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Posts tagged ‘Reflection’

Making 2016 a G.R.E.A.T. Journey

redwood path

The New Year is already two weeks old.  My birthday was just the other day.  Those facts mean it is time for me to do some thinking and planning to make 2016 a great journey through life.  A good journey involves some plans and destinations as well as a bit of spontaneity and serendipity as well as lots of nature.  For some, each year’s journey starts by making resolutions. I do not.  As others have said, if you are really wanting to make a major change in your life, why wait for a new year.  Just start the adventure!

TearsGoals and plans for a new year make more sense.  But, of course, those need to be realistic and broad enough to not just give you a chance to fail.  You know, I will be more active in the new year rather than I will go to the gym an hour every day.  One missed weekend at the gym and you are a failure vs. having an off weekend.  I tend to agree with Mma. Ramostwe, the main character in Alexander McCall Smith’s series The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency.  She basically says that humans tend to do what they do, over and over again:

“The trouble with plans, she thought, was that they tended to be expressions of hope. Everybody, it seemed, felt that they should have a plan, but for most people the plan merely said what they would like to happen rather than what they would actually achieve.  Most people did what they wanted to do, whether or not that was what their plan said they should do.  So plans were useful only in revealing what people wished for. If you wanted to know what they would actually do, then the only way of finding out was by watching them and seeing what they did.  Then you would know what they might do in the future—because most people did what they had always done.”  

All this means is that as my new journey begins, I am not making any specific plans.  I made some last year:  blog more (did not), read more (did), travel (did), eat better (did some, but not consistently) and complete various household projects (did a few).  This year, I still have the same basic projects and am hopeful I will be more productive than last year.  My plan is to focus more on attitude and perspective as well as on enjoying the adventure.  These are the real factors that can determine whether 2016 will be a G.R.E.A.T. year or not.


Basically, I know my year will be G.R.E.A.T. because I commit myself to following the best path possible through the new year: 

GRATITUDE:   There is always something to be grateful for or a grateful way to look at whatever happens. For example, rather than being bummed that I was in a fender bender right before Christmas, I am thankful that no one was hurt and the older gentleman who hit me had insurance.  I always keep a gratitude journal but plan to be even more proactive in finding ways to appreciate all going on around me.  And I will share my appreciation and gratitude with others.  Gratitude—like laughter and happiness—can be contagious!  I vow to acknowledge and voice gratitude frequently!

reflection 5REFLECTION:  Looking back over what has happened, what worked and what didn’t is the true heart of learning. The old adage about experience being the best teacher is only half right.  It is easy to do dumb things over and over again.  What really matters is reflecting on the mistakes, outcomes, successes to become more conscious of the consequences, of the changes or action needed to improve the future.  Without reflection there is no real learning. I vow to reflect on each day and its lessons every week!

EXPECTATIONS:  It is rather easy to go through each day, week, even month just doing the norm, making it from morning to night and then starting all over again.  Something to celebrate surfaces when meeting or exceeding expectations.  Setting those expectations is the key. They cannot be set so high that they can never be reached, but not so low that they do not off the challenge to do more, to push beyond the comfort zone.  Realistic expectations lead to accomplishments which lead to celebrating each small step toward success.  Clear expectations lead to productivity rather than just activity.    I vow to have realistic but definite expectations!

IMG_8534IMG_8526ATTENTIVE:  Too many days are spent on auto-pilot, just going through the routine, getting from point A to point B.  When I was working full time and putting in way too many hours a week, chasing deadlines, it was too easy to never notice the little things that really do matter.  The smile or tear of a colleague, the gorgeous clouds, the rainbow amidst the storm, the stranger who holds a door for you or needs help picking up packages.  Of course, being busy is not the only reason the details—especially of nature—are too often overlooked.  The other day I actually did not notice blooming camellias on the bush outside my door until I was returning home several hours later.  I vow to be more consistently attentive this year! 

