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The Lost Art of Reflection

Do you ever marvel at the busyness of your students?  I absolutely do.  They seem to me to be in near constant motion and with jam packed agendas, and rarely alone, rather always in groups.  This feels like a sizeable deviation from my Gen X slacker compatriots.  My cohort seemed to be much more inclined to spend time on our own, thinking and reflecting (often about ourselves, granted!)

What worries me a bit is that as our students are zinging and pinging from one thing to the next, are they really sitting down and thinking through their activities? their likes and dislikes? what is working well (or not) in their lives?   When you are living in a campus community and constantly surrounded by friends, it is easy to get swept along in their activities and their plans – it’s easy to join in.  But is it always what is most satisfying?  Most true to one’s inner self?

Our students are here for four short years, and I hope they are wonderful.  But I hope that they spend some time reflecting on what really matters to them, because all too soon they will leave here for the Rest of Their Lives, and their lives will be filled with choices and decisions that they can’t bounce off everpresent roommates and best friends.

I would contend that until a person really knows themselves very well, it will be hard to make satisfying choices going forward.  Those choices could be jobs or partners or hobbies, or even just how to spend a Saturday night.  But in the end we all must be true to ourselves, and now is the time to begin figuring those matters out.  And reflection is the key.

I often encourage students to use a T-Chart, a simple and yet profoundly useful tool for reflection.

The T-Chart:

Draw a “T” on a blank sheet of paper.

At the top of the T, put the word “Likes” on one side, and the word “Dislikes” on the other.

As you go through the upcoming [weeks, semester, etc.], note things that you do or that you encounter that fall into each category. These may be classes that you are taking, work experiences, extracurricular activities, and so on.

Jot down a few thoughts about why you either “Like” or “Dislike” each item.

Then, in a few months, share the T-Chart in a discussion with your mentoring partner, or with a parent, family member, friend, or adult “fan.”

Talk about:

  • What specifically do you like and dislike about each of these items?
  • Looking at your list of likes, what do you like the most, and why?
  • What do you think you likes have in common with each other? And your dislikes?

The semester is almost over, and soon your students might be home for the summer (partial or full, depending on their plans).  Could you engage them in a conversation about reflection? About their likes and dislikes? Really listening fully and appreciating what they tell you (even if their likes and dislikes, major choice, etc. are far different than yours, or what you might have hoped?)  This could be a powerful conversation to have.

Category: campus life, mentoring