The Reflection Journal: Get It Out Of Your Head!

Last week I introduced the role of reflection in professional settings, reflection being an important mechanism through which we learn from our experiences as professionals. I referred to my friend Anne-Marie, who studies reflection for a living, and her definition for reflection:

“Reflection is a deliberate emotional and intellectual process in which self-aware learners introspectively analyze their understanding of the world by drawing on acquired knowledge and information to critically evaluate their experience. From these processes, the learner is able to produce rational thought and use this to inform current and future action.”

I put forth the notion that reflection can help you learn on a deeper level as a professional; it helps you to think about your actions, the consequences or outcomes of your actions, and make a way forward for yourself based on your introspection of your experienced.

Reflection asks you the questions: What? So What? Now What?

I mentioned a few methods through which you can engage in reflection, and today, I am going to focus on the reflective journal, or the reflection journal.

There is no right or wrong way to complete a reflection journal. Your reflection journal is literally a space through which you can complete your reflection activities and thoughtfully engage in introspection. It is intended to be a private space, a diary of sorts, where you can let it all out, without fear of criticism or that someone may know that you are using a space to think out your professional work. Your reflection journal is your space, and yours only.

What can you do in your reflection journal? Here are a few activities or ideas on ways that you can use the power of putting pen to paper to make you a more effective professional:

The Tentative Explanation

Sometimes we get into situations or circumstances happen that we don’t always understand. Sometimes we need a bit of time to toss the things that happen to us in a day around in our heads to ensure we come to a better understanding. Taking time to write a tentative explanation journal entry will help you put onto paper everything you know, currently understand, and all the information you have collected about a situation into one place. It will help you visibly be able to sort through an incident and work through it in an organized way.

The Judgment

As a human, it’s easy to draw personal judgments about people or situations. It’s easy to come to our own conclusions and make those conclusions dictate our behaviour going forward. A reflection journal is a space in which you can explore those judgments or assumptions you have made about others. Explore with yourself where those judgments come from, and whether they are actually justified. Could the reflection journal be the space in which you let go of your judgments before allowing them to affect the way you interact with others? It just may be!



The Critical Incident

A critical incident journal entry will allow you to take a particular incident, or a particular interaction and thoroughly think through its implications so that you may be able to affect a similar outcome in the future. For me, as an Emergency Room doctor, not all situations have positive outcomes. As a doctor, I owe it to my patients to be able to reflect on incidents that happen with in the ER, my own performance in a situation, and how I can do things differently in the future.

The critical incident asks you to reflection on the questions I posed at the beginning of this piece: What? So What? Now What?

The what of the critical incident describes the who, what, where, why and how of the incident. It is a literal description of the situation.

The so what of the critical incident brings you through the sense-making process. It asks you to assign meaning to the situation as well as significance. Why is the incident important and why is it important that you take the time to reflect on it?

The now what part of the critical incident journal makes connections from the experience to future action. For example, what would you do differently to come to a different outcome? What are the key lessons you learned that you will incorporate into your practice and what will you share with your colleagues in order to help them learn from your experience?

In upcoming blog posts, I’ll introduce some other methods of reflective journaling. There are several ways that you can use the reflective journal to help you become a better professional and help you become your own student, whether it be through structured activities or free writing. Until then, why not try one of the three exercises I listed below as you begin your foray into reflective journaling. You may be surprised with what you come up with!