Reflection is the key to personal growth and success.

“I ripped the watch from my wrist and threw it across the room, shattering it against the wall. The fragments scattered in a small semi-circle underneath the wall clock – a fitting and ironic end to an otherwise perfect morning…”

I just learned a new lesson on reflection – from reflecting – on an incident that happened 38 years ago. Wow. I spend time every week going back over my life remembering stories that I can share to illustrate my points. As I got to this point in the story, a horrible thought came over me and I learned a hard lesson from the incident so long ago…

It was my last day of finals for the semester, around December 13th. I had finished all my finals except my jury. In music school, we call our final instrumental exam a jury because we sit before a panel of faculty and perform our piece(s). I was a jazz performance major on saxophone and the freshman soloist – the person who has to represent the whole class. No pressure right? My private teacher had worked tirelessly with me on an incredible piece (classical) and I was very comfortable with it and excited to be doing jury early in the process – it meant I got to go home a week earlier than a lot of other students.

I had been lightly practicing all morning just to make sure my lip was in shape and my fingers were ready. I knew the piece by heart. Everything was perfect. My jury was at 9:40 in the morning. I glanced at my watch – 9:05 – the morning was really dragging on. I practiced another piece to keep warm and checked my watch – 9:13. Man – time moves slowly when you want to be done and go home. Another piece. 9:22. Another. 9:28. Time felt like it had slowed to a crawl. I figured it was time. I could go wait outside my jury room the remaining 10 minutes and relax.

As I got up to leave, I looked at my watch again – 9:29. No Way! it had at least been 2-3 minutes. Then, I panicked. What if my watch was wrong and I missed my jury? I would be marked lousy and I would have to wait to the last jury performance of the year – a week later. What would my friends and fellow classmates think of me? What would the faculty think? How would it effect my grade? How could I find out what time it really was? YES! There was an atomic clock in the college recording studio on this floor! I ran out of the door, around the hall and burst into the door of the studio. There was the old faithful Seth-Thomas hanging high on the wall – 9:55…

I ripped the watch from my wrist and threw it across the room, shattering it against the wall. The fragments scattered in a small semi-circle underneath the wall clock – a fitting and ironic end to an otherwise perfect morning. My watch hadn’t stopped otherwise I would have realized something was wrong. It had become intermittent which allowed me to think it was working properly – when it wasn’t. I’m sure I yelled an expletive and stormed out of the room. I went back to my room and after a fit of anger, I succumbed to a bout of depression, and cried. I was devastated.

While remembering the story, I remembered that as I stormed out of the room I saw the bewildered faces of my friends and fellow musicians in the recording studio wondering what just happened. In my anger and frustration years ago, I was only thinking about myself – not anyone else. My situation trumped their situation – so I thought. I considered myself more important than others and failed to put things into perspective and do what is right. I learned that a negative response was acceptable behavior. Epic fail. It helped reinforce bad attitudes and unacceptable behaviors. More importantly, I didn’t see the damage I was doing to relationships when thinking only of myself.

You might say, “You had plenty of right to be upset.” Yes I did – but it’s not the what – it’s the how – most of the time in life it’s the how. I had no right to barge into their session. I had no right to make a spectacle of myself and stomp off without explanation. I had no right to burden anyone else – certainly not without an apology. It was a choice and I chose… poorly. Steven Covey said, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” If you put this one thing in place in your life, you will do well.

For 38 years, I neglected to learn this important lesson and fail forward. I learned little from this back then except for a tidbit my dad shared when he heard about the incident when I got home. “Son, always have the best tools. It will save you a lot of heartache in the future” – a lesson I practice  to this day. Thanks Dad.

The more important lesson learned in 2014. When we take a moment at the end of every day and reflect for just five minutes and ask ourselves three things, “What were the good things that happened today and why,” “What were the bad things that happened today and why,” and “what can I learn and change immediately and specifically to ensure I move forward tomorrow?,” we open up an incredible opportunity to change for the better. We also ensure that 38 years – or even a day, week, or month – don’t go by without dealing with an issue. If not dealt with right away, it can fester into an open wound and saddle you with baggage and self-defeating behaviors. Blecht. Socrates said that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” A bit harsh, but I think he’s on to something.

Reflection is one of the most significant tools in everyone’s arsenal, which most people – like 99% of us – do not use! There isn’t one person that cannot benefit from it. Go buy a journal today, or use an app like Evernote – yep, go get it right now – and start reflecting every evening before you go to bed. Follow the three questions outlined above – and more if you make the time. After a year, you will have dealt with 365 problems/situations in your life, know better who you are, what you’re doing, and where you’re going. Just from five minutes per day. What a great investment in yourself – and others.

Reflection: Do you reflect enough to make necessary changes? How often do you reflect? Daily? Every night before you go to bed for five minutes? Only when something bad happens?

Action: What can you do immediately and specifically to reflect daily?

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