Reflective Practice – Keeping a Reflective Journal

reflective practice

Reflective practice is the capability to reflect on activities to engage in the process of constant learning, as defined by Donald Schön. The reflective practice pays critical attention to the practical values by examining practice reflectively and reflexively. It converts insights into practical strategies and subsequently makes personal, professional and institutional impacts. The reflective practice raises your awareness, critical analysis and decision making.

Learning is not limited to your classes, textbooks, literature or course-related searches. It is a continuous process that happens with or without your knowledge. You continue to learn throughout the day from your actions, reactions, emotions, activities and conversations. But we do not focus on them consciously to learn something new. Reflective practice is something through which you can recognize and formulate connections between the events and lessons from such circumstances.

We learn throughout childhood; a child’s brain creates new knowledge by creating new links between the cause and the effect. In contrast, adults already have many experiences, assumptions, ideas and concepts existing. They have to reorganize their existing knowledge according to any new learnings. Such reorganization needs the active involvement of the adults. A reflective practice would help adults actively seek to learn to pay attention, look for patterns, and understand these connections. Consequently, this practice changes the way we see things. You can read about reflective thinking in this CareClinic blog article.

Why is reflection important?

Reflection makes you understand what, why and how about the learnings. Recalling what you have learnt, why you learnt it and how it could help you mold your life will make you realize where you are heading. The learnings are linked with our identity of who we are.

Reflections are physical or emotional, and the thinking about experiences is cognitive. Altogether they contribute to personalize and integrate your learnings. Approaching issues with different perspective changes the way you see things.

Adults learn through a double-loop method. This learning makes you acquire the skills necessary for your professional development. On the other hand, it creates an opportunity to learn about yourself while acquiring such knowledge, making it a double loop.

What to expect from reflective practice?

The lessons learnt from daily life give you the capability, flexibility and spontaneity to face future challenges. For example, reflective practice improves your ability to cope with stress, managing emotions, making timely decisions, improving relationships, and much more. Reflective practice helps you rewire your brain to develop new skills, knowledge or behaviors.

Reflective practice should be a regular activity integrated into your daily life. When practiced regularly, it influences the following:

  • Being self-aware, compassionate and trustworthy
  • Increase your emotional intelligence, emotional regulation
  • Improved critical thinking, judgment and decision-making
  • Approaching problems from a different perspective makes you innovative
  • Improve communication skills

All these changes in an individual will eventually affect the organizational function. For example, sustainability, teamwork, engagement and well-being are few to mention.

How to start reflective practice?

Merely recalling the events is not a reflection. You should critically reflect on the experience. The first step towards becoming a reflective practitioner is cultivating the capacity to focus on the background objectively. The persuasive reflective writing depends on how you recall the description, how you interpret it, and the event’s outcome.

Description – Recall events and write them descriptively. Incorporate the participants of the events into what happened at the event.

Interpretation – Take your time to reflect on the events and interpret them. Note what the characteristics of the event were, how they resemble or differ from other events.

Outcome – ­Make note of what you have learnt from the event. Focus on how the lesson learnt would change your future actions/reactions.

Donald Schön, the author of ‘The reflective practitioner: how professionals think in action’, describes two types of reflections.

Reflection-in-action

Reflection in action is to reflect on someone’s behavior as it happens. When you are reflecting during an activity, that is reflection-in-action. Examples for reflection-in-action are experiencing, acting straight away or thinking about what to do next etc. (R). It can best be explained as the ability to think on one’s feet. This includes identifying patterns of emotions, feelings, and physical reactions as they arise and using this knowledge to choose what to do next.

Reflection-on-action

On the other hand, reflection on action is to reflect following the event, reviewing or analyzing, and evaluating the situation. Reflect-on-action takes place once the activity is over. It is based on what you can recollect about the activity. On-action makes you go back over the experience, dig through your memory and regain what you can recall. Reflect and recognize what has happened and draw lessons from the experience.  Thinking about something that has happened and what you would do differently next time are examples of reflection-on-action.

For this purpose, you should completely bring yourself back to the same situation – yes, just like time travel. Relive the experience to look at what was happening. Analyze the situation critically and understand the links between the events and your actions, reactions and emotions during the event.

Reflection for action

This is the third type. It is the combination of insight and intention to apply our learning to professional life.

