At Spike Lab, our mission is to guide students to create a Spike that reflects their individual passions, talents, and aspirations. The importance of self-reflection for students appears in both the Spike and college application processes.
Spikes are a central component of our approach, but we have a longer-term, more comprehensive goal for our students. We want to make them lifelong learners, or “lifelong innovators,” as I like to call them. While building their Spikes—and gaining entry to their top schools—we coach our students to strengthen personal qualities that will ensure their success in academics and life beyond college. To thrive in both contexts—and in order to identify, develop, and accomplish their Spikes—students need a key skill. And that skill is self-reflection.
The problem is that many high schoolers have not had much experience with self-reflection. With this in mind, our coaches at TSL mentor students not only in Spikes but also in self-reflection. And we foster this quality all throughout their entrepreneurial and creative process.
The Importance of Self-Reflection For Students
The value of self-reflection for students cannot be understated. I describe self-reflection as “a process of deliberate introspection with the purpose of interrogating your reality or experience.” On one level, self-reflection is a feedback mechanism that allows us to understand what happened and why. It’s an analytical tool and a course-correcting mechanism that allows us to process our experiences and then shape our future thoughts and actions.
But self-reflection is more than just a magnifying lens to analyze situations after the fact. The importance of self-reflection is that it is a mirror that helps students and adults examine major life decisions. Students who are about to begin college or who are preparing for the college admissions process are confronted with numerous major life decisions that can feel overwhelming. Some of these fundamental self-reflection questions for students are: What’s truly important to me? What do I want to study? Where do I want to study? What are my criteria for deciding on my top schools? What do I envision myself doing in the future? How do I stay true to my values in my studies and my career?
The process of self-reflection can be helpful in answering all of these questions if you allow yourself the time to examine these self-reflection questions for students in a proactive, thoughtful manner without distractions. You can journal about them. You can discuss them with a close friend, mentor, or parent. You can meditate on them. You can create art that helps you determine your response to them.
I consider self-reflection to be like a metaphysical version of Dr. McCoy’s tricorder. It allows us to take our existential vital signs, so to speak, to analyze what we’re feeling, what we’re thinking, what we’re dreaming, and how we’re interpreting our life experiences.
I also like the perspective offered in philosopher Donald Schön’s reflective practice, in which there are two types of reflection: reflection in action and reflection on action. Reflection in action is completed while the experience is happening. It requires you to give yourself feedback promptly and think on your feet. Reflection on action is essentially “traditional” reflection, reflecting on an experience after it has happened and considering what to do next time. Regular self-reflection with high-quality analysis is paramount to achieving your goals.
The Importance of Self-Reflection in Spikes
The capacity for introspection is integral to accomplishing a Spike because the student’s identity and passions form the foundation of the project. With this in mind, our coaches guide students to use self-reflection as a tool for self-discovery at the beginning of their Spikes, what we at The Spike Lab call Stage 1. This exploration of their beliefs, passions, and values uses self-reflection questions for students to help them to define important qualities for the project. For instance, if one of my students identifies strongly as a social advocate, then her Spike should include an advocacy component.
In the next phase of the Spike development process, our coaches guide students to identify the specific project they want to develop. We brainstorm ideas and then evaluate what the student finds the most compelling. At TSL, we believe that authenticity translates into purpose and commitment. What this means is that we don’t want students to launch projects for the sake of launching projects, just for something to put on a resume. We want them to create Spikes they’re genuinely passionate about and that would be fulfilling for them. If a student doesn’t feel personally connected with a project, then they likely won’t have the follow-through to see it to completion. The importance of self-reflection in this phase is that it functions as a compass, helping students to make sure the Spike is rooted in their identity and feels energizing to them.
In Stage 3 of the Spike Coaching program, students seek to validate the key assumptions in their project model and reduce the associated risk. They gather information through networking, interviews, and assessments, but ultimately they filter that data through their introspective tools. They have to examine important self-reflection questions for our students: “Based on what I’ve gathered, is this idea viable?” “Am I passionate enough about this project to see it to fruition?” Self-reflection is once again key to this process.
The Importance of Self-Reflection For Students in College Admissions & Self-Understanding
When students employ self-reflection appropriately, they’ll identify the most meaningful Spike while also creating a strong college admissions application. If students don’t have a compelling story about their Spike or don’t truly feel enthusiastic about it, they won’t be able to write about it in an appealing way in their college application, which is evident to admissions officers. It’s no coincidence that Yale asks “What inspires you?” to its applicants and so many other schools have similarly personal questions. They want to understand their students’ aspirations and characters. And that’s why the personalized, self-reflection work that students do is such a significant element of the college admissions preparation process that The Spike Lab offers to students. We help students better understand themselves and how to realize their goals.
In the subsequent phases of our program, self-reflection enables the student to adjust, iterate, and refine their Spike, and then extend its impact. And through all of these phases of the Spike, I engage my students in conversations about their process, their thoughts, and their goals. I ask them to share with me the stories of their experiences so that we can begin to unwrap the insights waiting to be discovered in their narratives and enthusiasms. In guiding our students through a regimen of self-reflection, we’re not only supporting our students in their college admissions—we’re also helping them build an invaluable set of skills they can use for life.
