Maybe you’ve read about reflective practice or you’ve heard some mention of reflective writing. Maybe you have a vague idea but don’t really understand what reflection is about. Or maybe you’d like tips for getting started on reflection of your own. This is a great place to start! The questions below come from visitors to the web site, participants at my workshops, and from me–what I believe will help you get started on a practice that takes you from frazzled to focused and create balance and clarity in your personal and professional experiences.

1. What is reflective practice?

Reflective practice is a way of looking at and thinking about yourself, of examining and learning from what you find within. It entails consciously directing your attention inward to your thoughts and feelings. Through nonjudgmental conscious attention to your on-going experiences, you build self-awareness of your motivations, reactions, impulses, desires, fears, and beliefs. Reflective practice is the system you use — whether meditation, writing, art, or a combination of activities — to build that self-awareness and learn from your inner experiences in response to the external world.

2. What about reflective writing? Is it different than reflective practice?

Reflective writing is a form of free writing designed to help you become more aware of feelings, thoughts, and memories. You can use reflective writing to discharge emotion and cope with distress, solve problems and develop new attitudes, and bring yourself to a place of being balanced and grounded.

3. Reflective writing sounds like keeping a journal or a diary. How is it different?

Reflective writing shares similarity with journaling in that you write freely and personally. It differs in that you ask yourself questions and write more deeply into topics in order to reveal themes and move towards resolution of concerns. Reflective writing involves not only writing and but also reflecting–thinking about what you learn through writing.

Reflective writing is one way to explore an experience–whether occurring in the personal or professional world–so as to reduce its impact now and in the future. When we process an experience clearly and are able to keep it from distorting new experiences, we are in balance. (For an example of an out-of-balance experience, see “I Hate Being That Person.”)

Note that reflective writing is by no means restricted to issues of balance or professional issues. It can be used as broadly as one wishes–for personal growth, creative development, and the always popular “mind dump” (getting rid of bothersome, obsessive, or irrational thoughts and feelings).

4. What skills do you need for reflective writing?

You need only willingness and the ability to write words on a page! You do not need experience as a writer, good spelling or grammar, or particular writing talent. You may also incorporate drawing into reflective writing if you like to express yourself through images.

5. How do I get started?

You can dive right in with writing! Start by writing about something that’s on your mind–feelings you are aware of, an event that happened recently, or a problem you have. Write without thinking too hard or worrying about grammar. The goal is to write continuously for as long as you feel momentum (whether this is 5 minutes or 15 or 50).

6. Is that all there is to it? How is this different from the kind of free writing that Natalie Goldberg talks about or the morning pages described by Julia Cameron?

Reflective writing involves several steps following the spontaneous writing. These involve reading your writing and asking questions to lead you to a deeper understanding. The goal is to keep writing on a topic, often over several days, weeks, or longer, to reduce the emotional charge of the topic, consider new solutions to problems, and discover the clarity that signals balance.

Of course, you can use reflective writing in conjunction with traditional journaling, creative writing pursuits, morning pages, and other writing approaches.

7. What if I don’t like to write? What can I do?

First you might examine your assumption that you don’t like to write. What have been your experiences with writing? Are you associating writing with college term papers? Do you have memories of a teacher criticizing your writing and marking it up with a red pen? Reflective writing bears little relationship to most school experiences, and its goals have nothing to do with typical writing expectations. Reflective writing is for you and you alone, unless you choose to share it. So before you decide you don’t like writing, please consider giving reflective writing a chance.

If, however, you decide that putting word on paper is not an avenue that speaks to you, you can still make reflective practice part of your life. You may decide to explore topics though meditation. You may have another art medium, such as painting or sculpture, that allows you to focus your thoughts inward on a topic. Movement, including exercise or dance, can be an effective avenue for taking you towards your inner self. In all these activities, you will find it beneficial to make notes afterwards of what you experienced. That way you can follow the thread of your reflections and go deeper into topics that are meaningful for you.

8. How do I learn more?

Here are some posts from The Reflective Writer blog that will give you more introductory information:

What to Write

Burning Questions 1: Do I Have To Write By Hand?

Burning Questions 2: What If I Get Overwhelmed?

Burning Questions 3: How Long Do I Write?

Side-Step Anxiety and Procrastination: Make a List as a Starting Point for Reflective Writing

9. Help! I still have more questions!

Questions deserve answers! Feel free to send me questions here, and I’ll post responses on this page.