Download: The Reflection Process

Overview and Purpose of The Reflection Process

Reflection is a process where we look inside ourselves to explore and examine our perspectives, our emotions, our behaviors, our experiences and actions / interactions with others. It often involves a process of introspection which is aimed at documenting what happened, making sense of what happened, and deciding on whether further investigation or exploration is necessary or desired.  As Kath Murdoch, a famous education consultant, says reflection is similar to the inquiry process in that it is a process of tuning in, finding out, sorting out, digging deeper, drawing conclusions, and taking action again.

The process of reflection helps us gain insight and better understand the best way to move forward.  It often helps uncover deeper meanings behind our everyday experiences, thoughts and interactions. Reflection helps us add to our existing knowledge base, make changes in our perspective and reach higher levels of understanding.

The process of reflection can happen with just yourself or of course it can include a group of people.  Often managers in a business environment will have workers reflect upon their experience in the business to better understand what is currently happening.  Also it is very common for facilitators to include moments of reflection during training and workshops for participants to process what they are learning, make connections with other aspects of their work, or to get feedback.   

Really you can reflect upon anything that arises in reality.  People often use the process of reflection to think about and better understand:

  • Any future endeavor or event
  • Any past experience 
  • Business practices and processes
  • Dreams that occur
  • Events that happened during the day
  • Specific concepts or values, like God, Death, Beauty, Art, etc
  • How a project or endeavor is unfolding
  • Relationship dynamics 

General Purposes of the Reflection process include:

  • Deepening our own understanding of an experience or concept
  • Assists with changing behavior patterns in life and business
  • Providing the opportunity to share feedback and input

Connection with Learning to Work with Meaning:

  • Assists with the transformation process and creating new perspectives to view reality
  • Uncovers key insights which help further the learning process
  • Helps enhance the understanding and manifestation of core values

The Path to Practice and Implement The Reflection Process:

Reflection is basically an inquiry process where one thinks about an experience to get a better understanding of what happened and to gauge the importance of the experience.  It is best to ask yourself questions without any form of judgment and allow yourself to answer the questions as specifically as possible.  Some general reflection questions are:

  • What do you think about this work experience?
  • How did my assumptions, my actions and my emotions influence what happened?
  • What did I learn?
  • What?  So What?  Now What?
  • What is one thing I would do if I knew I could not fail?


The beauty of reflection is that it can happen anywhere and at any time.  It just takes a moment for you to tell yourself that you want to reflect on what just happened and then you begin to have a conversation with yourself.  The more you get in a habit of reflecting on an experience the more routine it will become.  


Committing to always witness your own presence or be a third person to yourself can help further the routine of reflection, self awareness and mindfulness.  Get in the habit of thinking of your life work as a movie where you are playing the main actor while simultaneously being the director.  Train yourself to not only be in action, but to analyze the action while it is unfolding so that you are more conscious of how different variables in the current reality system are influencing one another.


You can be more intentional about the reflection process by setting a scheduled time to think about something and choosing to write down your reflections.  If you choose this route it is very helpful to decide on the purpose and the questions for the reflection before you begin.  That way when the time allotted arrives you can focus solely on answering the questions.  Your reflection can be focused on your career path, a relationship dynamic, a project you are involved with, or a concept you are thinking about to name just a few.  Regardless, be clear about the reasons you want to spend time in reflection.  If others are involved in the reflection and you are the one facilitating the conversation, it is wise to pre plan or design the reflection process.  Sometimes it can be helpful to set time limits for each question to ensure all questions are answered.  Recording all the information surfaced can also be extremely helpful if you are planning to utilize the information in the future.   


Some other ideas that will help you with the reflection process are:

  • Be honest with yourself and others.  Do not allow fear to trick you into with holding information.
  • Practice the four A’s of Emotional and Social Intelligence - Acknowledgement, Acceptance, Appropriate Action 
  • Keep a self-reflection journal where you can track thought and behavior patterns on a regular basis.
  • Determine your core values and beliefs.
  • Don’t judge yourself and forgive yourself for any mistakes you might make

Depending on the situation and purpose of the reflection, it is often helpful to reflect upon three different dimensions of an experience.  This helps ensure that you are not just thinking about the details of the situation, but also the dynamics that unfolded and the reasons that might have influenced the situation.  The three dimensions of reflection are content, process and premise and can be further described as:

  • Content is very similar to the description stage in Gibbs model.  A content reflection contains all the details of the situation.  It includes the more factual parts of the experience, the things that participants saw, heard, smelled, touched, or tasted.  
  • A process reflection is an analysis of the variables that influenced the experience.  It is an intentional look at what dynamics occurred in the situation and how things unfolded.  A process reflection includes thinking about not only what occurred but how it happened.
  • A premise reflection is a commitment to understand the “why” behind the experience.  It is an analysis of why things are occurring, the purpose of the experience and the reasons why participants are involved.  Often a premise reflection will help uncover the deeper meaning(s) behind an experience.   


