If I were to tell you there’s one rather simple, replicable behavior that could lead to remarkable success in whatever venture you pursued, how would you respond? Would you reply by asking if I’m also offering to sell you a piece of the Brooklyn Bridge? Well, indeed there is such a behavior, and if the title of this blog didn’t give it away, let me be straightforward:

Mastering the art of self-reflection will help you meet whatever goal you’ve set for yourself. A hundred times over.

Self-reflection? You might say, incredulously. You mean there’s an art to thinking about things? Then I’d clarify:

Self-reflection, simply defined, is the discipline of focusing your mental energy on your goals, and then, quite intentionally acting upon it.

As you hone your reflective habits, you increase your skills, and in a repetitively expanding and strengthening pattern, you develop both simultaneously. This pattern, first published in the teachers’ handbook Teach, Reflect, Learn* and expanded upon in Pursuing Greatness*, is called the Reflective Cycle, and it describes the repeated behaviors of thought that we all follow as we learn something, develop our skills, and progress towards expertise. The steps of this Reflective Cycle are rather predictable:

  • Build awareness. What is your goal? What outcome do you desire? What is your current state of affairs?
  • Act with intentionality. What do you need to learn? What next steps must you take? What are you going to do to move forward?
  • Assess your impact. After taking that step, what changed? Have you improved? What’s different now?
  • Adapt and adjust. What new questions have surfaced? What worked that you can repeat, and what didn’t work that you can discard?

This simple pattern is repeated, ad infinitum, until you hit mastery…at which point you realize there’s even more growth potential then you ever imagined, and you continue to push forward. Excellence, it turns out, is an asymptote: the closer you get to it, the greater your potential expands.

Now you ask, Does this pattern of self-reflection lead us to success in any field? In any profession? Not only can you experience tremendous success in whatever job – or element of your job – you want, this pattern of thinking is the secret key to unlocking success in just about any aspect of your life. Want to lose weight? Eat better? Improve relationships? Barbeque more effectively? Focus your self-reflective energy on the goal – and keep it there as you mentally spin through the Reflective Cycle – and see for yourself.

There must be an app for that, you quip. Yes, sure, there’s an app for everything. However, here’s the rub: you can focus simply on self-reflection if you want to. You know, reflect on your ability to reflect. However, if you truly want to improve a skill, master a technique, attain a goal, or surpass an expectation, you’ve got to reflect on that outcome. Think of it like this: You can download a self-reflection app, and that’d be great. Or you could update your operating system by strengthening your self-reflective behaviors, and you can increase the efficiency and effectiveness of every single app in your collection! Self-reflection isn’t an app; rather, it’s the platform upon which all the other apps operate.

So the next time you’re attempting to meet a goal, trying to learn something new, or aiming to improve your practice somehow, don’t just do things and hope that leads to improvement. Instead, reflect – and reflect very intentionally – on the entire growth process. The benefits will magnify your success exponentially.

Want to learn more? See below:

*Teach, Reflect, Learn: Building your capacity for success in the classroom, by Pete Hall & Alisa Simeral (ASCD, 2015) is available here.

**A Teacher’s Reflective Impact Journal, put together by Mary Smith, Pete Hall, and Alisa Simeral, is available here.

***Pursuing Greatness: Empowering teachers to take charge of their professional growth, by Pete Hall, Alisa Simeral, Bryan Goodwin, BJ Stone, and Bess Scott, is available here.

****Pete and Alisa’s leadership guide, Creating a Culture of Reflective Practice: Capacity-building for schoolwide success (ASCD, 2017) is available here.

Pete Hall uses the art of self-reflection as an integral part of his coaching practice. Email him your reflections at PeteHall@EducationHall.com.