Reflection and Curiosity Are Two Vital Ingredients for Growth
Talent Development Leader

Reflection and Curiosity Are Two Vital Ingredients for Growth

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

“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?

Read more from Talent Development Leader.

About the Author

Ann Parker is Associate Director, Talent Leader Consortiums at ATD. In this role she drives strategy, product development, and content acquisition for ATD’s senior leader and executive audience. She also oversees business development and program management for ATD's senior leader consortiums, CTDO Next and ATD Forum.

Ann began her tenure at ATD in an editorial capacity, primarily writing for TD magazine as Senior Writer/Editor. In this role she had the privilege to talk to many training and development practitioners, hear from a variety of prominent industry thought leaders, and develop a rich understanding of the profession's content. She then became a Senior Content Manager for Senior Leaders & Executives, focusing on content and product development for the talent executive audience, before moving into her current role.

Ann is a native Pennsylvanian where she currently resides, marathoner, avid writer, baker and eater of sweets, wife to an Ironman, and mother of two.

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Excellent article - reflection should be a daily requirement!
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