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Your Two Best Teachers Will Always Be Reflection and Evaluation—So Practice Both Daily

One of the life lessons I’ll write about later in this series is that the greatest education you’ll ever receive is not the one you get from a school or an institute of higher education, but the one you give yourself. You, more than any other instructor, person or institution, are in charge of your education—which can either be good news or bad news.

Moreover, when it comes to your “personal university,” your two best teachers will always be Reflection and Evaluation—which, by definition, means that your two best teachers will never be labeled Mr. [X] or Mrs. [Y]. They might be great teachers, but they will never be your best teachers because ultimately, it’s not about the content that a teacher shares that makes a difference in your life, it’s what you do with that content.

That’s why two students, listening to the same instructor, often have two very different outcomes. That’s also why two people experiencing the same event (let’s say a tragic one) can have two very different outcomes. One person uses that event to propel themself forward, the other to keep themself stuck in the past. The difference is not the content or the experience, the difference is in how the person processed that information or event.

This is why great students don’t just read a book or listen to a lecture or watch a movie or go through an experience or go through the motions of a day—the best always take the time to reflect and evaluate what they experienced that day so that they can learn from it and use that learning to propel themselves forward.

In other words, if you want to be the best version of you and give yourself the best possible chance of success in whatever endeavor your set your mind to, then you’ll want to master this life lesson of using your two best teachers, Reflection and Evaluation, everyday.

Why? Because everyday there are lessons you could be learning that could change your life. Master these two skills and you’ll be infinitely ahead of the vast majority of people you’ll ever meet.

So, how do you take advantage of these two great teachers?

I. Realize There is a Difference Between Reflection and Evaluation

Reflection is the process of reflecting (i.e. of remembering or recounting what you experienced). Evaluation is the process of evaluating that reflected experience (i.e. of judging what worked and/or what didn’t from that experience).

Reflection is about taking the time to consider and ponder an experience (whether that be with a person or a book or a lecture or an event). The word itself combines two words, “re” which means “back” and “flexion” which means “to bend.” Together, the word literally means to bend back. So, instead of moving forward first, when you reflect you’re bending back in time to consider what happened or what you read or heard or experienced.

Evaluation, on the other hand, is about appraising something or someone. The word comes from the French, “evaluer,” which means, “to find the value in.” So when you’re evaluating, you’re literally trying to find the value in that experience (or book or event or lecture, etc.).

Though they may seem similar, they’re not the same thing. For example, it is possible to reflect on an experience and not evaluate it. As I’m sure you’ve noticed by now, there are plenty of people who will often recount something from the past (let’s say a group of friends reflecting on growing up in the same neighborhood) but never evaluate that experience as to what was good or bad or what they learned from it or how it’s changed their lives.

However, it is difficult to evaluate an experience without reflecting (Note: you can evaluate an idea without reflecting or evaluate something that just occurred (like which dessert was better) without really reflecting. However, you know what I mean). Reflecting is about pondering a past experience, evaluating is about finding the value in that experience.

For example, you could reflect back on yesterday and say, “That was a good book I read yesterday,” and stop there. However, evaluation would go the next step and cause you to review the contents of that book to apprise its value, “What in that book was valuable to me (either as something positive to do or negative to avoid)?”

Now that you know the difference, you get to move on to number two.

II. Recognize That You’re Constantly Fighting Against the Forgetting Curve

Have you ever noticed how often you’ve read something or “learned something” only to wonder a few days later, “What was that thing I thought was so cool a few days ago?”

What you ran face-to-face into is what’s known as the forgetting curve. While scholars will debate the actual amount that’s forgotten and the time frame for that forgetting, what you and I know by experience is that we tend to forget 90+% of what we’ve heard or read within 24-48 hours.

Just think back to the last lecture you listened to or the last book you read, how long did it take you to forget most of what you heard/read? Exactly, not that long at all.

So, if you tend to forget 90+% of what you’ve heard or read within 24-48 hours, how often do you think you should stop and reflect on what you experienced? Exactly, At least once every 24 hours (i.e. everyday).

