Self-reflection is an integral component of personal and professional growth, and has great value in both the undergraduate and graduate or working environment, and in most other aspects of life. Literature suggests that regular self-reflection can improve performance for students in academic contexts, people in the sociocultural world, and working individuals in job performance. (Yeager & Dweck, 2012; Nobel, 2014) In my own personal experience, reflection helps me clearly visualize my feelings, actions, and how effectively I am working towards goals. Simply put, it is only through reflection that we can determine our strengths and weaknesses, opportunities for growth, and any barriers to development.
My discussion of the value of self-reflection will follow a simple outline of what it really entails, including understanding our outlook on the world, finding what shapes our values and beliefs, and recognizing how we interact with others. This will include examining self-awareness, learning styles, drivers of motivation, and organizational culture amongst other things. I will then discuss how these factors culminate in the graduate marketplace in terms of job performance and leadership. This discussion will be supported by my own examples of reflection and literature where relevant.
What is self-reflection?
Self-reflection can mean different things to different people. For me, a large part of self-reflection is self-awareness, which involves looking at your strengths and weaknesses. (Musselwhite, 2007) Building on this, it may be relevant to conduct a personal SWOT or SWOB analysis, wherein you can look internally at strengths and weaknesses, and externally at opportunities for or barriers or threats to growth. (Bassot, 2016)
Referring to the Appendix, my weekly journal reflections throughout the module are examples of self-awareness as I have identified strengths and weaknesses. In Week 6, I reflected on my experience with a video interview, clearly saw areas of weakness and identified opportunities where improving on skills may be valuable. Here, I said that I would like to improve on my responsiveness and ability to think on my feet when prompted with questions, which I anticipate will be important in any type of graduate interview. In my Week 5 and 9 reflections, I reflected on my role as a team member and how my strengths include proactivity and facilitating progress, but I also noted a weakness, that I should be more cognisant of not being too controlling in a group dynamic. While these examples showed internal analysis, it would be good if I had looked externally at opportunities for growth and any potential barriers as well.
The outcome is these types of reflection is that having paused for a moment to be self-aware, I can revisit those points of reflection in future experiences, for example, with video interviews or in group work.
How we view the world
Another important part of self-awareness and, as such, self-reflection, is understanding how we approach the world around us, that is, how we choose to learn and what motivates our actions. Honey and Mumford formulated a range of learning styles to describe how individuals approach tasks. I find myself to be more of a mix between an ‘Activist’ and ‘Reflector’. As an activist, I can get a lot done in a small amount of time and am generally proactive, but this may mean that I’m prone to be impatient. As a reflector, I like to think of the ‘big picture’ so I listen to others and think creatively, but this comes with the drawback of overthinking. (Bassot, 2016) Referring to my reflection in Week 2, I acknowledge my fast paced and creative approach to learning, primarily due to my background in IB Visual Art. So why is this relevant to the value of self-reflection? Understanding my learning style helps me understand my strengths and weaknesses as a team player, which links back to the idea of self-awareness. Being aware of your approach to learning can help you identify areas of improvement, which will help enhance productivity.
Building on this, the idea of resilience becomes relevant. Being resilient is invaluable and has implications for positively adapting to challenges in the workplace, in academics, or in one’s social life. ‘Incremental’ approaches to intelligence and personality are particularly valuable in life, and are only determined through self-reflection. Incremental theories state that intelligence or personality are not fixed but fluid and open to growth. (Yeager & Dweck, 2012) This suggests that those with more of an incremental psychological lens may be more resilient, and that such an approach to thinking is sought after in the graduate marketplace.
Values and Beliefs
Building on how self-reflection involves your outlook on the world, it also means recognising your values and beliefs. ‘Transactional analysis’ is important in self-reflection, that is, identifying what motivates you. Personally, I am more of a ‘Type Y’ individual, so I am more motivated by reward and self-actualisation. This stems from Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. (Bassot, 2016) This type of motivation is evident in my Week 10 reflection, where I set short, medium, and long-term goals. I’ve chosen to improve on confidence, which is clearly linked to self-esteem and personal reward. Understanding this helps me to, not only, better understand my ability to be confident, which is crucial in the graduate marketplace, but also recognise that gaining confidence is a personal goal of mine, and achieving that is something I am cognisant about.
