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The Extraordinary Power of Self-Reflection

Jason Shen
Jason Shen
2 min read

I recently stumbled across an old document on my laptop. It was a PDF with journal entries from several years ago. While many of the entries were typical day-to-day activities, I also found about 100 short lessons that I had captured during this journaling period and I shared a few on Twitter.

Some of them were very specific:

Others were more generally applicable:

Some were perhaps a little judgemental:

And some could be considered arcane:

Most of the lessons were based on conversations or experience that had happened in the days leading up to my journaling, and sometimes I wrote down the context for the lesson (for instance, the one on mediocre performers was based on working out with the men’s gymnastics team at the University of Nebraska, no offense to any Cornhuskers out there).

I remember starting this journaling exercise because I had read Howard Gardner’s book Extraordinary Minds. Gardner is the Harvard professor of education well-known for theory of multiple intelligences. Written towards the end of his career, this book focused on four different types of “extraordinary” minds, each exemplified by a particular figure, who is the archetype for that theme.

  • The Master (Mozart) who dominates a field
  • The Maker (Freud) who creates a new discipline
  • The Introspector (Woolf) who explores and shares their inner world
  • The Influencer (Gandhi) who leads movements

What I really took away from the book was Gardner’s observations around what these extraordinary minds have in common. What he saw were three things:

Reflecting: they spent a great deal of time reflecting on where they had been and where they wanted to go, revising their plans

“Extraordinary individuals fail often and sometimes dramatically. Rather than giving up, however, they are challenged to learn from their setbacks and to convert defeats into opportunities.”

Leveraging: they were able to identify what their unique strengths and talents were, and play to those, while preventing their weaknesses from holding them back

“Discover your difference—the asynchrony with which you have been blessed or cursed—and make the most of it.”
“Extraordinary individuals are distinguished less by their impressive “raw powers” than by their ability to identify their strengths and then to exploit them.”

Framing: no matter what happened to them, they were able to find something useful, something valuable from the experience. They turned their failures into lessons and sources of strength

“Extraordinary individuals fail often and sometimes dramatically. Rather than giving up, however, they are challenged to learn from their setbacks and to convert defeats into opportunities.”

For some reason I stopped this journaling exercise, which is too bad because I really enjoyed looking through them again. I’m trying to get back into it as I am reminded of the value. Do you journal? What do you get out of it?

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Jason Shen

Human(e) technologist on a mission to help build resilient teams and organizations. Former NCAA gymnast and three-time startup founder.