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Reflect, don’t repeat

May 31, 2022
By Anne Bosarge, Director of Leadership Strategies and Local Church Resources

Have you ever looked at someone’s life and been confused about why they keep making the same mistakes over and over again? Or maybe, if you’re like me, you realize that person is you! Why do we get stuck in a cycle of doing the same failing things over and over again? Why do we keep repeating our missteps and failures? One of the main reasons is we aren’t taking the time to reflect on our experiences.

See if you can identify with any of these character traits:
  1. I overthink and second-guess myself after every event or experience.
  2. I don’t have time to think about what I just did – what is next is already in front of me.
  3. I don’t like to think about what I’ve done because I might feel bad about where I have failed.
  4. I follow my gut, not my head, so I move from one gut decision to the next.
  5. I intentionally sit down and evaluate, review, and process what happens in my life to learn lessons for the future.
Being a good thinker and planner is critical for leadership. Thinking involves forward movement and strategizing; it helps you make plans to get from point A to point B. But reflecting is equally important. Reflecting is slowing down to learn the lessons God has for you from past experiences and seeing how to apply them to your thinking going forward.

In the mid-1980s, Chris Argyris coined the term, “double-loop learning” as he discovered the importance of being reflective. Single loop learning is focusing on whether you met the objective, the goal, or the purpose. Double loop learning focuses on the assumptions and mindsets that drove you to make the decisions you made so you can uncover the reason for your failure or success. We can get at those deeper held beliefs, assumptions, and mindsets through inquiry and questioning. Reflection questions aren’t fact-based questions, but deeper level, contemplative questions.

If double-loop learning is so effective in helping us evaluate why we do what we do, why don’t more people use this powerful tool of reflection? Double-loop learning involves asking questions that often make the reflector uneasy and uncomfortable. It causes you to go back into the messiness of the past and look deeper than your actions to uncover the heart and motivations behind the actions. Double-loop learning is painful and humiliating at times, but far more powerful than just focusing on whether you experienced a success or failure.

Lamentations 3:40, “Let us test and examine our ways, and return to the Lord!”

How can you build a rhythm of reflection in your life?
  1. Stop/Pause: In order to reflect, you’ve got to stop moving forward. Too many of us keep moving because we think we’ll be left behind if we don’t. But what we fail to realize is that even though we are moving, we might be making progress in the wrong direction. Developing a rhythm of stopping to reflect helps us take stock of where we are in light of where we are going. Pause throughout the day, in your conversations, after your meetings, and at the end of the day to reflect on where you have been and what you have been doing. Schedule hard stops in your week, month, and year where you take larger amounts of time for reflection. Forward motion is only good if you’re learning from the past and using that to guide you in the present toward the future.
  2. Consolations/Desolations: The ancient discipline of reflecting on consolations and desolations at the end of your day helps you consider what you learned about where God was present in your life. Reflect on where you felt the presence of God most closely during your day (consolations.) In the same way, reflect on when you felt furthest from God as you moved away from His presence (desolations.) Consider what these experiences teach you about your choices, motivations, and behavior. How can you move toward more consolations and fewer desolations tomorrow?
  3. Journaling: If you have trouble keeping your mind in a reflective state because of the never-ending to-do list and busyness, grab a pen and journal and write your thoughts. Start with these general questions: 1. What happened today? 2. Where did I see God moving? 3. Where did I miss God? 4. What did I learn from what I experienced? 5. How will that influence the future?
  4. Evaluation: Take time to gather with others who can help you debrief experiences and talk about lessons learned. Be honest with yourselves. Don’t just debrief effort (“You did a great job.”) but look at impact (“We were/weren’t effective in meeting our goal.”). Spend time evaluating what you did well and why it went well as much as you talk about what didn’t work well and why. If we don’t learn from our successes, how will we be able to repeat them? If we don’t reflect on our failures, how will we prevent them in the future?
Are you tired of making the same mistakes and doing the same things? Build in a rhythm of reflection so you can learn from the past and leverage it to shape the future. Reflect, don’t repeat.

Anne Bosarge serves as the Conference’s Director of Leadership Strategies and Local Church Resources. Email her at abosarge@sgaumc.com.

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