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Talent Development Leader

Reflection and Curiosity Are Two Vital Ingredients for Growth

Create the time and space to reflect with curiosity every day.


Tue Mar 21 2023

Reflection and Curiosity Are Two Vital Ingredients for Growth

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” — Søren Kierkegaard

After reading the fascinating article by ATD Forum Content Manager MJ Hall, “Reflecting on Reflection,” I keep—to put it redundantly—reflecting on reflection. Recently, I’ve been learning about and experiencing meditation’s life-changing power, and I’ve been aiming for a life that values and prioritizes rest. It seems reflection is another tool to add to my growing mindfulness toolkit.


As people who live to learn, how is reflection part of your work? To what extent do you reflect in your personal life? Many of us move through our days neglecting time to pause, be still, and think backward so we can move forward more effectively.

Whether or not reflection is a current hallmark of your learning journey, it should be. Hall defines reflection as “purposeful (intentional) sense-making about an experience or concept that connects it with what you already know (retrieval activity). It includes generatively (generating your own words) expanding your script (mental model or cognitive complexity) within an existing context (environment) to gain fresh insights.”

It seems any major personal learning moments are spurred by some form of wonderment—stopping to notice; taking time to understand; and using the self-knowledge gained to change habits, grow, and evolve. But unfortunately, the frenetic pace of many lives discourages cultivating such critical learning experiences.

In the Talent Development Leader article, “What to Do About Skewed Perceptions?” Brian Gold, head of learning and development at Gallagher, recounts a career milestone when he reflected on his peers’ feedback to transform his brand. Gold says: “After some time and a bit of perspective, I realized the feedback was the dose of reality I needed. After I processed it, I was able to internalize it and see it for the gift that it was. With a little work, I knew I could change my personal brand.”

Curiosity, a close cousin to reflection, is another powerful tool for sustained learning and behavior change. Curiosity, a critical component of self-directed learning, is a source of intrinsic motivation urging individuals to learn more. Moreover, curiosity is a key driver of change in habits and behaviors used by cognitive behavioral therapists and mindfulness technicians.


The Greater Good Science Center at University of California, Berkeley proposes that humble curiosity can unlock both passion and open-mindedness in learners. In a recent article in Greater Good Magazine, Amy Leva suggests four ways to inspire humble curiosity:

  1. Practice listening with fascination.

  2. Emphasize the value of questions.

  3. Draw on awe to encourage exploration.

  4. Normalize uncertainty.

Each of these themes supports the concept of a growth mindset, which many of us understand is necessary for people to move from fixed perspectives to transformative thinking and behavior. For example, Leva writes: “It’s much safer to believe you know exactly how to do something—or why others do (or say) the things they do—but it doesn’t necessarily lead to intellectual growth or better relationships. If we believe that our ideas can’t evolve and people can’t change, we fall right back into fixed and rigid thinking, which can wall us off from each other.”

Reflection and curiosity come together to support learning and growth in our work and lives. The hard part is prioritizing the daily practices that cultivate this sense of wonderment.

I’ll leave you with this final charge, a quote attributed to the Greek philosopher Plutarch: “The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.” How might you create the time and space to reflect with curiosity every day? How might you encourage your staff to stoke their capacity for learning that leads to growth?

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