Improve performance with time of reflection

By John Langhorne / Guest Column

The psychology of personal development has made great strides in the past couple decades. This is a result of a philosophical shift from exclusively studying people with mental problems to focusing on methods derived from studies of people in organizations of all types.

These findings invite functioning people to improve their performance. Over the years, I have formed a positive impression of the effects of springtime on many people. As the days grow longer and the weather warmer, we seem to be energized to initiate more change. Here are three ideas you may want to consider.

Your mind is your best ally to improve your life. It only requires that you use it. There is abundant evidence that those of us who are self-aware function better in all aspects of our lives. There are many ways to become self-aware but all require the capacity for reflection.

Reflection is difficult for many to attain because our lives are over-scheduled and technology makes us too accessible. Reflection is a process requiring a solid block of solitary time.

Here are some activities that produce environments that allow reflection. Climbing into a warm pool wearing earplugs separates you from a large variety of external stimuli. Colleagues report that showers have the same effect. Interestingly, both involve water. Rising early in the morning and having some time to yourself seems to work for many people. The same tool works in the evening for those who are night people. A colleague reports that several minutes of meditation starts the day off well. Running and walking are solitary exercises, if you so choose.

I am sure you can find some aspect of your daily schedule that permits some time with yourself. Even a few minutes, if done on a regular schedule, can improve your capacity for reflection. Remember, there is no evidence that fast decisions are better. On the contrary, if you reflect on some of your most notable mistakes, chances are they were made when you were hurrying.

I would also note there is an abundant amount of research showing that it is not possible for people to multi-task. Multi-tasking is just fast switching, which means that you cannot obtain optimal cognitive functioning. This observation often elicits fierce reactions from people who are unaware of the value of slowing down. One of my frequent questions to clients is “do you want to do this fast or do you want to do this right?”

Never underestimate the power of sleeping on a problem. There is a cognitive equivalent to the “runner’s high.” Flow – being one with the task – is a phenomenon many do not experience because of their passion for multi-tasking. You are totally absorbed into the task and your perception of time virtually stops. On occasion when I am writing about a subject that I am passionate about, this happens. I begin early in the morning, look up and realize it is 11:30 a.m.

Put your hand on the back of your head. You are holding the primary occipital lobes of your cortex – the newest and smartest portion of your brain. There is more space in the vision system of the brain than all the other sensing systems combined.

Have you ever thought of becoming a person who is a keen watcher? Mark Twain is often quoted as saying, “It is better to sit quietly and appear a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.” Actually, when you don’t jump in, people believe you are smarter.

This particular tool may be the hardest of the three to learn, especially for men. I once worked with a senior manager who was mostly silent during conversations with his management group and would then conclude the meeting by summarizing the major points and making decisions. This is a powerful management tool and one worth cultivating.

“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone,” wrote the French philosopher Blaise Pascal.

John Langhorne is owner and principal of Langhorne Associates,