Writing to Reflect. Mindful Leadership.

Writing is among the greatest inventions in human history, perhaps the greatest invention, since it made history possible. Yet it is a skill most writers take for granted. As adults we seldom stop to think about the mental-cum-physical process that turns our thoughts into symbols on a piece of paper.” Andrew Robinson, The Story of Writing.

I talk regularly about Warren Buffett’s 3 most important criteria for success: Integrity, Energy and Intelligence.

I have blogged about how to have more energy.  This blog post is about improving intelligence.

How to improve your intelligence

If you want to improve your intelligence, write stuff down.  Full stop.  Write stuff down, and 6 months from now you have the accumulated intelligence of 6 months of notes, ideas, quotes.

More valuable perhaps than increased intelligence is the power of writing to reduce my feelings of stress or overwhelm when I confront uncertain or challenging decisions.

Reflective writing gives me three benefits

  1. Writing slows down time (Mindfulness)
  2. Writing orders my thought (practice improves clear thinking)
  3. Writing allows perspective (separation of subject and object, separation of reason and emotion)

Habits and Rituals to keep writing as a habit

In order to develop a habit of reflective writing I would suggest you start with 5 to 10 minute sessions where you dedicate full attention.  Set a timer and remove all sources of interruption.  Close the door, disconnect internet, put mobile on silent.

I use a pen and paper.  Others use computer.  Whatever you do, the key to getting the benefits is to separate the creative and edit processes.  Reflective writing is about capturing the flow of consciousness as you reflect on the decision, on an error, on a problematic relationship, on how to achieve a certain outcome – and not letting your inner editor get into the process until you have a draft of the ideas down on paper.

There are times when I have to tell my brain “I will keep writing until I have 500 words on this page and if I have to write the word ‘the’ 500 times then that is what I will do”.  Inspiration comes when I tell my procrastination-oriented lizard brain that I am going to go on writing until I reach my goal.

Some starting questions to use for reflection

  1. Tell the whole story from other perspectives – put yourself in someone elses shoes and tell the story the way you imagine they might see it.  Improves your imagination – humanity’s most important gift.
  2. What if? – take a fundamental assumption and imagine how things would change if it was not valid
  3. Rants, then reflect on underlying message – let the anger or frustration out and vent on the paper… then review what the source of the anger or frustration really is
  4. Practice conversations – script a difficult conversation
  5. Keep records – track what has happened today
  6. Reflect on your own performance (honestly)
  7. Note quotes, ideas, connections – write down words that impact you from newspapers, books, articles or that you hear from people that you speak to
  8. List good questions – “what other criteria are important to you in taking this decision?” (old post: How to ask the best questions)
  9. Draw diagrams – visually represent the problem, concept, flows
  10. 2×2 matrix – do what consultants do (I would welcome a post from any reader who is a consultant on 2×2 matrices…  :-)
  11. SWOT analysis – strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats
  12. Political maps – draw a network map, reflect on the true organisation power structure
  13. Write about emotion and what the situation looked like when angry, frustrated, dissapointed
  14. Persuade yourself – make the case to yourself
  15. Devil’s Advocate – be your own skeptic
  16. Clear up objectives (realistic, tangible) – what do you really want achieve?  what will it feel like when you achieve the objective?  why is it important to you?
  17. Identify other’s interests, options, BATNA – how can you help other’s achieve their goals?
  18. Re-frame messages – historically, politically, scale up or down, viewed from 5 years in the future
  19. Capture stories – the best way to begin to remember them (Doorman, Cathedral, Tracks in the Sand, Cemetery of Youth, Geronimo the Apache and Entrepreneurs)
  20. Action plans – what are you going to do?  what series of steps take you closer to your goal?  how to engage the people whose support you need?

And you?
What other tools, questions, methods do you have for using writing as a tool for reflection?  Do you write regularly?  Why?  or Why not?

I will finish with Socrates: “The unexamined life is not worth living”.  He was wise.  Although I might add that the over-examined life is a poor alternative – best to experience life than to think about experiencing life.  Reflection on experience is not a complete replacement for fully living today.

5 comments

  1. […] everyday, at least 500 words (see the blog post where he explains the benefits of doing so, Writing to reflect. Mindful leadership). In my case, apart from job emails, files, presentations…, I do not write (and reflect on) for […]

  2. […] Writing to Reflect: Building Mindful Leadership […]

  3. Rosy Williams · · Reply

    Fab post. Blood on paper, soul on page….its the perspective that writing allows that for me is the key. Yes you see your idea/problem differently, but also the physical act of writing permits a flow of consciousness moment where clarity can ensue where there was none before. Somehow it quietens the mind and connection follows (with yourself!)

    1. Great to hear from you Rosy 😉 Yep, in the words of Hemmingway (or of that ilk…) “Writing is easy, you just open up a vein and bleed onto the page”. The act itself slows the racing pace of the mind, and anxieties written down seem to have a smaller-ness about them 😉

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