Breaking Out Of Ruts: Reflect to Refresh

“We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience.” -John Dewey

Greatness in athletes
I am never short on amazement at what athletes can accomplish. But their physical strength, displayed more prominently, often masks the emotional and mental strength it takes to perform at a high level consistently.

Besides transforming their bodies into vessels that achieve tremendous feats, athletes also develop a strong mind. Physical and mental conditioning coalesce to develop greatness in athletes. Eliud Kipchoge, the world’s greatest marathon runner, revealed that mental freshness and sharpness are of greater importance than physical conditioning.

Changing Our Outlook
We associate “diet” and “discipline” with constraint or confinement. They seem to take the “fun” out of life. We view them from the lens of what we cannot eat or do. I choose to see them in light of what I get to do because of diet and discipline. It’s choosing values over feelings. When we watch athletes accomplish the feats that make us jump out of our seats, we must remember that not only the discipline of the body but also of the mind makes that possible. Kipchoge observed, “Only the disciplined in life are truly free.” Because they are not fettered by the pendulum of their feelings or moods. Reflective thinking is a key mental discipline.

Reflect to Refresh
No one moves ahead progressively and successfully without taking stock reflectively. Just as the F5 key on your computer refreshes your web browser when it freezes, so do moments of reflection act as our mental F5 key. Reflection provides moments of refreshing to our mental state.

Peter Drucker, considered the father of modern management, said, “Follow effective action with quiet reflection. From the quiet reflection will come even more effective action.” I know no better way to reflect than with questions. Simple, yet mentally probing questions. Questions that challenge your thinking. When we challenge our thinking we are exercising our minds. In case you didn’t know, your mind is like a muscle. Our mental strength grows or shrinks depending on how much we engage in thinking. Habits expert James Clear says, “Like a muscle that atrophies without use, mental strength fades unless it is tested.”

In today’s post, we’ll look at three reflective questions to stimulate mental acuity and nutrition. I credit the first two to James Clear, author of the highly recommended book, Atomic Habits, and the third to Pastor Andy Stanley, a gifted communicator, and author of several thought-provoking books. Consider the questions as food for thought.

1. What Has Worked?
I answer this question in light of what has made me better in life. I have found that by focusing on a few simple things that work, I can become a person of quality. One thing that has worked for me and paid dividends is practicing gratitude. Looking around, there is no shortage of what to complain about. Add that to the fact life is not getting easier. We must choose to be better. How? One way is by practicing gratitude. I concur with Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and co-author of the moving and insightful bestseller, Option B, who, in a commencement speech in 2016, noted, “Gratitude is a key factor in developing resilience.” People who take time to list things they are grateful for are healthier and happier.” Granted that everything may not be going as planned, what are you thankful for right now?

2. What Didn’t Work?
By noting what doesn’t work, I can recognize what is sapping or draining my energy. Most of us suffer burnout not because we are working hard, but because we are expending energy on tasks that have low to no significance. One such activity for me is trying to control everything. The more control we pursue, the less peace we possess. Similar to a credit card, control promises more freedom on the front end, but once we are hooked, it charges exorbitant fees. Peace of mind vanishes as quickly as anxiety sets in. Control eventually erodes trust, which is the bedrock of healthy personal and professional relationships. In my attempt to gain control, I discover that I lose control as I become overwhelmed. Equally, I have noticed that when I need to have control, there is a fear behind it. Be honest with yourself, where do you need to relinquish control to enjoy peace? What are you afraid of? Become the investigating reporter of your life and get to the bottom of what is not working.

3. What Am I Holding Onto?
To explain this, Pastor Stanley used an illustration of trapping monkeys. A coconut is hollowed and a banana is placed inside. The other end of the coconut is chained to a tree. The hole in the coconut is large enough for the monkey to fit his open hand into but small enough that his clenched fist cannot come out. Not willing to let go of the banana inside the coconut, the monkey becomes a captive of his own choice.

The inability to escape old and destructive thought patterns, decisions, and actions, keeps us from pursuing a better and higher quality of life. We end up banana monkeys, incarcerated by what we won’t let go of. To quote Pastor Stanley, “What we often hold onto can be the very thing holding off our future.”

Final thought: If you and I sat down over coffee or a shared meal, how would you answer the aforementioned questions? How would this engagement in reflection stimulate mental nutrition? Honesty to these questions will keep our minds fresh and sharp and raise the quality of our lives.

Keep on keeping on!

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