The art of reflection is such a crucial part of learning and development, yet at times, so difficult to do. Understanding the value of reflection, many business schools are including reflective journaling as a requirement for their programmes. For many students this part of the programme is often the most difficult to master.
Chantal has spent a significant part of the week marking reflective essays submitted by her group of 2023 MPhil students. The essay forms the culmination of a year of course work for the masters students and tests their reflective abilities as they recount their learning journey over the past year. Although there are still technical academic requirements such as referencing, the students need to show the evolution of their personal growth and development using excerpts from their reflective journals that they were instructed to keep as a record of their process.
Many do not heed the instruction and start late into the year, consequently they miss out on the valuable reminders of how their year started. As Chantal often reminds them at the beginning of their coursework year:
“You may think you will remember everything, but you won’t, so start journaling now.”
Chantal was introduced to the concept of journaling at a young age. When she was seven years old her parents went overseas for several weeks, leaving her and her brothers in the care of grandparents. Her mother gave her a small yellow lockable book and suggested she keep a diary of what happened every day that her parents were away.
“It’ll be like you are speaking to us every day telling us what you did,” said her mom, cleverly ensuring that her oldest child felt more connected to her parents.
This was at a time when the only means of communication was the telephone with prohibitively expensive international calls; and the mail, which was slow.
Being the obedient child she was, Chantal did exactly what was suggested. She wrote a few vaguely descriptive lines about what transpired each day. Entries went something like this:
“Clare was here and we swam.”
“I went to the shops with granny.”
“Today Gaga made rusks.”
This was her first foray into keeping a diary which she has continued to do on and off for the rest of her life. Granted, keeping a diary is not really reflective journaling, but what it did do for Chantal was start a habit and as she got older the content of her journaling became more reflective.
One week in as an uncle! Here’s beautiful Ava Grace about to embark on her adventure home❣️
Some resist writing things down
Some people resist writing things down, for a host of reasons. The very act of writing can put people off. Who writes anymore? Actually writes, by hand with a pen on paper? Not many do, unless they absolutely have to.
The physical act of handwriting has many benefits, the somatic movement of your hand, the feel of the paper, the creativity it requires, the engagement of all the senses create a stronger memory of the information being set down. Yet, it is avoided.
The fear that someone might find our documented deepest thoughts is a not unfounded concern. For most of us, however, our thoughts are not that interesting to anybody else but ourselves.
“I know I should journal and reflect more, but I just don’t find the time,” is a well worn excuse that we have all used in a variety of ways. It’s a bit like saying, “I want to grow and develop as a human being, I want to get better, but I just don’t have the time.” Really?
Some people can’t bear to see their thoughts on the page before them. It can be traumatising to recount a difficult event or situation in your life, even when you know that in doing so you will learn from it. It does take courage to watch it surface as you scribble over the page, to look it in the eye, acknowledge it and surprise yourself when you don’t disintegrate on re-entry.
Then there are those that are affronted but the fact that there is little structure, that the page looks untidy, (Have you seen my handwriting? I can hardly read it myself!). The inability to delete the words off the page by any other means than scratching them out, can be upsetting. It just looks so distasteful. And then, of course, it reads badly, has spelling errors and the grammar! Because, you know, it’s going to be turned into the next Eat, Pray, Love and has to be perfect the first time (not!).
We met Saimon who is cleverly crafting our 5th Place “flower” into a beautiful wire art design
A means to dig deeper
Very often the reason for not putting pen to paper or hand to keyboard, is because we don’t know how or where to start.
“I do a great deal of thinking, I don’t need to write things down,” is another argument.
Although it is true that you can reflect by just thinking, it is in the writing down of those thoughts that insights can arrive and awareness can grow. Real reflective capability is more than describing what happened, or recounting an event and this is where many of us stumble.
Reflection does include what happened, but that is not nearly as important as the consideration of how and why it happened, and what was learnt from it. Borton’s reflective model talks about the What? - So What? - Now What? cyclical process of reflection. This is an easy to remember model that many new reflective journalers find useful to use.
There are many other models that can be adopted but what they all do is provide a means to dig deeper into our stories. To unpack our behaviours and challenge our mindsets, to reveal our mistakes, make amends and forgive ourselves is very powerful. The page becomes the place to be vulnerable and searingly honest. It can buffer the rage, hold the sadness, and celebrate the wins. It becomes a mirror, a coach, a friend and a confidant. It won’t speak back but it will speak.
The page can be the place that you really find yourself, and where you can visibly witness the path and the progress of your life’s journey. One trip at a time, for there are many different excursions we take, some more successful than others. All are worthy of a mention and an acknowledgement. They made who you are.
Some journaling prompts for you
The holiday season coming up is an ideal time to spend reflecting on the past year. If you need some inspiration, here are some prompts to work on:
- What new things did I learn about this year? How did I feed my mind? Was it fertiliser for my soul or fast food for my brain?
- How did I manage my stress levels? What worked? What more can I do?
- How active was I? In what ways did I incorporate movement into my days? How is it working out for me?
- How much rest and relaxation did I include?
- How am I nourishing my body as well as my soul?
- What am I most grateful for from this year?
- What relationships of mine deepened over the course of this year? Which ones got less airtime? Is there anybody I should be spending more time with?
Reflective journaling may not be the silver bullet or a magic potion but it will deepen your relationship with yourself and that’s where everything starts - with you.
Until next time.
Yours in feeling,
Matthew & Chantal
About the author
5th Place is a dynamic organization that's passionate about emotional fitness. We're the creators of Shape of Emotion, a revolutionary tool that's changing the way we understand and manage our emotions. But we're not just about theory - we're about practical, tangible change.
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