Self-Reflection Tools for Students: Metacognition
Even if my students aren’t keeping a journal per se, I always ask them questions about their decisions and thought processes during my coaching sessions, so that they can improve their ability to articulate their intuition, ideas, and decisions. I call this “verbal journaling,” and I consider it a stepping stone to journal writing, one of the most powerful forms of self-reflection (see below). Both activities are helpful for building metacognitive muscles. By encouraging my students to reflect verbally and in writing, I’m helping them to develop a deeper self-awareness that supports their ability to strategically navigate complex decisions and endeavors. With greater degrees of metacognition, students become more aware of what they’re doing and why.
Self-Reflection Tools for Students: Journaling
Writing in a journal has enormous value, whether you record your thoughts in a notebook, on your phone, or on your computer. You can write an entry in response to specific self-reflection questions for students. For example: What went wrong in the robotics project? What are my core values and how can I explore them in school? How can I use my knowledge of theater to make an impact? Or you can freewrite and allow your thoughts to flow from one to another. The process of freewriting is particularly useful for gaining new insights into yourself.
Journaling is a go-to strategy for me. I feel that it helps people to develop inwardly directed self-observation skills.
Identifying Your Purpose Through Self-Reflection
I like to think of each young adult as being on a hero’s journey. As they move into adulthood, their crucial task is to develop an understanding of who they are and what would bring them the greatest sense of fulfillment in school and after college. Self-reflection is a powerful tool for this process. By analyzing their interests, students can come to understand who they are. They can examine life-changing moments to gain insights into their identities.
When done with enough commitment and focus, self-reflection can lead to an experience of alchemy—a “Eureka moment—where students gain a heightened understanding of who they are and what their purpose is.
As much as we rely on identity to set our direction, it’s also important to note that our identities change throughout our lives. I see identity as something that we nurture and develop over time. We’ll have multiple identities during the course of our lives. Our identity in high school will not be the same as it is in college. For these reasons exactly, we need to develop self-reflection as a habit even more than a skill. At various crossroads throughout our lives, we’ll need tools to assess who we are and where we want to go. By cultivating self-reflection early in life, we are strengthening muscles that will help us all throughout our life journey.
Training in Self-Reflection
At TSL, we have created a number of entry points for students with all levels of experience with self-reflection. That’s one value of our mentorship—we are experts in helping students to become more skilled in the art of high-level critical analysis. And that’s another value of our Spike Lab process. When you are learning a new subject or skill—whether French, building software, or baking cakes—you want to study with someone who is an expert in that arena. You want to work with a teacher or mentor who you trust and who has the experience to guide you through all phases of your learning process. Our coaches have been trained in coaching self-discovery and entrepreneurship, specifically for young adults. They serve as thought partners, mentors, guides, and co-conspirators for a Spike project.
For those students who aren’t familiar with the self-reflection needed for a Spike, we encourage them to do empathy interviews that support them in building tools for introspection (see our comprehensive guide to empathy interviews). After these conversations, I encourage my students to use the tools of WWW (What Went Well) and EBI (Even Better If) to consider which questions struck gold and which ones had their interviewee shutting down.
After the interviews, I also do follow-up conversations with my students so they can reflect on their own reactions to the conversations. Afterward, I ask them use their responses as a gauge: What does your reaction tell you about yourself? You’re getting more energized when we talk about this—what does that say about you or your future direction?
Self-Reflection for Spikes and Life Generally
Self-initiated Spikes and entrepreneurial projects involve a lot of “doing.” It’s easy to get caught up in the action and the excitement of building something new and seeing it emerge and come to fruition. It’s equally as important to pause and reflect about your progress, to consider if you’re moving in the right direction or just caught up in inertia, whether that’s in your Spike, college admissions process, a start-up, or life more generally. In the midst of the numerous distractions of our fast-paced modern life, there’s enormous value in creating the habit of slowing down, pausing, and assessing what you’re doing and where you’re traveling. Self-reflection can guide you to act and to lead more strategically and more efficiently. As with many skills, it’s so much easier to learn this at a younger age when we are less preoccupied than we are when we’re older.
That’s why self-reflection is an essential component of the Spike Lab curriculum. The importance of self-reflection for students starts early, and that’s why our coaches model it and teach it. Parents and teachers are often too busy to create the structure for students to do this level of self-reflection, making it difficult for young adults to learn this essential habit. At The Spike Lab, we offer a 1:1 coaching model to guide students in self-reflection and all the other elements of the Spike and college admissions process.
The end result of the TSL journey is a student with a commitment to being a lifelong learner. Our young adults gain an understanding of how to stay true to their inner voice while building the tools to bring their goals to fruition.
To find out more about how we help students develop self-reflection tools and find their purpose through Spike Coaching, schedule a free consultation today.