“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” — Soren Kierkegaard
Friday is a very special day of the week for me. Long ago, I called it Friday Reflection as part of my Monday Vision, Daily Wins, Friday Reflection pattern in Agile Results (a personal results system for work and life).
Agile Results is my productivity method I created to help individuals and teams perform better, by creating better clarity, better energy, and empowering people to play to their strengths and live their potential.
Friday Reflection is one part of the recipe, but I could argue that it might be the most valuable part.
It might actually be the most valuable part because it’s a routine that combines a few habits and practices into a single session that should leave you feeling fresh and jazzed. Friday Reflection combines an attitude of gratitude while building better self-awareness, practicing your inner coach vs. inner critic, and at the same time building a better feedback loop, around strengths, values, and limiting beliefs.
That’s a lot of heavy lifting for one exercise that is actually pretty simple. (Well, simple to learn, but it stretches to fit your level of mastery.)
The Power of Friday Reflection
I use Friday Reflection to build deeper self-awareness. Sure, I try to do that all the time, but Friday Reflection is where I really make a thing out of it.
Friday Reflection is a chance for me to get better every week, by learning deep insights about what’s working and what’s not. It’s effectively one of my best chances for deep feedback and to practice being a Caring Inner Coach over a Crotchety Inner Critic with myself.
Friday Reflection is simply where I check in with myself on how things are going. I ask effectively 3 key questions:
- What are 3 things going well?
- What are 3 things to improve?
- How can I use this?
The first question helps me practice an attitude of gratitude. It helps me quickly shine the spotlight on any positive highlights from my week. On one hand, it is a chance to pay attention to positive outputs. But what I really care about is, what are the moments I can be proud of, where I stood strong when challenged. Where did I rise to the challenge of a leadership moment? Where did I really lean in, learn, and leverage from a learning opportunity?
I want to really acknowledge and appreciate my effective responses so I can continue them, even when the results or outputs don’t go my way. I know that success is a numbers game, and it’s better to bet on smarter strategies and better behaviors, than to hope the wind and blow my way.
The second question is really where the magic happens. This is where I unpack where things did not go as expected, or as I would have liked. This is my chance to learn from the setbacks and to really figure out if there’s a better way I can handle a similar situation in the future.
So when I add up the idea of appreciating and carrying forward my better behaviors, while tuning and pruning, behaviors that don’t, it’s an incredibly powerful way to learn and adapt, while living and applying continuous improvement in the real world.
How I Setup My Friday Reflection
The most important thing I do for Friday Reflection is to actually make the time and space for it. I do create a self-appointment on Fridays so I can do a proper self check-in. I created a recurring 30-minute block, so I don’t feel rushed.
I’ve had to experiment with times and places. Because Friday Reflection is a deep, honest look at my performance, I have to find a quiet enough place where I can really check-in. I’ve found that some places are too noisy, and some places are too chaotic, or some places I’m just too distracted. That said, some places, like a coffee shop, even with the chaos and noise, I can actually tune out the world, and dive inward.
But I never let excuses like, I didn’t have time, or I couldn’t find a quiet place, or I couldn’t this or that get in the way. Because I know I am the one who loses if I don’t do my Friday Reflection. If I don’t do my Friday Reflection, it’s like I threw away a whole week of deep learning and appreciation that really is my fuel for the future.
I value this exercise, and I see it as a chance, not a chore.
How Much Time Do I Spend on Friday Reflection?
I do put a timebox around my Friday Reflection. It can take me as little as a few minutes, but in general I prefer spending more like 20 minutes within a 30 minute window, so that I have some buffer.
I do put a box around it that I don’t end up in an endless wallow. And, I’ve varied how much time I spend based on where I’m at. Seasons of work and life change.
If I think back, in my earliest days of first starting the habit, I started with an hour. That gave me a chance to really slow down and figure out how to do reflection better. It’s one thing to say, ask yourself what are 3 things going well. But what I had to really do was step into that.
