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Reflective Writing Empowers

Reflective writing helps us work through difficult problems, learn about ourselves, and gain understanding about others. When we write we create and recognize change and often reach conclusions we didn’t expect to find. Reflection helps us become aware of the importance of being present in experience and how to process the feelings that come with life events; even when those experiences are hard. Just over a year ago my friend was in a biking accident which left her in a coma for seven weeks before she ultimately passed away. She was 32-years old and the mother of three beautiful children. Writing about my experience with her death has been important in navigating my grief.

When the accident first happened, I was optimistic that she would recover quickly. By the third week, I knew there was a good chance she would never wake up, and by the fifth week I knew it was time to start saying goodbye. Through all of it, I was numb. I didn’t stop to think about the feelings I had or the pain I was experiencing. It wasn’t until after her funeral that I took time to write about my experience in my journal; doing so helped me breakdown the walls I had been using to shield myself from the pain. As I reflected on the experience of saying goodbye, I recognized that her death helped me understand the importance of beginnings rather than endings.

Janelle had an effusive personality. She was bold with her opinions and constantly looking for ways to enjoy new experiences. When I first met her, I didn’t imagine that we would ever be friends. Unlike me, she said whatever was on her mind—always—no matter what. Some of the things that came out of her mouth were shocking to me. Eventually, this was one of the traits I admired most about her, but at first it was intimidating. In the beginning of our friendship, I nearly dismissed her as someone too different from me to consider as a friend. After she died, as I reflected on our friendship, I wrote about how grateful I was that I changed my mind. Through our friendship, I experienced much that I never would have been willing to try because of her lack of fear and encouragement.

How often do we dismiss opportunities to learn from experience because, in the beginning, we are afraid? How often are we worried about experiences that will show us something (or someone) that is different from ourselves? Experiential learning is how we learn best. When we are babies, we learn by doing. The more we are exposed to new situations, the more we grow. As we age; we tend to become comfortable with stagnation. Yet, isn’t life about experience? Sometimes we need people or moments that encourage us to try something new, to lean into the things that scare us.

Reflective writing helps us focus on the details of our experience. When we take the leap into a new study abroad or a new friendship, and then pair that new experience with writing, we are able to give the experience a concrete embodiment. I had to say goodbye to my friend, but by writing about our friendship I have a concrete way of remembering what I learned from our experiences together. I certainly didn’t expect to be writing about beginnings as I reflected on the end of Janelle’s life. Reflection created a space for growth.

When students are given opportunities to write reflectively, they open their minds to new perspectives. Writing gives us the ability to travel through time; by looking back on the feelings we write about (even when those feelings are painful or fear inducing) we are given the self-efficacy we need to begin the next learning experience.