The ROI of Reflection

Research, write, revise, rinse, repeat. Meet, plan, do, re-do, rinse, repeat. Heavy patient loads, high acuity, diminishing resources, rinse, repeat. Hurry, hurry, hurry, rinse, repeat. Sound familiar? Is your head spinning? For many of us, it is a constant state of being – the whirlwind of life. We get caught up in it and often, it is a necessary adjustment to make. But what if we stopped briefly, for an intentional moment or two? What if we stopped to take in the beauty of life around us, the big picture, a few cleansing breaths? What is the return on investment (ROI) of reflection or contemplation?

Of course reflective and contemplative practices are not new. Most societies have reflectionpracticed different formal and informal forms of reflection and contemplation for centuries. The best examples are the spiritual and prayerful practices of the world’s religions. More attention is being given today to all forms of reflection and contemplative practices as credible and evidence-based ways to reduce anxiety, PTSD, depression, and aggression to name only a few. Similarly, reflective practices can increase feelings of well-being and focus. The benefits of practices like mindfulness based stress reduction are becoming widely known and practiced, for example.

But what if you are already happy, content, focused, and have no pathological mental health concerns? Can you still benefit from reflective practices? At this point, refer back to the opening scenarios – the ones that left your head spinning. Happy and mentally intact, we all feel the crush of stress from time to time. Writer’s block? Stressful. Compassion fatigue? Stressful. High patient loads? Stressful. Deadlines? Stressful. Negative feedback? Stressful. High stakes presentations? Stressful. Proposals? Stressful. The list goes on… At the risk of sounding like a 1960’s television advertisement, I propose an intentional reflective practice to keep the stress at bay and guarantee a positive return on investment.

A quick peruse of the academic databases support the ROI of reflection, and while I could take a very academic approach to this blog post, I will leave that to those who are doing the research. This is purely anecdotal and I stand by the guarantee. The pathway to an intentional reflective practice occurs in many forms: formal prayer, physical activity, cooking, meditation, playing with children, connecting with loved ones, gardening, listening to music, giving to those in need, etc. Cultivating a daily practice of intentional reflection takes time and commitment (a few minutes will work; a few hours is a luxury). The goal is to empty the mind of constant chatter, connect to the breath, connect to the wonder of all things greater than self, connect to the positive, and connect to the belief that all is well.

For me, as my colleagues well know, the ROI of reflection comes in the form of daily walks in nature. It is where I find solitude, wholeness, hope, and beauty. It is where I find the ‘crystal moments’ – those moments of pure connection and energy. In the whirlwind of a very busy life, the ROI of reflection manifests as stress reduction, clear insights, moments of peace, feelings of well-being, hope, mental fortitude, and improved long-term productivity. Moments taken to contemplate and reflect – the return is well worth the investment. Of course, some stressors require direct action and cannot fully be controlled or alleviated without coordinated and persistent effort. However, an intentional reflective practice can help manage stressors and enhance the ability to craft feasible solutions and outcomes. Breathing in and breathing out. The ROI of reflection – guaranteed.


Farb, N., Daubenmier, J., Price, C. J., Gard, T., Kerr, C., Dunn, B. D., . . . Mehling, W. E. (2015). Interoception, contemplative practice, and health. Frontiers in Psychology, 9(6). doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00763

Keltner, D., & Haidt, J. (2003). Approaching awe, a moral, spiritual, and aesthetic emotion. Cognition and Emotion, 17(2), 297-314. doi:10.1080/02699930302297

Polusny, M. A., Erbes, C. R., Thuras, P., Moran, A., Lamberty, G. J., Collins, R. C., . . . Lim, K. O. (2015). Mindfulness-based stress reduction for posttraumatic stress disorder among veterans: A randomized clinical trial. JAMA: Journal of the American Medical Association, 314(5), 456-465. doi:10.1001/jama.2015.8361

Ray, M. A., Turkel, M. C., & Cohn, J. (2011). Relational caring complexity: The study of caring and complexity in health care hospital organizations. In A. W. Davidson, M. A. Ray, M. C. Turkel, A. W. Davidson, M. A. Ray, & M. C. Turkel (Eds.), Nursing, caring, and complexity science: For human–environment well-being. (pp. 95-117). New York, NY, US: Springer Publishing Co.

Wayment, H. A., Wiist, B., Sullivan, B. M., & Warren, M. A. (2011). Doing and being: Mindfulness, health, and quiet ego characteristics among Buddhist practitioners. Journal of Happiness Studies, 12(4), 575-589. doi:10.1007/s10902-010-9218-6

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