Over time I got faster. I shaved it down to as little as 10 minutes, but then I felt I was short-changing myself and being too efficient with the exercise, but not effective enough. So then I bumped it up to 20 or 30-minutes sessions with buffer, so I can prepare my mind.
The main idea is that when I do Friday Reflection, I don’t want to feel time pressure. At the same time, I’m focused on gaining deep insights, and I don’t want to turn it into a long, drawn out exercise. I want it to be a regularly occurring exercise that I can plan on the time, and enjoy the process.
This is one habit or routine or exercise where I really want quality over quantity, but I want the benefit of quantity over time.
How I Start My Friday Reflection
I start my Friday Reflection with the right state of mind. To do that, first I clear my mind. I don’t want a bunch of unfinished business buzzing around in my head, so I just write down all the loose ends on my mind. I know that when I’m done with reflection I can go back to it, so for now, for this session, I can more fully focus.
To set the right mindset, I remind myself of 3 mindsets:
- The Growth Mindset – embrace the idea that I can learn and grow and get better at anything.
- The Abundance Mindset – embrace the idea that there is more than enough for everyone, and if we run out, we can make or create more.
- The Agile Mindset – embrace change.
The big idea I learned about a mindset is that it’s a way to look at the world that changes and shapes how you see it, and how you show up, and how you respond. It’s your world view wrapped around a fundamental belief. So while a Fixed mindset embraces the belief that things like character, creative ability, intelligence, and traits are static, or fixed, you can’t change them… a Growth mindset, on the other hand, calls B.S. and says you can.
I remind myself that Friday Reflection is one of my most important investments for my future. I remind myself that this is simple way to look back on the week and appreciate all the time, energy, and attention I spent on various things. I also remind myself that it’s a chance to learn from things that didn’t go so great, and a way to really figure out what I value, what others value, and how to adapt to changes under my feet.
Next, I go back to what I set for my 3 Wins for the Week on Monday. That helps me get rooted in my intentions and bring back my big goals and priorities back into focus.
It helps me link back to my Monday Vision, where I tried to create a simple picture of my 3 Wins for the Week.
And that itself will help me flash back to various scenes over the week.
How I Respond to the 1st Question – What are 3 Things Going Well?
First, I just like to flip back through my mind to see what moments I recall. I like to pay attention to what comes to mind, without much thinking. I really just want to inspire and prompt a flood of flashbacks to highlights in my week.
It might be a scene from work, on a Monday, where I completed a painful process, or learned a new trick. It might be a scene from a workout, where an exercise was kicking my butt, but I hung in there, and gave it my all, when I felt there was nothing left to give. It might be a moment where I felt myself getting frustrated, but then I remembered to breathe like a Navy Seal to change my physiology to change my psychology.
Or it might be as simple as I did an act of kindness, even if it was just self-care. Whether that’s standing up for myself, or paying attention to taking care of my body basics like eating, sleeping, and working out. Or it might be that moment where I smiled to myself, and said, hey, today will be A-okay.
All I’m looking for is a quick series of highlights from my week. It’s great input.
And I write down 3 things going well. Maybe I write something like this:
- I did my workout every day, even when I felt too weak or too tired
- I figured out a new way to drive change across an organization in a more scalable way
- I slowed down when I didn’t understand how the app worked, until I figured out how to use it better
I remind myself that it’s just my first pass. I am free to change my mind or update my 3 highlights after I continue to sort and sift through my highlights over the week, considering work stuff, personal stuff, and bigger life stuff.
It’s more like a kaleidoscope and collage of the good, the bad, and the ugly, as I bring all the little vignettes and scenes of my week back into focus.
Next, I Dig Deeper into What are 3 Things Going Well?
With my initial highlights in hand, next, I dig a little deeper. I try to figure out if my answers are really just top of mind, or is there a bigger picture I should be putting into view. I find it takes some practice to creating a full picture view of all I accomplished over the week, but it’s worth the effort.
I want my answers to really reflect meaningful results. My goal is to not just list off some achievements or wins. Sure, I could do that. And that is helpful in itself, because again, it’s gratitude and appreciation in action. But I really want to understand why some things went well, and what was really so great about them.
