About a month ago I was on the train commuting home from work when I momentarily looked up from my game of Ninjump on my iPhone and saw everyone in the car had their noses in their phones or tablets. I think there were maybe 2 people with either an actual book or newspaper in their hand. No one was just sitting there, staring out the window and thinking. Which of course, got me to thinking. It was only few years ago that my commute into and out of New York City looked much different. I used to sit on the train listening to my iPod, reading a good book or magazine; sometimes I stared off into space and contemplated just about anything, letting my music act as my guide. I’d think about the day ahead of me, what I needed to accomplish, who I would speak with, what I would say. When I was feeling particularly studious I would think about something I read for class, jot down any questions or thoughts I may have had. Some days I’d let myself daydream about a better job, life in a warmer climate, being a rock star, or what it would be like to just pack up my belongings and move to a foreign country.
Then I got my iPhone and everything changed. It’s not the iPhone’s fault. It’s entirely mine. I had so much I could do right there at the tip of my fingers. I could check my email, surf the web, text friends, go on Facebook and still listen to my music! I’ve had my iPhone for about two years now and I’m just starting to realize the impact it’s had on my life. Sure, I have an infinite amount of information at my fingertips, but at what cost? I rarely sit and space out, and come to think of it, I really miss it. Where is my break? My train ride used to be my time to prepare for my day and decompress on the way home. It was my time to reflect on my day, to think about all the things that happened or didn’t happen. To digest and even discover how I felt about things, to learn from any mistakes I may have made, and to relish in my successes.
As I looked around the train car that day, I couldn’t help but think about these things and wonder: have we lost our desire to reflect? I tried to stealthily look at the phones and tablets of those around me. My husband was sitting next to me, reading an article from his Associated Press app, the majority of commuters were playing games, some were on Facebook, some were checking emails and appeared to be doing work and a few, like my husband, were reading. Reading is great. It gets your juices flowing, it makes you think. It makes your mind wander (or maybe that’s just me and my ADD) onto other things. But these silly mind-numbing games we’re playing instead of thinking is beginning to worry me. Why are we attracted to doing something so idle? I don’t know about the rest of you out there, but I really miss my commute being about me. It’s the one time during the day I get the chance, and I’m ruining it with games that don’t do anything for me.
Make no mistake, reflection isn’t only a great tool to use on a personal level. It’s also a great way for those in leadership positions to learn. Just as I used this tool to learn from my mistakes so too can the leaders of today’s organizations. In fact, if you take the time to reflect on different aspects of your day, you will likely be a few steps ahead of your colleagues who do not.
Unfortunately, reflection holds little weight in the business world today. In fact, today’s accelerated pace in the workplace, has caused there to be a greater emphasis on a leader’s ability to react quickly to changes. While thinking quickly on your feet is certainly a valuable trait for a leader, it’s also important that you develop the habit of setting aside time during your day to reflect not only on current decisions your organization needs to make, but also to review previous mistakes to see what lessons your company can gain from that experience. My time to reflect is during my commute. But yours can be whenever is most convenient and comfortable for you. Maybe it’s while you eat breakfast or lunch. Maybe it’s not an internal process, and you prefer to reflect with a friend or loved one, or maybe you’d prefer keeping a journal. However you do it is up to you.
All this talk about reflection has made me really wonder what I have been missing out on or not realizing because I haven’t taken the time to reflect on my day. So, starting tonight, I am embarking on a new challenge. As soon as I finish this article, I am deleting all of the games from my phone. For the next two months (I like starting off small), my commute home will consist of music, reading, and a little introspection. I will be sure to update you on my findings for how or if this changes me. If you’d like to join in on the challenge, please do. I’d love to hear about what you’ve learned! Let’s do this together!!