Do you reflect on your practice? Most of us are so busy that reflecting on our practice is the last thing we feel like doing at the end of a busy day. People to care for, charts to fill in, documentation to complete. We keep doing the same things we have been doing since we last attended a course or heaven forbid since we left college/uni.
How do we improve the way we do things in our work if not by stopping and reflecting on our practice?
Reflective practice requires three things: the right questions, time and commitment to act.
Asking the right questions is the difference between you accurately challenging yourself to describe and examine your actual behavior and deluding yourself that what you are doing is perfect. These questions should address three areas: Action, Feelings, Thoughts.
Reflective Action questions include: What did I set out to do/achieve? What did I actually do? What did others do? This focus is the foundation for building and awareness of what occurred in your practice. BY describing it accurately you can improve what actually happened. But if you do not accurately describe it you have only an illusion or distorted version to based any future action on and this leaves you vulnerable to engaging in distorted and inappropriate practices in the future.
We are often encouraged to leave feelings out of any deliberations so that we don’t let emotions influence our thinking. But if we leave feelings out of reflection we end up with a picture that is just as distorted and inaccurate. Feelings are an essential part of human experience. Without them we live 2-dimensional lives of isolation and loneliness. Feelings allow us to connect, empathise, understand and be intimate with others. They enable us to enjoy and appreciate what we value. Feelings are like our skin with which we interact with the world of other people, things and activities.
So, reflective Feeling questions include: What feelings do I have about what happened/what I did? What do I feel about the people I was working with/caring for? Do I have feelings about what they did?. These questions engage the emotional dimension of your experience, providing you with an opportunity to gather rich information about the effect of this experience on you and others. What value is this emotional information? It gives you an indication of whether this experience was good for you/others or not, enjoyable or not, created pain and discomfort or not, caused harm or not.
This type of questions engages your rational reasoning ability and provides you with the information you need to analyze and critically evaluate the logic of the practices you engaged in, how they related to other sets of protocols or standards, policies or outcomes.
Reflective Thinking questions include: Did it make sense? Did it achieve what we set out to achieve? Did it fulfill the policy goals that govern my practice? Was it consistent with standards or other external measures of success? What am I telling myself about myself and about others?
When you have worked through this process you will have the data to make a balanced reflection on your practice. This takes time. If you are particularly busy you may decide to do an abridged form of this process and just focus on something from each part of this process so you access all three: Actions, Feelings, and Thoughts. And you may decide to do a more full reflection regularly and on a monthly basis, for instance. This can also be done individually or in a reflective practice group that meets regularly. As a psychologist I am regularly involved in seeking my own supervision and this brings me into groups with other psychologists who reflect on their work together in order to improve their practice. So groups or individual work can both be beneficial ways depending on your personal circumstances or preferences or needs.
Try to put aside at least an hour per month to do this reflection on your practice. If you can manage 10 minutes per day you will benefit even more as it will be more immediate and your recall of the events will be sharper and more emotionally intact.
What do you do with all this information? At this stage you need to refine your reflection into several (no more than three) ideas for future action. This is an essential step as it engages you in a future oriented focus and prevents rumination on mistakes and regrets. It also focuses you on actions that will be different to what occurred and will now improve practice. So, what are you going to do differently next time to improve practices?
Its all very well to have these ideas if you just sit on them and don’t take action to implement the changes necessary to make them a reality. Who do you need to talk to to make it happen? What specific actions do you need to take when you return to the workplace to make it happen? IT can help to break the tasks into small enough actions so that the work is not too onerous and daunting. This way it is more likely to get done.
This is a practical commitment to yourself and the people you work with, to their wellbeing and to yours.