“Brain science shows that reflection is a deeper form of learning that can take us to higher levels of ideation and skill development, and fuels personal growth.”

by Geil Browning, Founder and CEO of Emergenetics International

The year is coming to an end, so let’s talk about reflection. There’s a quote I like by Ralph Waldo Emerson- “In times when we thought ourselves indolent, we have afterwards discovered that much was accomplished, and much was begun in us. All our days are so unprofitable while they pass, that ’tis wonderful where or when we ever got anything of this which we call wisdom, poetry, virtue. We never got it on any dated calendar day.”

What he’s saying is that while our lives may seem uninteresting at the moment, there’s much to be gained from the experiences we have every day. And it is when we take time to reflect–to look back on a day, week, or year and harvest all that valuable “stuff”- that our lives are truly enriched.

Reflection is a deeper form of learning that allows us to retain every aspect of any experience, be it personal or professional–why something took place, what the impact was, whether it should happen again–as opposed to just remembering that it happened. It’s about tapping into every aspect of the experience, clarifying our thinking, and honing in on what really matters to us.

From a brain science perspective, it adds neural circuitry to your brain and expands the cerebral cortex by anchoring and deepening your experiences into learning. In layman’s terms, you squeeze more benefit out of each day. Even the seemingly mundane can become great sources of ideas, provide a plethora of data to fuel personal growth, and facilitate the development of new skills.

Squeezing more benefit out of each day sounds great, but who has the time to stop and reflect? You have 91 emails waiting for a response tonight and a meeting at 7:00 a.m. Time is precious, and downtime is nonexistent. But if you can just find a way to build in time for reflection, you won’t be sorry.

The easiest form of reflection, in my opinion, is to keep a journal. Just the act of writing can summon ideas that may not otherwise have surfaced just noodling around in your head. It allows you to dump everything out on paper (or a screen) and then sort it out and make sense of it.

It’s a good idea to do this once a day or once a week for five to ten minutes, or whatever time you have to spare–I’m sure you’ll find the experience beneficial. The idea is to get into a habit so that, for example, every Friday at 2pm you’ll stop and make some notes. The important thing is that you state the situation and what you learned from it. And it’s “the what I learned from it” that’s the important part.

As an entrepreneur especially, you need to stop every now and then to think about where your business is heading. Whether it’s for the upcoming year, the next quarter, or even just in the next week, thinking about where you’ve come from and where you want to be is a business best practice that can yield big returns.

To get you started, here are a few questions to ponder regarding your thinking and behavioral preferences. Your answers will tell you a lot.

  • What are my unique gifts? How did I use them this week? How did I not?
  • How do I manage my time? Are there efficiencies to be gained?
  • How do I relate to others? Am I comfortable working with people with different preferences or styles than mine?
  • How do I assign work? What do I expect from the work of others? How do I complete work myself?
  • How do my behavioral preferences (my expressiveness, assertiveness, and flexibility) impact my personal energy levels? Do I gain or lose energy around other people?

There is no better time to reflect than Thanksgiving. So over this next week, let’s consider what we’re thankful for, and also take time to reflect on things that matter to us the most. Your brain- and your heart- will thank you for it.