Building reliable habits of personal reflection is not easy. Like mastering any new skill, learning to hang the mirror involves no small amount of setbacks and failure.
We might maintain a sense of objectivity for a time, then lose it at a bad turn of events or sharp verbal jab. We might restrain emotional responses when the going is easy, but lose our composure when we most need it.
Training one’s self to hang the mirror regularly and reliably – not as an afterthought, but as a key aspect to ongoing professional development – is a process that tests our resolve again and again.
Shifting one’s mindset from “getting it” to “getting closer to it” can help in meeting these challenges. Rather than striving to attain arbitrarily imposed standards of accomplishment, priority is placed on taking tangible steps of progress. Slow-and-steady is the mode of action, and assessment is grounded more in process and learning than “success” and “failure”.
What does this look like in practice? If we have never had occasion to assess our interior landscape, taking a first look inside is a notable step in its own right. Similarly, a daily practice that is fragile and easily interrupted is – regardless of any limitations and shortcomings – still a foundation from which to build.
If previously we might have never reflected on a hostile interaction with a coworker, we might now give it some thought at home over the weekend. Where formerly, days might have passed before we assessed the choices we made in a particularly difficult meeting, it might now be only that afternoon that we consider steps that might have led to a better outcome.
Slowly, with determination and effort, our capacity for reflection grows. Over time we become able to assess our choices in real time, as we are making them.
This capacity – adopting more productive behavior on the spot, rather than after the fact – is, in a way, the ultimate goal of any reflective discipline. It is crucial in the transformation of personal choices and behaviors.
But it can be developed only to the extent that we weather the fits, starts, and setbacks of the learning process with resolve and determination.
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