“We go through life grumbling about what should be at the expense of accepting what is.”
~ Marshall Goldsmith
It’s so tempting to focus on what could have been when things don’t go well instead of what’s next. To some degree you could say it’s only natural. And it does make sense to take a short period to reflect on why things turned out as they did. But that’s all it should be, a short period of reflection and working out what, if anything you will do differently from now on.
It is of course what’s next that is far more important. It’s what your next challenge is. It’s what you have to get focussed on quickly. Dwelling on what could have been will prevent you preparing for what’s next. And if you aren’t prepared properly then you won’t perform to the best of your abilities.
This applies to individuals, teams and businesses alike. In life, at work and in sport that period of reflection should happen. But then you move on.
Trust In Your Ability And Preparation
In some instances there simply isn’t the option to pause and reflect. In the middle of a match, in the middle of a conversation or negotiation, you have to keep going. That period of reflection has to be put to one side. It will happen, it just has to take place at the end of a competition, meeting or working day or week.
In these circumstances you have to trust to your preparations and your own abilities. To do anything else, to over-think, in the middle of intense activities means you are not focusing on what needs your focus most. If you aren’t successful then you get the opportunity to pause, reflect, adapt (if you believe you should) and focus on what comes next.
What Comes Next Is All That Counts
Individuals, teams and businesses are judged on their most recent performance. That’s what happens from the outside looking in. But for those individuals and teams concerned that is history. It’s what happens next that demands their focus. The particular challenges that are coming next are what they need to prepare for.
Prepare For What’s Next
That preparation may well include a period of ‘down-time’ to recover from what they have just been through mentally and physically. That down-time might include reflection but I would suggest it is the best to clear the mind completely. An initial period of reflection prior to the down-time will allow the individual or individuals to subconsciously think things through. That way, once they start preparations for what comes next they will be better able to determine what, if anything, they wish to change.
It’s all about a positive mindset. You can take the positives out of what you have been through and know that you can replicate those in the future. Where you know something didn’t go as you had anticipated you know that you can change things. That’s not dwelling on the negative, it’s looking at what happened and positively thinking of what you will do next.
Significant Changes Are Rare
Only by regularly pausing to reflect when we are able to can we improve our individual, team and business performances over time. Occasionally we might judge that a significant change is required in order to make an improvement, a little like a golfer re-working their swing with a new coach. These occasions don’t happen regularly and require long periods of acclimatization to the new normal. Anyone tempted to make such changes on a regular basis really needs to look closely at what they are trying to achieve and considering whether they are allowing themselves to become proficient in what they do.
Focussing on what comes next means:
- Knowing what challenge is coming not only next but over a period of time. Incremental changes to what you do could be planned during down-times.
- Having a full appreciation for your current level of performance which might mean asking others for some objective assessment.
- Recognizing in yourself whether how you perform feels right for you. Are you doing things that just don’t sit right with you? You might be able to do these activities but if you wish to perform at an even higher level you will find it increasingly difficult to keep those uncomfortable activities going.
- Reflecting on the positives when you can and as regularly as you can. This might include casting your mind back a number of weeks, months or years just to remind yourself how far you have come.
- Taking periods to completed switch off from whatever it is you want to improve. While you are chilling your mind will subconsciously keep thinking things through on your behalf. When you get back to it, you may well have one of those Eureka moments!
Continuous improvement for individuals, teams and businesses can and will come provided time is put aside to reflect on current performance. This time has to be relatively short. It doesn’t need to take long to reflect on what has occurred and determine what you can change for the future.
Then the focus on what’s next can kick in and the cycle begin again. That’s how improvement really happens and it takes effort and determination – but it’s worth it.
© Paul Slater and Reflect & Lead, 2015.