How to start writing reflectively

Written by Jess Gildener  Marketing and Communication Manager of Social Enterprise Academy, Jess has a background in sustainable development, and her career has taken her from teaching English in China, to developing environmental arts projects and managing a partnership of charity shops to promote donating and buying.


Two years ago if you had told me I would be writing a blog about regular reflective writing (i.e. journaling), I would honestly have been sceptical. Even now I’m wary because I’m still developing my habit - it’s not something I do every day, or even every week - but it is something I have come to enjoy and really value.

Benefits of Journaling

Writing just for yourself, with the thought that you might read it back later and cringe, not just at the spelling and grammar, but at some of the things you were thinking at the time, can put people off journaling (as can taking the time to do it).

But here’s why I urge you to give it try:

  1. If you are finding it any way difficult to stop thinking about something, writing things down can calm your mind quickly. It’s out, it’s written, it’s real and it’s acknowledged.
  2. It is easy to forget small but important positive things – a situation you handled well, a relationship that got back on track because you changed your approach. These experiences are useful to remember, especially when you need to give yourself a boost.
  3. You might be amazed at what comes out. An initial stream of consciousness can turn into an epiphany. Reflections on the day can turn into ideas for handling tomorrow. Simply writing an important question to come back to can lead you in a new direction.


Journaling and Learning Styles

Whatever your preferred learning style (try Peter Honey's Learning Styles Questionnaire), you can adapt how you journal to maximise the benefit of reflection.

I often like to get stuck into things (an activist) but in other circumstances need to unpick things and consider them carefully (a reflector), so I tend to just write whatever’s in my head and then focus on the why and what next. If you like a practical approach (pragmatist), you could focus it on specific situations and what you would do differently. If you like ideas and theories (theorist), you could explore how different ones apply to you and your situation.


So how to start?

One of the most important things is it honestly does not matter about style, spelling, quantity, quality or that it might feel like nonsense to start with. It’s the practice not the performance!

Idea 1: Stream of Consciousness

Just start writing the first thing that comes into your head - whatever it is going round and round in there. Don’t stop until you’re ready to. Notice how you feel or what you’re thinking. Now write about that. Ask yourself what you think is happening. Is there something to act on?

Idea 2: Ask Questions

Experiment with what will work for you but you could try questions like... What went well today? What would I like tomorrow to be like? What do I need to do to end my week better? Who was important in my day? What made me uncomfortable? When did I feel I was really enjoying my work? What do I want to learn more about?

Idea 3: Pick a Theory

Exploring how a theory (leadership or otherwise) applies to you and how you might use it in real life can be a great springboard for action but also provides an important framework for understanding behaviours and preferences.

Idea 4: Use Inspirational or Interesting Quotes

Search some out and make a note of them, especially if you don’t know why you’re drawn to them. When you’re stuck on something, pick one from your list and start writing about how you can use it over the next few days.


Forming the Habit

This is what I’ve found tricky, but here’s what worked for me, backed up by various blogs on habits:

  1. Start simple and small
  2. Create a prompt - add a reminder to your phone or calendar
  3. Make it a pleasurable moment in your day by choosing the environment and timing that really works for you

Finally, if it ever feels like a chore or a source of frustration, you can even start with ‘This is a chore because...’.

There’s always a way in!


Useful Links


Written by Jess Gildener, Marketing & Communications Manager at the Social Enterprise Academy

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