Another important part of self-reflection is gravitas. Gravitas is rooted in self-awareness, which builds self-control. With better self-control comes stability and better leadership, an important quality in the graduate marketplace. Gravitas involves introspection, and finding out what you really value as an individual. It gives you the ability to express what you want, rather than seeking to impress others. In doing so, it moves you closer to your own values. The concept involves having an ‘inner coach’, who celebrates achievements, and an ‘inner critic’, who focuses on refinement. Gravitas is also important for being resilient under pressure, and thinking on your feet. (Goyder, 2014) As that is a personal goal of mine, gravitas is something I would like to build for myself to support me in the graduate marketplace.
How we communicate with others
Thinking about the relevance of self-reflection on a personal level, it is also important to consider is value at an interpersonal level. It is important to reflect on how we behave with others, so that we can communicate at our best. In the working world, communication styles are shaped by organizational culture. This refers to a group’s shared values which can affect their approach to challenges and work. Organisational culture also plays an important part in shaping individual and group identity. (Grey, 2016) So, understanding this culture through self-reflection can improve communication with people in different contexts. For example, I’ve worked in groups where I can sense that the culture is more productivity oriented and less about building relationships, but I’ve also worked in groups where the culture is more social and friendly. This affects the way I communicate with my team members.
Inferring from this type of analysis, it can be seen that self-reflection on group dynamics is incredibly valuable. On a professional level, this type of analysis can help enhance creativity. Creativity requires a mix of different thinking styles, that is, a mix of ‘adaptors’ and ‘innovators’. This is known as the ‘theory of complementary opposites’. (Bilton, 2007) In plain language, this means that you need diversity in a group to think creatively. If every member of a team thinks in the same orientation, then it is difficult for creativity to occur. I have experienced this first hand with group work. Reflecting on and recognising this is important, again, in all environments of life, including the graduate working world.
How does this culminate in the workplace?
So, there are ultimately many aspects of self-reflection, including how we perceive the world around us, our values and beliefs, and how we communicate with others, which are important to think about, and have implications in the undergraduate environment and graduate marketplace. But how exactly does this self-reflection culminate in the workplace? Studies show that learning by thinking, or reflecting, improves job performance. It does this by improving self-efficacy, so you’re self-motivated when you reflect. In this way, reflection creates a smarter way of working. (Nobel, 2014)
As mentioned before, self-awareness is an essential part of self-reflection. Being in an environment where your peers or colleagues know that you are being reflective can increase your credibility in the workplace. However, being in such a busy environment may not give you time to formally self-reflect, so it is possible to determine your emotional intelligence as well by informally considering how people respond to your actions, and listening to what they have to say. (Musselwhite, 2007) It is small reflective actions like this that make all the difference in undergraduate study but also in the working world.
So is self-reflection really valuable in undergraduate study and the graduate marketplace? The short answer is yes. I’ve discussed how the process of self-reflection is rooted in self-awareness, and how self-awareness involves identifying personal strengths and weaknesses, which are important to understand for personal and professional development. As well, I’ve looked more closely at self-reflection in three aspects: how we view the world, our values and beliefs, and how we communicate with others. I’ve concluded that our approaches to learning and ways of thinking are important to understand, so we can capitalise on what works best for us in the professional world. Understanding the drivers of our motivation and building gravitas are essential parts of self-reflection, as they further increase our self-awareness and stability. Reflecting on interpersonal relationships is important to understand how to communicate with people in group cultures and dynamics, both in study and in the workplace. I’ve also discussed how these types of reflection are clearly valuable to improve job performance and credibility, and how small, informal types of reflection can be equally as valuable to graduates. I’ve backed up this discussion with examples of my own self-reflection, to make my analysis more explicit.
This knowledge about self-reflection suggests that organisations should consider implementing self-awareness programs in the workplace, or universities should encourage students to reflect. Having said that, most people do not actively reflect because, at some level, it may feel like a task. However, it seems that self-reflection is an invaluable process to achieve personal and professional growth, much like reading books and keeping up with current events. As such, I will actively try to incorporate aspects of self-reflection into my regular routine.