Now, there’s a part of you that will probably think that taking this time everyday is a waste of time. After all, didn’t you already experience the thing you’re reflecting on? Absolutely. But, as the saying goes, “Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” If you don’t take the time to reflect and evaluate to learn the lesson, you’ll probably keep making the same mistakes over and over again.

Moreover, because of the forgetting curve, if you don’t take the time to reflect and evaluate what you’re learning, chances are you’re wasting your time and money. Why read a book if you can’t remember much of it? Just reading a book for the sake of saying, “I read it,” is a waste of time. You should want to read in order to change your life—and that requires taking the time to reflect and evaluate so you can draw out the “pearls of wisdom” that you need to use in your own life.

So, don’t waste all the learning opportunities that present themselves to you everyday. Instead, remember the forgetting curve and choose to let Reflection and Evaluation point the way forward for you. Which leads you to point three.

III. Cultivate the Habit of Journaling Daily

Note: it is possible to reflect and evaluate without journaling but for the vast majority of us, this is the best way to cultivate the habit of Reflecting and Evaluating and making sure we’re giving ourselves the best education possible. In addition, you can also keep multiple journals. You could have a general journal which is about your life and then journals specific to different items (i.e. a work journal or a subject journal or a spiritual journal, etc.). There is no right or wrong way to do this—only what works for you.

So, here’s what I’d recommend.

1. Buy a nice journal (note: you can do this electronically if you wish. However, I will say that there is something different when you’re using a stylus in your hand vs. hitting keys on a keyboard—one feels like it’s a part of you, while the other feels like it’s something external to you). Personally, I like a leather journal with lined paper in the 8 1/2″ x 5 1/2″ format. And don’t worry about spending some extra money for a nice journal. This is your life we’re talking about.

2. Set up a regular time to journal. Most people that I know who do this regularly do this either at the start or the end of their day.

3. Use a set of questions to get you started and then write. You’re not turning this in to anyone so there’s no need to worry about using the right questions or the right grammar (though I’d highly encourage you to write well). This is for you, so use it however you want to use it.

For me, personally, I like to use five questions to guide my Reflection and Evaluation time. Feel free to adopt or change any of these. They’re not original to me. They’re simply the five questions I use all the time.

1. What worked?
2. What didn’t?
3. What did I learn?
4. What could I do differently next time?
5. What will I do differently next time?

So, as you begin to journal, in the reflection part, you’re simply trying to remember/recount what happened yesterday (or if you’re doing this late at night, what happened that day). Who did I meet with or talk to? How did I use my time? What did I read or watch? Etc. In other words, you simply want to reflect back on what happen yesterday and journal about your most important experiences.

Then, once you remember, that’s where the real learning begins. You had a conflict with a friend. Nothing unusual about that. Conflict is normal. But, the important question is, “What did you learn from that encounter?” What did you do right? What did you do wrong? What could you have done differently? What did you learn about yourself from that encounter? What will you do differently? Etc.

Maybe you learned that you don’t listen well when someone accuses you of something. Maybe you learned that when you’re talking with a feeler, you can’t be so logical and objective about it. Maybe you learned that certain words set you off. Or maybe you learned that you hate being out of control. Or maybe you learned something about your friend that you didn’t know before and that you should try to understand more than be understood. Every encounter, every experience has something to teach us … if we’re willing to take the time to listen and learn from it.

Or maybe you read a book yesterday. As you reflect back, what did you learn? What were the handful of ideas that you need to follow up on. If you were to give a book report to a friend, what would you tell them? Remember the forgetting curve. If you don’t write something down, chances are you’ll have wasted your time. So, what was helpful (i.e. valuable) to you? And, more importantly, how can you (or will) you use that information?

Pretty simple. Just reflect and evaluate. And make sure you’re learning something everyday.

Remember, the greatest education you’ll ever receive is the education you give yourself. And the two greatest teachers in your personal university will always be Reflection and Evaluation … so use them daily.

You have so much potential in you. If you want to reach that potential make sure you’re continually learning all the lessons that God, life, you and others are placing in front of you everyday.

To your accelerated success!

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