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How critical reflection leads to growth

Apr 26, 2023 | Insights

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Critical reflection fosters personal growth and change in the same way that stories, which mirror the reflective process, change the world.
I recently took a few friends on a 20-mile hike along the Lyke Wake Walk from Osmotherly to the Lion Inn at Blakey Ridge on the North Yorkshire Moors. It was a good walk, and afterwards, in the Inn, we talked about our achievements. We also discussed how we might do things differently next time by starting earlier, taking a different route to the start point, carrying high protein bars and more.


In effect, this was a classic critical reflection, discussing what went right, what could be improved and how to do it better next time.


Critical reflection is vital for growth and personal development. However, without structure and guidelines, the practice can become a destructive and self-serving exercise in self-indulgence and self-pity. Good critical reflection, conversely, is positive, constructive and empowering.


So, here is a set of structured questions to help you learn and grow from your experiences.


What, so what, what next?


Start by asking, "What happened?". Be honest with yourself to bring clarity and certainty. Honesty weeds out any lies and confabulations you might weave to protect yourself. Allow yourself to become vulnerable, be curious about your emotions but stay out of judgement.


Next, ask yourself, "So what?" This question helps to add perspective and is an excellent opportunity to assess any assumptions you made and determine the extent you are distorting the truth in your favour for self-protection. 


Usually, we see things that happen to us as far more severe and detrimental than they actually are (or vice versa). Asking, "So what?" can generate self-compassion and compassion for those you have impacted. Asking "So what?" helps to determine what needs to change and how you might do things differently next time.


Asking, finally, "What next?" leads to growth, development, resolution, and forgiveness (if necessary). The question helps you move on and gives meaning to your life as you use your experiences to benefit others.


Self-reflection is the mirror of a story.


It should not surprise that this critical reflection process mirrors a story's structure. Stories change the world, and similarly, self-reflection changes you.


At its simplest, a story has a beginning, a middle and an end. The first part of a story usually sets the scene, lays out the ground rules and includes an inciting incident, a trigger for adventure and change.


The middle of the story is usually about the challenges you face and how you overcome them. It is about the people you meet, the skills you learn, and the false assumptions and mistakes you make. It is often about overcoming your faults and weaknesses and mirrors "So what?". The middle is the messy, unstructured bit, where change and transformation happen.


The final part of a story tells of your ultimate success or failure. However, a good story takes it further and describes how your learning has changed and transformed your life.


Critical reflection fosters personal growth and change in the same way that stories, which mirror the reflective process, change the world.

Photo attribution

Photo by Jamie Brown on Unsplash

Audio link

Taking it further:

Find out more about the Lake Wake Walk at

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