While we all like to think that we are learning from experience all of the time, the truth is that the whirlwind of the day-to-day often means that we fail to reflect and therefore gain maximum benefit from the events to which we are exposed.
Applying Kolb’s Learning Cycle terminology; we are exposed to different Experiences in our day-to-day lives, however, the demands of our busy lives often mean that we go straight to Planning the next event/experience before we have Reflected and Conceptualised the last thing. In this way, we fail to go all of the way around the cycle and thus don’t gain the full benefit from the experience.
Kolb’s Learning Cycle
Worse than this, by repeatedly travelling the same course we create deeply entrenched neural pathways, which then become habits, which in turn are difficult to break, even when we would be more effective without them.
Building Wisdom: The memory does not lay down memories in a linear fashion, but more like a scaffold – wisdom is built by making connections between seemingly unrelated facts, creating models that can be amended and applied to different situations. Taking time to reflect and conceptualise helps us to build a strong scaffold, which helps us to apply our learning to future events. Making many connections of this sort promotes faster thinking – a useful analogy might be travelling by train around City A, which has many suburban connections versus City B with a hub and spoke network, thus forcing one to go via the centre in order to reach the next door suburb. If connections are king – how do we build them?
While I don’t suggest that we should reflect on every single experience/event in our lives, (such an approach would slow us to the point of paralysis, causing us to miss opportunities and normal engagement), reflecting and conceptualising is required to build those all-important connections – a balance is required. So how can we get the balance right? The methodology I use and frequently recommend to my clients, is the Reflective Learning Journal.
How can a Reflective Learning Journal help? Put simply, a RLJ is an organised repository for thoughts, which promotes learning through making connections. It is a practical way to apply the Kolb Learning Cycle to everyday life. (For a fuller explanation of how to layout and complete a RLJ follow the Free Tool tab at the bottom of this article). So why a written journal, rather than simply taking time to think? There are many advantages of actually writing a journal including:
- Slowing down your thoughts to the rate of the pen promotes focus on one single issue, rather than a jumble of thoughts, effectively untangling the web of competing concerns
- Creates intentional space for thinking
- Allows you to tackle uncomfortable, background issues, which you can’t quite put your finger on
- Provides a record of your thoughts, which you can revisit and identify trends in your behaviour
When to use it: You can use your journal at any time a useful thought occurs to you, however, I recommend you add a reminder in your diary for the end of each week. A good time is immediately before planning the following week, thus allowing you to reflect on progress towards your goals for the preceding week – what went well, (things to repeat), what not so well (things to stop/change), what got in the way of your progress, and importantly – the resulting plan. This is not an exercise of navel-gazing, this is about improving your performance by perceiving the connections between events and outcomes to apply to an ever-changing future.
Worth testing out for a month? Download the instructions using the link below.
About the Author: Fran McArthur is a coach, trainer, action learning facilitator, and non-executive director with more than 30 years of business experience. She typically works with executives, who lead organisations of £1 – 10m turnover and who wish to effect positive change, particularly those making a positive impact on the environment. She collaborates to help them to achieve their goals using her practical, common-sense approach
You can contact her at
enquiries @yibp.co.uk or 07789 520205