As I write, I’m sitting on board a long-haul flight to the Middle East, en-route to an international partner review event. We’re already almost five hours late leaving, mostly due to an unexpectedly heavier than anticipated snowfall, so this time has given me some scope for reflection, as long-haul flights and their associated wait times so often do.
A definition of reflection is giving careful thought and consideration to something (Collins, 2022). In an academic context we reflect on the completion of a specific task, lecture, or project. We urge and encourage our students to question and think critically to facilitate further development. The benefits of reflection are clear. It enables sense-making and reimaging. It can also enhance performance and promote practice improvement (Bravenboer, 2018). In the words of Christina Aguilera, in Mulan’s Reflection; “Why must we all conceal what we think and how we feel…[we] need to know the reason why” (Aguilera – ‘Reflection’, 2020)
My reflections on the last Semester were to be the topic for this blog. Here it would be easy to list successes, and challenges and how each were addressed, managed, and achieved. Here I would note our growth in student numbers, specifically international students, and apprenticeships. I would reflect on our new course development and the USPs of our academic programmes. I would identify our successes in REF, where, in terms of research impact, we are 16th in the country. Added to this the diversity of our staff base, which continues to grow as our department, now located in the University’s Catalyst Building, attracts researchers from across the World. My reflection on the Semester would be peppered with critical analyses of progress to date, and how this informs our future. But this is perhaps the time of year for an alternative reflection.
Reading ‘Psychologies’ magazine, this and ‘Coast’ being my inflight reading of choice for many years, I note that one of the first articles I read describes the well-being benefits of “blue spaces”, noting that time spent near lakes rivers and/or coastal areas during childhood can stimulate an appreciation and joy of nature considered beneficial for mental health in adults (Psychologies, December 2022). In July 2020, after lockdown, I wrote about the health benefits of spending time in “green” space and the benefits of taking a family holiday outdoors under canvas (The Conversation, 2020), and at this point I reflect on my own childhood and my love of “blue” and indeed “green” space. In recent months I have longed to spend time by the coast, or near a lake or river, and I realised that subconsciously I see this as the antidote to a stressful work life. My reflection leads me to realise how little time I’ve spent with family in our ‘happy place’ by the sea, and I promise myself to make more time.
Making more time is, after all, a valuable lesson we all learnt during the first months of Covid, when we promised ourselves and each other that we would continue to benefit from the time we had made for each other and the simpler things in life. Except that these lessons seem to have been forgotten, in the perverse rush to get back to a more complicated and demanding existence.
In a recent Harvard Business Review Article (HBR, 2021) we are urged to reflect on our productivity and the cultural messaging of hours + effort = success. Giving yourself permission to dial it back is suggested as the solution for a more productive and healthy life, and here’s the thing, if we combine dialling it back with blue and green space, we have the perfect ingredients for less stress and increased wellbeing, if we take long-haul flights out of the equation!
Bravenboer, D. (2018), “The unexpected benefits of reflection: a case study in university-business collaboration”, Journal of Work-Applied Management, Vol. 10 No. 1, pp. 50-62. https://doi.org/10.1108/JWAM-01-2017-0002