Take a break to reflect, even if you have to use sticky notes

Reflection is the foundation of career change, but so few of us practice it regularly, myself included. It’s tough when you’re stressed out, overworked, burned out people. The last thing you want to do is sit and “reflect” at the end of the day when Netflix is calling.

Dr. Spencer Niles, a dean at The College William & Mary and author of several career development books, says that reflection not just a good idea, it’s foundational. It’s just as important as taking a career assessment or working on our resumes in advancing our careers.

Read a Poem

Niles suggests we read poetry.  I used to read it all the time, and now I practically never crack a collection of poetry. Yet there are poets whose work directly address career. Niles cites poet David Whyte, who draws on literature to conduct leadership workshops at major corporations.

Reading poetry requires you to pause and think. It’s the antidote to sound bites and Twitter chatter. It can help build in time to think about bigger issues in a mindful way.

Make Reflection a Habit

I used to work at Georgetown University, and one day I visitedthe staff chaplain for an open house. Although I’m not Catholic, I loved hearing about the Jesuit routine of Examen.

Twice daily, the chaplain explained, he reflected on the events of the day as a form of prayer, reexamining decisions and actions and just being thoughtful about life. (Of course, there’s an app for it).

Whatever your beliefs, beginning a habit of pausing even once a day to review your decisions and actions can help you tune into yourself again. You can regain a sense of control.

One exercise I often assign to people thinking of switching careers is to list activities in your work day and rate them from a 1 to a 10. It’s worth a try if you’re wondering about the exact causes of your career pain.

Walk, Run, or Write a Sentence

Reflection can be found in so many places: walking the dog, doing the dishes, working on a craft.

Leo Babauta at Zen Habits, in this great post on how to make reflection a daily habit, suggests combining reflection with regular exercise, like a walk or run.

He als0 cites Gretchen Rubin of the The Happiness Project, who recommends the practice of a one-sentence journal. Just commit to that one sentence. That’s all.

Stick It to the Wall

Sometimes, when things get really hectic, I use sticky notes. I put them up in places where I want to trigger a thought. For instance, I put the “Lighten Up” sticky note above a light switch near my desk, because lately I’ve been feeling weighed down by problems in the world.

It reminds me that the world is still filled with things that I love. The bubble letters remind me of the 80s, when I played a lot of Ms. Pacman. I could really level up, devouring ghosts and floating fruit. I love when I find the table version in some out-of-the-way deli. Ms. Pacman, a BLT sandwich and a Dr. Pepper will cure so many things in life.

The important thing is to build reflection into your life. It can work like a vitamin in your career, protecting you from the dangers of an autopilot life, where you circle back to the same mistakes again and again. It’s the first step to getting your career together. Stay tuned for more steps in my process.