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When you open yourself up to a learning journey, professional and personal development is a never-ending quest to actualize, to become more of who you truly are as you offer more of your authentic self to your world.

In leadership training, I often ask leaders to plot their career journey so that they can take a step back from their reality and reflect on their journey. This process of reflection is important because our daily lives are so busy that we often get lost in the maelstrom of busyness and so aren’t able to appreciate the lessons we are learning. And as it so happens, reflection is a critical piece in the learning cycle – read more on Kolb’s model here http://www.simplypsychology.org/learning-kolb.html

I so often hear from the wonderful people I coach that one of the most valuable aspects of coaching is the time devoted to reflection and deepening an understanding of self. Without fail, each one of these leaders have gone through tough times, periods where they doubted themselves, and where they felt like no matter what they did, they got poor results.

The trick is not to get caught up in the spiral, but to step back from it and identify how to move onto the next curve.

The tool I use is really quite simple. And it works not only in a professional context, but is also a tool for personal reflection.

Start by dividing the x axis into segments of time, with the y axis representing your fulfillment / success – however you define it. You then plot your career (or personal) journey over time, which may look something like this …

Career Journey May 2016

The idea is to then take time to reflect on what created the peaks and the troughs. How did the environment contribute / what was it about your boss, the culture, your role that facilitated this ? If you are doing a personal journey, reflect on your stage of life; what was giving you meaning, what were you contributing, what you were learning and who was in your world at the time.

With these insights, it’s onto the real question : “Now that you are consciously aware of what sets you up for success, how can you create the next peak (or indeed extend a peak)?”

You may need to create some change in order to jump to a new curve, or prevent a decline – and that change in itself may create some downward momentum for a while. But the idea is to do it consciously, using the factors for your success and happiness so that you know what you are moving towards and how to create it.

If you are an organizational leader, take some time to look at the success of your organization over time and identify what created success, what role you played and how you can contribute to additional peaks. You can do this for teams, departments, functions, families and relationships.

I’ve placed the basic template in the ‘resources’ section on my website. Please download it, give yourself space and time to reflect and then start planning consciously. I’m really keen to hear what you discover. To your success and happiness !

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So there I was, quietly working in my study, when my 11 year old sons came in, proudly bearing a breakfast tray for me. They had been away on camp for a week, and as my friends will tell you, I had missed them terribly whilst they were away. And clearly, whilst they were at said camp, they had learnt how to make omelettes. There on my tray, was a perfectly cooked omelette filled with mushrooms and cheese, and a glass of delicious fruit juice all beautifully presented.

While my sons were learning those fundamental cooking skills, I was busy doing my own learning. For years, I have been fascinated by the brain, and have studied it as extensively as I can. This interest has served me well in my coaching career as I help people to fulfil their potential by understanding how the human brain functions. And I learnt last week that new learning results in the secretion of the neurotransmitters dopamine (involved in newness, pleasure, performance) and oxytocin (bonding and safe connectivity). This explains why learning new information or skills is so stimulating and why group learning is so connecting.

A landmark study reported on in the Journal of Neuroscience (Jan 24 issue) reveals that learning slows cognitive decline, and keeps our brains functioning at a level associated with a younger chronological age. And a younger brain means a younger body.

Which I have to say is the best argument I’ve ever heard for lifelong learning.

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