“Reflective writing” sounds serious. Can it really lighten the mood? We say yes! In this episode, I talk with Dr. Ann Ancona of Kent State University about the power of reflective writing to help us stop and get some perspective. And it doesn’t have to be heavy and involved.
We break down a reflective writing activity you can use by yourself or with others. And you’ll get tips on how to make one of your own.
In this time of uncertainty and upheaval, stopping and thinking about life can almost sound like a bad idea! Dr. Ann Ancona from Kent State University’s College of Nursing talks with me about one to of reflecting in writing about life under COVID-19 that won’t add to your stress level—and might even help it. This is 10 Minutes to Better Patient Communication from Health Communication Partners and I’m Dr. Anne Marie Liebel live via Skype with Dr. Ann Ancona from Kent State University College of Nursing. Dr. Ancona it’s great to have you back on the show.
Thank you, it’s very nice to be back on the show.
You were my first interview back in July of last year, and lately we’ve been talking. We’re both reflected practitioners and I’d done an episode recently on reflecting on covid-19. So we thought we could capture some of what we’ve been talking about and record this episode so other people might be helped if they wanted to reflect. You can write themselves or set up a reflective writing activity. Reflective writing is something you can do today on your own, if you’re interested in reflective practice. And also if you’re an educator a supervisor and Mentor or a leader who can invite others to reflect. Reflective practice is always a popular topic on healthcommunicationpartners.com so I’ve been making an online workshop–and it’s almost finished. So as Dr. Ancona and I are talking, you’re going to get a taste of what coming in this reflective writing workshop. So let’s get down to it. There are many reasons to reflect, and as professors, we both asked students to reflect in writing for years. So Ann, why do you do it? How does reflective writing work in your courses?
In my courses my students are required to address their holistic approach to patients. I do not want a laundry list of goals or accomplishments. Rather they are encouraged to talk about patient care and interactions and how this applies to their practice.
So you had a specific purpose in mind for this COVID-19 reflection. What was it?
Yes I thought it would be helpful for students to reflect about positive aspects of their daily life under quarantine, to help gain some perspective.
“Gain some perspective,” so that’s your purpose, right. If you’re listening and you’re writing and you’re asking others to write, be sure to articulate your purpose. So what were you noticing? What led you to choose this purpose, right now?
I was noticing that keeping perspective is hard to do every day. I realize there was a lot of anxiety and uncertainty about classes coming through emails that I received from students. And there’s a sense of being in limbo. So I thought writing would help them work through some of this uncertainty.
Sure and many things are different with COVID-19 for health professionals, so it would seem especially important for them to reflect now.
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Yes definitely. The quarantine and uncertainty has had different effects on everyone. Some students’ work lives have changed. The delivery of their education has changed. So this can lead to more uncertainty. Some students are working outside their comfort zone, and this goes back to that feeling of being in limbo.
I just did an interview with Dr. Ashley Love. She said this is also the case in public health as well. So from a writing perspective, what were just doing right now is contextualizing this writing activity. So if you’re going to try this, be sure to share a few sentences with people in order to carve out some territory–to narrow people’s focus. So far, the purpose here is “keeping things in perspective” and we, the context around that is the uncertainty and the limbo feeling. So let’s get down to some of the nuts and bolts about how to design this activity so that people will find it useful and meaningful.
Yes. Those are two important factors. If there’s no meaning behind an assignment, it’s busy work. Writers need some direction, otherwise a reflective writing or journaling can get lost in the shuffle.
Right. Ann, you and I know one of the ways you provide direction is with a prompt or a question for people to reflect on. And together we brainstormed about prompts we wanted to share with everyone listening. All right Ann, what have you got?
Okay first up is starting a gratitude jar. Just maybe one thing a day! It could be that gas is cheap and you’re grateful for that. It doesn’t have to be fireworks going off sort of gratitude.
I love that because it’s got low barrier-to-entry, right? You’re saying you can reflect in just one sentence. And I could see if you’re a student and you could just write one sentence maybe in a digital Journal. If you’re writing for yourself, it could be a literal gratitude jar and a literal piece of paper! I love that.
Thank you! Another nice one, sort of leading off from the Gratitude jar, is unexpected joys or surprises. Things that have happened during the day in quarantine.
I like that idea. That reminds me of a prompt I used a lot which was, you know ‘tell me one thing this week that surprised you in a good way.’ So there’s positive surprises are important to focus on.
They really are important to focus on. Which leads to something else that’s also important: is focusing on what matters to you as an individual. Consider that there’s no time for the things that don’t matter.
That’s true. These moments of stress can help bring clarity. So that prompt is about what people are learning about their priorities as a result of the changes in their day-to-day lives. Nice. Let’s hear another one.
Another one is renewed strengths. What do we think we’re good at? Have we gotten any better at it since we stayed home? Sometimes that gets lost in the detail of the busyness of the day. So it’s nice to focus on what we’re good at.
I love that that bit because it takes a resource-based or strengths-based perspective on ourselves, as opposed to a deficit perspective, which is very easy to take on ourselves
Yes. Deficit perspective is easy. So something to do, to turn that around: just think about what went right today. It’s easy to focus on that negative, so focusing on the positive can help keep things in perspective. If one thing went right today, put in the Gratitude jar!
Nice. Don’t forget keep in mind when you’re answering these prompts always end by connecting your response to your work–with patients, clients, the public, or your colleagues.
Absolutely. Remember that this is professional learning as well as personal learning.
That’s right. If you’re asking others to do reflective writing as part of a class, you need to give some thought to how you’re going to make this count. Some people evaluate them, some people provide feedback. Ann, what do you think?
I think the bottom line here is it has to have some value. When I have my students Journal I make the assignment worth 5 Points. I don’t want them to worry that it’s going to influence their grade, but I also don’t want to take over other assignments. So it might boost their grade. If it’s too difficult or time-consuming it won’t have the same worth or merit.
I think it’s really important to point out because what we’re trying to do here is encourage reflection across the professional life span. You might not have noticed, but Dr. Ancona and I are not doing this for a class! It started out that way years ago, yet here we are still doing it. Because the ways we learned to reflect were supportive, and not punitive. So reflection became part of how we work.
Yes that has definitely been my experience too. It’s become second nature and incorporated into everything I do.
What we’re doing right now is part of our joint reflective practice. We’re talking with each other, we were planning what we would share with you, writing about and recording this episode. That’s a lot of thinking and talking and writing. It doesn’t have to be this involved, though!
No it really doesn’t. If you don’t want to write right now, think of one or two friends you could chat to. You can use the prompts verbally rather than in writing.
That’s right because there are transcripts available for this and every episode at Health Communication Partners.com. If you found this helpful and want to learn more about reflective practice, keep your eyes peeled for my online course. Thank you Dr. Ann Ancona from Kent State University’s College of Nursing.
Thank you very much. I enjoyed our conversation!
This has been 10 Minutes to Better Patient Communication from Health Communication Partners. I’m Dr. Anne Marie Liebel.