What is reflective practice?
Ever feel like you are losing the spark of creativity, inspiration, or innovation? Or wonder how to nourish that flame inside yourself? Ever watch as a seemingly powerless spectator as the flame sputtered and faltered and perhaps even disappeared? Ever been faced with a problem you knew could be solved with a creative solution only to find yourself at a loss about how to find that creative solution?
Have you ever considered the role of reflective practice in keeping the creative, inspiration, and innovation spark alive? How about its role in finding creative solutions to problems?
Reflective practice actively engages the intentional journey inside ourselves. While too often ignored, it is essential to our wellbeing and growth as individuals and professionals working in challenging contexts. As with any journey, we may take different paths and vehicles to travel many routes. Some of the best reflective activities are those that occupy the hands, body, and brain enough to allow the mind to wander - what John Paul Lederach terms “the gift of aimless time.” Have a quick listen:
Did you get that? “Aimless time is the beginning of creative time, of innovation, of breakthrough.”
We often talk about processing things or pondering a specific problem. Many times the process of processing happens while we are doing something else, something unrelated. That something else is reflective practice, and it can include all sorts of activities, be it taking a walk, running, horseback riding, martial arts, other physical activity, cooking, sewing, gardening, coloring, painting, sculpting, creating in any way, and, of course, whittling, just to name a few.
Reflective practice is not new. I recently had a conversation about reflective practice with some folks from an agrarian background from an older generation. I talked about the need to create space in our lives for contemplation and reflection. Their reaction led me to consider their daily experience with reflection and contemplation.
Transport yourself 70 years back in time to a rural, agrarian location and you’d be surrounded by people engaged in all sorts of activities that could be considered reflective. Plowing a field, hand washing laundry, cooking from scratch, and caring for farm animals can all be reflective. They can keep your hands, body, and brain occupied enough to allow your mind to wander - productive and aimless time.
While these activities exist in the world today, there are fewer among us who engage in them. The nature of our fast paced, technology driven lives has pushed them out and replaced them with ample distraction and escape.
We need to reclaim this space in our lives and intentionally cultivate and mindfully engage in the reflective practice activities that work for us.
What do you do to give yourself the gift of aimless time? When was the last time you gave yourself this gift? Try it the next time you find yourself without inspiration or a creative solution to a problem.