TIME:  168.  That’s how many hours we each have a week.  The trick to effective time management is recognizing that and using the available time strategically.  That strategy involves being conscious and deliberate with the use of time.  That means fewer hours mindlessly dozing in front of the TV or missing fun opportunities because time has been mindlessly wasted on doing not much of anything.  I vow to use my time purposely!


My 2016 will be a grand adventure.  What are your plans for the new year?

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“If you don’t get everything you want, think of the things you don’t get that you don’t want.”   Oscar Wilde

“Life is a shipwreck but we must not forget to sing in the lifeboats.”  Voltaire

“If you don’t think every day is a good day, just try missing one.”  Cavett Robert

“It’s so hard when I have to, and so easy when I want to.”  Annie Gottlier

“Oh, my friend, it’s not what they take away from you that counts.  It’s what you do with what you have left.”  Hubert Humphrey

“Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.”  Winston Churchill

“There are exactly as many special occasions in life as we choose to celebrate.”  Robert Brault

“To be interested in the changing seasons is a happier state of mind than to be hopelessly in love with spring.”  George Santayana

“So often time it happens, we all live our life in chains, and we never even know we have the key.”  The Eagles, “Already Gone”

“He who has so little knowledge of human nature as to seek happiness by changing anything but his own disposition will waste his life in fruitless efforts.”  Samuel Johnson

“Think big thoughts but relish small pleasures.”  H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

“Every thought is a seed.  If you plant crab apples, don’t count on harvesting Golden Delicious.”  Bill Meyer

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.  One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise.”  F. Scott Fitzgerald

“I will not let anyone walk through my mind with their dirty feet.”  Mahatma Gandhi

“Anyone who doesn’t believe in miracles is not a realist.”  David Ben-Gurion

“There is a saying among prospectors: ‘Go out looking for one thing, and that’s all you’ll ever find.’”  Robert Flaherty

“Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn’t learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn’t learn a little, at least we didn’t get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn’t die; so, let us all be thankful.”  Buddha

“I don’t think of all the misery but of the beauty that still remains.”  Anne Frank

“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn how to surf.”  Jon Kabat-Zinn

“A strong positive mental attitude will create more miracles than any wonder drug.”  Patricia Neal

“The greatest discovery of my generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his attitudes.” 
William James

“Sometimes life’s Hell.  But hey!  Whatever gets the marshmallows toasty.”  J. Andrew Helt

Time to Reflect Makes All the Difference

Einstein was right, but especially about the definition of Insanity“Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” 

At this time of year, when many of us are contemplating our goals and plans for 2015, we would do well to try and just not be crazy.  Whatever goal we state—eat less, exercise more, be nicer to people, say “no!” more, put family first, do better about finances—just stating it is not enough.  It helps to be committed to the task, to alert someone about your goal to be held accountable, and to have a game plan that keeps you moving forward.  But even those steps do not guarantee success.

Water LiliesThe best place to start if positive change is really the goal is in the simple meta-cognitive act of reflection.  This ability, in fact, might be one of those uniquely human skills that can help give life meaning.  It is through reflection about actions, behaviors, relationships, situations, beliefs, life itself that we can gain understanding and appreciation and make plans on what needs changing to make things better.


The Oxford English Dictionary offers this definition of reflection, after the more realistic pronouncements about mirrors:  “The process or faculty by which the mind observes and examines its own experiences and emotions” and the more simple “deep and serious thought.”  Its synonyms include remembrance, contemplation, and introspection.

Rodin's The Thinker, photo from Wikepedia

Rodin’s The Thinker, photo from Wikepedia

Robert Mankoff Cartoon, The New Yorker

Robert Mankoff Cartoon, The New Yorker

When trying to imagine reflection or contemplation in action, Rodin’s The Thinker is likely to come to mind.  Or maybe someone strolling alone along a desolate road or sitting on a ledge somewhere staring into space.  But in reality, reflection does not require such solitude and drama. Reflection is enhanced when it is paired with insights, dreams, hopes, awareness and appreciation.


