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.