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.

Using our strengths and gifts for our own self-care

Do you know your own strengths, values and gifts? It is likely that you have come across some discussion of strengths and values in your workplace, as it has become a common focus recently.      Most of the discussion of gifts and strengths, focuses on how we use them to interact with the world, how we put them into practice in our work, lives or parenting.  The wellbeing literature points to an association between the opportunity to use our strengths at work as being associated with greater well-being.  So knowing and using our gifts can be an important step in our self-care to increase and maintain our wellbeing.

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After my last post about self-care, I have had various conversations about self-care including my own.  On one level self-care is easy - most of us know the principles and have some ideas of the things that help us be healthy and feel re-energised.  

It is not lack of knowledge that prevents us from taking actions to care for ourselves.    

Other elements are at play that prevents us from prioritising self-care.  Often it can be that we haven’t developed enough self-compassion, we may not value self-care, or prioritise our needs.   

It is much easier to achieve goals that are in line with our values and use our strengths and gifts. Yet most of the discussion around strengths focuses on their outward expression.  A step in becoming better at self-care is to consider turning the best of ourselves inwards.  Self-care may become easier if we find ways to base our practices in what we value, and to mobilise our strengths and gifts in the service of our own well-being and self-care.   

The first step in this is identifying your strengths, values and talents.  A good place to start is with the VIA survey that you can find here.

Then think about your values and how they can underpin your self-care.  For example, if you value honesty taking time, to be honest about how you feel about your work and your energy levels may be an important self-care practice for you. I place a high value on wisdom and I see part of wisdom as caring for myself well.  Self-care will become easier if you take the time to base it in some of your core values.  

Think about how you can turn your gifts and strengths to yourself and your own care.  We often overlook applying strengths and gifts to ourselves.  The most obvious example comes from those I know and work with who have gifts of empathy and compassion. These gifts tend to be mostly focussed outwards, and it takes an intentional attempt at refocussing for them to turn that same level of empathy and compassion to themselves.  Often people who are strong in communication and humour also tend to focus these gifts outwards, intentionally re-focussing these inwards may include journalling to communicate better with yourself, and doing things just for fun to express your humour rather than seeking to be making others laugh.  I am trying to use my strength of curiosity to become more curious about what is going on in my own mind and to spend more time exploring my own emotional reactions to things as a way of increasing my mindfulness.  

Thinking about our strengths and how we can apply them to ourselves, not just others, is a key component of helping us to prioritise and value self-care.  

I have put together a weekly worksheet (also available as a pdf) to help you reflect on how your are and can use your strengths to care for yourself.  At the end of each day reflect on how you used your strengths for others, what you did (or didn’t) do for your own self-care and think about how you could have used this strength to support and re-energise yourself. 

As always I would love to hear how you are using your strengths as a base for self-care. 

 

tend your garden


A fresh year lies before us, it's pain and pleasures lie tightly furled and hidden from our eyes and ears.  As we are swept into the year it can be easy to focus on productivity and tasks, questions like, what do I want to achieve? What do I want to do? How many people do I want to reach? May be circling around your head.    Before you get lost in the pressure to create measurable outcomes stop a minute and think about what happens if you view your life as a garden.  If as we enter the year we focus on tending the garden (tending our own being), then a premature counting of the fruit (measurable outcomes) is removed.  Instead we need to think about the seasons, the soil, the conditions and the needs of the plants.  We then arrive at a different set of questions to focus our year.  We can think about who we are and who we want to become, we can think about what strengths and virtues we want to grow and the values that we want to express.  

We can focus on what we want to grow in ourselves rather than what we want to achieve.

Here are some questions to think about  

  1. What character traits or virtues do you want to cultivate? (For me it is patience).  
  2. What needs fertilising or extra energy? What type of fertiliser works best? (I definitely need lots of silence!)
  3. What needs pruning? (Sugar and caffeine for me!).
  4. What is feeling dry and desiccated and needs a watering schedule? (my IRL relationships need some work)
  5. What tiny buds of strengths and character do you see in your children or people you work with that you need to notice and nourish?  
  6. What needs to lie fallow?  Which areas of your life are depleted and need to rest?
  7. What is your watering schedule? How will it change as the seasons change?
  8. What is the Holy Spirit saying about which areas of the garden are full of unnoticed life, that may be going to bloom this year?