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The Everyday Woman's Guide To Success Part Three: Learn To Reflect

While it may seem an unusual suggestion, action research has proven its worthiness to the extent that I can encourage women who would not otherwise consider themselves researchers to take up its process and apply it to their lives. This third article is about encouraging women to use the three steps of action research: discovery, measurable action, reflection to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of their decisions.

The first two articles discussed discovery and measurable action and now we move on to reflective practice which is not unusual for women, who are more inclined to be writing in journals than their male partners. Action research, however, suggests that women can take this already good practice one step further by using their reflective writing as data.

The first two articles discussed the discovery and measurable action steps of three women pursuing one cycle of action research to help with the issues in their lives. Woman A. was confused about what she wanted to do with her life and so she went to the library and bookstore during her discovery phase and took some measurable action by going further to a trade show in discussing with the people there what their work lives were like. Woman B. has a problem she's trying to solve. During the discovery phase she researched what others in similar circumstances had done, they strategic plans, and during the measurable action phase took her first few steps with mixed results. Woman C. is soon to retire. During the discovery phase she looked into what others do to make their lives fulfilling in retirement and reawakened an interest in crafts. Her measurable action steps were to attend various local groups centered on activities she might like to take up. She measured her journey through the community, the people she met, and her gut level feelings about whether or not their activities were interesting to her.

All three women start by questioning the difference between reflecting and reflective practice. In the first we look back on something and we think about, likely leaving it at that. In the second, we establish a reflective protocol or habit, writing down our reflections in an established format at regular intervals. Then after a period of time, we go back and look over those reflections with an objective eye, looking for new patterns of meaning. Let's use our three women examples.

Woman A. takes out the notes she's been keeping. When she visited a bookstore and library, she made notes of the titles and authors that interested her and what feelings or memories came to mind as she thought about those subjects. After she settled on travel as a particular industry, she kept notes of the websites she visited. Finally, as she moved to the trade show, she marked her book, took business cards, wrote notes on the back, and wrote other ideas in a journal. The first part of reflection is to sort through all this material looking for a pattern. Woman A. notices that she consistently feels more hopeful or energized when thinking about a job that puts her in the front of other people. This makes sense she's always considered herself a people person, and mixing travel with people seems ideal. She then sorts out everything that doesn't have working with people as part of the job description. She then takes out her journal, her favorite pen, and settles back in a comfy chair to dream of what each of these jobs might be like. Her reflections take her to a list of questions about which she does not know the answer. Practical questions like: How much do these jobs pay? How many weeks a year do they have to work? Do they get travel bonuses as part of their work? come to mind. Woman A. realizes that she is ready to move into her second cycle of action research because she has so many questions about which she needs to discover the answer prior to making job applications. Nevertheless, she celebrates that she has come a long way from how stuck she felt at the beginning.

Woman B. is halfway through solving her problem. She's made some progress, she has more ideas about what to do next, but like a pilot who is halfway through a journey, she needs to take mid-course corrections. Reflective practice is perfect at this point. Like woman A., she starts by organizing her notes and looking for patterns, keeping an eye out for solutions she might not have thought of. She looks critically at how far she has come from her first steps, but she is satisfied with, and what she is dissatisfied with. Also like Woman A., she then takes some time, make herself comfortable, and begins to write her reflections. What she was looking for has to do with the outcomes of anything new and unusual that she tried. She quickly realizes that her first choice in solutions wasn't that far off from her normal behavior, thus it makes sense she did not engender results that were much different either. Laughing, she remembers a woman she had interviewed who had some really unique perspectives on these challenges. Emboldened by her partial successes she decides to try a completely different tact next time but realizes she doesn't know enough about how that woman actually put their ideas into practice. Women B  is now in a perfect place to start a second cycle of action research by discovering how the women she interviewed pulled off her ideas.

Woman C. has grown tired of going to womens' groups. One or two are quite attractive and she will likely visit them again. The people involved felt a warm and friendly, and their activities were interesting. Her growing dissatisfaction though is that while she could fill out her retirement time by joining groups like this, they would not allow her to continue to contribute to her community in a way she found worthwhile. Like her counterparts, Woman C. organizes her notes and looks for patterns that she has not seen before. She realizes that all the groups were focused on one activity and that she sees her life as having multidimensional. What is she going to do with her political life? How is she going to continue to learn? What new things will intrigue her? She needs something more. Woman C. is also ready for a new round of action research, celebrating that she has found some activities she can look forward to, but realizing that building a solid retirement life takes a lot more than one foray out into the world of discovery, measurable action, and reflection.

Action research sounds like a serious subject, to be taken on by erudite academics in their ivory towers. Hopefully these three articles have shown that the rigor in the process builds on steps we are already likely to take and just helps us be a little bit more efficient in our process. During the discovery phase we learn more about the area that is troubling us and ground our ideas on the basis of that learning. Measurable action requires that we know where we stand, so we can measure our results, and better track our next steps. Reflective practice takes a step final stage where we note our ideas, look for the patterns within them, and plot our course accordingly. Taken together these three steps can enhance our ability to build just the lives we want. They make us conscious where we might otherwise be casual, as they enliven our emotions, giving us hope about the future yet to come.

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