‘Mirror, Mirror on the Wall; the Benefits of Self-Reflection’
Part One (of two) : Why you should reflect on your work
When the looking glass informs the vain queen that Snow White is most fair, the monarch in this well-known tale flies into a jealous rage. She dispatches a huntsman to the deepest forest to dispose of the threat to her regal beauty. Vain though the queen may be, she is intelligent enough to know that the mirror does not lie.
Cognizant of its inexorable veracity, we look in the mirror to see our reflections and thus know how others see us. We identify with the image there. After a glance, we often make adjustments – straighten a collar, shave the bristles, wipe away a smudge. These adjustments improve appearance.
Mirrors also offer protection against danger. Suspended on corners of buildings, they prevent collisions of pedestrians, who might make the turn hastily. Rear-view and side-view mirrors lessen chances of motorist accidents. In sum, a physical reflection defines us, shows us how others see us and helps us to avoid peril.
Reflection has a second interpretation, that of thinking. One contemplates an act, a process or a product through this figurative mirror. One sees the consequences of choices made. Self-reflection allows us to form an opinion about what has happened or imagine what might happen. Just as the physical mirror prompts adjustments, self-reflection may lead to changes in content, method or end result. These adjustments improve performance.
When I finish writing a paper, hand in a project or put final touches on a work of art, I breathe a sigh of relief. What a delight to turn my tired brain to something new, I think. In the past decade, however, my relief has been short-lived. That is because there is, increasingly, one last thing to do; to reflect on the work I have just submitted. Enough, I groan. I may fly into a rage and banish the assignment to the deepest forest.
Then I sigh in resignation and begin the process of cogitating. As I engage in that self-reflection – through a journal or record of what I did, how I did it and what the result was – something interesting transpires. I begin to see what I could not see before. Why did I choose that particular content? Could the structure benefit from re-ordering? Could my procedure be altered? The final result is not my best work, I see. Again, I may fly into a rage and fling the imperfect composition into the deepest forest. I want to be fairest of them all and this imperfection will not do, for it purports to be a reflection of me.
Then another project is assigned. Even without looking at the journal, I remember what worked and what did not. I might pull out my records at some point during the new project, to see how I could shore up weaknesses, promote skills that I have begun to develop. My strengths might even begin to work for me.
‘Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards,’ wrote Søren Kierkegaard. Reflecting will result in improved performance and better end result.
this is continued in a second part, entitled ‘How to Reflect’.