Reflection: What It Is — Why It’s Important

Charles-Amable Lenoir (1860–1926): Méditation. In Western art, meditation is not portrayed as sitting in the full-lotus posture as is done in the East. In fact, it may not be meditation at all, but is really reflection.


Reflection offers to all of us a critically important tool essential for skill building. It is also important to self-development and continuous personal improvement. Its use is absolutely essential but it is not taught in schools and universities

by Murray Johannsen, May 9, 2016.  Comments? Feel free to connect with the author via this website, Linkedin,  or by  email.

The Importance of Reflection

A Definition of Managerial Insanity: We keep doing the same thing, the same way, but always expect better results. — American Saying

To my lasting regret, understanding of reflection came much late in life. What happened was this.

When I was 52 years old, I accidentally learned about reflection. I happened to be sitting in a lecture at Korea University in Seoul. The course delved into major religions and this particular lecture dealt with Buddhism.

The professor mentioned that Buddhism had a long tradition of learning through reflection. This aroused me from my normal state of lethargic mindlessness and I asked the professor, “How was reflection used exactly?”

She replied that it was a mental process where you periodically step back and think about an experience and then figure out what went well and what could have gone better. And then she said, “The school of life teaches; but only if you are willing to reflect on experience.”

Here I was, a creature of the university. Much of my life was spent in a library with my nose in the textbook or in a state of confusion reading scholarly research journals. And yet, I had never been exposed to one of the most valuable tools of learning ever.

A classic visdeo from Disney’s Mulan. In this case, reflection is being used as a way of assessing meaning in life.  Song Sung by Lea Solanga.

You can expect my experience is representative of just about anyone with a university degree. How terrible it is that we don’t provide to everyone one of the most basic of life-long learning tools.

Engage in Reflection 

“By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.” — Confucius

Alexander Ignatius Roche (1861–1921): The Looking Glass.
Alexander Ignatius Roche (1861–1921): The Looking Glass.

Reflection is vital, especially for individuals who cannot work with teachers and coaches.

Really successful people continuously evaluate their performance by creating feedback loops necessary for continuous improvement. They act like their own coach, player and referee. 

When you get good at reflection, you can adjust your behavior real-time. This comes in handy with skills such as writing, public speaking, and in perfecting verbal communication skills such as interviewing. 

The Meaning of Reflection?



People Don’t Learn From Experience — J. Edward Deming

When I was younger, I bought into a delusion that went, “People learn from experience.” But after watching human behavior for many years, I’ve concluded just the opposite — most do not.

What is Useful For

a. Life only teaches if we have a robust capability to reflect.

Otherwise, we continue to make the same mistakes over, and over, and over again. As one nurse explained to me, “I’m a problem solver — I solved the same problem 50 times last year.”

b. Without reflection we live a life on automatic, repeating the same slip-ups, blunders and missteps.

Students keep getting bad grades without revamping study habits, memorization or test taking skills. Entrepreneurs expect sales to go up but refuse to change their business processes and strategies. Professors teach the same boring lecture year after year without making changes.

c.  Skills Cannot Be Mastered

Reflection is an important tool necessary for mastering mental and behavioral skills such as: all types of communication skills, complex leadership styles, and self-mastery in general.


Reflection has been part of Buddhist philosophy for thousands of years; but it is not widely practiced in the West. For some reason it’s not taught by mainstream universities, perhaps since these institutions assume that meaningful learning must come from a book in a class taught by a professor requiring a grade. And because it’s not taught, you don’t learn from experience.

Leadership Skill Development