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Unlock your potential – get reflective


How many times have you felt the stirring ambition to learn a new skill, get better at something, change your habits or behaviours?

You enthusiastically book yourself on the next course that promises to give you all the new-fangled knowledge, skills and abilities that you desire. Or perhaps you order that new self-help book from Amazon that proclaims to help you ‘tame your inner chimp’ or ‘change your life in 7 days’! Brilliant – you think – all the secrets to being who I want to be will be revealed! However, in less than 6 months you have put the book to one side or forgotten what you covered on that course. Looking back very little has changed. Sound (depressingly?) familiar? You are not alone.

True learning means making behaviour change – not just reading or hearing something interesting. So how do you make the learning truly stick and make the changes you want or need to make? Two words: reflective practice.

ReflectingBasic reflection (the process of looking back and thinking about your experiences) is normal and most of us do it automatically, but that can actually be a little light touch to effect true learning. Reflective practice is a more detailed process – it works by asking you to be more specific in your review. By working through a set of questions you can figure out precisely what you need to put into practice in order to get the benefits that you desired originally. And then use it again to find out if it’s working for you – and if not, then why? Reflect, be specific, repeat.

Sound simple? Sorry to break it to you, but reflective practice is hard! Our brains naturally turn away from this level of analysis because it’s not easy. Like any new skill, it takes time and effort. The good news is that we can learn and hone the art of reflective practice, we just have to make the conscious effort to do it, and do it, and do it some more!

On to the questions.

Step 1: think about a recent learning experience and ask yourself:

  • What will you do differently because of the learning / new information that you have?
  • What will this difference look like? What specifically will you be doing / saying? What will others see or hear? How will it feel for you?

This is your ideal.

Step 2: Once you’ve had the chance to put your new learning in to practise take a step outside the situation to pause and mull over what you did.

Then ask:

  • What actually happened? What observations can you make? How did it feel? How close it was to what you had imagined in the previous step?

This is reality.

Step 3: Finally, you need to make a conscious effort to develop insight into your reflection.

  • compare the reality versus the ideal above: decide what you need to, and will do differently next time. How can you get you closer to your ideal?

The 3-step questions above are crucial to true learning. If you are in the habit of concluding that the training didn’t work, the book was rubbish or there must be a better way to get the results you seek, then ask yourself if you have done enough reflective practice? Or are you blaming the tools instead of the worker for not getting the results you anticipated?


The amazing thing about reflective practice though, is that by being disciplined and giving it a go with every new learning experience, you give yourself a much better chance of true learning and embedding the behaviour changes that will give you the results you crave. This creates the virtuous circle of getting better and better every time you do something. An upward spiral. The added bonus is that the more you force ourselves to reflect and think, the easier it becomes over time. You can apply reflective practice to anything and everything and by doing so it becomes easier to learn and change.

So, building on my last blog, why don’t you give yourself the gift of feedback this year though reflective practice? Take some time for you, to help yourself get results and make a commitment to reflect and learn how to do things differently this year. Instead of making a commitment to going to training – dedicate time to lifelong learning.

To find out more about how our learning and development consultants can help you embed learning, call me on 020 7978 1516 or email

Want to test the theories? All our training programmes will ask you to think about your aims for the course before you come. Then before you leave, you’ll review them and set some clear actions. The rest is up to you.

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