To create this full picture view, I can either scan my email or calendar if it’s handy, or, what I think is a better exercise, is to do a quick visual walkthrough of each day, by memory: Monday… Tuesday… Wednesday… Thursday… Friday. I can break each day down into morning, noon, or night. Or I can go back to my 3 Wins for the Week and recall, what did towards my outcomes.
I can really dial this exercise up or really dial it back down. The more I unpack, the more I can step into and learn or find some interesting insights. But ultimately, I want to keep the exercise enjoyable. I connect the promise of a better me in the future, to how well I dig in an dive deep on this exercise to day.
The Value is in the Change
The true power of this exercise is that I learn where value lives. I learn what I value. I learn what others value. I learn how to talk about value better to myself and others. I learn to rip away the curtain to expose where value might be hiding. I learn how while one thing might seem valuable on the surface, it’s just a disguise for the real value underneath. Or it might be just a decoy.
The big deal is that value is in the ultimate short-cut.
So much work, so much waste, so much effort really is an exercise in value discovery. The better I can figure out what I value, what others value, and what’s values in whatever system I’m operating in, or whatever context, I’m trying to survive in, it’s the key to really focusing and prioritizing effort and energy around what matters. Value and values are the backbone of meaningful results.
The key thing I remind myself here is that value comes from changes. I try to really hone in on the changes I contributed to in my work and life, during the week.
What did I change or try to change this week? Otherwise, it’s status quo. It’s business as usual. It’s stuff that’s on autopilot. It doesn’t really need any extra focus from me.
It’s the changes I create in the week, that help me rise above the line and step off the hamster wheel to breathe more life into things.
How Do I Know When I’m Done with the Question — What are 3 Things Going Well?
I know I’m done with the question, when I can actually see my list of 3 things going well and they resonate. I can speak to them. I can feel them. They ring true.
It’s not a fancy test, it’s just a practical test.
I might challenge myself with, if my manager asked me what were my 3 Wins for the Week, do I have a good story? If I ask myself tonight, what was worthy in my week, can I quickly recall my highlights?
That’s the stuff that energy and motivation and inspiration draw from.
For me, when I can link back any of my bright ideas or bold ambitions or even just simple little habit changes back to results, or even failed attempts, I feel better.
Another test is whether I gained some useful insights when I review my 3 highlights. If I struggle to find highlights in my week to be proud of, is that feedback for me to change my self-image? Is it feedback for me to make new choices. Is it feedback for me, to get better at taking notice of good moves.
It’s the insights from my introspections that really keep paying me back with compound interest.
How I Respond to the 2nd Question – What are 3 Things To Improve?
Now with my gratitude bucket nice and full, I’m ready to take on the tougher stuff. I can’t really feel fear and gratitude at the same time. So I am well-prepared to take a warm-heart look at where are my best chances for making improvements.
Plus, remember, I still have that Growth mindset in place, so I’m actually looking for opportunities to where I can learn and grow.
And I remind myself that my greatest struggles will lead to my greatest growth. (What a shame if I were to sweep them under the rug, and then repeat those some mistakes in the future).
So I flash back on my week, and I scan for the lowlights. I might write down 3 things like this:
And I write down 3 things going well. Maybe I write something like this:
- I need to learn a better way to drive a campaign in this setting
- I need to learn more effective way to influence a distributed crowd around the world
- I need to better recognize when my body is not performing where it should, and recognize the signals
My lowlights are really the backbone for limitless improvement. How ironic.
That’s why I want to take care to really find the good stuff. The juicy stuff. I want to find the things that really, if left unnoticed, could become my Achilles’ heel or Kryptonite or worse, “the emperor has no clothes”.
And again, I am free to update, change or modify these as I g along the exercise. I just want at working set so that I can keep momentum as I’m reflecting on my past week.
I Focus on Opportunities Over Getting Judgy
Even though I’m calling them lowlights, I’m not judging them. I’m really just looking for things I can improve. In fact, I noticed that just by phrasing things differently, makes a big difference.
