The Big Reflection Experiment
What I learned about building habits by tracking my mood, productivity and reflections as I started a company
1st August 2016 marked my first day as a founder. I quit my job and life in New York City and moved back to London to bring to life a company that felt deeply personal and wildly exciting.
For those of you unfamiliar with Wurqs, we’re building a new professional community — realised as a suite of mobile-first digital products designed to support individuals in building their professional reputation through personal growth.
Wurqs is founded on the fundamental belief that the future of work is about people not just talent, authenticity not just achievement, and growth as well as grind. One of our key strategies with this in mind, is to become the home of personal and professional reflection. American philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer John Dewey famously said:
“We do not learn from experience … we learn from reflecting on experience.”
There is a huge gap between self-sought mentorship and executive coaching that can be filled by a community that supports individuals in self managing their own growth and learning. What’s more, reflection is not only an immensely powerful tool for self, but the content of reflection is something that is valuable to others as well.
In order to fully understand how this experience might be realised, it was going to be important for me to better understand what it means to reflect, and how to build habits around reflection. I hoped to answer some questions and validate some assumptions, which included:
- Am I able to form habits around daily reflection?
- Can reflection be compelling content?
- Would productivity or mood affect my ability or desire to reflect?
A custom Typeform allowed me to record my productivity, mood, highs, and lows on a daily basis, and in turn Snapchat would facilitate more spontaneous and open reflection, as and when it felt appropriate. This was not intended as the perfect test and validation of Wurqs. but by being more intentional about reflection, I hoped this experience would allow me to better understand what it takes to reflect, why we reflect, and how I might build a product designed to support a practice of reflection and intentional learning.
Am I able to form habits around daily reflection?
- Yes, I could build habits around reflection, but not on a daily basis as I intended. I was able to record at least 3 reflections a week for every week of the experiment, and that felt like more than sufficient.
📊 What the data shows
- Recorded reflections on 64% of all possible days (48/75), with 75% made on week days.
- Recorded a reflection 4 times a week (via Typeform) for 10 out of 11 weeks, and managed 4 days in a row on 6 occasions.
👀 My observations
- I’ve become increasingly aware of the role Twitter plays for me and others in recording reflections. It really doesn’t get credit for being a platform as such.
- The quality of my reflections seriously fluctuated. There were occasions it felt like a bit of a chore, whereas others it was the highlight of my day.
🔑 Key takeaways
- A major incentive for remaining disciplined was knowing that I’d be able to visualise my progress. Picking and choosing an initial ‘deadline’ to conduct a retrospective was incredibly helpful.
- Dedicating space for reflection (the time box) was the most important thing in trying to build this habit. I marked 30 minutes in the diary every day at 630pm, just like you would treat any other meeting.
Can reflections be compelling content?
- Yes, reflections could be compelling content, but only that with a clear narrative and strong delivery would retain an audience. From qualitative feedback, it was content that was ‘authentic’ and ‘open’ that proved the most watchable.
📊 What the data shows
- The average number of people that started watching my snaps was 40, compared to the average number that watched to completion being 34.
👀 My observations
- It was clear to me when I was sharing something because I felt compelled or planned to share it, and when I just felt obliged to share for the sake of sharing.
- Being a startup founder is a wild ride, and each day is different for me. I am aware of whether people in roles that don’t offer as much variety will have as much to share or reflect on (which is of course just an assumption).
🔑 Key takeaways
- I encouraged a few other people to follow suit in sharing and reflecting via Snapchat, and seeing other people get involved felt like not only a greater reason to share, but also inspired me to think about what I was sharing more often.
- Creating a framework for sharing is imperative. When I put greater thought into what I wanted to share, the quality of the content (subjectively) improved.
Would productivity or mood affect my ability or desire to reflect?
- Mood and productivity absolutely affected my ability and desire to reflect. I was most likely to share on Snapchat if I was feeling good and not totally overwhelmed with work. Surprisingly, even on busy days I still found the time record reflections both in Typeform and on Snapchat.
- 79% of all reflections occurred when I was feeling positive (7+).
- 45% of all Snapchat reflections were created on Thursdays, in a positive mood (6–9) and whilst relatively productive (5–7).
- There were no reflections registered when I was feeling really down (<3) on any occasion, with no reflections whatsoever registered on 36% of all possible days (27/75).
- Retrospectively, there were days when I felt really down (<3), but clearly did not record reflections on those days. Although I can’t recall specific instances, I do believe when I did they were much more deeply personal experiences that were not in any way connected to my work.
- It’s of no surprise that the greater number of Snapchat reflections occurred when I was both feeling positive and relatively unproductive, but the majority of real learning is found in the opposite scenario. Tapping into those moments of stress and strain is going to be one of the biggest challenges for Wurqs.
- It is clear that in the period directly before or after an event, the mind is in a natural state of reflection. I wasn’t consciously choosing to Snap those moments, so I need to do more to better understand what motivated me to then share on Snapchat.
So you want to build a practice of reflection?
Habit forming is hard. That’s no newsflash. But what I am buoyed by is that what I set out to do began to feel like a habit, and something I wanted to pursue further. I got great enjoyment from not just the act of recording reflections, but then from looking back at my experience too.
Whether a glance at a video, a tweet, or the reflections I recorded in Typeform, these little nuggets hold in them the key to my progress as a human being. And that’s kinda special. So to finish, some thoughts and guidance in summary for anyone wanting to build a habit of reflection for themselves:
- Dedicate time and space to reflection every day — but don’t worry if you don’t stick to it every day.
- Give yourself a framework of specific questions to ask yourself — and don’t shy away from asking the difficult questions.
- Give yourself a monthly/quarterly review to work towards to keep you disciplined — and to also give you a chance to reflect over a longer period.
- Reflect with others to keep yourself inspired and accountable — but don’t feel obliged to share everything with everyone.
- Don’t take your immediate reflection as gospel — be prepared to change your mind or think differently once you’ve slept on it.
If anyone has any feedback, thoughts, ideas or comments, feel free to reach out to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter at @carlmartin, or continue to follow the journey on Snapchat, at @gowurq.
Just quickly, before you go…
WANT TO JOIN US?— We’re a young, bootstrapped company in London (raising an angel round Q1/17) but looking to build a team of humans passionate about personal growth. If that sounds like you (and you’re a product designer or software engineer), drop me an email on email@example.com.
FOR ANYONE INTERESTED — All the data and analysis highlighted above can be explored in detail at the google doc below. It’s not exactly rocket science but you might enjoy going a level deeper (note — names and identities masked for the privacy of those people and companies):