If there’s one thing I learned with my time in AIESEC is that reflection is one of the most powerful tools you can use for personal growth and development. It’s also, arguably, the most uncommon skill I’ve encountered among young people. I find that if I spend just 30-60 minutes reflecting upon my actions, failures and achievements, I’m much more mindful and deliberate in what I do next. Hence, reflection.
The word reflection has a lot of different connotations for people. Some tend to automatically associate the word with a spiritual or a religious context. For me, it’s all about growth and improvement. Feedback is essential to grow as an individual and some of the best feedback will come from none other than yourself. This is the framework that I use to assess myself and give myself that feedback.
Back in AIESEC I’d frequently have the opportunity to reflect. There’s always a prompt at a conference or team building experience to take some time to reflect, to gather feedback, to plan action steps to improve.
For the last year I haven’t had those prompts and I didn’t realize how much I missed them. I recently gave some advice to friends of mine to take some time to reflect on their most recent experiences before choosing their next ones to dive into, and it made me realize that I haven’t done any of that in a while. Additionally, I saw a former President of AIESEC International, Niels Caszo, prepare himself for his quarterly reflections on Instagram so I decided it’s time I do the same again.
Before I decided to use my own framework, I did a quick Google search to see if there was something pre-made that spoke to me. You’ll find a lot of different frameworks, but a lot of them felt too scientific to me, too deeply rooted in not being a self-reflective process, but rather something done under the supervision of someone else. There were some that were specific to situations or events, but I’m not looking at one thing, I’m looking at a time period of about 90 days. Applying a framework to all the significant things that happened in that quarter didn’t seem like a practical use of my time.
I looked back at my time in AIESEC and On-Off Group, and just ended up combining my favorite parts into one process. In AIESEC we often did performance evaluations and strategic planning, at On-Off Group we often do retrospectives and things like Start-Stop-Continue (or I Like / I Wish / What If) on a frequent basis, so those impacted how I decided to structure my own quarterly reflections.
Let’s look at the full framework I ended up with first:
Let me walk you through it and give you some insights per section. Note: for some people it helps to complete this framework separately to evaluate their work, their personal life, their side hustles, etc.
I also recommend writing these things in a notebook or on sheets of paper you can stick up somewhere.
It’s easy to write it on a Google doc, Evernote, One Note or something, but chances are that you’ll forget about it and not look at it again until your next quarterly review
You start on the top left and work your way down. If you’ve done this before – unlikely, but you never know – then you have a look at how the actions you decided on last quarter panned out. A common mistake people make here is to commit to actions or changes that are too major to do in the span of a quarter. You can’t fix your entire life in one quarter. You can’t turn from a fat slob into a health guru in the span of a quarter (trust me, I’ve tried), but more about that when we get to the last part.
The main reason for the review of the past actions you decided on is to gauge your capacity and progress. Were there some things you really wanted to commit to and change but didn’t get started on at all? Why? What stopped you?
If this is your first time reflecting, you can use the following instead:
Start with THE GOOD / HIGHLIGHTS. This one is pretty self-explanatory – but honestly one of the most difficult ones to reflect on. When I first tried the framework out, I realized that a lot of the good things in my life are things I’m used to, so they don’t seem as great as they actually are because they’re constant. My girlfriend being the ever-supportive rock that she is to my life, for instance, has been very good to me in the last 3 months. It took me a while to realize because it wasn’t a one-off instance that I specifically remembered, which is what tends to happen when you look back at negative experiences.
Don’t be afraid to examine your life critically. Your job, your work, your hobbies, your social life, your friends, your family – what’s going well? What’s good? What made you happy? Jot down anything that comes to mind. Maybe you attended a party that was fun. Maybe you had a great time working on your hobby. Maybe you crushed your sales quota at your job. Maybe you lost some weight.
With all the good dumped onto the page, let’s look at THE BAD / LOWLIGHTS. Most people have an easy time coming up with dozens of things that didn’t go well, things they messed up or wished had gone better. Write them down – you might notice a trend here. Maybe you see more things going wrong at work than in your personal life. Maybe you notice that all the things that went wrong were related to you not paying enough attention to them. Maybe you’ll see that a lot of the bad things here could have been prevented with better communication. These will be important later. Just be honest with yourself.
What helped me here was framing things as “I fucked up…” rather than blaming other factors. Instead of saying “I didn’t reach sales quota,” assess yourself and note “I was too lazy to put in enough calls.” Yes, you not reaching quota is bad, but the real lowlight is that you were too lazy or distracted to put in the hours. That’s the real reflection here.
Now we move onto one of the really interesting things that I include: THE PEOPLE IN MY LIFE. A lot of the things that go good and bad in our life are a result of our interactions with other people. Almost everyone has some sort of support system, works with a variety of people from different backgrounds or has a group of friends. What I like to do is to look at the 3-5 people who’ve had the most impact in my life over the last quarter.
In my last reflection, I wrote a paragraph about my girlfriend, a few bullet points about 2 colleagues, a few notes about a friend I’m mentoring and and a reminder to do have a particular type of conversation with a close friend. Being aware of these things can be immensely powerful for your relationships and help you improve them. You can definitely include bad and negative things here – maybe a relationship with a friend went downhill recently over an argument, maybe your boss hasn’t been fair to you lately, maybe your colleagues turned out to be cooler than you thought.
Let’s get into the last two sections. LESSONS LEARNED is a bit of a reflection inside the reflection. Based on the last 3 sections – THE GOOD, THE BAD and THE PEOPLE, what have you learned? Supplement that with anything important you might have taken away from work, from events, from podcasts / movies / books / articles or anything else. We constantly learn things and writing down the important lessons helps you remember them. I read a lot, so I like to jot down a few memorable lessons from books and articles I’ve read in addition to whatever life has taught me in the last few months.
Last, but definitely the most important, is MOVING FORWARD. Here’s where you make decisions. You stop the introspection and start planning. You’ve now taken the time to dig up a lot of data and emotion on the last few months and it’s time to put into words what you want to do differently next quarter, what you want to do better, what you want to stop. I like my goals measurable and precise. I like my action steps realistic and doable. It could be something as simple as “create a financial tracker and update it daily” to “have a 1-on-1 with my colleague about this work process so we stop fucking it up.” Don’t be vague – putting down “reading more” is about as useful has farting into the wind. Instead, write something like “read 20 pages per day” or “finish 3 books by next quarter.”
Depending on how you like to track actions and goals, it’s time to put those systems into place. I use a combination of tools, so for some of my goals and actions I need to schedule a block of time in my calendar to do them. For others I need to draw up a simple tracking tool in my notebook. For some I need to get off my ass and make a phone call.
Now – you’re done. Take a deep breath. Read through your notes. These are your thoughts. These came straight from your brain, from your memories. Read them over once more, make sure all of your goals and actions have a follow-through on your end and get out there to kick some ass. Set yourself a calendar event for June 30 because it’ll be time for your Q2 reflection of 2019.
I hope this helped someone to take the time to be mindful of themselves and their experiences. Life tends to get hectic and we get swept up in meetings, events and deliverables – this is one easy way to stay on top of your personal development and growth. Trust me, when you do this again in 3 months you’re going to feel like a different person than the one you are now.
Thanks for reading.