Reflection 4: The act of reflecting
In previous blog posts we referred to personal preferences relating to reflecting. We suggested that some people might prefer to have some structure to enable them to think effectively whereas others might prefer a more free-flowing approach to this process. We proposed that two types of opportunities for engaging in reflective activities; these are formal sessions where groups of people might get together to reflect on specific issues or there may be more opportunistic moments that occur to reflect informally under more solitary conditions.
Continuing with the dichotomy of preferences, let us turn now to the granular aspect of reflection; the act of thinking or cognition. How we think is an integral aspect of reflection. Cognition has and continues to be of interest to various disciplines, including among others, Neuroscience, Philosophy and Psychology. Antonio Damasio, whose professional interests span all three areas attempts to explain the concept of consciousness, as without it humans would not be able to engage in acts of cognition. Due to technology and non-invasive procedures, it is now possible to look into a living brain and observe neural pathways as they activate when a person is thinking about something, which in the context of these blog posts is what we refer to as reflection; therefore to be able to reflect draws on the need to be conscious.
In addition to the idea that ‘being conscious’ is a requirement of the capacity to reflect, we draw on the work of psychologist, Daniel Kahneman, who, in his book Thinking Fast, Thinking Slow discusses the concept of two modes of thinking which he categorizes as System 1; fast, instinctive, emotional and taps into the realm of the Unconscious and System 2; slower, more deliberate, logical and taps into the Conscious realm.
Using the model of reflection shown in our previous blog post, we suggest drawing on both modes of thinking can enrich the act of reflection:
You might argue that using a System 2 approach, which is deliberate and logical, allows us to take an analytical and rational approach to understanding the issue, however, if after doing that you then allow yourself to apply a System 1 approach that is emotional, instinctive and allows the unconscious mind to get to work, you may be able to achieve a deeper understanding of the issue that you first achieved using only a logical, analytical approach.
For example, taking the first stage of the reflective process – Description: what happened? It is easy to focus on the facts of the situation; what happened, what was the outcome, who was involved, where did it happen; how long ago; has this happened before, all very rational questions aimed at uncovering the factual evidence.
Now, if we go back and apply a System 2 approach to that same situation: can you place yourself mentally back in the situation; can you visualize the people around you, what else is coming to your senses, what can you hear in the background, what do you notice about how people are interacting with each other; can you evoke any other of your senses such as smell and taste? What do you feel, in this moment, about the situation? What are you observing in yourself and the reactions you might be having to the situation? If you were to try to describe the situation as you see it now with this new available data what metaphor or analogy might you use? How does all of this enhanced thinking enrich your experience and memory of the situation?
Now, if you were to apply this same thinking process to each stage of the reflective cycle, imagine the richness of your thoughts, feelings and possible new ideas that could be generated. Consider how much more you would have at your disposal on which to base future actions.
We, at Level Seven, want to build a community of reflective practitioners and so would be delighted to hear about your experiences of reflecting and what you can add to the debate.
Kahneman, D. (2011) Thinking Fast, Thinking Slow. Allen Lane, Penguin Group: London