To add even more intentionality to the reflection process it can be helpful to understand the work of Graham Gibbs, American sociologist and psychologist, who published a model for reflection in his 1988 book “Learning by Doing: A Guide to Teaching and Learning Methods”.  Gibb’s reflective cycle includes the following stages:   


Description - this stage includes reviewing all the details of the experience without any judgement or evaluation.  You want to describe the event, activity, experience or situation in as specifically as possible by answering questions like:

  1. What happened?  Where did it happen?
  2. What are the details you remember?
  3. Who else was involved?  What were their actions?  
  4. What actions did you take?
  5. What was said?
  6. What other variables influenced the reality you experienced?


Feelings - This stage is all about enhancing self awareness and embracing the emotions the event triggered for you.  In this stage you also want to be clear on what thoughts other people shared during the experience.  The following questions might be helpful:

  1. What were you thinking and feeling before the experience occurred?  What emotions arose for you during the experience and after it was over?  
  2. What were your reactions?
  3. How do you view the experience now?
  4. What emotions do you think arose for the other people who were involved?  Why?


Evaluation - In this stage you want to evaluate the experience and figure out whether it was helpful or not.  Questions that might be useful to think about include:

  1. What resonated with you about the experience?  What didn’t resonate with you? 
  2. What went well?  What didn’t? Why did it either go well or not?
  3. What did you value?  What did you not value?
  4. How did you influence the dynamic you experienced?
  5. How did other people influence the dynamic? 


Analysis - this stage is often an overlap of the evaluation stage in that you want to analsize what occurred with a focus on learning.  It is key to uncover any insights that might be present.  Some questions that might be helpful include:

  1. What sense can you make of the situation?  
  2. What was happening in the situation?
  3. What can you learn from what happened?
  4. Based on what you know, how does this experience relate to your life work?


Conclusion - this stage is about bringing a close to your reflection and figuring out what you could have done differently.  Questions that might help include:

  1. What else could have been done to have changed the situation for the better?
  2. What will you do differently based on what you have learned?
  3. What consequences evolved out of the experience?  How will you react to them?
  4. What areas of improvement do you think would be helpful?


Action Plan - The final stage is about creating a plan for how you will encounter similar situations when they arise in the future.  Questions that might help include:

  1. What steps are you now going to take based on what you learned?
  2. If a similar situation arose again what would you do?
  3. What would be a more effective approach to a similar situation in the future?


The Outcomes and Fruition of learning  and embracing The Reflection Process:

  • You become more aware of all the variables that influence your current reality as you experience them in the present moment.
  • Mistakes are minimized because you are more thoughtful about how you participate in the present moment.
  • More “aha” moments are illuminated in your mind because you are able to synthesize information, identify  patterns, and better understand the system as a whole.
  • Planning and setting goals becomes more aligned with your core values and beliefs.
  • Your life work becomes more intentional.
  • Meaning and fulfillment are often increased as the mind digs deeper into awareness and understanding.


Other Tools Worth Cross Referencing for Further Development and Understanding The Reflection Process:

  • The ORID for Focused Conversations
  • Critical Thinking and Emancipatory Learning
  • The Ladder of Inference
  • Stream of Consciousness Writing
  • A Personal Mission Statement
  • Creation of Core Values and Personal Shield
  • 5 components of Social and Emotional Intelligence
  • The Essence of Mindfulness
  • Test Your Assumptions; One of the 8 Core Intentional Management Characteristics


The information in this summary sheet was influenced from the sources listed below.  For more information and to dig deeper please click on the appropriate link and purchase the book.  


  • Learning by Doing: A Guide to Teaching and Learning Methods by Graham Gibbs
  • Learning by Doing: A Handbook for Professional Learning Communities at WorkTM (An Actionable Guide to Implementing the PLC Process and Effective Teaching Methods) by Richard DuFour , Rebecca DuFour 
  • Critical Thinking (MIT Press Essential Knowledge series) by Jonathan Haber 
  • The Art Of Critical Thinking: How To Build The Sharpest Reasoning Possible For Yourself by Christopher Hayes , Patrick Magana


  • Partner with one of our CMW coaches to help you learn to incorporate intentional reflection in all your life work.  Click here to set a free initial consultation.
  • Participate in one of our retreats or trainings held at our retreat center Quietude in Black Mountain or at the Overlook in Downtown Asheville.  Click here for more information.