I could have said something like, my first attempt at a campaign with this new team sucked. But that would be just judgy, and judgy isn’t very effective.
Judgy is easy. But ineffective.
I want actionable insights so I want to find some lowlights that will set the stage for some future highlights.
Here I need to remind myself that the lower that I go, the higher I can bounce. So then, again, I will flash back through the week. If I have emails or calendar handy, then I might take a quick stroll through with my lens of opportunity on. But again, I think I develop better skills here when I mentally walk back through and visualize each day again, and look for the lowlights.
I want to make sure I didn’t just sweep anything under the rug.
After all, we’re all among friends here, right?… me, myself, and I.
This is a practice in truth and authenticity and I find it’s a muscle that gets stronger with practice. Even limiting beliefs can get in the way to try to protect me, and shield my from my truth.
But where there’s emotion, there’s truth. So I really pay attention to how I feel as I scan different events. If I find a very emotional setting or scene, then I slow it down, as I step back in my mind. I observe it as I replay it. I wonder or imagine what would another person think, if they watched this same scene? I might imagine what Dale or Zita or Rich might think if they were observing.
I challenge myself – what would they say happened?
I love the simplicity of the exercise, because it’s actually using a lot of psychology to accomplish a lot in a brief period of time. It helps me get quick perspective, as I’m finding my opportunities for growth.
How Do I Know When I’m Done with the Question — What are 3 Things to Improve?
I’m done when I say I’m done. Or my timebox is up. Haha. Well, true, but not so fast.
I really mean, how do I know when I’ve really wrung out the benefits from the questions, so I can move on?
I can say, it’s a feeling. Actually, it’s more than a feeling (how many people just starting hearing song in their head?) When I see 3 things down on paper or on a note looking back at me, I can feel it in my bones when I’ve figured out the right things to work on. I want to find the things that I have emotional response to, because that’s where limiting beliefs are lurking. If I’ve done this process well, I may have some visceral reactions to my lowlights. Some may bother me because I might wonder, why did I never see that before.
But just as quickly as Crotchety Inner Critic comes out, I tap him out and bring in Caring Inner Coach.
And, what would Caring Inner Coach say?
“Hey, appreciate the fact you’ve figured it out. Appreciate the fact, you actually leaned in and did the tough part of identifying the challenge and recognizing the opportunity for growth. And, you’re human. Mistakes happen. Don’t just keep making the same mistakes.
Use them and learn from them.
If you aren’t making mistakes, you aren’t trying enough. You aren’t learning. You are hiding behind safe and a false sense of self or a false image of imperfection. Be a learn-it-all, not a know-it-all. Embrace your mistakes and figure out what you’ll do different in the future… I have spoken.”
I do the work to find the tougher stuff that has some emotional baggage. Sure, I could pull a Spock and just intellectually evaluate some lowlights. But that’s not where the greatest growth will happen. I remind myself that what we resist persists, so I’m looking to make unconscious or even subconscious stuff, bubble up to the the surface, so I can work on it. I know a lot of things float below the surface of awareness, and so this is my thoughtful and deliberate attempt to directly address opportunities for improvement, by shining the spotlight on them, warts and all.
Perhaps the ultimate test of whether I’m done is if I genuinely feel that I identified 3 things worth working on. I can see the link to how working on them will help me for the future.
When is It Me, When is It the Situation?
Situation vs. disposition is a toughie. Disposition attribution is when we blame a behavior on the person–personal factors such as traits, abilities, or feelings. Situation attribution is when we put the blame on the situation–situation factors. And, as you can imagine, as a human, and as an individual, we have a tendency to blame and embrace our disposition when things go well.
After all, we mean well don’t we? We tried to do the right thing.
And when things go wrong, we tend to blame the situation. But the ultimate irony is this– psychology says that we tend to blame other people’s behaviors on their disposition instead of the situation. So we blame the victim for their poor behavior, while they are blaming the situation that lead to that behavior.