Tips to follow the reflective practice

Practicing reflection is not rocket science. But doing so on a regular basis is the most important thing. Focusing on the following tips would help you become a seasoned reflective practitioner. To improve the quality and the outcome, consider the following tips when you write in a journal:

Time

The reflective journal should be updated with regularity. You need to plan to absorb it into your busy life. Fix a time to write. This becomes easiest when we do them regularly at the same time of day. It is best to write in your reflective journal every night just before going to bed. If some other time that fits in your schedule, that’s perfect too.

On the other hand, feel free to update the journal anytime. At times you might think that it is deemed necessary to do so. Set yourself a time limit – maybe four to six minutes works well.

Keep the journal close

If it were the older days, I would advise you to leave your journal next to your bed. This way you would be reminded every night before going to sleep. But in today’s technological age, it’s more likely that you would have your phone with you at all times. So I would recommend you to use the CareClinic app to maintain your reflective journal.

Mindfulness

It’s very important to focus your mind on the present. Starting with mindfulness can help you focus. Sit somewhere quiet without disturbances and concentrate on your breathing. Breath in through the nose and breath out through the mouth; each cycle should last over 6 seconds. Repeat it for a count of 10-20 breaths. Stop thinking about everything else and draw all your attention to the flow of air. Mindfulness helps in reducing distractions and increasing focus.

Stay focused

Find a quiet place to write. Avoid things that could affect your focus. Stay away from phones, television to prevent you from getting distracted. If you use your phone as your jounal, try to turn off notifications or write while on airplane mode. If you use your computer, go offline to prevent notifications popping up and stealing your attention. In noisy environments consider using headphones to reduce the noise.

Do not be judgmental

Don’t be so hard on yourself. There is no hard and fast rule on how to write a reflective journal. Always remember you are doing this for yourself.

Write regularly

Update your journal regularly. Do review your contents for the day and actively analyze what you learnt for the day, even if you have no moment of inspiration to place. It helps to make it a regular habit and develop your critical thinking skills. Do not stop or go back and read what you have written.

Writing makes your mind roam free. Using physical activity liberates your thinking. Write fast but not in a hurry. Keep writing until the time is over. Do not worry about grammar, spelling, punctuation or neatness. If you are lost, or go off the topic or run out of ideas, write anything that comes into your head. You can even just scribble anything to keep your hand moving. Do not pause. Avoid gazing or reading what you have written so far—the act of writing matters rather than the perfection and quality of your writing. Once the time is up, read what you’ve written and highlight words of significance.

Elaborate

Before you write, be faithful and recall and relive your experience. Do not superficially write about the event or person. Elaborate in detail, the event, experience or person. Focus on what you can learn out of the experiences and events you encountered. The details you gave in-depth would bring the most potent positive vibe to you.

What is a journal, diary or notebook?

These are familiar terms, but they have their differences from a journal. The main difference between a journal and other similar items is the focus of the action:

  • Reflective journaling emphasizes what you learnt
  • A diary is to focus on happenings in your day
  • Notebooks are to help you note essential points

Each item has a specific purpose, but they are not identical. Organizing with a planner may parenthetically give you things to look forward to and be grateful for. But, chances are that you might not be so thankful for some events from your planner. Perhaps you will write both positive and negative events from your day in a diary. Hence, the focus is exclusively not only the good things in your life. A notebook generally carries notes and reminders, not just lists of good things in your life. But a reflective journal is distinctive in this aspect. It is the only item solely dedicated to recognizing and valuing the lessons you learnt from the activities or events to use for the future.

Writing down the negative things that occurred or the challenges you encountered during your day is not wrong. You might have learnt from them so do not hesitate to write them as well. As opposed to your gratitude journal, which is only for thankful thoughts, the reflective journal would carry either positive or negative things, which give you an opportunity to learn something new.

What is a reflective journal?

A reflective journal is used to record your daily reflection. You record your entries, despite whether it is good or bad and use them as a tool to reflect and learn from your experiences.

The reflective journal will help you find events that impacted you, which made you learn something new. Events may be anything from your personal life, relationships, profession etc. You can identify your inspiration source from a reflective journal and let you understand your thought process better.

Standard gratitude journal template

Different types of printable templates for reflective journals are available on the internet. You can either use Rolfe’s So What? Model or Gibbs’ Reflective Cycle.

