Reflection Toolkit

Goals, objectives and reflective habits

To make the most of reflections it can be extremely valuable to help create and achieve goals and objectives, doing so effectively will help you develop a reflective habit.

Reflecting on a single experience can produce significant value and increased learning from that experience – this is covered elsewhere in this Reflection Toolkit.  However, reflection’s biggest value comes when you build a reflective habit and mindset and align this with your own set of values, goals and objectives.  Doing this allows you to own and steer your progress, development and impact in your studies or career, your communities and your personal life.

Building a reflective habit and mindset typically combines at least three key elements:

  • An ability and willingness to reflect on individual experiences to gain more learning from them.
  • Repeating reflection over a series of related experiences, building the learning and value each time we go through the reflective cycle.
  • Regularly reflecting over a longer timeframe to see patterns and opportunities for learning that we may have missed.

This page explores these and how you can use reflection to aid you in identifying and progressing your values, goals and objectives.  Reflecting on individual experiences is covered elsewhere in ‘Reflecting on experience’.            

Reflecting on experience (within the Reflectors’ Toolkit)

Key points expanded below:

  • Repeating reflection over a series of related experiences adds real value.  Connections can be identified between the learning points from individual experiences, producing an impact that is greater than the sum of its parts.
  • While reflection is often used to look at an individual short-term experience, it can also be applied to review an extended period such as a week, a month or a year.  This can help identify relevant experiences and learning, and can ensure that valuable learning is not lost.
  • Setting and reflecting on goals and objectives can help create purposeful progress and can keep your focus and energy where you want it.  The act of identifying values and setting goals is a reflective process in itself.
  • Example approaches for reflecting on goals, objectives and values.

Terms such as ‘goals’, ‘objectives’, ‘habits’ and ‘values’ can have multiple meanings and connotations.  For clarity, in this section we use the following definitions.

Term How it is used in this section
Values Your beliefs or ideals about what is important in life
Goals The broad main outcomes that you want to achieve
Objectives The smaller steps you take to achieve a larger goal
Reflective habit The ongoing practice of reflecting regularly

 

Circular diagram highlighting Experience, Reflection, Action
The ERA model

Adding value by repeating reflection over a series of experiences

Some people think of reflection as a process that is applied to distinct, individual experiences.  The basic process follows the ERA model – Experience, Reflection, Action – and almost all other reflective models have a similar underlying structure that expands on this.

In reality, one of the biggest values of reflection comes when we repeat the reflective process again and again for a series of experiences.  As a result, a lot of reflective models are circular – following an experience we reflect on it and identify learning and actions that we can feed into future experiences.

We can therefore turn an individual reflective cycle into an ongoing process of reflection, increasing the learning and value each time we go through the reflective cycle. 

Three circular diagrams representing one reflection repeated next to each other between two horizontal arrows pointing right
Ongoing process of reflection, building from one cycle to the next

By building an ongoing process of reflection, we create significant additional value.  This can include:

  • Strengthening our reflective skills and habits – reflection becomes easier, quicker, more natural and more effective, and it often also becomes easier to recognise opportunities for reflection.
  • Producing deeper reflections that surface enhanced learning and self-awareness, and ensure less learning is lost.
  • Allowing ourselves to be more purposeful about how we use our time and energy to greatest effect for ourselves and for others, in our studies, our careers, our communities and our personal lives.

Using reflection to look at a longer timeframe

Reflecting repeatedly over a series of short-term experiences is not the only way to gain extra value from the reflective process.  We can also reflect over longer timeframes and use this to see things we may have missed such as patterns or opportunities for learning.  Having some distance from the experience itself can also help ensure we are able to reflect on it with less emotion and more criticality. 

For example, some people find it helpful to add structure to their reflective habit by deciding they will always reflect on their  day, the last week, month or year.  There are two approaches to this that are often used – either individually or in combination:

  • a set of prompts for general and broad reflection for example, ‘What were my biggest challenges and highlights over the last day/week/month/year?’
  • a set of specific topics they want to reflect on  for example, ‘Situations where I had/could have had a positive impact on those around me over the last week’ or ‘Experiences where I used my critical thinking over the last day’.

 

Creating purposeful progress through goals and objectives

A reflective habit is a powerful tool in increasing your learning, development and self-awareness based on your experiences.  Aligning this with a specific set of values, goals and objectives that are personally or professionally meaningful to you allows you to achieve progress that is purposeful and heading in the direction you want, ultimately bringing you closer to the life that is right for you.

Setting goals and objectives

The act of identifying your own values, goals and objectives is reflective.  It requires self-awareness and an understanding of the opportunities, restrictions and barriers around you.  Setting goals gives you an ideal to work towards, and reviewing your progress reflectively can help you:

  • optimise your time, energy and performance
  • capitalise on opportunities, work effectively within any fixed restrictions, identify and tackle, or circumvent, barriers
  • check that your values, goals and objectives are aligned with each other and with how you are spending your time
  • re-evaluate your goals and refine or revise the strategies you have for achieving them
  • increase your self-awareness and develop and/or strengthen your skills and abilities.