ROSEThe act of reflection is really very simple:  consciously taking the time to look back on the past year, day, event and recognize what was good and what needed changes. Califraven (a terrific blogger I follow) turned this simple meta-cognitive tool into a game called Roses, Buds & Thorns.  As she explains, roses are the best part of the day, buds are things that need to change, and thorns are the worst part of the day.  Simple.

reflection 3This sort of review or reflection is what helps add significance to an experience or a purpose to a new plan of action.  Reflection adds meaning, importance, significance to life.  If we never stop and reflect, all those little things that can mean so much, the people we love, the gratitude we could express, can easily be overlooked in the hustle and bustle of missed appointments and blaring phones and endless hours of mindless diversion.

In the classroom, I try hard to convince my students that reflection is the heart of learning.  It is a meta-cognitive tool that can help students become independent learners.  For example, consider the student who did her best to study for a test but blew it anyway.  As the next test approaches, if she does the same thing again as she studies, she is likely to fail once again.  Instead, she needs to pull out of herself a bit and objectively look at what she did to study the first time and decide where she can make changes.  If she just reviewed the chapters rather than read them, try reading them this time.  You do not change a lot of things for the second time around, just a few.  Then you can track the new results and see what worked.  It’s like a little self-awareness experiment.

reflection 2

If this little introspection exercise can become routine, students can truly become independent learners.  Then this new skill can become a habit that helps add significance and insight into all aspects of life.  Through reflection, it is much easier to look to what needs changing and what needs repeating to make life better.  It starts with questions:  Why was that last vacation so great/terrible?  What made the relationship work or not?  Why did or didn’t I keep last year’s resolutions?  There are a million questions that could be asked.  The point is to stop a minute, look back and even within, and consider and question your past, so you can be more conscious and deliberate about a better future.

On this first day of 2015, as you very likely are planning or sharing your new year’s resolutions, add some reflection to the process along with some imagination and creativity.  A simple way to start is to play the little Roses, Buds & Thorns Game already mentioned.  If nothing else, reflection makes you more aware, which leads to understanding, appreciation, gratitude and then eventually plans to change for the better.

reflection 5

So go ahead, reflect a bit on life and love and all that’s important to you.  It’s not as crazy as it sounds that looking back can help you move forward.  In fact, reflection could help you break whatever you keep doing over and over and over again in your own insane little world that does not quite work.

Happy New Year! 

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Some Quotes to Reflection Upon

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”  Kierkegaard

“All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking.”  Nietzsche

“Reflect upon your present blessings—of which every many has many—not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.”  Dickens

“Did you ever wonder if the person in the puddle is real, and you’re just a reflection of him?”   Bill Watterson

“Sometimes, you have to look back in order to understand the things that lie ahead.”  Yvonne Woon

“I am a writer of books in retrospect.  I talk in order to understand; I teach in order to learn.”  Robert Frost

“Study without reflection is a waste of time; reflection without study is dangerous.”  Confucius

“. . . It is only by reflection that one can assimilate what one has read.  If one reads straight ahead without pondering over it later, what had been read does not take root, but is for the most part lost.”  Schopenhauer

“Reflection must be reserved for solitary; whenever she was alone, she gave way to it as the greatest relief; and not a day went by without a solitary walk, in which she might indulge in all the delight of unpleasant recollections.”  Jane Austen

“A lake is a landscape’s most beautiful and expressive feature.  It is Earth’s eye; looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature.”  Thoreau

“Usually, when the distractions of daily life deplete our energy, the first thing we eliminate is the thing we need the most:  quiet, reflective time. Time to dream, time to contemplate what’s working and what’s not, so that we can make changes for the better.”  Saran Ban Breathnach

“Habit rules the unreflecting herd.”  William Wordsworth

It is necessary. . . for a man to go away by himself. . . to sit on a rock. . . and ask, ‘Who am I, where have I been, and where am I going?’”  Carl Sandburg

“By three methods we may learn wisdom: first, by reflection, which is noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third, by experience, which is the most bitter.”  Confucius

“It is not by muscle, speed, or physical dexterity that great things are achieved, but by reflection, force of character, and judgment.”  Cicero

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