When you were a kid, did your parents ever give you time-outs? Did it work for you? Well, I imagine it depends on what I mean by "work." Right? The idea was that a time-out punishment was for the purpose of forcing you to think about your bad behavior--what was wrong about your actions and what you should do differently next time. You were suppose to take this "facilitated" time to learn some lessons.
Ironic discipline, actually. I mean, kids simply don't stay still for very long much less engage in heavy self reflection. I got a bunch of time-outs as a kid but I can't say I remember anything I ever thought about during those times, other than what I was going to do to get back at my sibling for selling me out.
But it turns out that more and more research is showing that for us adults, "time-outs" are crucial for self improvement.
Why You Should Give Yourself A Time-out
One of the studies was conducted in a business-process outsourcing company based in Bangalore, India. A tech-support call center.
Employees were divided into 3 groups: control, reflection, and sharing. All groups went through the same technical training but with a couple of important differences.
The reflection group spent the last 15 minutes of each day writing and reflecting on the lessons they had learned that day. The sharing group did the same but spent an extra 5 minutes explaining their notes to a fellow trainee. The control group just kept doing their work at the end of the day with no additional training.
In one month's time, workers in both the reflection and sharing groups outperformed the control group by 22-25%. And this was in spite of the fact that the control group worked 15 minutes longer every day than the other two groups who had spent time reflecting and sharing instead.
One of the study's co-authors, Francesca Gino, a Harvard Business School professor, commented:
"When we fall behind even though we're working hard, our response is often just to work harder. But in terms of working smarter, our research suggests that we should take time for reflection. When we stop, reflect, and think about learning, we feel a greater sense of self-efficacy. We're more motivated and we perform better afterward. "
So when is the last time you spent some intentional time reflecting about what you learned recently? Do you have reflection time built into your schedule on a regular basis?
Five Ways to Give Yourself A Self-Improvement Time-out
Let me suggest several strategies to including grown-up Time-outs into your life. I've used these for myself and my clients. They really, really work!
1. Try ending an experience you've had by taking 5-10 minutes to identify some lessons you learned from it.
2. Take 10 minutes just before going to bed to think back over your day and ask yourself, a) What stands out today? b) What was important to me about that? c) What information about myself did I learn from that? d) What would I have changed or done differently in that experience and why? e) How does that experience compare to others I had today? f) How have I responded to that experience?
3. This strategy works well as a way to process a conflict you've had with someone--a spouse or loved one, a co-worker, a boss. Ask yourself the questions from #2 in order to process the conflict.
4. Begin your day with 10 minutes of personal reflection. a) What are you grateful for? State 2-3 reasons why for each gratitude. b) Identify several ways you want to show up differently today than you did yesterday and why.
5. Engage in self evaluation after a performance. a) What really worked well in that performance? What did you do really well? b) What did you do specifically that made it really good? c) What could you have done better? What specific changes / improvements would you make to your performance next time? d) How were you feeling during your performance--nervous, scared, on fire, in the zone, strong, tentative, bold? e) What did you notice about the audience and their responses / reactions to you?
Authors Camille Sweeney and Josh Gosfield, in their book The Art of Doing: How Superachievers Do What They Do and How They Do It, discovered that the common ingredient of highly successful people (no matter what discipline or industry they are in) is: self awareness, self assessment, self evaluation, self reflection. These kind of people are willing to set aside intentional time to think about how they're doing, to engage in reflection that helps them learn from their life experiences. And then to work hard to make whatever changes are needed to increase their effectiveness. The result? They're able to push themselves further than they ever thought possible.
American philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer John Dewey wrote:
"We do not learn from experience ... we learn from reflecting on experience."
Maybe it's time for us to give ourselves some strategic grown-up Time-outs more often--not as punishments but as incentives for life improvement--as opportunities to engage life in more deeply powerful and productive ways.
And the good news is, we don't have to stand in the corner--we just need to take the time wherever we are.
Go ahead. I dare you. Call it for yourself: "Time out!"
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