Do you even reflect?

Do you reflect every day? Or once in a while?

Do you ever sit down with a piece of paper or laptop and write down your thoughts?

Why reflection is really important

Without deep reflection one knows from daily life that one exists for other people. — Albert Einstein Education begins the gentleman, but reading, good company and reflection must finish him. — John Locke “Why am I being knocked down?” If a person can reflect in this way, then there is hope for this person. — Bruce Lee

Reflection, journaling, writing for yourself… whatever you call it, every now and then a smart/famous/successful person says that we should have a habit of reflection.

But what is it and what is it good for?

Why is reflection so important? Why does it make sense to sit down and use paper or free bits just to write down my own thoughts?

Those are the questions I’ve asked myself recently.

Enter mistakes

We all make mistakes of all kinds. Every day, we misplace a mug that we can’t find later, forget someone’s message, or kick our toe on the bedside table. Making mistakes is one of the chief characteristics of being human.

What typically happens after a mistake? We might curse, we might blame, we might disconnect… and then move on. Move on with the day because there is so much to do.

And so the life goes, day after day. We make mistakes and move on.

Where does reflection come into this?

This Zen anecdote tailored to a programming setting gives us a clue:

A novice asked master Banzen: “What separates the monk from the master?” Banzen replied: “Ten thousand mistakes!” The novice, not understanding, sought to avoid all error. An abbot observed and brought the novice to Banzen for correction. Banzen explained: “I have made ten thousand mistakes; Suku has made ten thousand mistakes; the patriarchs of Open Source have each made ten thousand mistakes.” Asked the novice: “What of the old monk who labors in the cubicle next to mine? Surely he has made ten thousand mistakes.” Banzen shook his head sadly. “Ten mistakes, a thousand times each.” Source: The Codeless Code

That’s why reflection matters.

Reflection — the act of thinking deeply about mistakes, struggles, and joys — is a mental tool that helps us not repeat our mistakes.

By sitting down and writing things down, we can find the factors that led us to make the mistake. We can play out different scenarios. We can find the words that we should have said in that meeting yesterday.

mistake + reflection = progress

Ray Dalio, one of the best hedge fund managers, uses this simple formula. By reflecting on the past mistakes and seeking understanding of the financial markets, he is able to make better decisions and avoid pitfalls such as the 2008 financial crisis.

I’m convinced that everyone would benefit from reflecting on mistakes.

Here’s one more reason why.

Programming vs Communication

Programming forces understanding. If there is an bug, you can choose to ignore it, or you need to fix it. You can trace it and see what went wrong and where.

Errors typically manifest in some sort of a warning. That makes them obvious. We are alerted of the mistake and can deal with it appropriately.

However, in most other fields, the mistakes we make are far less obvious. We need to learn and focus in order to be able to spot the errors, and even then there is typically no mechanism forcing us to understand and fix our mistakes.

For instance, if you’re about to make a mistake during an argument with someone, there are no signs shouting: WARNING! You are getting too personal! or RED ALERT! Don’t bring up that one time 5 years ago!

So, if we want to catch mistakes like that, we need to take time to replay the scenarios of every day and imagine what we should or should not have done. We need to pause and reflect to get better.

Reflection upon one’s day offer the perfect opportunity to recognize, avoid or fix mistakes and develop one’s thinking.

So next time something bad or unexpected happens, remember that with a moment of thought and some effort, you can save yourself time and energy next time.

Remember to pause and reflect.

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