What I’ve learned is that it’s good to try to really replay the situation from an observer point of view. And then get specific about the behaviors: What did I feel? What did I think? What did I say? What did I do?
Then at least I can explore options once I look at my behaviors. I can challenge myself if there was another way to respond, or something that might have been more effective. (I really like the question, is it effective?.)
If I’m really stuck or clueless, I could ask a mentor to throw me a bone, or bounce the situation off my friendly neighborhood sounding board, whoever that might be.
And again, because I’m working from a Growth mindset here, I don’t have to resist or argue over any sort of who is right or who is wrong. I’m just focused on what might work better, next time around.
How I Respond to the 3rd Question – How Can I Use This?
How can I use this? Let me count the ways… (See why I use a timebox for Friday Reflection? It can get out of control, if left unbounded. But because I’m using specific questions in a timebox, I usually have no problem doing a great Friday Reflection with time to spare.)
Well, let’s do a quick recap of where we are:
- I’ve identified my 3 highlights from the week. I really walked through my week and shines the spotlight on those beautiful moments, even some that weren’t so beautiful. I’ve create a feeling of gratitude and I’ve practiced my skill of appreciation. I started to see some patterns of why things were highlights for me, and what I actually value, for real. Because I scanned each day, and I saw all sorts of varying levels of value, I’m starting to really learn my value hierarchies.
- I’ve identified my 3 lowlights from the week. I really walked through my week and found some behaviors worth working on. I identified some situations where I need to either adapt to the situation, adjust the situation to suit me better, or avoid it, if I can.
Now is there I take all of this input, along with my output, and translate my 3 things to work on, into simple ideas of how I can work on them.
Now that I really framed or reframed my challenge, this part is actually a lot easier now, because I’m hopefully barking up a better tree.
Maybe I know what I need to do. Maybe I don’t, but I know where to look. I can usually find answers in the right books or on the Web or at least some ideas to start. Or, at least, I’ll learn the lingo of how to research the problem better. But I actually enjoy finding people that solve whatever challenge I’m working on really well, and learn from them.
I like to learn especially from people that shared the same struggle and found a way that works for them, but might inspire me to find what might work for me (or at least get the ideas flowing.)
What a Good Friday Reflection Looks Like
A good Friday Reflection looks like when I sit in my happy place – wherever that may be. I can feel my Growth mindset, my Abundance mindset, and my Agile mindset on my side. I can feel a peaceful calm as I’m ready to reflect on my week.
As I flip through my week, I enjoy the different scenes that flash by. Not because things necessarily went great, but because I notice myself getting better.
Why am I getting better?
Because this week is my chance to practice what I learn from my Friday Reflection the week before.
And, I know I’m in a good Caring Inner-Coach mode when I recall all my mishaps, missteps, and mistakes… and look to find the learning, rather than play the blame game. (Sure, the blame game can be fun, but it’s not very fruitful).
And at the end of the session, I actually appreciate the fact that I did carve out this time for myself, and stick with it, and actually do the work that is really the kind of work that carves out character, builds a firm foundation, and reinforces continuous learning. And, at the same time, it’s auto-magically baking in some great positive psychology practices, beyond just an attitude of gratitude.
But best of all, I have a few ideas of how I can use what I learned to hack a better me… the Agile Way.
It’s a Personal Process for Powerful Personal Improvement
Herein is the ultimate key to better Friday Reflections. I remind myself that it’s my personal process for personal improvement. It’s my personal process for building deeper self-awareness.
That’s the beauty of a pattern. I can start from the idea of 1) carve out a chunk of time to look back on the week, so I can leapfrog ahead, 2) use some guiding questions, and 3) turn insights into actions to get better and better. But then I can translate that pattern info whatever form or style works for me as I hack at it and as I work on sculpting and shaping better me.
I think Bruce Lee said it best:
“Research your own experience. Absorb what is useful, reject what is useless, add what is essentially your own.”
So I keep that in mind, as I continuously evolve how I do my Friday Reflection and make it my own.
What a way to rise and shine.