Using regular reflection to monitor progress and revise plans

One of the easiest ways to track progress against your goals and objectives, and how these are supporting your values, is to schedule a regular reflection on each of them.  Many people use daily, weekly or monthly reflective check-ins to review their progress. 

Regular, scheduled reflections are often used to:

  • increase your awareness of your overall progress
  • identify progress, opportunities, barriers and plans for specific aspects
  • inform and shape future actions and plans.

Example:  Some people may want to increase their impact in their part-time job or volunteering role because it is in a field they are interested in pursuing a career and an area that is personally important to them.  In their weekly reflective check-in, they identify that they have made some progress in better supporting those they are working/volunteering with.  But they may also realise that all the impact has been in a narrow area and will not help them develop the broader experience and understanding needed to build a career in this field.  As a result, they may adjust their plans and next week will indicate their interest in opportunities in other areas, and over the next month will look for chances to support and learn more from people in other areas.

 

Approaches for reflecting on goals, objectives and values

Identifying values and setting goals

Values and goals are not in themselves necessarily reflective, but the process of identifying values and setting goals is. The process requires self-awareness and an understanding of the opportunities, restrictions and barriers around you. 

Goals should mirror your values and therefore represent things that are personally important to you and that you want to work towards.  The section on reflecting for self-awareness includes an example activity that can help identify values and another about setting goals reflectively.

Reflecting for self-awareness (within Reflection Toolkit)

Periodic review – general and targeted reflections

If you plan to reflect on a regular basis, for example every day/week/month/year think about how you will make the most of the opportunity.  This is particularly important when reflecting on your values, goals or objectives; two approaches often used for this, either individually or in combination, are:

  • performing a structured review of how your expectations and aspirations of the last day/week/month/year compared with reality, and then creating/adjusting plans for your upcoming day/week/month/year.
  • creating a broader set of reflective prompts to help you review your last day/week/month/year in more general terms to identify learning and then creating/adjusting plans for your next cycle.

Both approaches are expanded below.  Whatever approach you use, reflect on the balance of how you use your time and energy – does it reflect your values, goals and objectives?  Looking ahead, will you naturally have more or less time for certain types of activities?  Should you adjust your expectations accordingly?

In more detail – structured reviews

Structured reviews often involve setting criteria that you will use to assess how ‘successful’ you have been, to identify areas requiring more work and to spot strategies that are working well for you.  Criteria could be based around quantity (e.g. how often or how much time you managed to spend with your friends/family), quality (e.g. how good your time with friends/family was), and/or progress (e.g. how rejuvenated you feel in comparison to last time).  Some people like to score themselves against each of the criteria, others use descriptions and text.  The criteria are used to:

  • look ahead and specify what you hope to achieve between now and your next review
  • look back at whether we have managed to be successful since our last review
  • identify what you can learn as a result and what your next plans should be
  • look ahead and specify what you hope to achieve with these new plans, taking account of what you know about what is coming up.

This cycle can continue for as long as it is useful.  It is helpful to sometimes also review how your approach to reflecting can be improved.

In more detail – broader set of reflective prompts

Some people use a broader set of reflective prompts to review periods of time and their values, goals and objectives.  The questions asked vary from person to person, and can be adjusted over time as you find what works for you.  prompts can be used both on a larger scale looking at your process and progress, and on a smaller scale with less challenging questions, which are more easily used frequently, reviewing small periods of time.

Some smaller scale questions that reviews periods like days and weeks can include:

  • What were 3 things that went well today/this week? How do you know?
  • What was a situation today/this week where I could have done better? How?
  • What was your biggest challenge today/this week? How did you overcome it?
  • What was the predominant feeling you had today/this week? Why?
  • What made you happy/sad/frustrated/angry/etc today/this week? Can you find some way of having more or less of the identified aspects?

Some large scale questions that people ask include:

  • Am I optimising my time, energy and performance according to my values, goals and objectives?
  • Am I making the most of opportunities available to me?  Am I working effectively within any fixed restrictions?  Where there are barriers, am I identifying them and tackling or circumventing them where possible?
  • Do my values, goals and objectives still align with each other?  Is this reflected in how I am spending my time?
  • Are my goals still the right ones to deliver on my values?  Should/Can I refine or revise the strategies I am using for fulfilling my values and goals?

As with structured reviews, the cycle of planning ahead, reviewing experience, extracting learning and planning for what is coming up next, can be continued for as long as it is useful.  It is helpful to sometimes also review how your approach to reflecting can be improved