Breaks like Christmas/New Year, Diwali, Chinese New Year and other communally observed holiday periods are a great time for reflection. It is a good time to reflect, not only on our approach to work, but our approach to our life.

To make the reflection period useful, follow four principles.

Brutal Honesty:

For reflection to be worthwhile, be brutally honest. Do not allow excuses, rationalisation and passing the buck to others to cloud thoughts. Be accountable for wherever we find ourselves compared with where we want to be.

Powerful Questions:

Ask powerful questions of ourselves. Questions which challenge our abilities and commitment to achieve what we want. Questions which will challenge whether the goal we have set is demanding enough.

A good question is, “If I could start again with a clean sheet of paper, what would I do?”

A good follow up question is, “What is stopping me from doing what I would do with a clean sheet of paper?”

Often the answer to the second question is “Me”. This answer should beget a series of searching questions that unravels the personal and external factors which limit our achievement of what is possible over what is reasonable.

A more powerful question if we are willing to be honest with ourselves is, “What would I do if I was not afraid?”

The follow-up question is “What is it that I am afraid of?” This question will challenge our thoughts about our leadership.

The answers to powerful questions like these provide us not only with insights on what we need to do to achieve our goals, but also insights into our mindset. It is surprising how far we deviate in the hurly-burly of day-to-day activities from what is needed to achieve our goal.

Drive deeply:

Take the opportunity to drive deeply into what limits us from setting and achieving tough goals. Use a technique like the Five Whys to drill down to the real problems we face rather than the symptoms.

Use a technique like decision trees to delve down on the impact of the changes that seem obvious to us now that we are thinking from first principles rather than accepting the status quo.

Commitment to action:

It is too easy after a period of honest reflection such as this to give in to our day-to-day activities and lose sight of our new direction.

At work, there is no better way to committing to action than to expose our thoughts quickly and directly to our colleagues, superiors and subordinates. Call a meeting for the first day back at work and communicate what we have been thinking about immediately. Let the genie out of the bottle.

Open ourselves to criticism of our clear but not fully formed ideas about our direction and our capability and thereby push further our honest appraisal and reflection. Some team members will become invigorated by the very nature of our openness and their ability to contribute at the ground level of the development of new ideas.

At home, opening ourselves up to our family and friends will lead to similar advantages.

Learn to change ourselves:

Following these principles may not result in a major change in approach to the way we do business or live our lives. However, it will provide a challenge from which we can learn to change ourselves.

If asking, “What would I do if I were not afraid?” causes some angst about what we have allowed ourselves to become and we resolve to change just one thing about our approach to business and to life, then the exercise will have been of value.

Learning from a single successful change will encourage us to make further changes; gaining the confidence necessary to challenge the sense of reality to which we have become accustomed.

Changing the accepted reality to a better reality will inevitably teach us to change ourselves for the better, becoming true leaders as a result.

Taking a break is good for our family and us. Using some of that time to reflect and make changes to our goals and our approach, if it improves our ability to think clearly and act decisively, will also benefit our colleagues and our community.