Stop! Reflect & Debrief

We’re in the thick of the Growth Path now! We’ve…

Now is a great time to Reflect & Debrief the journey so far. It may feel counterintuitive to hit the pause button when we’ve got all this momentum going. In fact, pausing may feel like a great big STOP sign on our Growth Path. Things are moving and changing so quickly. How can we possibly take the time to stop? But the reality is…We can’t afford not to stop.

Getting Off A Moving Bus

Have you ever gotten on a bus (or a train or subway) and become lost in thought only to realize too late you missed your stop? It’s irritating, maybe a little disorienting, and a huge waste of time.  And that’s just when it’s mass transit. What if we’re talking about your life

Some of the leaders and other professionals I’ve worked with are thrilled with the careers they’ve built. Others, however, have just kept following a path but never really stopped to assess if the road they were on was right for them, or if it was even leading somewhere they really wanted to go. By the time they stopped to look around, they realized they’d stayed on the path too long, maybe taken a wrong turn, or missed a critical exit ramp. In short, they forgot to “get off the bus.” When this happens, we may not only feel a little lost but very, very stuck. 

That was me. I was on the path to my PhD in clinical psychology, but instead of going right to graduate school, I told myself I was going to stop, take time to really reflect, and then “decide” if that was the path I wanted to pursue.  Sounds great, doesn’t it?  So wise at such a young age. …Not exactly.   The problem was this: During all that time, I didn’t really allow myself to explore other possibilities or even look at what options I might want to consider. Instead, I checked the box of “take time off,” and then I went on to graduate school, just as I’d (always) intended. 

Why did I do it? Why did I bother to take that time if I wasn’t going to use it? I didn’t know it then, but I was in the throes of resistance. Taking the time to reflect was absolutely the right thing to do, but I was completely unwilling to look at what else I might want, because I was too afraid to get off the only path I’d ever really known. I saw, heard, and felt the red flags; and yet I chose to ignore them. 

Three years into the PhD program, when I finally allowed myself to see I did in fact want something different (even if I didn’t know what that was), I felt stuck. I didn’t know how to “get off the bus,” and I struggled to find the help I needed. The other people on the bus couldn’t really advise or counsel me for one of two reasons. Either they were on the path that was right for them (i.e., they were on the right bus), or, like me, they were on the wrong path, but they didn’t know how to get off the bus any more than I did. 

If I had periodically taken the time to stop and honestly reflect & debrief throughout my journey, it would have been much easier to make small course corrections to my route along the way. Maybe I could have taken a different bus, a train, or even a Boeing 747 across the Atlantic. Who knows! 

By the time I finally realized I needed to get off the bus, it wasn’t that easy. I couldn’t just disembark at the next stop. We were speeding down the road, and the bus wasn’t stopping for any of us. So, if I really wanted off, I was going to have to pry open the door, take a giant leap into the unknown, and trust I’d land on my feet. 

Reflect & Debrief: How We Use the Time 

It’s not enough to just take time. It’s what we do with the time we take. Taking the time to really stop, reflect & debrief can be challenging, especially when we’re moving fast and picking up momentum. Here are a few key steps to support you in the process:

  • Carve Out Chunks of Uninterrupted Time 
  • Give Yourself Structure & Space
  • Enlist a Thought Partner

Carve Out Chunks of Uninterrupted Time

Carve out chunks of time in your calendar to deeply reflect on your vision for where you’re going and the progress you’ve made. People often talk about “finding the time” as though time is out there just waiting to be discovered, or, worse yet, as if finding time were a stroke of “luck.” It’s not, and we won’t just “find” time. We need to carve out time, and then fiercely protect it. 

Moreover, it takes time to “go deep.” Reflection and debriefing are work that require time and attention. What we prioritize gets done. If we don’t prioritize the time to reflect & debrief we will stay trapped in the cycle of “doing,” without knowing whether what we’re doing is really taking us in the right direction.

Create Structure and Give Yourself Space

A balance of structure and space to reflect & debrief are critical.

Structure: The structure can be relatively simple. The work itself is more difficult. Here are a few key questions on which to reflect & debrief your growth journey help you reflect back, look forward, and take action: 

Reflect Back

  • What went well? (Affirm what’s working: Purposefully do more of that.)
  • What didn’t go well? (Adjust what isn’t working: Stop and/or change it.) 
  • What would have made it even better? (Look for opportunities to improve and move closer toward your goals.)

Look Forward

  • How does all of this inform my overall vision (i.e., the outcome I want to achieve)? 
  • What (if anything) has shifted or changed? 

Take Action

  • What have I learned?
  • What will I do differently going forward?

Space: Giving ourselves space in between the chunks of time spent in focused attention allows our brains to continue to chew on ideas in the background as we go about our day. Have you ever had a brilliant insight when you were doing a mindless task, such as taking a bath? “Eureka!”

I’ll leave it up to the psychologists and neuroscience experts to explain why giving ourselves this kind space “works.” What’s important for the rest of us to know is this: When we give our brains time and space between focused sessions of reflection and debriefing, we often come back with fresh perspectives and important new insights. As a result, we make better decisions and take more effective actions moving forward. Sounds like a worthwhile stop along the Growth Path to me. 

Enlist a Thought Partner

When we get stuck, sometimes we need advice. More often, however, what we really need is a good “thought partner.” A thought partner acts as a coach, sounding board, and head-unpacking consultant (to reference another previous blog post). Good thought partners help us sort through questions and ideas, listen to what we’re saying at different levels, and ask powerful questions. Thought partners challenge our assumptions, provide insights, and stimulate creative problem-solving so that we can look at things more objectively and get out of our own way.

It’s your head, your growth journey, and most of the answers are already inside of you. A good thought partner will work with you to unpack and process what’s inside so that you can make more effective decisions and take more productive actions. 

Keep On Navigating

I did eventually “get off the bus,” but that is another story for another blog post. What’s important to know now is this: when we take time to honestly reflect & debrief during our growth journey we have the opportunity to assess how far we’ve come, what’s working, and what’s not. Based on what we find, we either stay the course or adjust. Either way, we’ll proceed with purpose and clarity that we’re on the right bus headed in the right direction.