as the world changes.  

 

What have you noticed about leadership?

How have you seen ideas of leadership changing?