Reflecting on reflecting is a funny thing. It starts to feel like an Esher painting as you think about the importance of the importance of thinking about how you think. Even that sentence has my brain in knots.
I have learned that, for me, self-reflection is the key to my own learning. For years, I told my students it was key to theirs' and helped them do it, with some effectiveness. It isn't until recently that I realized I wasn't doing very accurate self-reflection.
The problem was, I wasn't practicing what I was teaching. I told my students to celebrate their efforts, not just their successes. I told them to internalize positive feelings and feedback. I told them to objectively look at themselves and their work and appreciate what they were doing. I told them to look for ways in which they could continue to improve and grow.
The only one of those that I was effectively, consistently doing myself was the last. I am really good at finding things I need to get better at.
All of the positive aspects of reflection that I taught my students were falling on my own deaf ears and mind.
Recently I realized that when I told myself I was reflecting, what I was doing looked more like the Magritte painting above. I tried to examine my actions and thoughts in a mirror, instead I blocked myself off. I looked at the back of my head. I was really good at looking back and terrific on focusing on what didn't go as well as I'd hoped.
When I would ask my "Mirror, Mirror on the wall" how I was doing, a very angry version of myself was more than eager to respond with criticisms and a tongue-lashing.
I discovered that, instead of treating myself as I would expect my students to treat themselves, with kindness and honesty, I was behaving as if I had a panel of judges commenting on every choice and action. Although the audience loves a harsh judge, like Simon Cowell, on a panel, if all we had were Simons, people would change the channel. My internal panel was filled with versions of Simon Cowell and they dictated to me how I "should" feel about myself and my work.
In Inside Out, things go very wrong for the protagonist, Riley, when Joy and Sadness leave the control panel to be operated by Fear, Anger and Disgust. In thinking about myself, I realized that I let those three take the reins for my self-reflection for far too long.
Realizing how inaccurate my perception of myself was ended up being the easy part. I acknowledged that it wasn't helpful or productive, but I had a huge fear (look who's driving again) that I'd over-inflate myself image. I worried that I'd become the house cat who saw herself as a lion.
Finally, I have begun to figure out how to be a better reflector.
Here is what I have learned.
1. Quit judging yourself for thinking about yourself. Everyone does it. No one thinks of us nearly as much as we think of ourselves. If you're worried others are judging you, they probably aren't. They're too busy working on themselves.
2. Balance being genuine and honest with being gentle and humble. I consider genuine as being truthful with others and honest as being truthful with myself. I have to be truthful with myself before I can truly be myself around others. Though I try to be genuine and honest, I am aware of the need to be gentle with myself and humble towards others. This has been extremely difficult for me. To help in gentleness, I picture myself as the four-year-old version of me and it's easier to treat her better. Humility is scary. I want to share my learning and successes, but worry that others will perceive what I share as bragging.
3. Projecting isn't the same as reflecting. For my whole life, I have projected confidence and self-esteem. People around me think that I have my stuff together and might be surprised to learn that what I project into the world does not match how I feel about myself. What I see reflected is described above. The best way I can describe it is dysmorphia, instead of seeing my body as something different than it is, I see my entire self in the most critical way possible. I am working on reflecting more accurately, so that what I project is more genuine.
4. Taking the time to reflect means accepting vulnerability. By honestly looking at yourself, your choices and your actions, you are open to all kinds of feelings. Seeing yourself as you truly are and accepting that you are in a constant state of becoming isn't easy. Even reflecting silently in a journal can rip you open. If you want to really feel raw, try making that journal public and blogging about it.
5. Despite everything, reflecting is one of the most valuable things I do. Thinking about my thinking, thinking about my progress and setting goals keep me moving forward.
Tonight, I'm co-moderating #cdnedchat with the amazing Dana Ariss. We'll be talking about reflection in education.