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Look Back to Look Ahead

By John C. Maxwell | November 5, 2019
Look Back to Look Ahead

I’m in London this week for an event, and while my focus is on the people I’m serving, my thoughts are turning towards the remaining weeks of this year. Thanksgiving is right around the corner, Christmas is close, and 2019 will soon end as we enter the third decade of this millennium.

Put that all together, and it’s the perfect time for reflection.

It’s no secret that I carve out time at the end of each year to reflect on what I’ve done, where I’ve been, and how I’ve invested my time, so I’m not going to go into detail on that.

But I will spend a few words to encourage you to adopt the habit.

We live in a busy world. It’s a world that tells you to move as fast as you can towards the things that matter and promises that, if you’ll just keep moving, everything will work out. I’m as action biased as a person can get, but while I value the energy generated by taking action, I learned a long time ago the importance of pausing.

Of slowing down.

Reflection is an intentional stoppage, a deliberate habit that must be cultivated. Like all disciplines, it’s an interruption of the regular flow of life to pursue a purposeful end. And, like all disciplines, it must be practiced in order to be maintained.

In my book, The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth, I share four critical components of a healthy reflective discipline:

  1. Investigation—we experience so much in any given day that it’s difficult for us to truly understand everything that happens to us. When we stop to reflect, we can ask questions of our experiences and dig into what we learned, loved, and need to leave behind. This is piece of the reflective process allows us to discover new ideas and new pathways for our future.
  • Incubation—whether you like my illustrations of crock-pot thinking or iceberg thinking, the point is that deep and helpful thoughts require time. Reflection allows us to capture our thinking before something else comes along to steal the thoughts. It allows us to develop our new ideas and pathways.
  • Illumination—this is when the lightbulb goes on, the moment when your thinking transcends the messy, complicated middle and lands on a thoughtful yet simple end. Reflection allows experiences of joy or sorrow or pain or success to reveal their truest lessons. It allows you to define what really matters about your new ideas or pathways.
  • Illustration—I teach people to always ask three questions about any new learning they encounter: what can I apply? What can I change? What can I teach? Most of the time, people focus on the first two, because those are internally focused and easier to live out. Teaching requires courage—and an audience—so many people opt to skip it. But there’s no better way of mastering a fresh insight like teaching it to someone else. As you wrap up your time of reflection, capturing what you’ve learned about your new ideas or pathways will help you deliver results in the days to come.

I’m going to share one final secret about the habit of reflection: if you really want it to help you discover, develop, define, and deliver new ideas and pathways, then it’s best if you practice it daily. I wrap up each day by reflecting, and I even focus my thoughts by asking myself, “How did I intentionally add value to others today?”

Your reflection question might take a different angle—maybe asking what you learned today, or what you observed today—but it should still prompt you to spend time thinking and learning from what you experienced. Developing that daily habit will only strengthen what’s possible for you in extended times of reflection.

Before the holidays fully arrive, I encourage you to get in the habit of reflecting daily. You can begin building a discipline that will only help you as we turn the page on 2019.

With a new decade dawning, it’s the perfect time to look back in order to look ahead.

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