Gibbs’ Reflective Cycle

This template offers you distinctly divided spaces containing specific topics to record about your event or experience. Collectively these topics serve the purpose of reflective journaling. The divisions are categorized as event description, feelings, evaluation, analysis, conclusion and action plan.

Rolfe’s “So What?” Model

This model contains simple spaces to let you write anything under three columns – “What, “So What” and “Now What”.

No matter what the design is, they serve the same purpose. Under each title, you have to mention your lesson from your challenges, events and encounters and your next reflexive level of reflection. You can use these printable versions as a guide along with the reflective journal prompts to begin with journaling comfortably. Later, you would subconsciously improve your ability to write entries under distinct topics in a simple journal. The mobile apps have designs similar to print versions. But they provide more flexibility to let you create your tabs to make convenient journal entries.

Reflective journal prompts

Here are a few reflective journals prompts. They could help you elicit more prompts on your own when you practice. These reflective journal prompts are meant to be just a guide, to kickstart you in self-reflection and self-discovery. Subsequently, with time, you will be able to reflect without using these prompts.

  1. What makes you unique?
  2. How can you recharge yourself?
  3. Write a letter to yourself from the past or future
  4. What makes you feel at peace?
  5. How can you control your anger in situations?
  6. How do you make up your mind when you make a mistake?
  7. List 10 things that make you happy
  8. What can you do today, which you thought impossible last year?
  9. How do you maintain your physical/mental health? What can you do to improve the methods of recovery?
  10. List the things that you want to achieve this week

Reflective journal sample

Below is a simple example of writing a reflective journal entry in ‘Rolfe’s So What?’ Model:

What? – I meant to begin working on my article today but kept finding other things to do. Two hours passed but I didn’t write anything yet.

So What? – When I thought about that, I realized that I was worried about whether my editor would look for any improvements since my previous submission. I wanted to show that I have taken his concerns into account and made the necessary changes.

Now What? – I should have been more determined to use my schedule effectively. I could even promise myself a reward if I make it before the deadlines.

Reflective practice with CareClinic

In our busy, fast-paced live, we encounter several situations, people and events. We do not realize or recall the lessons we learnt from our encounters. Practicing reflection and maintaining a reflective journal will help you recognize the lessons you learnt and give you an opportunity to mold yourself for the future. Consequently, it will result in improving your health. CareClinic is a one-stop health app, providing several useful features to help you maintain a health record. Create a self-care action plan and add medications, supplements, diet, physical activities, and therapies you receive. You can even set your healthcare team who manages your health and add your physician, RN  and family members.

Diary entry

The diary entry feature lets you make entries about your daily life. Use the app’s diary entry feature as the reflective journal to track day-to-day activities or events you encounter. It is useful to have an overall idea of how mood changes in your activities of daily life.

Symptom tracker

The symptom tracker function lets you add symptoms you are experiencing. You can track the symptoms to understand the progress of your treatment. If you have any medical conditions, start tracking your symptoms before seeking medical attention and compare how well the therapy relieves you from symptoms after visiting the doctor’s office with the app.

Nutrition

CareClinic offers a nutrition tracker, which helps you maintain your diet log. With a specific diet to improve your food habit, you can follow your diet and reflect on how it is helping you live a healthy life.

Activity

Use this feature to track any activities you do. Your activity tracker helps you identify any actions that worsen or relieves your moods or symptoms. You can get an idea of which activities help improve your mood and which don’t. You can then reflect on specific actions you record.

Therapy

Keep a record of any therapies you follow to get rid of the symptoms you experience. The therapy is another feature of the CareClinic app.

Reports

Reports are a great feature offered by CareClinic, can provide a lot of perception into your lifestyle change. It considers your logs in diary, nutrition, activities, symptoms etc. and subsequently generates reports that show the association between those entries. This association would be helpful to learn more about yourself.

Reflective practice is something we all struggle with in our day to day lives. We often think of it as being too time consuming or we may not have anything to write about. But we all experience things throughout our days, so we definitely can sit down and reflect on what happened, whether positive or negative. This will help us react to the same or similar situation in the future. Keeping a reflective journal on an app like CareClinic can make it easier for you to get into the habit and sticking with it.

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Mariano R Kanagaratnam