Today’s post is the feature article  from the February 2005 issue of  The Front Porch Newsletter.  If you would like to automatically receive The Front Porch e-newsletter on the last Thursday of each month just click here to sign-up for your complimentary subscription.

blumbergface1Richard Leider, best selling author of Repacking Your Bags and The Power of Purpose, discovered a powerful insight over a period of 25 years of research. He asked one simple question of retirees from successful careers at successful organizations: If you had to do it all over again — what would you do differently? The overwhelming answer as they looked back over the horizon of their journey: I wish I had reflected more!

Reflection is often projected onto those who are weak, inactive or lazy. Those who can’t keep up! Oh, we don’t say these things — but we live them out by our actions. The unspoken belief is that busy and successful business people don’t reflect — that is unless you talk with the people who are at the end of the journey and looking over their shoulder with the wisdom of having been there.

The bottom line is that you can’t afford not to reflect. This one very issue may be at the core of why we see failures in business today. We have reigned in enough technology, global reach, and communication capabilities to last ten lifetimes. With all that horsepower, maybe we are not a lot different than the four year old boy who was recently in the national news for having snuck out of his house and taken the family car to the video store and back. He slammed into a few things along the way!

I don’t believe that the CEOs of our nation are bad, corrupt people. That is simply not true. The significant majority are hard at work trying to use every gift they can muster to be successful. But I do believe they are under enormous pressure. And that pressure continues to mount as we expect more and more from Wall Street. Business performance has been placed under the microscope. And the pressure on short term performance often overshadows the long term impact.

You will never hear me back away from the importance of measurement and accountability. It is critical both in our professional and personal lives. But measurement can have a systemic impact. And without reflection — stepping back to keep the bigger picture in focus — the measurements can become a weapon no different than a car driven by a four-year-old!

Even rats get off the treadmill every now and then! But it is because they are tired, drained or hungry. It isn’t part of a strategy. Your reflection needs to be strategic.

As last year ended, we asked our Front Porch readers to weigh-in on their thoughts about reflection. Here is how they responded:

I think developing habits of reflection (stepping back to look at the bigger picture) are:
Critical – 73 %
Important – 25%
Nice, but not neccessary – 2%
Oversold and a waste of time – 0%

In my workplace – through meetings, conversations, or other connections — we have developed intentional habits of keeping our eye on the bigger picture:
Sometimes – 56%
Regularly – 39%
Never – 5%

My favorite personal reflection activity could be best described as:
Exercise – 23%
Prayer – 20%
Meaningful conversation with a friend – 13%
Reading – 10%
Quietly driving – 8%
Meditation/Yoga – 5%
Other answers included: listening to music, time in the woods, laying in bed, prior to falling asleep … and writing an annual birthday letter to my children!

My reflection habits include writing down my thoughts — some form of journaling:
NO – 73%
YES – 27%

It is not only the CEOs that are under pressure. It is the reality of almost every business professional. And pressure, void of reflection, is a formula for disaster. Strategic reflection is a key ingredient in the recipe of being successful in a world that is moving with an exponential increase in speed.

But thinking it is important — and doing something about it — are two different things. I rarely run into a person that doesn’t think reflection is important. Our readers confirm this point in that 98% think reflection is critical or important. But when you ask someone why they don’t have a habit of reflection, they will almost always respond with one word — TIME! And that is the correct perception — but the wrong answer. It is probably true that we don’t have enough time to do all the things we would like to do. But life is not about getting it all done. Have you ever seen a tombstone celebrating the words “I finished”? Not likely. Life is not about finishing. It is about priorities. And your best chance of keeping the right priorities is by making reflection number one. Reflection becomes your laboratory for setting all the other priorities. You will never get it all done — but with a strategic plan for reflection, you will much more likely get all of the important things done.

Action Idea: In the next 10 days revisit your strategy for reflection. If you have one in place, ask yourself if it’s working and if you are routinely committed to it. If you don’t yet have a strategy, then build one. Think of something you can do once a day, once a week and once a month that will form a healthy habit of reflection. If you do, I promise, you will be able to look in the mirror and be a lot more familiar with the person WHO is looking back at you!