Reflective practice: Living an inquiry-based life

Our actions may speak louder than our words, however, it’s in our words where we discover the meaning of our actions.

The details, that often go unnoticed as we experience them, are the keys to understanding the essence of ourselves. And it’s through written reflection of our actions that we uncover the details of our experiences.

The learning process is both active and reflective. We learn by doing and we learn by reflecting on what we have done. True, transformative learning—learning that engages our entire being, that changes who we are, that stays with us throughout our lifetime—requires both action and reflection on action.

Written reflection exercises provide us the opportunity to process our experiences in authentic and meaningful ways. Written reflections allow our experiences to move from things we have done to things we have learned. When we think about, reflect upon, and write about our experiences, we capture the greatest amount of knowledge.

A journey of meaning is guided by a search for answers. Living an inquiry-based life means living a life filled with questions. We truly engage in the entire lifecycle of the learning process when we answer questions like:

  • What is the most important thing I learned today?
  • What unanswered questions do I have as I finish this day?
  • What went well?
  • What did not go so well?
  • What can improve in the future?
  • How can I integrate what I learned from this experience into my life?
  • How will what I have learned from this experience change the way that I think about my life?
  • How will what I have learned from this experience change the way that I approach my life?

Recording—in a written format—answers to these types of questions allows us to both focus and expand our thoughts. We are able to focus our thoughts on specific experiences while gaining a broader understanding of how those specific experiences fit into a larger whole.

Reflection on action doesn’t need to be complicated. It just takes a little time and practice. Today, choose a reflective question and spend 15 minutes answering it. If you finish answering the question before 15 minutes is complete, move onto another reflective question and answer it. Then repeat the process tomorrow, the next day, and the day after that. The answers don’t need to be written in full sentences, the punctuation doesn’t need to be correct, and there is no right or wrong answer. It’s the act of thinking and writing about your experiences that is important. When you do this, you’re on your way to living an inquiry-based life.

All it takes is 15 minutes each day, for about 66 days to form a habit. Forming the habit of maintaining a reflective practice allows us to find the patterns of our lives and provides us the perspective we need to live a life where we make awesomeness and do good. Reflection allows us to learn from what has been, why what is, and how things can be.

This past year, through The Pastry Box, I’ve shared thoughts that started out as reflections. These fully-formed thoughts started out as short, 15-minute free writing exercises that answered reflective questions. Sometimes I start by writing my reflections in a notebook and other times I write them on the computer (my favorite application for this is Day One). I use what is convenient and what feels right at the time.

Living an inquiry-based life has allowed me to construct meaning from the experiences I’ve had. This past year has been filled with high highs and low lows, such is the way of life. Reflecting on these experiences and the experiences of my life have changed my life. I learned: it was time to take back math; my misshapen back has shaped my life; curiosity is an integral part of making; to surround myself with people who wear different shoes; to be comfortable with being untitled; since time travel isn’t real (yet), accepting my time is limited is important; community is at the heart of our industry; to be where my feet are; to work hard at being fortunate; to ask the follow-up question; and, leadership is based on relationships. Maintaining a reflective practice has changed what I understand about me and my experiences. And sharing what I’ve learned with you has created additional meaning in my life.

I challenge all of us to maintain a reflective practice and to live an inquiry-based life. Then, let’s share what we’ve learned. You don’t need to be a contributor to The Pastry Box to do this—you just need to be a contributor to your own life. And then share your reflections and what you learn with others so they may reflect on their lives as well.

It’s pretty amazing to share our experiences and the meaning that surfaces from them with others. We more fully become aware of ourselves, our dreams, our goals and we help others to more fully become aware of themselves, their dreams, and their goals.

By performing the act of writing down our words, and reflecting on those words, our actions really do speak louder than our words.