By three methods we may learn wisdom: first, by reflection, which is noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third, by experience, which is the most bitter.
– Confucius, Chinese philosopher
You can inculcate the habit of reflection in your lifestyle in a number of ways. I have personally found the practice of meditation a particularly powerful means to do so. The word ‘meditation’ originated from the Latin word ‘meditation’, which means contemplation. It generally involves engaging in a mental exercise directed at reaching a deeper state of focus, awareness and relaxation. Staying focused on something specific, like the breath, enables us to slowly disengage from our recurring and conditioned thought patterns. Meditation requires us to be in an open and accepting state, where we don’t judge our thoughts or our inability to let go of them. This leads to the quietening of the mind.
That, in turn, results in a relaxed mental state that is open to engaging with reality without fear, greed or any other emotional attachment. Extensive research, including that undertaken by Harvard Medical School and the American National Institute of Health, conducted with practitioners of transcendental meditation and mindfulness meditation, shows that meditation is helpful in a multitude of ways. It is proven to reduce anxiety, stress and chronic pain, strengthen the immune system and improve sleep quality. It is reported to be helpful with enhancing self-esteem, tolerance, positive emotions, emotional resilience and quality of relationships.
Studies show that sustained practice of meditation helps executives build greater foresight, clearer thinking, creativity, authentic relationships and higher productivity. It develops leaders’ self-awareness at all the four levels of being that we discussed earlier. Consequently, leaders who practise meditation are more confident, purposeful, resilient and happier, and better equipped to produce impactful and sustainable results.
Meditation techniques abound. In fact, there are almost too many, and if you are just starting out, the choice can be overwhelming. If you are familiar with a specific technique or know someone who’s benefitted from one, consider starting with that. As you gain more direct exposure of the practice, your personal experience can guide you with your choices. Then, you can choose to either persevere with the same practice or learn another one. You can also consider exploring well-known techniques like transcendental meditation and vipassana.
Besides, many meditation apps are available these days, Headspace and Calm being two of the most popular. Do your research and assess what you feel most drawn to. Alternatively, you can consider writing a journal as a way to incorporate a practice of conscious reflection.
Articulating your thoughts on a piece of paper is a powerful processing tool, as it forces you to give shape to otherwise abstract thoughts about various issues. It thus automatically helps clarify many things. Writing also gives some degree of finality and closure to reflection. You can record the questions you wish to ponder over and make a note of your thoughts on a regular basis. You can also make a daily note of your dominant thoughts and feelings of the day—this can be reflective and therapeutic. For journaling to be effective though, it is important that you don’t judge yourself, your thoughts or your feelings. Many a time, we grasp an insight or a new approach, but over time miss out on fully incorporating it in our life. A journal is useful in this regard. A ready archive of entries, a journal can help you build reference points as a reminder of the journey you’re on.
Lastly, inculcating a reading habit is very supportive of a reflection practice. Reading thoughtful books in the genre of personal growth, including in the fields of psychology, philosophy and spirituality, can serve as a regular reminder of some of the insights you may have gained during your own personal reflections. These reminders urge you to stay connected with and put those insights into practice. Listening to inspirational podcasts and talks can serve a similar purpose.
Reflection is not an occasional event but an ongoing practice. It’s a way of life. Some clients of mine like to think of structured reflection as analogous to the idea of a power nap—short, concentrated and yet potent.
They commit to a focused time, of generally around ten minutes every day, which is dedicated to reflection. It could be early in the morning, last thing at night, first thing at work or during their commute to or from work.
They stick to their plan religiously, and yet these precious moments do not necessarily interfere with their daily routines.
When done consistently, reflection has the potential to accelerate your growth, create a cycle of self-improvement and enrich your experiences. Every step of progress is an occasion to assess what worked well for you and every setback an opportunity to learn what you could have done better. In that regard, building a discipline of regular reflection, almost as a part of your daily or weekly routine, can be empowering.
Excerpted with permission from Inside-Out Leadership - 16 Radical Insights Successful Leaders Wish They Had Discovered Sooner by Rajiv Vij, published by Westland Business.