Every year, several students in my Kellogg classes embrace self-reflection and its importance in reducing surprises, and their response is “sign me up! I'm ready to change.” They have good intentions. They understand that self-reflection is essential to living a values-based life. They acknowledge how often they've been surprised in the past, and they want to prevent that from happening as much as possible. They dive in, with plans to make dramatic changes.

One student, James, told me recently that he was committed to an hour of self-reflection every day. No matter that he had never before engaged in self-reflection as a regular practice, or that 15 minutes is what I recommend at the start; he wanted a big change. As he saw it, if 15 minutes was beneficial, then an hour was going to be four time more effective. “By next week,” he told me enthusiastically, “you're going to see an enormous change in me.”

When I saw James in class the following week, I could tell by the disappointed look on his face that things hadn't gone as planned. “The first two days I managed to do an hour of self-reflection, but after that I just couldn't keep doing it. By the fourth day, I had stopped reflecting completely,” he admitted. “I am very disappointed in myself.”

My students are top achievers and very goal-oriented, and James is no exception. He's used to accomplishing whatever he puts his mind to, whether that's getting an A in class or performing extremely well in ...

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