Confucius said, "By three methods we learn wisdom: First by reflection, which is noblest; Second by imitation, which is easiest; Third by experience, which is bitterest."
If there is anything that I’ve learned over time and in my mind, it’s that there’s power in reflecting on the under-defined. These little, little things that we think hold no power over outcomes are often the things that win us our most treasured moments. The simplicity in simple revelations, the reflection on the moment you smiled versus the moment you didn’t. How can you change your meandering crawl to a powerful strut? It could be that you’re simply looking at your feet in the wrong light or maybe you haven’t looked back at yourself and learned how to walk differently. How many poets, writers, philosophers, and motivational speakers have said that the “little things” are the things you’ll miss, but they’ll mean a mile? How many? Don’t count, you’ll lose track.
Why then, do we always hone in on the macro feathers of imperfection in our lives? Haven’t we been told time and time again that we’ve got it wrong? Yes, we have and yet here we are crying over the big deal, forgetting about looking back on the past and learning from those seemingly minuscule details.
A Harvard Business Review article, “Reflecting on Work Improves Job Performance,” written by Carmen Nobel, reflects well on the power of reflection, and not only on the mistakes, but the triumphs. Carmen Nobel, a Senior Editor of the HBR suggests that working individuals take a regular “time out” in order to learn and “improve their job performance.” You see, we people as it turns out, are a little bit more complicated then we give ourselves credit for. We learn and grow in two different processes, although those processes can be largely linked. Type 1 (according to the study held by the HBR) processes are heuristic, as in we learn through action, the more we complete the action, the better we’ll learn it. Type 2 processes are reflective and linked to making decisions. Two rounds of exercises were conducted in which one group was instructed to write reflective detailed notes on the quizzes they took. The second group was not instructed to reflect. Both groups took the quiz again. Guess who performed better. If you said group 1, you’d be right, they out performed group 2 by 18%. That is a huge percentage. The article goes on the list more studies and experiments in which each group that incorporated reflection, performed better than the group that didn’t.
Now that was a business review, but what does that mean for an individual who’s not interested in running a business, but just on living life? Well, I think it’s quite obvious. But let’s just be clear. Anna Deavere Smith performed a dramatization titled “Four American Characters” focusing on the growth of ideals and the power of words.
I love her phrases “…walked in their words,” and “absorbing America” because this is a blog, I’d like to tangent and just say, wouldn’t it be nice to absorb people through their words?
Now, back to the topic:
Her first character dramatization, Studs Terkel, my father remembers him. He was a very iconic radio broadcast personality. In her dramatization, Terkel recounts and yes, reflects on a moment of “moral slippage.” Sitting in my, little apartment taking in these words, I couldn’t help but think to myself, that yes, we humans have only thought about moving forward, about speeding to the next destination, forgetting that people are people and they’re breathing. I have problems, as he has problems, as she has problems as we have problems. But have we really cornered ourselves away from each other enough that we’ve forgotten that?
Answer: Yes, we have. But where we’ve lost that “human touch” as Terkel calls we it, we can pull it back. Yes, and I believe that reflection would allow us to do that. Reflecting on the past and understanding what separates now from then and adjusting for the future.
Out of the four characters Smith focuses on, the first two stand out the most to me. The second is Paulette Jenkins.
Smith has such a lovely way of phrasing aspects of speech, I’ve found, so in the spirit of tangents: “I believe people speak in organic poems…”
Now at one point, Jenkins describes looking in a rear-view at the body of her daughter being laid out on the side of the road and she reflects saying, “I let this happen.” She could have stopped it.
Rarely, in the moment, do we think, make the most of right now. Sadly it’s true. It’s only upon reflection that we understand how to take advantage of time. What else do poets, and songwriters say? Oh yes, “you don’t know what you have until it’s gone.”
I recently reread a post I wrote a year ago after my mother passed away, and was astounded by a few things:
- I was angry.
- Every word in that post reflected upon the fact that life should be treasured…
- A spirit lives on.
- Wanting one thing and receiving another, instead of having my mother to call, I have her hope to carry me (cliché, but true).
- I am still just as broken as I was then, but my pieces fit slightly better.
- There are doors and windows everywhere, keep searching for one, it won’t be what you thought it would be, and that’s fine.
Well then, in light of better job performance, in the hope of preserving the human touch and taking advantage of time, we NEED (yes, this calls for capitals) to learn not only from doing, but from reflecting as well. Yes. You’ve got time. Let yourself breathe and think about your moments, your past moments and your future moments. Trust me, (and this is for myself as much as it is for you) it’ll be like breakfast with a side of nobel (remember Confucius) bacon if you reflect. Because, let’s face it, anything with bacon is stellar compared to anything without.
Thank you and Good Morning.